Depending who you ask, there are either five or seven stages of grief. Having recently become an expert on this topic (unwillingly — my father died exactly three weeks ago), I think I can boil it down to three stages, especially if the grieving person is a spiritual one.

Stage One: Acceptance. You think you can handle it. Sure, you’re sad, but you know your loved one is in heaven. You’re a religious person; you know God has taken your loved one to a better place. You cry, but you expect to. It’s okay.

Stage Two: Complete chaos. You’re angry. But not at God. Your spirituality won’t allow it. But you’re still mad. At whom? Not your loved one. Maybe you’re angry at Death. But Death isn’t a real entity. You’re stuck with feelings that you don’t know what to do with. So you yell at people on television, like those snotty folks on any given HGTV show who MUST have granite in their chef’s kitchen, although neither of them cooks, and a walk-in closet just for shoes, because why not? You’re sad, too, so sad you think you’ll never get past it. Some days, you just want to stay in bed with the covers over your head. But you’re embarrassed to say so because who wants to deal with a depressed person? I know people who went back to work the day after they lost a loved one. Why can’t I pull it together?

Stage Three: Acceptance again. You don’t get past it or over it so much as you get through it. And hopefully you gain a little wisdom in the process. Like this: Everybody grieves differently. Don’t let anyone tell you how to do it. You have to do whatever it is you need to do. But do listen to the advice of others: One friend told me, “Just cry whenever you feel like it. Even if it’s inopportune. Don’t hold it in.” I’m taking that bit of advice, probably to the consternation of others. I saw an older man in a white jacket the other night at a restaurant and nearly sobbed aloud. Because my dad had a white jacket. Stupid? Silly? I don’t much care.

Right now, I’m still firmly mired in Stage Two, with glimpses of Stage Three every once in a while. And I can say with some authority that grieving is hard, even for someone who considers herself a spiritual person. You’d think it’d be easier. You’d be wrong.

One of my friends says she knows her mother better now than when her mom was alive. She gets signs from her, the kind of signs you read about in Guideposts magazine: “My dad loved butterflies, and one day when I was thinking of him, a butterfly landed on my hand!” Maybe those things happen to other people, but they haven’t happened to me. (Unless the guy with the white jacket was really an angel, which I find difficult to believe…unless angels really like salad bars.) As much as I’d like a sign from heaven, I haven’t got one yet. Maybe I never will.

Grief tests you. It tests the things you believe in the most. And though my inner being is rocked by chaos, I haven’t lost sight of the things I believe. I’m holding onto them because I know they will get me through this. Whether there are seven stages or three, I’m going to get through it. Because all those things I said and thought at Stage One? They’re the truth. I’m counting on it.

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