What Type of Person Experiences Profound Grief?

Everyone experiences grief in different ways, yet there are patterns to grief that help us survivors understand and connect to one another. For example, when one loses a life mate, most of us experience the shock of the loss, the pain of separation, the physical reactions, the bewilderment at the wreckage of our lives. Then, as the first year progresses, we have to deal with all the firsts such as the first birthday and first Christmas without, and we have to deal with the anniversaries such as a wedding anniversary and the anniversary of his death. During the second year, we come out of the emotional fog to a greater understanding that he is truly gone and we will have to live the rest of our lives without him. There is generally an excruciating upsurge of grief around eighteen months, which often comes as a shock because while consciously we might not consider that a milestone, apparently our psyches do. By the fourth year, most of us will have found a renewed purpose, a deeper acceptance, or a new appreciation of life. Some of us might even find happiness or new love.

And yet . . . not everyone who loses a mate goes through such a profound or protracted grief process. For some, their religious convictions are so strong that after a few weeks of grief, they skip immediately to the final stage of renewed purpose or appreciation of life. Some people with dependent children or a dependent parent also experience a short period of grief and then find a renewed focus on and commitment to those who need them. Some people seem to be able to slough off their grief and go searching for a new mate within a few months. It could be these people couldn’t stand the loneliness any more and wanted to feel alive again. Or maybe they didn’t feel much grief other than a sense of loss. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are incapable of truly connecting to another human being, who are incapable of feeling deep emotions.

So what type of person experiences such profound grief that it rocks them to the very core of their being? To a certain extent, it has to do with the strength of the commitment to and the connection with another person. Obviously, if a person is in a marriage for money, and their spouse dies leaving them what they want, the person would not feel the same grief as someone who had a deep emotional commitment to their mate.

Profound grief also has to do with how complicated the relationship is and if there were unresolved issues. When you are both alive, your relationship is always in the present day, so you basically just have to deal with what is going on at that time. When one person dies, the relationship is always in the past, and so you have to deal with the whole thing, decades of good and bad, ups and down, connections and disconnections, understandings and misunderstandings. It can be overwhelming.

And profound grief has to do with whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. Extraverts generally have other people in their lives they can rely on for friendship and support. Introverts, for the most part, don’t have an extended support system. Their mates were their support system, their friend, the one person who understood them. (I’m not saying extroverts don’t experience profound grief, just that they might not experience it in the same way that an introvert might.)

The difference between introverts and extraverts is not so much how shy or outgoing you are, but how your mind works. Introverts prefer the inner world of their own mind. Extroverts prefer the outer world of sociability. Introverts get overwhelmed during social occasions because there is so much information to process. Extroverts get bored with their own minds and need the external stimuli. This could explain why some people can work through grief quicker than others can. The introverts need to process all the permutations of their grief, which could take years, while extroverts might not be aware of (or care about) all the implications of their grief, might not feel any need to process the information beyond what it would take to survive it. A therapist friend wrote me, “We introverts are quieter souls; process differently; miss little in the inner and outer world…more grist for the mill; our friends tend to be introverts…birds of a feather….; Frankly imho I believe we feel more and feel more deeply…”

There is Something Totally Bizarre About Grief

Sometimes grief strikes me as being totally bizarre. For example, the eighteen-month mark is particularly difficult, sometimes even more so than the one-year anniversary. I do not know why, I just know that it is because so many of us bereft experience the same thing. In my case, for a couple weeks around the eighteen-month mark, I felt as I had during the first months after my life mate/soul mate died. Somehow, someway, it seemed as if he just died. And maybe in a way, he had. Grief is a journey of starts and stops, retracing steps, standing still to catch your breath, and then being pushed into the future again. Each step forward in grief’s journey is a step further away from our loved one, a step further away from the last time we talked, or hugged, or smiled at each other. Now, all we have left of them are our memories, and as each memory fades, a bit more of our loved ones die.

But such incremental deaths do not explain the upsurge of grief at eighteen months. (Here’s an ironic twist — I googled “Why is there an upsurge of grief at eighteen months? And the top three links that came up were links to this blog.) Oddly this upsurge is not a conscious one. I knew the date, of course, but I had no expectation of feeling any different at eighteen months than I had at seventeen months, so once again, grief took me by surprise. But the upsurge happens even if you lose track of time.

I received this email from a bereft friend today: I woke up crying at 6 this morning and didn’t stop until after noon. This reminds me of those months right after he died. I haven’t had such severe morning cries for a long time. I guess I might be heading into that upsurge a little earlier than expected.

I emailed her back, saying she was right on time since this was her eighteenth month.

Her response: Good grief. Time is losing meaning for me. I’ve been thinking my 18th month starts in February. I guess I’ve been subconsciously trying to avoid it.

See? Even when you get the date wrong, your body knows. There really is something totally bizarre about grief.