Grief: Losing Your Grip

There are so many facets and phases to profound grief that even now — three and a half years after the death of my life mate/soul mate — I am still bewildered by some of the symptoms I experienced.

I always assumed “losing your grip” was merely a euphemism for losing your ability to deal with life, but shortly after the onset of grief, I lost my grip. My real grip, not my euphemistic grip. (Well, I lost both, but the second went with the territory.)

I dropped silverware, glasses, cups, plates — just about everything slipped through my fingers. I didn’t particularly notice it at first — I have been known to drop things — but after I moved to a house with hard tile floors, the loss of my grip became explosively apparent. My first night here, I dropped a glass, and it shattered on the hard floor. It sounded like a shot, scaring both me and my 96-year-old father. When the same thing happened a few days later — a mug this time — I realized I had to be careful or I’d give him (and me!) a heart attack. For over a year, I had to make sure of my grip before I lifted something so that it wouldn’t slip from my fingers. My grip gradually tightened, and after two years, I noticed I no longer had to pay attention to how I held something — I was automatically getting a grip.

Obviously, the phrase “lost my grip,” meaning losing your ability to handle a situation, had to come from somewhere, and I have a hunch that it came from the very thing I experienced.

I spent the past couple of hours researching this subject but never found a clinical reason for losing my grip. The weak hands didn’t come from any sort of illness. Not lupus, carpal tunnel syndrome, multiple sclerosis or any of the other 57 medical conditions where people can lose their grip. Nor was it an effect of aging or poor muscle control since the loss of grip came on so rapidly and gradually disappeared without any change of circumstances except the onset and gradual waning of grief.

It’s possible low blood sugar caused the loss of grip in the beginning because I wasn’t eating much, but as the year progressed, I ate more normally and the symptom persisted. Or maybe losing one’s grip is a symptom of emotional shock (rather than physical shock). Or maybe it represented a general enervation from from all the stress. The loss of a mate ranks as one of the most stressful conditions a person can suffer, which is why the death rate for those in the first year of profound grief is so high. Or it could be a physical manifestation of the metaphoric state — grief certainly makes you feel as if you’re losing your grip. In my case, It also seemed to be a reflection of my ability to connect, as if when I lost the connection with him, I lost the ability to connect with anything.

Well, now that I’m nearing what I call the half-life of grief, I’ve regained both my grip (my ability to grasp things) and my grip (my ability to handle life). I’ve also regained my ability to connect — with things and people.

And so grief continues to wane.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

4 Responses to “Grief: Losing Your Grip”

  1. Terry Jean Allard Says:

    You recently asked readers for their experiences with brain fog after the death of their loved one. In my opinion, this loss of grip is obviously physical and so is brain fog though more suttle. I think the “fog” caused the lack of attention which caused the dropping of objects…it wasn’t in the hand…it was in the brain. After Ron died I remember thinking “When once I wished for a long life, I now feel I have been given a life sentence”. My only way to begin to survive that sentence was to go through the motions of life with deadend thinking and feeling. I became at once both the doer and the observer…no longer all there in any sense of the word. Lucid dreaming is a well documented phenomena when a person “wakes” up or re-enters consciousness during a dream; in other words, as a person experiences the dream they realize they are dreaming. Lucid dreaming is the closest I can come to describing my waking state of mind. I felt I was in a dream and within the dream I kept saying to myself “this is a dream…I will wake up” but alas UNLIKE a lucid dream you don’t.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Some of the dropping was a lack of focus, in some cases, I simply could not sustain a grip. I could grip if I thought about it and concentrated on it,, but we’re not supposed to have to think about it. It’s as if an automatic action was no longer an automatic answer, Interesting your mention of dreams because when the prefrontal cortex is overloaded as it is when grappling with grief, you end up with an awake REM state.

      It’s been a little over three years for you? I still felt unalive then, too. I think my thinking has returned to normal, though how would I know? “We ask, ‘What is a thought?’ We don’t know, yet we are thinking continually.” – Ven. Tenzin Palmo.

  2. Terry Jean Allard Says:

    Yeah 3yrs4mths. I follow the grief blog more or less in sequence with your timeline for Jeff. I read a little ahead recently because I will be gone for a couple weeks starting next week and it will be difficult to journal.

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