I survived the weekend after my total meltdown, then made arrangements to take medical leave for the remainder of the school year. Thankfully my doctor was more than willing to fill out the necessary paperwork for me. I still have a copy of it - he cited the reasons as anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. I never thought I would see those words written or hear them said about me. I hated to leave my students. I don't like giving up or quitting anything, but I didn't feel as if I had anything left to give them. I truly did not think they would benefit from my being there in the shape I was in. At this point it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other each day. I still wasn't sleeping more than a couple of hours each night, so I was exhausted before I ever got started each morning. There was no way I could successfully teach a class of 9 and 10 year olds for the next 5 weeks.
Once this was taken care of, I decided it was time for a new plan. I did not want to grieve, but if I had to then I was going to do it RIGHT (ha ha). I went to the book store and bought several books on both suicide and grief. I called a counseling center and made an appointment to see someone as soon as possible. One of my friends told me about the pastor of a small church near me who had recently helped her through a difficult time. He had just completed his counseling degree, so I called and made an appointment to see him too. With all of this help, surely I would be able to get myself straightened out soon!
The first thing I learned from one of the books I had bought was that there is no "right" or "correct" way to grieve. Everyone's grief is different, and everyone handles grief in their own way. There is no time frame for getting past a death. You never truly get over a death - you just learn to cope with it - and tragic deaths are usually more difficult to recover from. I had been right about the stages of the grieving process, but I was wrong in thinking that you went through them in order or that you could devote a specific amount of time to each. Some people move through the stages more quickly than others, people go back and forth between the stages, sometimes people experience more than one stage at a time, and sometimes the beginning stages come back (shock, denial) months or even years later. I did not like what I was reading! I wanted this to be done quickly and according to a plan.
The good part of what I read was that I wasn't alone in the way I was feeling. Though these feelings weren't "normal" under everyday circumstances, they were "normal" for someone grieving the loss of a loved one. I also learned that whatever I was feeling at the time was OK - there was no reason for me to be guilty about the feelings I was having. One book said that a person who has just experienced a death, especially a tragic one, should treat themself as if they were in "intensive care". It said first and foremost I had to take care of myself, admit that I needed help, and let others do things for me (which I knew wouldn't be easy for me). I was willing to try anything though if it meant beginning to move forward with the healing process.
"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31