Reversing an Adaptation

The only place I ever came across the idea of reversing an adaptation other than in evolutionary terms was in the novel Dead Sleep by Greg Iles. The story was obviously forgettable because I have no idea what it was about even though it wasn’t that long ago that I read it, and an online synopsis didn’t help much. But I do remember what he said about reversing an adaptation. Or rather, I remember making note of the quote from the book. “Missing persons cases that have lain dormant for years, then suddenly the child or husband turns up. It’s disorienting to people. Homo Sapiens survived by adapting to change, even terrible change. Being forced to reverse an adaptation you’ve made to survive can cause a lot of strange feelings. A lot of resentment.”

That struck a chord in me somewhere deep down because I wonder at times what I would do if Jeff ever returned. I know he’s dead; I was there. The only way the scenario would work would be if he showed up on my doorstep and said, “God decided to let me come back. So here I am.”

It seems such a betrayal of both him and my grief, but part of me is glad I will never have to deal with a reversal of my adaptation to his death. For eleven and a half years I have been adapting to his being gone. For eleven and a half years I have slowly been turning someone I wouldn’t even recognize if I were to see me from the point of view of the woman I once was. For eleven and a half years I have been developing new values — not deep down values, the ones I’ve had all my life, like kindness and loyalty — but other values, such as having a place to live out the rest of my days; of owning that place. Owning a house is not something I ever wanted or valued, and yet here I am, grateful every day for this boon.

Without knowing the name of this phenomenon — reversing an adaptation — it must have been in the back of my mind for a long time. Years ago, I was involved in a time travel writing project with other authors. My character, a widow, went back in time, saw her husband, saw herself, and was appalled at how small her life had been. She could see that she had been on the way to becoming like her colorless mother-in-law, and once back in her “real” time, she threw off the shackles of her dowdy clothes and decided to live a little.

I do think sometimes of what my life would be if Jeff were to show up here. I try to think how to fit him into my life, into my house, but he doesn’t fit except as a photo I talk to every night. It’s been too long that he’s been out of my life. It’s been too long that I’ve been in this new life I’ve slowly been creating out of the ashes and shards of our shared life. I think it helps that I had no choice — I had to become the person I am to survive the shock of severance, the angst of his absence, the utter pain of grief.

To this day, I miss him and I continue to feel the void where he was ripped from me, so if there was an option, would I want him back? Could I deal with the truth, whichever way I decided? Could I reverse the adaptation? I have no idea.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Learning About Ourselves From Grief

Someone asked me if we could learn more about ourselves from grief. The question  made me stop to think because whatever we might learn would in no way offset the loss of our loved one, would in no way offset the pain of grief.

But . . .

Like any traumatic experience that we’ve survived, grief teaches us that are all stronger than we believe we are, braver than we can imagine, more emotional than we ever expected, and have the ability to pick ourselves up and take another step when all we want to do is dive into oblivion.

Mostly, though, grief is a process of change, of becoming a person who can survive our loss and our grief. Often what we learn about ourselves is not something that was present before grief gripped us, but something that comes during the process. Values are turned upside down — what was once important is no longer important, and what was once unimportant becomes less so. For example: Not wasting time used to be something I valued, so waiting in line at a grocery store used to irritate me. It was such a huge waste of time. After my life mate/soul mate died, it no longer mattered if I was one place rather than another. It no longer mattered if time passed slowly or moved quickly. It no longer mattered if I wasted time or used my time effectively. So I stood patiently in line. It’s not that I learned I was patient, but that I become patient.

Sometimes people find they are more independent than they expected, but often they are forced to become independent rather than learning that they’d always been so. My mother had been a traditional wife, always catering to my father, cooking for him, cleaning, etc. After she died, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he remarried right away so he’d have someone to look after him, but my brothers taught him to “cook.” And oh, how proud he was of his new-found ability to heat up a frozen dinner or fix instant coffee and toast! He’d always been rigid, and yet, he didn’t suddenly learn he was resilient. Her death had forced him to become resilient.

A friend whose daughter had been murdered set out to learn everything she could about the law and how to get boyfriend who’d murdered her daughter. Although already forceful, she became utterly relentless in her pursuit of justice.

So yes, we learn about ourselves from grief, but often that which we learn didn’t exist before our loss. We became that person we are learning about.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.