The Circular Staircase


I never saw the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Reportedly, it was a British comedy of sorts. Sometimes the Brits have a strange sense of humor; don’t you think? I’m weird enough that sometimes I glean the humor and slap my knee with laughter. At other times, I have the sense I’d be better served to simply sit and watch the paint dry. I don’t know anything about the storyline of Four Weddings and a Funeral, but I remember the name of the movie for some reason.


This morning as I contemplated a topic for my morning blog, the thought of Four Funerals and a… came to mind. I couldn’t figure out what to couple the four funerals with that resonated with my experience. Later this morning I am officiating at a memorial service. It is the fourth funeral/memorial service that I’ve had the privilege of participating in over the past couple of months.


All kidding aside, I never take the responsibility lightly, but I invariably try to add an element of humor to reflections or memories associated to the family member. I have never officiated at a funeral where the deceased would have wanted their farewell to be simply a solemn experience.


Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to the grief process and the almost overwhelming sense of sadness surrounding thoughts of what it is like for family members left on this side of eternity, I get it. I also know that the grief process is not easily nor quickly resolved. In fact, without the Lord’s help I don’t know how anyone could manage. At times it feels like two steps forward and three steps backward intermittently.


Years ago, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist authored a book entitled On Death and Dying. She identified five stages of grief that folks dealing with their own mortality reportedly negotiate in coming to acceptance of the terminal illness with which they are dealing.


“The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one(s) we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.” – Elizabeth Kübler-Ross


There is something about our need for order that we overlook the disclaimer that Dr. Kübler-Ross made about the five stages. She said “they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief”. Somehow we want to be done with step one so we can advance to the next step and then the next. It really doesn’t work like that. At least it hasn’t worked like that in my life.


When I wrote the script to “Bitter or Better – A Personal Walk Through Grief”, it was simply to highlight what my journey felt like. It had more to do with intermittently finding myself at various places on the continuum only to surprisingly turn the corner and find I was instantly at a different place.


Linda Pastan “is an American poet of Jewish background. From 1991–1995 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland. She is known for writing short poems that address topics like family life, domesticity, motherhood, the female experience, aging, death, loss and the fear of loss, as well as the fragility of life and relationships”. I didn’t discover Linda Pastan’s poem on grief until three or four years ago. It likens the grief process to being more like a circular staircase. I found it profound:


“The night I lost you

Someone pointed me towards

The Five Stages of Grief.

Go that way, they said,

It’s easy, like learning to climb

Stairs after the amputation.

And so I climbed.

Denial was first.

I sat down at breakfast

Carefully setting the table

For two.  I passed you the toast –

You sat there.  I passed

you the paper – you hid

behind it.

Anger seemed more familiar.

I burned the toast, snatched

The paper and read the headlines myself.

But they mentioned your departure,

And so I moved on to

Bargaining.  What could I exchange

For you?  The silence

After storms?  My typing fingers?

Before I could decide, Depression

Came puffing up, a poor relation

Its suitcase tied together

With string.  In the suitcase

Were bandages for the eyes

And bottles of sleep.  I slid

All the way down the stairs

Feeling nothing.

And all the time Hope

Flashed on and off

In defective neon.

Hope was a signpost pointing

Straight in the air.

Hope was my uncle’s middle name,

He died of it.

After a year I am still climbing,

Though my feet slip

On your stone face.

The treeline has long since disappeared;

Green is a color

I have forgotten.

But now I see what I am climbing

Towards: Acceptance

Written in capital letters,

A special headline:


Its name is in lights.

I struggle on,

Waving and shouting.

Below, my whole life spreads its surf,

All the landscapes I’ve ever known

Or dreamed of.  Below

A fish jumps: the pulse

In your neck.

Acceptance.  I finally reach it.

But something is wrong.

Grief is a circular staircase.

I have lost you.


While the grief experience is wrought with difficulty, the good news of the Gospel is that God does not abandon us when life becomes difficult. He offers to sustain us and see us through our difficulties. “Think of stepping on a shore and finding it heaven. Of taking a  hand and finding it Gods. Of Breathing air and fidning it celestial; of passing from storm and tempest to an unknown calm; of waking ujp and finding it home.”


All My Best!