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Grief Reactions: Part 1

Well, it took me long enough, but I finally started attending grief counseling therapy. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but due to various circumstances, haven’t been able to start until just recently.

It’s a group session with other “adult children” who have recently lost a parent. So basically, we’re all in the same sad little boat. There are strict rules about confidentiality, so I’m not going to talk about anyone in the group or what has been divulged. And even if there weren’t, I would never discuss someone else’s personal struggles with pain and loss.

I will say, however, that the sessions take place at a local hospice, which I find to be an odd choice for a group of miserable people to get together.

I mean, it’s bad enough that we’re all grieving, but to hang out in a building where other people are, quite literally, dying all around us, just seems like a poor choice.

I suggested we all meet at an amusement park.

At a picnic table next to the funnel cake stand.

….ever see a sad person eating funnel cake?

Nope. Never. Physically and emotionally impossible to be sad while eating funnel cake…..but my suggestion was shot down.


I then suggested that at the very least we could play Calypso music, wear funny hats and call each other by Reservoir Dogs names during sessions. “So, tell us Mr. Orange, how are you feeling today”?

Nope. “Completely inappropriate”, I was told.

So instead we meet in a small room with unflattering lighting and really ugly carpeting inside a hospice with no music and no hats and everybody is sad.

Also, it’s a Catholic hospice.

Which I’m sure is not sitting well with my mother right now.

I can almost hear her saying “Oy Gevalt Mikey! What? Temple Beth David isn’t good enough for you?”

…sorry mom….this one was out of my control.

Anyway, it’s a two month long program that I’ve only just started – so I couldn’t tell you if it’s been helpful just yet. But I would like to share something we touched on last night. And that is, “grief reactions”. How different people react, respond and deal with grief. Specifically as it pertains to the loss of a loved one.

The information below is transcribed from one of the handouts we were given in this last session and it outlines the four different categories of what is considered your “normal” reaction to grief.

For this post, I’m only going to discuss the first one and leave the next three for later. It’s not that it’s too much information to process all at once, it’s just that I’m lazy and have other things I need to attend to today.

I present it here, to you, as it was given to me.

I will however, add my own opinions or comments in blue where I feel it’s necessary.

Grief Reactions

Even though grief is an inherently individual process, there are a number of common reactions to loss that be a part of our own grief process. These reactions fall into four different categories:

Thought Patterns, Physical Sensations, Emotions and Behaviors

Thought Patterns:

• Disbelief. This is often our first thought upon hearing of a death, especially if the death was sudden.

Absolutely true. But disbelief isn’t just a knee jerk reaction. It lingers, expands and dissipates like ripples in the water. And just when you think you’re past it, it comes back stronger than before. I’m over 7 months into this and I still experience powerful states of disbelief.

• Confusion. This manifests as having trouble concentrating, being forgetful, experiencing confused thinking.

Also true, but I did a lot of drugs when I was in my early 20’s. So that also might have something to do with it.

• Preoccupation. We may spend lots of time thinking about the deceased or obsessing about their suffering or dying.

This one sucks.

It sucks because it’s both counter-productive and completely uncontrollable.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed the scenario of my mom’s death in my head. Or more accurately, what I think my mom’s death might have been like.

I’ve imagined it from every angle. From every possible perspective.

Everything from an invisible fly on the wall – just watching things unfold. To actually putting myself in her place. What she might have been feeling. What she was thinking. Did she cry out for help? Did anyone hear her? Did she know she was dying? What were her last thoughts? Was she scared? Was she at peace?

I hate this…I do this constantly and I have no idea how to stop.

• Sense of Deceased Presence. This is most likely to happen shortly after the death.

I don’t know if this is referring to the “phantom limb” phenomenon (where when someone who loses an arm or a leg, they can sometimes still feel it and try to use it) or if they are talking about the deceased persons “spirit” for lack of a better word, watching over you.

For the sake of this discussion, lets assume it’s the latter.

I’ve talked about this before, but just to reiterate, I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in the concepts of Heaven or Hell. I just don’t buy it. As far as I’m concerned, there are no Angels. No Devils. No Fairies, no Leprechauns, no Vampires and no Goblins. I personally feel that the idea of Heaven and Hell is nothing more then an archaic way of keeping people in line. Be good and you go to Heaven. Be bad and you go to Hell. It’s all very convenient and impossible to disprove. Simple as that. But to be clear, I am not an atheist. Most atheists don’t believe in the possibility of God, Satan, Heaven, Hell.

I believe in the possibility. Much like I believe in the possibility of the Loch Ness Monster. I just don’t believe it to be true.

That being said, sensing a deceased persons presence is a very powerful and very real sensation. And it’s more than just a byproduct of grief. I don’t believe in God. I’m not sure if anything happens after you die, but I know for a fact that there have been times when my mother was with me. I don’t care how that sounds or what you personally believe. I know…I mean I really know, that my mother, in whatever form you want to call it…soul…spirit…is acutely aware of what I’m going through. Not only that, but I know it pains her to see me like this. To see me struggling. Does that sound self-centered and presumptuous? Of course it does. But I’m as sure of it as any other provable fact I could list.

• My name is Michael

• I live in New York

• My mother has been with me after she died.

• Hallucinations. It is a fairly common and normal symptom of bereavement to see or hear a loved one, usually within a few weeks after the death.

I love how they say that hallucinations are “fairly common and normal”.

Hallucinations should never, under any circumstances, be common and normal.

Unless you’re strapped to a chair and someone is pumping an electric current directly into your brain, we should always classify hallucinations as being odd and peculiar.

Seeing flowers in the spring is normal.

Seeing waves at the beach is normal.

Seeing animals at a zoo is normal.

Seeing your dead relative eating french fries at the table next to you is not normal.

Thankfully I have not experienced any hallucinations. And even if I did, I would just attribute it to my past drug use. Acid flashbacks and such.

I do have have strong and precise memories....the sound of her voice...the cadence of her speech..wierd little things like, how she walked. Not that she had a funny walk, but I can picture the mechanics very vividly. I can call these memories up at will and often do. And a lot of times I can close my eyes and picture it as if it's happening right in front of me. I know these don't qualify as "halucinations" per say, but they are very clear and sometimes emotionally distressing.

So that's that.

“Thought Patterns” in all of it's raw splendor.

Next up will be “Physical Sensations”, “Behaviors” and “Emotions”.

I’ll try not to be so long-winded in my next post but no promises.

We both know it's unlikely.

I'll also get back to posting actual "Carol Stories".

I know I've gotten a little off track lately. I'm by no means running out of stories. It's just that I've currently got a lot on my mind and on my plate - metaphorically speaking.

I'm still trying to sell her house...get her headstone taken care of...settle what's left of her accounts...etc etc etc....and I'm doing it all on my own.

So if these blog entries are fewer and farther between, please forgive me. It's not indicative of a waning interest, I'm just mentally and physically taxed.

Thanks for reading.

And thank you for everything mom.

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