What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 6

People who haven’t experienced the profound grief for a life mate or a child presume grief is simply an emotional and psychological response to the death, so they tell us not to think about our loss, as if that will make the pain go away. (And yet, oddly, at the same time, they try to make us feel as if it’s okay the person died by saying the deceased will always live in memory.)

For some losses, such as an aged relative who lived a long and happy life, pushing aside grief might work. But when it comes to a child or life mate, not thinking about the loss in no way mitigates the grief because the grief is also in our bodies, not just our minds and hearts.

When we are profoundly connected to another person, when their well-being is as important to us as our own. when the two of us share the air we breathe, the electrical emanations from our hearts and brains, the atoms in the atmosphere, the cell information that gets passed back and forth via viruses, we grow so entwined that we become a unit—a survival unit. We humans are essentially pack animals, and our very survival depends on the strength of this pack unit.

After our beloved life mate dies and the unit is dissolved, our lizard brain goes into a panic. Danger! Danger! Something is wrong. Where is the rest of you? What happened? What do I do? Do I freeze you? Make you run? Make you fight? It sends so many chemical and electrical signals throughout our bodies, setting off a cascading series of hormonal reactions, that it leaves us feeling bewildered and traumatized. This is all in addition to our emotional grief.

To make things worse, our half of the survival bond remains strong, a constant reminder of our grief.

Yet people tell us just to forget our loss. To think of something else.

Even if it were that simple, even if we could put the deceased out of our minds, we’d still grieve because our bodies remember. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.

Jeff died early on a Saturday morning, and for a long time, I would hit emotional lows on Saturdays, even if I didn’t recall what day of the week it was. The effects of body memory were most potent as I neared the first anniversary of his death. For example, after a hiatus of a couple of weeks during the eleventh month where I was mostly at peace, I was so overcome with grief that I wanted to scream out in anguish. I couldn’t figure out what hit me or why, but when I tracked down the source of the pain, I realized it was the first anniversary of the last time we kissed. Apparently, my body thought it was an anniversary worth remembering.

For those witnessing our grief, our plight seems simple, but for us living the horror, as you can see, things are not simple at all.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

5 Responses to “What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 6”

  1. mswwrites Says:

    I believe most people do not know what to say or do to help someone who is grieving. They probably fear saying the wrong thing so they say what the ‘typical’ person in society might say…
    Better to say I hear you, but have not been through what you have been through or help me understand or what can I say or do for you?
    Western society fears death and death talk. This has to change.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I agree with all your points, especially the last one. Western society fears death and death talk. I have a hunch that’s why so many people resort to platitudes. They don’t know what to say and they don’t want to know. In a relentlessly glass-half-full society, people have to believe death will not touch them. It would be nice if my writing could help change society’s attitude about death.

      • mswwrites Says:

        It will! I co- authored and edited a book called- Journey’s End/ Death, Dying, and the End of Life, over 500 pages and with 52 authors besides Julie and myself.
        Take a look at my website so you understand who I am. BTW, I am a social worker for 21 years and work with older adults for the past 18 years…

  2. Joe Says:

    This reminds me of something I just found yesterday on the incomparable brainpickings.org by Maria Popova. The writer Elizabeth Gilbert said in a TED talk, “Grief is a full-body experience. It takes over your entire body — it’s not a disease of the mind. It’s something that impacts you at the physical level…” There is at least one other link in the article to the concept of the body’s memory. Take a look, it’s a short read, but I caution that if you’re like me, you’ll become absorbed in the dozens of stories about great writers, thinkers and doers (many of them women whose stories were overlooked or minimized by biographers and historians). https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/10/17/elizabeth-gilbert-ted-podcast-love-loss/

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