The Five Stages of Losing

[Disclaimer: needless to say it’s not easy for me to write this and I do this mostly to help myself process than to help you understand why and what’s happening because at the end of the day I don’t owe anyone any explanation. My extended family members do not know about this yet and I will talk to them when the time is right. Please be gentle with your thoughts and comments.]


In 1969, a Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with a framework postulating the pathway of those experiencing grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and (eventually) acceptance.

In 2021, the night you said you were coming home, I thought you decided that we could start over, but instead, it was what Kübler-Ross called a “shock event”: you wanted a divorce.

1. Denial

I still vividly remember your expression when you said it—you looked deeply broken-hearted while breaking my heart all at the same time. I wanted to hug you, but at that point I wasn’t sure what we were anymore that perhaps it’s best that I kept our distance. You sat on the staircase and I was on the sofa. We talked for hours all civil—there was plenty of “you know I still love you, but”. My rational brain can’t possibly comprehend what was happening. A minute ago we were a together and overnight you decided to leave.

Nah, I thought. You weren’t thinking straight. It must’ve been a very bad dream.

Barely three hours since we fell asleep, my alarm woke us up and you were still lying next to me. I wished that the moment could linger a little longer. But even then I knew it was going to actually be the last time we shared a bed. You had to leave early for a company shoot. I asked if I could drive you there and you let me. Before we leave, you sat by my side of the bed, looked me in the eye, and asked if this was the right decision, if you were gonna regret this deeply one day. And I said, as someone who genuinely cared for you: that you needed to look after yourself and do what you think is best.

I was clearly blindsided of how painful the separation would be when I said that. When you finally hugged me good bye and and got off the car, it finally dawned on me: you were really gone. And suddenly I lost all the strength I could ever felt in my body and broke into a long cry in that parking lot. A friend had to pick me up and drive my car since I was so weak (grateful for him).

It was like the waterfall we visited in Bandung that one time. I couldn’t stop crying the entire day. And it was barely a start for a lot more crying to come. Forever indebted to the kindest of friends that gave me company in all the crying—their shoulder, their sofa, their bed, and their ears, even across the oceans.

Even after—and in between—all the crying, I silently prepared rebuttals in my head. What you said made absolutely no sense. We would’ve been stronger together. We had always been fixers and this will just be another round of it: we could attend couples therapy, I could change, you could change, and we’d all be better. For a little over a week, I kept sending you the best possible forms of argument on why you should stay. I thought it’ll help you realize how wrong you were and you’d be back with me again by the next week.

But of course you saw beyond what my logic could reach. I’d always hated how you have this conviction; a clear conscience that just knows what is right. I just couldn’t see it yet.

So I went to the one person who understood you but could speak in a language that speaks to my System 2. Then suddenly it all made sense. I understood why you had to leave. Sorry for pulling you back and making you say no over and over again until I finally got it (-ish, because there will always be a tiny part of me that doesn’t).

2. Anger

I was a mess and a lot of things for a whole month by then, but one thing I never was is angry. Did I question why this thing happened to me, out of everyone? Sure. Did I wish something would change your mind? Of course. Did I hate that you had no friends that manage to convince you that we should stick together? Like hell I did. Did I hate you for letting us plan for new chapter in New Zealand and perhaps even with kids? It still cut me deeply remembering this.

But no matter how hard it was since the beginning, I kind of understood why you had to do this for yourself. Trust me kiddo, I do. I know that you never wanted to hurt me, and just wanted to save yourself. But no matter how inadvertently, I was hurt, and I was hurt bad. It was like coming out of the worst war and I had open-flesh wounds all over me. And underneath all of that, you could only find almost-permanent sorrow. I even thought about harming myself just to keep the emotional pain away.

When it came to it, however, I realized the only person I was angry at is myself. Enter:

3. Bargaining

As I drove back and forth between my and my friends’ place (because I can’t stand being home alone throughout the day), I can’t help finding out all the things I could’ve done differently: I should’ve properly treated my mental health so I wouldn’t have breakdowns that slowly led us where we are (although you would say it goes both ways); I should’ve noticed that you stopped arguing with me and letting me pick things instead (which married couples before us had warned us this many times); I thought of the many times I could’ve come back to bed and snuggle with you in the morning—can’t help but wonder if any of that would’ve led us to a different place today.

Suddenly there was this mountain of guilt that I carry with me on my shoulders. Like all of this was my fault. That I wasn’t a good enough wife.

Other times, I wanted to blame the pandemic. I’ve read statistics about how it had increased the number of divorce cases significantly, but when I learned that it was mainly due to domestic violence and/or economic difficulties, I pushed it aside and thought this would never affect us. But the pandemic tested us in an entirely different way, and we failed that test. You told me that maybe the pandemic simply accelerated what would have happened to us five years from now, and who knows if that would’ve been better or more painful?

There were a lot of “what ifs” and “if only”. Being a stereotypical control freak, I can’t help but going into rounds of options on how I could’ve affected the outcome. My peak bargaining phase was when I even drove up to your place that one dreaded Tuesday, thinking my grand gesture would’ve changed your mind.

But of course it did not.

4. Depression

Then came the long quiet. Then came the day when it actually felt better to stay at home alone than to be surrounded with friends. Like that way I could hold and process this multitude of sadness inside of me properly, without interruption or someone else’s interpretation. Or advice, or encouragement, or validation.

The very survival tools that helped me get through the past few weeks are now just extra weights. Because now I’m not a fixer anymore, just someone going through this journey by foot.

For a few more days, I woke up every morning crying. It didn’t even take any triggers. I just did. I would wake up, emptied my bladder, then back to bed suddenly feeling so weak and couldn’t get out until I stopped crying for an hour. Then later in the day I cried some more. Maybe a little more before I go to bed.

The people whose judgment I trust the most told me that this is not permanent, that it will get better. Later someone updated that to a more realistic version: there will still be ups and downs, but the downs wouldn’t be as low/bad as before. And that’s when you know you’ve become stronger; by allowing yourself to be weak.

5. Acceptance

I’m not sure if I’ve arrived at this stage per se. Some of Kübler-Ross’ most ardent opponents would disagree with this framework altogether. But for now at least, I think writing this blog has been part of my graduating from stage 4. Funnily enough, I think you’re the person who also helped me get here.

In a fortnight we would have celebrated our 5th anniversary. Who would’ve known that we had to stop before we even hit five. You told me to never blame myself. That the past five years hadn’t been a waste of time, but the most beautiful chapter that we have gone through together, that helped us grow in our own ways. My first instinct was to argue that if it was so beautiful we should try making it to 10 or 20. But now I know that you’re right.

I know for a fact that some people thought they saw this coming because we were never meant to be. How could it be, with us being so different. I’d really hate to say that they are right, because they’re not. In a lot of different, perhaps incomprehensible ways, we are also very compatible. I brought structure to your beautiful abstract colors. You hit the accelerator and I know when to hit the brakes. How can we not be meant together when our bodies fit perfectly when you spooned me? Or how we were in perfect sync while brushing teeth before bed?

Maybe it was just the wrong timing. Maybe we decided to be together for the wrong reasons, but can meet again in the future and be together for the right ones. Or maybe this separation was supposed to happen because we were supposed to be a better version of ourselves to prepare for the next person. Or who knows, be happy by ourselves. Maybe this way I could find out whether I have truly loved and accepted myself, or if I had only been doing that vicariously through your complete acceptance of me?

I guess you will never know and shouldn’t even dare to try to guess. Two things I do know:

1. Help is everywhere. I am deeply, deeply thankful for all the love that I have received this past month. While they will never instantly fill in this big, new hole (“the baby teeth I thought I needed”), I was held, and I could survive only because of it. So to every single person who has texted, called, video called to check in, let me stay or cried, listened to me, or just sit there: I love you.

2. We still have our lives ahead of us. When you told me you could never be angry at me for more than five minutes, I believed you, because it’s like that for me too. For now, I’ll let you do what you needed to do. I’ll be right here as your best friend and I know you will too.


Trust me—I know that they call it a cycle for a reason. That it’s not a linear line of progression. In fact I’ve been going back and forth a lot until now. But at the end of the day, I resort to this quote for comfort:

“If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life. Even if you can’t get together with that person.” ― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

And this one. Always this one:

Love arrives exactly when Love is supposed to and Love leaves exactly when Love must. When Love arrives, say, “Welcome. Make yourself comfortable.” If Love leaves, ask her to leave the door open behind her. Turn off the music. Listen to the quiet. Whisper, “Thank you for stopping by.”

34 Comments

  1. Dear Kak Afu, I am nobody who just incidentally read your post. I have been following your social media for a quite long time, and I’ve always been mesmerised by how perfectly crafted your way of thinking is. Kak Afu, I believe that you, somehow, would get through this. There is no exact time measurement when you would, but Kak Afu, I hope you are with me too, to believe that you are strong, that your beautiful mind will finally find closure, then peace will find you. You said that words do give you comfort, I hope this random comment will give you a little bit of comfort then. Just think of it, Kak Afu, a person you don’t know pray for you. That person exists. Many people like that exists. I hope it gives you strength.

    Reply

    1. You wrote this for yourself but reflecting on it gives ofher people, at least myself, a chance to understand the things I never could about leaving and letting ago. Thanks for writing this, Afu. I look forward to someday read the “sixth stage” story.

      Reply

  2. Hi Afu, i only know you from the internet. i really hope you are doing ok, please hold on. the best is yet to come

    Reply

  3. Hi Afu, I’ve been reading your blog and social media for awhile and reading this breaks my heart as well. It’s been two months after my divorce and I think might understand what you’ve been through despite of course every pain is different. All I can say is hang in there, it’s true there will always be ups and downs but eventually it feels less painful than it used to. Talking to psychologist more regularly helps a lot and writing gratitude journal also keep me afloat. Keep surrounding yourself with support system, people whom you can trust and be vulnerable with. I’m sorry maybe you already know all of this but I can oly say I send my tightest hug and pray for your health, may you find peace and healing process you deserve.

    Reply

  4. Hi Kak Afu, I’m wishing you the strength and the compassion to go through this. It is not easy to process emotions, but I know for sure through this writing, you’re doing a great job in dealing with sadness and sorrow. Sending you virtual hugs <3

    Reply

  5. It must have been really hard for you. This post made me cried, let alone you who experienced it. Letting go of loved ones are never easy, especially for a loving partner that you has spent your time with for a long time. Someone that you have chosen to spend your life with. Someone who knows you the most – maybe better than you know yourself, and vice versa.

    Knowing that you posted this as also a way to release the pain, I am grateful and proud of you for passing this stage. Remember that it is normal to grief, but know that better days are coming, and be strong. May God ease your journey.

    Reply

  6. Hi Afu,

    I know you from internet through a good friend of mine. I am not sure I could be as strong as you are given such circumstances.

    So, I am sending positive vibes and best wishes from a best friend’s good friend point of view, miles away.

    Please stay healthy and choose to live happily.

    Reply

  7. Hi, Kak Afu. You wrote about the pain of separation so beautifully. I cried reading this post and I know it was really hard for you to let out your feelings. I hope in the process of grieving, you don’t push yourself too hard and I hope you surround yourself with the people who love you. Stay strong Kak Afu, you will get through this.

    Reply

      1. It’s a sign that you are mentally strong.
        Sometimes, love facing difficulty to beat self-reverence. Once it can, then our soul filled by affection.

  8. Hi Afu, I’m just stranger who love to see all the things you’ve done through internet
    In this hard time, I just can pray that you can go through all these things and being fine in the end.

    Reply

  9. Kak Afu, we don’t know each other but I guess we all know that losing someone we love is nothing easy. Wherever you are right now I hope you’ll always have the strength to face all the things that happened and I hope you’re surrounded by all the thing that makes you happy. I know you’re writing this for helping yourself but this piece of beautiful and powerful writing is helping others too, especially me. And I can’t thank you enough for that.

    Stay strong and stay safe, Kak.

    Reply

  10. Hi Afu, saya juga sedang melalui masa sulit yang mungkin hampir sama dengan Afu. Hari Minggu lalu saya berpisah dengan pasangan saya karena alasan yang begitu banyak, begitu ruwet, sampai saya ga tau mulai dari mana even just to merely experience the emotions. Terima kasih sudah mau vulnerable ya. I feel better after reading your post. Beberapa poinnya kena sekali sama seperti pengalaman saya. Thank you again for opening up and showing the world it is okay to be not okay. There is a common humanity in us 🤍

    Reply

  11. Hi Kak Afu,

    I found you in 2015/2016 and have been adoring your essays and poems ever since. I have left one or two comments on your IG snapgram/IG live back then but I know I will remain a stranger to you. I don’t use social media in recent years and that explains that I don’t know your latest updates in life. So, when I saw this post on my mailbox, I feel very surprised and shattered. I admire the way you write things with so much detail and vulnerability. Also, my partner and I are fans of your works on Frame and Sentences.

    This is not the first time that you have been on my mind this year. There were other things that passed in my mind that reminds me of you. I am aware that you have been through a lot this year, as I saw from your blogpost.

    I cried reading this post this morning because I feel like I have been there—like a friend, perhaps—witnessing your personal journeys for the past six years. I wish I can give you a big hug but I can’t. So, I can only pray for the healing that you deserve to have.

    At first, I was going to write you an email but I don’t know your email hence this long comment here. Please know that you have always been the one to tell me to “put all the eggs in one basket”, to take more risk and to wear your heart on your sleeve. And I am very grateful for that.

    Kak Afu, please take your time to feel all the things and take a very good care of yourself. I am sure that you will be back more resilient, compassionate, and stronger than before, and please know that I will wait for you here.

    Love,
    Nat

    Reply

  12. My favorite Persian Poet once said: “Do not worry if your life is ever turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” It may take a while to learn what’s good on the other side; we don’t even know yet what’s on the other side. Stay strong, Afu!

    Reply

  13. Dear kak Afu,

    I am a mere admirer that has been following you for a long while now. You have been such an inspiration to me. I have learned so many things from your good days, and now, from your bad ones too.

    I can only say things based on what meets my eyes. What I know for a fact is that you are resilient. You are strong. You can do a lot of amazing things and will continue to do so.

    This is not a hiccup. This is a learning curve. A long-time learner like you shall only reap wit.
    Wishing the best outcome for BOTH of you.

    Reply

  14. I pray to Allah, hope you are well and healthy. It won’t be easy. Take your time. Allah heals everything.

    Hugs.

    Reply

  15. Hai Afu, I’m just stranger who admires you, I followed you on social media, and help me to see the world from different perceptions, and learn so much from you, I’m so sorry for you, I just can pray for you and I hope you are well, it won’t be easy but I believe everything well is okay, take your time ❤❤❤❤, I wish the best for both of you

    Reply

  16. Needless to say this too, but I am just a stranger who stops by for just 7 minutes. I really look up to you as a woman that I fancy found on the internet by any algorithmic chance but I indeed love how you captured every word you’d shared and I had to write it down so manifestly on my journal.

    I am hoping this must be hormones, but I had to cry a little while finishing this. This was one of the heartbreaking but also warm-hearted pieces of writing I’ve ever had. I can sense how pure the soul of you had poured it into beautiful words. And I won’t stop myself to keep it too.

    I am praying to the universe to keep you in joy for whatever sadness or bitterness or whatever you might’ve encountered. Maybe too late to read this, but I thank God to let me stop by.

    Love.

    Reply

  17. Dear Afu, honestly speaking (writing), I’ve been following both of you on YouTube, during your time in US (?) – please do correct me if I’m wrong :)
    When I read your past months’ tweets, I was wondering what is happening, are you ok, is it really happening. Some questions that you don’t really need to answer. And then I saw your tweet linked to this post, finally, all questions are answered here.

    I hope you’re already at that accepting stage, pray that you’ll come back stronger than ever. Stay healthy, Afu!

    Reply

  18. Kak Afu, again, it is okay to be not okay.
    Sending so much love for you, kak. Youre a great woman, there’s nothing in this world that you cant handle.

    Universe bless you, kak.

    Reply

  19. Hi Afu, thank you for trying and thank you for still hang in there. You can do it and you will through it as well. Send you the best prayer 🤗🤗

    Reply

  20. Kak afu, semoga allah selalu membersamai kakak 🙂 semoga selalu kuat kak. Nama kakak akan selalu saya sebut dalam doa setelah sholat. Tetap sehat dan kuat kak. Kami menunggu kakak kembali kuat 🙂

    Reply

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