The Half-Life of Grief

SRecently I’ve been coming across a lot of articles and books touting the idea that people don’t need to grieve — it’s detrimental to their happiness and it doesn’t really gain them anything. These writers believe that when sad thoughts enter your mind, you should simply observe them and let them go. They are only thoughts, nothing real, nothing that can hurt you. The same goes for feelings of sadness. Examine them and let them go. In themselves, the feelings have no power. The only power is what you give them.

Sounds good, right? And to a certain extent this method works. But . . .

First of all, thoughts are real. When you study particle/wave physics and even quantum physics, it’s hard not to believe that at rock bottom, we are all just thoughts. Together, we think our current world into existence. Maybe we even think ourselves into existence. Or perhaps we are thoughts of the eternal Thinker. Who knows, certainly not me. But the point is, thoughts may not be something that can be touched with your fingers, but they are still tangible.

Second of all, grief is important. It’s a way of honoring those who have died, a way of pulling our world around us to accommodate the void they left behind, a way of learning to live with their absence and without their presence, a way of developing into our own person and renewing our reasons for living. Of course, we can develop and renew without grief, but being so familiar with death brings an urgency to the process.

Third of all, not all grief is emotional and mental. Sometimes grief is visceral. Physical. If you have lost a child or a soul mate, you literally lose a part of your physical self. Your child is connected to you by shared genes, and in the case of mothers, a shared body. With soul mates, you are connected by your very being. A lifetime of living together also connects you physically by the air you breathe, the foods you eat, the cellular materials that are exchanged via viruses and microbes, the energy fields that overlap.

One of the reasons such grievous losses as that of a child or a mate are so devastating is that not only do we grieve, so does our body. There were many times I could keep from feeling the loss emotionally or mentally, but I could still feel it in the marrow of my bones, in my cells.

People tell me that it takes three to five years to get past the worst of such a loss. Most people I know woke on their fourth anniversary to find a sense of renewal, and it makes sense that four years would be the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then at my current stage of grief — 2 and 2/3 years — most of my cells still bear his imprint. By four years, less than half my cells will bear his imprint. And so gradually, the physical grief fades.

From the beginning, I was determined to get through my grief as quickly as possible so that I wouldn’t dishonor him (and me) by mourning his death for the rest of my life. I thought I was so strong and emotionally stable that I’d whiz through the process, but that did not happen, partly because I never took physical grief into consideration. I never even knew such grief existed, and neither, apparently, do writers who say that all you have to do to be happy is to let the feelings of sadness pass without feeding them.


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+