Friends, I find this a bit bizarre and further, I dislike talking about myself here. This week, however, two of my strongest intellectual interests have converged. During the years this blog was silent, my partner and I were given cause for great grief. We were essentially obliterated; my absence from the blog I love is evidence of that. I was too reduced to have abstract interests, including water, but I read everything I found about grief. (I am also astonished that I didn’t find the work Dr. Kearns pointed me to, which is about the best I’ve read on grief.)
While reading about grief, I was substantially frustrated. In our state those years, everything was explainable by grief, which is essentially useless. I did not find the stages of grief useful either, especially when I was told they could intermix. I wanted to know what was natural to grief and would lift of its own, what was situational, and what was potentially pathological and should be addressed. This week, as we are back in grief, I’d like to sort it for you in more concrete terms. These are ways you are likely experiencing grief:
- That stoned numb feeling is grief. Clumsy, knocking into things, losing words, feeling disembodied –all grief.
- Your exhaustion is from grief. It isn’t just the time change, nor staying up to see the election results. Grief is exhausting and you need to sleep.
- Crying during transit. When you are grieving, you cry when you move between places. Driving, walking, even cycling all become times to sob.
- Appetite regression. The stronger the grief, the more the appetite goes back to childish foods. When we got our bad news, at first we couldn’t eat, then we ate nothing but breakfast cereal for days. Expect to crave the comfort foods of your childhood. I didn’t really love Didion’s book on grief, but she pointed to the most useful tip on grief I saw anywhere. Emily Post wrote:
“It is also well to prepare a little hot tea or broth,” Mrs. Post advised, “and it should be brought them upon their return without their being asked if they would care for it. Those who are in great distress want no food, but if it is handed to them, they will mechanically take it, and something warm to start digestion and stimulate impaired circulation is what they most need.” [Emily Post’s 1922 book of etiquette, Chapter XXIV, “Funerals”]
- Carbs. This is a peculiar observation and I don’t know the mechanism, but I can tell you for certain. Carbs are important right now; they are called comfort foods for a reason. If you restrict carbs in your diet, the depths of your grief will be deeper.
- Spontaneous crying. It is OK and appropriate. Do not be afraid; you will not cry harder than your body can take.
- The feeling of being encased in fog, or moving through a viscous fluid, or greyness or bleakness. This is grief-related depression. It should go away, but keep an eye on it.
- Low motivation, difficulty initiating movement and plans, fatigue that makes all functions hard. This is also grief-related depression. Frankly, we just submitted to it and did almost nothing.
If you are otherwise healthy, your grief will pass. It just does, lightening for small stretches of time that lengthen into days. You will know that grief has passed when intellectual interests return, when you find the energy to tackle something big you want to do, when you feel like your old self. When grief passes, we will all still face this incredibly horrible reality. But you will be assessing and participating in it with your usual capacities, without the incremental burden of grief.
UPDATE: I got some commiseration that makes me think that this post isn’t clear. We had a very bad couple of years, but have gotten much better. For two years we have been well and happy. The grief did indeed lift. This election knocked me down, but not nearly so far.