The part that is grief.

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.


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13 responses to “The part that is grief.

  1. Jill Golis

    Thank you.


  2. Diane Livia

    We all cope differently, that’s for sure. I found great comfort last night in downtown Oakland. Even the cops said 6K people were in the streets, shouting out their resistance. I find, for this kind of “political” grief, getting involved with folks who are really fighting back in constructive ways makes me feel whole.

    thanks for your thoughts, OTPR.

  3. you know, i’ve no idea who you are, but i’ve been reading your blog for about 6 months and… i really like you (not in a creepy way). thanks for this post and for what you do.

  4. Michael Bloom

    Gosh, I wonder what we might possibly be grieving about this week. : – ) Humor helps also. Great post.

  5. Faith

    Grief is such a crazy thing. I am both sorry to hear of a situation that led to such deep grief, and also know from my own experience that it’s part and parcel of love and life, and that it brings its own strange gifts. My people are always the ones that know it well. And, I deeply appreciate anybody holding down for it this week instead of rushing to solutions and optimism (though, you know, to each their own, we’re all in different places). Also, I would like to send you chapter 4, “The feelings of salty land and water” by a brilliant virtual colleague, in this book:

  6. Anonymous

    Adding my thanks for your thoughtful blog and timely comments.

  7. scottg

    My ten year old son was killed in an accident last summer.
    The grief I feel constantly at his loss has connected to the grief I was already struggling with when we lost him – from the failure of my marriage, from the loss of so much of the natural world I have tried so hard to protect for my kids and the kids I have hoped they would have.
    This is the world I live in.
    Thanks for describing it.

  8. Patricia Schifferle

    I think one of the most devious and difficult aspect of grief is the emotional tunnel feels like it is never going to end or change. So while I agree with your last sentence, those in the midst of grief do not find it comforting nor do they find it consistent with their experience. The challenge is undoubtedly to get those in the chaos of grief to hear that message and take a step. Remember mother nature bats last.

  9. Tim McSweeney

    All my sincere sympathy. Thank you for your postings and best wishes.

  10. JAM

    Considering that all of the content of this blog has been relevant, useful and well reasoned, I find it no surprise that a post on a more personal, visceral level should be any different. Thanks, as always.

  11. Maria P

    Thank you for validating that what we are experiencing truly is grief. On Nov. 9 at 8:15 a.m., I was walking from my car toward my office building and tears began to stream down my face. It was the first time I was really alone with my thoughts. The point about “crying during transit” really struck me. And it made me realize the exhaustion I’ve been feeling the past two days can be attributed to grief. Thanks for sharing on all of the things that really matter.

  12. Anonymous

    There is a glimmer of hope for California water…the Public Trust Doctrine. We need all hands on deck!! Remember Mono Lake…sanity is possible.