Grief Reactions: Part 2
Well here we are again.
Grief Reactions Part II
Grief Reactions the Sequel
Grief Reactions – The Musical!
If you’re just joining us now, you may want to go back and
skim through the first half of this by clicking here.
If you’re too lazy to do that, here’s a brief summation:
Grief Reactions Part 1
….I starting going to grief counseling
….Topic of conversation was standard reactions to grief
…Reactions fall into four distinct catagories -
Thought Patterns, Physical Sensations, Emotions and Behaviors
…Covered Thought Patterns in my last post.
…Tried to make it entertaining.
…Probably not so much.
So that brings us to Part II and the first category…
• Tightness in the forehead, throat or chest.
• Dry Mouth
• Nausea and /or hollow feeling in the stomach
• Hypersensitivity to noise
• Lack of energy, weakness
• Sense of depersonalization
There really isn’t much I can say about this one.
This list could be describing grief or a bad case of mono.
The only two that stand out to me, are
“Lack of Energy” and “Sense of Depersonalization”.
The first, again, only as it pertains to me, is less a “lack of energy” and more a “lack of enthusiasm”. Which I suppose you could say is more or less the same thing.
My lack of energy stems directly from my lack of enthusiasm. Which in turn feeds my depression. Depression, in and of itself is mentally and physically exhausting, thereby contributing to my lack of energy.
Ahhhh yes…the old lack of energy + lack of enthusiasm + depression = lack of energy equation. A vicious circle if ever there was one.
The sense of depersonalization is basically just a side product of my overall numbness. Everything just feels bland.
Lets see if I can put this another way…
Think of something that other people enjoy, that you personally never cared about.
For me, that would be sports.
All my friends love watching sports.
Football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, wrestling, racing….whatever. My friends could sit around all goddamn day and blabber on endlessly about this guy’s stats or that guy's performance or how badly this team is doing…plays, innings, quarters, downs, passes, catches, bases, nationals, finals, big games and are there any nachos left?
Me, I couldn’t possibly care any less.
I just don’t have the sports gene and I never lamented it’s absence a day in my life.
When it comes to the Mets, the Yankees, the Jets, the Giants, my only thought is “meh”.
But now that’s how I feel about pretty much everything.
I recently took what should have been a life changing trip.
It’s a trip I’ve been wanting to take for years.
Something I dreamed about doing.
One of those things that you say to yourself “One of these days I’m going to…”
...only this time, I actually did it.
I finally did it.
But now, sitting here, typing this, the trip barely registers as happening at all.
I took dozens of pictures, but when I look at them, they just look like pictures.
Not memories. Just images. Flat and unfamiliar.
And that’s because my grief has laid a new foundation for my life.
A sad foundation. One that lies underneath everything else.
There’s grief first – then there’s breakfast.
There’s grief first – then there’s work.
There’s grief first – then there’s family.
So when it comes to depersonalization, do I feel like less of who I previously was?
Absolutely. And if we’re being honest, it’s been so long, I’m not sure I even remember who that person was.
• Sleep Disturbances. These are very common. They may sometimes require medical intervention, but in normal grief they usually correct themselves. They can sometimes symbolize various fears, such as the fear of dreaming, the fear of being in bed alone and the fear of not awakening.
I don’t think this really requires any of my world famous long-winded running commentary.
Losing sleep after my mom dies?
Of course I’m not sleeping
• Appetite Disturbances. Loss of appetite is more common than increased appetite, but both are very common.
Here’s a fun fact…I have experienced a loss of appetite and gained at least 20 pounds since February. Isn’t that nice? Fuck you grief.
• Absent-Minded Behavior. This can be dangerous if, for example, we are not paying attention while crossing the street or driving.
I wouldn’t consider what I’ve been going through as “absent-minded”. I would call it a constant preoccupation. I’m hyper focused, but it’s only been on one thing.
And yes, it definitely can be dangerous.
• Social Withdrawl. This is usually short-lived and corrects itself. It can also include a loss of interest in the outside world, such as giving up TV and newspapers.
Social withdrawl is really just a component of lack of energy/enthusiasm.
There are times that I simply don’t want to be around anyone. Times when I want to be left completely alone. Even from my wife. But most of the time, I don’t have the energy or the interest in being around anyone. I just don’t care what has been going on in their lives. I know that sounds cold and unfeeling and it is. Because I have become cold and unfeeling. It's tru and I openly admit to it.
Sure I do things….I go out…go to dinner…hang out with friends….but do I “want” to?
I don’t really “want” to.
I haven’t “wanted” anything since my mom died.
I’m not trying to sound overly dramatic or elicit pity from you, the good reader. I’m just being honest. I really don’t want to interact with anyone. But I do, because I think I should. Or at least I’ve been told I should.
• Dreams of the Deceased. Both dreams and nightmares are very common and can give clues as to our progress in our course of mourning.
I’ve already covered this at length.
The short answer is – every night.
The longer answer is- click here
Which brings us to our final category…
You might want to get comfortable….this could take a while…..
• Shock. This occurs most often in the case of a sudden death, but may also occur after an expected death.
There’s no real way to explain this other than to say that “Shock” is a real motherfucker…and yes I know that’s a poor choice of word given the nature of this blog.
Here’s the thing with shock…when I first got the phone call on the afternoon of February 1st 2014…when some anonymous voice on my telephone told me that my mom was dead, I was in shock.
When I went downstairs and told my wife that my mom was dead, I was in shock.
When I drove to St. Catherine’s Hospital, I was in shock.
When I called all my relatives to tell them what had happened, I was in shock.
And as I’m typing this right now, I am in shock.
Everything you think happens, happens.
You think to yourself, “This can’t be happening”. Then you think, “How can this be happening” and then finally “I can’t believe this happened”.
But not just once.
This internal typhoon happens over and over and over and it doesn’t ever seem to stop.
That word, “Shock” does not accurately describe the emotional state it causes.
Yes, it’s sudden. Like a jolt of electricity. It hits hard and fast. Too fast for you to see or even process. It leaves you stunned. Staggering. Literally gasping for air.
But it doesn’t leave and that’s it’s real power.
Shock lives inside you. It sees what you see. Knows what you know. And it’s stronger than you are. It can lie dormant for an hour…for a day…for a week…and then suddenly, without warning, it hits you again. Just as hard and just as fast as the first time.
This can’t be happening!
How can this be happening!
I can’t believe this happened!
And it lingers. It might not move, but you know it’s there…until it allows you to temporarily forget about it….until you’re calm….until it’s ready to strike again.
And it will.
And you know it will.
And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
• Numbness. This is commonly experienced early in the grieving process and serves to protect us from being overwhelmed by a flood of feelings.
We already covered this, but I will add that only an emotion as powerful as grief can make you feel so many different things and be completely numb at the same time.
Grief and probably heroin.
• Sadness. This is the most familiar reaction to grief and it helps us by evoking sympathy and protective responses in those around us.
I never really thought of sadness as being a shield as the explanation suggests.
I just thought sadness came with the territory of losing a loved one.
Hell, losing anything you loved. Family member, friend, pet hamster, favorite shoe…
I don’t know that I fully believe it helps us by evoking sympathy.
That seems to be a calculation that can’t really be measured with any degree of accuracy. Sadness is sadness. It’s heavy and cumbersome. Yes, it loves company, but a pat on the back and the promise that “everything is going to be alright” isn’t as reassuring as some might think.
• Irritability and Anger. This anger comes from two sources, First we feel frustrated that we couldn’t prevent the death. Second, it is a normal regressive experience to feel anger at the person that “abandoned” us. These feelings need to be acknowledged and eventually accepted as being directed at the deceased. It is very common to displace anger onto another target, such as paramedics or other health care personnel. If the anger us turned inward towards ourselves, it may develop into suicidal behavior.
I’m half and half on this.
I am angry. I freely and openly admit this. I am fucking angry.
And yes, I’m frustrated that I wasn’t there when my mom died. Even if I couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, I’m angry and upset that my mother died alone.
She deserved better. Much better then that.
But I’m not mad at her. I’ve never been mad at her.
I’m mad at everyone else.
I’m mad at myself. I’m mad at her doctors. I’m mad at her employers. I’m mad at anyone that ever treated her poorly. I’m mad at the people who lived around the corner from us while we were growing up because they disrespected her once.
I’m mad because she didn’t live in a big house. I’m mad that she didn’t drive a nicer car. I’m mad that she didn’t get to travel as often as she would have liked. I’m mad because I didn’t give her the life she deserved. Not needed. Not wanted. Deserved.
But I’m not mad at her. I know this wasn’t her choice. I know she wouldn’t have left me like this given the choice. I know she wouldn’t want to see me like this.
The irony is, in the real world, she would have given her life to spare me this kind of pain.
• Guilt. Guilt is a very common symptom of bereavement, particularly in the case of suicide. It most often is irrational and will lessen with reality testing.
Guilt is not only a very common symptom of bereavement, it’s also a very common symptom of being Jewish. So yea, saying I shoulder a lot of guilt isn’t really a stretch.
That being said, this is also something I’ve covered at length and I’m pretty sure people are sick of reading about it.
Yes, I have a tremendous amount of guilt. In fact, my near crippling sense of guilt was one of the main reasons I started writing this blog in the first place.
• Anxiety. Our way of looking at the world may have been shattered by our loss. This can range from a light sense of insecurity to a strong panic attack. The sources for this anxiety are the fear that we won’t be able to take care of ourselves on our own and a heightened sense of our own mortality.
Nope. Not me.
I haven’t experienced any anxiety whatsoever.
No shakes, no shimmers, no panic attacks.
As for my own mortality, well, I don’t know that my awareness of it has become heightened. I will say that I don’t have as much respect for it as I once did.
Let me explain…and this is going to sound morbid and grim, but believe me when I say, I honestly don’t view it like that.
I’m not a religious person. I’m spiritual, but not religious. I don’t really believe in the concept of heaven or hell – God or the Devil. I’m not an atheist. I would classify myself more as an Agnostic Pragmatist. I do however believe in some version of the “afterlife”. I don’t think we exist solely in a mortal form and when we die, we’re done.
I’m sure you’ve heard stories about people who have had near-death experiences claiming to have been “welcomed” by loved ones that died before them.
I like that idea. I don’t know that I believe it per say. But I do like it. I never really thought about it before my mom died, but now, months removed from her death, I find it peaceful.
The problem is, I also find it welcoming.
As in, I wouldn’t mind that at all.
See, I used to have a healthy respect for life and respectful fear of death.
But not anymore. Death does not scare me. Not even a little.
I don’t want to die, but I’m probably not doing everything I should to avoid it.
Before anyone reads too much into this, let me state right here and now, that I am not suicidal. Not at all. That kind of thing has never crossed my mind. But now when I do think about my own death, I think “well, what’s the worst that could happen”? “Maybe those people are right and I’ll get to see my mom again”. “That would be great”.
Again, I don’t see this as a means to an end or a solution of any kind. It’s just one of the many thoughts that are on a constant loop in my head. Along with monster movies and French toast…so seriously, don’t read too much into it.
• Loneliness. This is particularly a problem for surviving spouses or in other close day-to-day relationships. It may be very intense if we had an extremely close or conflictual relationship.
Right after my mom died, I was surrounded by people. People I knew…people I didn’t know…people who knew me. They would call or they would stop by or email or send text messages. All day long. People were everywhere and all they wanted to do was help. And even though I felt like the captain of an army; dozens of loyal soldiers just awaiting my orders, I felt completely and utterly alone.
Nothing anyone did, no amount of physical bodies in my line of sight, did anything to quell that feeling.
I didn’t live with my mom and I didn’t see her every day, so the loss and loneliness I felt wasn’t like a person was missing. It was (and still is) much, much greater than that. It was (and still is) as if half of myself is missing. Like my inside...my entire soul had been taken from me. My body, my exterior form is intact, but everything that made me, me, is lost. So the loneliness I felt and still feel to this day, isn’t so much that my mom is gone. It’s that I'm gone.
I never realized how much of myself I got from her. And now that she’s not here, I’m struggling to figure out who I am.
Trust me, I know how exaggerated that sounds. I hesitated even writing it. But I figured, what the hell, we’ve come this far.
• Fatigue. Grief is emotionally exhausting. This fatigue can be surprising and distressing to an active person.
Already covered this under Social Withdrawl.
• Helplessness. The stress of bereavement is heightened by the fact that there is nothing we can do to reverse death.
Helplessness…ahhh helplessness….much like “Shock”, you too are a heartless and unrelenting motherfucker.
Let me explain the effects of Helplessness to you.
I am a 41 year old man.
I am married. I have a job. I own a home.
I am an avid gardener. I enjoy traveling and I’m the President of a nationally recognized motorcycle club.
I consider myself both capable and adaptable.
But when my mom died, when the cold, hard realization sunk in and the gravity of what had happened took hold, I became completely undone.
I felt like a child. A lost, abandoned child. One that was crying. Inconsolable…screaming out “I WANT MY MOMMY”! over and over.
Nothing could stop me. Nobody could help. All I wanted was my mom. I just wanted my mom to be there. To tell me it’s ok, To tell me everything was going to be alright.
I WANT MY MOM! I WANT MY MOM! I WANT MY MOM!!!
That feeling never subsides.
It never goes away.
I feel that way right now.
• Yearning. Missing the deceased is a normal response to loss. When it diminishes, it may be a sign that the mourning is coming to an end.
“When it diminishes”?
Really? Yea, I’ll let you know when that happens.
Don’t hold your breath.
• Relief. Many people feel relief after the death of a loved one, particularly if the loved one suffered during a lengthy illness. Relief is often accompanied by a sense of guilt.
Nope. Not relevant.
• Avoiding Reminders of the Deceased. We may avoid places or things that trigger painful feelings of grief. When we get rid of belongings right away, it can lead to complicated bereavement.
I can’t say I’ve consciously done this.
Mainly because I’m the only one in my family that has been around to deal with her estate. And since her house makes up the bulk of that, I’m not in any position to avoid it.
I am the one who had to get rid of all her stuff.
I’m the one that had to paint the house and put it on the market.
I’m the one that’s closing out accounts, paying bills and disassembling a life that took 70 years to build.
I don’t have the luxury of avoidance.
• Crying. There is potential healing value in crying, because tears release mood altering chemicals.
I’m not sure this one really needs much explanation.
Crying seems pretty standard.
If you order Mac and Cheese, you kind of expect some cheese.
I have read that tears release “mood altering chemicals”.
More specifically adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), one of the best indicators of stress. In fact, suppressing tears increases stress levels, and contributes to diseases aggravated by stress, such as high blood pressure, heart problems and ulcers.
But in this particular case, crying isn’t a medical condition. It’s emotional.
I feel bad, I cry, I feel slightly better.
Much in the same way if you’re hungry, you eat, you feel better.
…hmmm…that’s two food references in one paragraph…must be getting close to lunch time.
But yes, I cry.
I cry a lot.
And not just about my mom. Her death has made me become an emotional superball. I’m up and down about everything. Tears can come, and often do, at the drop of a hat. Could be about anything. Something I’ve read…a movie….a conversation that might hit close to home.
One minute I’m laughing and the next, I have tears streaming down my cheeks.
Sometimes I cry and I don’t even feel that sad.
Sometimes I’m despondent and I don’t cry at all.
There’s no rhyme or reason. No warning. And no end in sight.
Hell, I might be like this forever. Who knows. I guess only time will tell.
But yea, crying, for me, has been a constant companion.
Something so frequent I barely even notice it anymore.
Which I guess is fine considering that before my mom’s death, the last time I cried was back in the second grade. So I guess I’m due.
Well, that about wraps it up.
There you have it. Grief Reactions.
Fun. Informative. Compelling. Enthralling.
I hope you found this to be entertaining and possibly even useful.
If not, well, there are worse ways you could spend your time.
Thanks for reading and as always, thank you mom for everything.
I’ll never be able to say that enough to make it count.
I love you.