Grief…..

Curious Rascal
5 min readFeb 10, 2023

I’ve recently experienced bereavement. I find it perplexing that our frail bodies and minds confront it as part of being human because it is a ferocious and jarring encounter.

Grief can arise from a multitude of circumstances — the break up of a friendship, the loss of something personal, a sundering of a relationship, changes in ourselves….it lies in wait to grasp our emotions in a vice when we are lost. This grief was for my father. Logically the human condition should be prepared for the demise of our parents when it seems their time. But somehow nature has deemed it fitting such a passing should impact many of us to our core. Perhaps each bereavement we experience is as intense and our minds subtlety soften our memories of the severity as time passes.

I don’t understand the purpose of grief. In truth it is ordinary. We each will encounter it, most of us numerous times in our existence. So in this sense it is an everyday. Yet it isn’t.

We each suffer grief and grieving in a personal way that fits our disposition. As I sat by my deceased father, my initial feelings felt alien to how I normally regard myself. Looking in on myself I could hear yours truly in turns howling like I was being physically assaulted to copious tears of pain to sheer disbelief praying for the hoax to be over. Trying hard to cope with the enormity of the moment, I took to repeating meaningless mantras as if a spell could reverse my mis-fortune. The feeling of loss was so piercingly tangible, I thought I’d fall apart.

How to define grief’s purpose then is curious so we need to step back to consider why nature believes it serves a necessary function for how we live life. Survival instincts seem to be key. John Bowlby developed Attachment theory in 2010 (mainly observing the child-parent relationship which was then extended to adults). At it’s simplest it focusses on the unconscious actions we take to feel close to another human to secure our longevity. Emotional bonds are critical to creating attachment, influencing intimacy in a relationship and critically setting our expectations of each other over time. If you consider a baby, crying and smiling for example creates such connections with an adult and ensures they are fed and looked after. Layered through — as we become more conscious of our relationships, the contemplation of separation causes us to strive for each other. In other words, attachment is necessary for cohesion and mutual support in order to survive.

We each react to loss and grief differently dependant on how we manifest our attachment in the first place (for example from highly anxious to ambivalent). The theory suggests when a bond is severed, grief along with the other emotions induced — however we react, are contrivances assisting us in order to deal with the broken ‘promises’ or the shattering of that cohesion. The Parkes Bowlby theory details the four phases when this occurs:

Shock and numbness

Yearning and searching

Disorganisation and despair

Reorganisation and recovery

Intermingled within this hypothesis, the Assumptive world theory suggests we each have beliefs that ground and secure our confidence as to how the world works. A splintering of such beliefs, as grief or trauma brings about, especially when it is difficult to rationalise, exacerbates the phases (as laid out above) we pass through. Obviously this is too rigid to be practically applied but it gives you a sense the journey through grief is ‘spikey’ until we emerge into acceptance. We are primed to love and care so it seems nature has found a way to accommodate loss. Evolutionary biologists believe the despair phase is necessary to help detach us from our loved one in order to rebuild our assumptions about the world with the absence of that person. At the yearning stage, one quote I read summed up my imbalanced frame of mind beautifully: ‘Holding onto the past until I find my present’.

According to The Conversation, shared grief can strengthen tribal bonds and it is thought we see that exhibited, or something akin in animals (although we have no way of knowing for sure). We have observed primates slipping into depression or removing themselves from social aspects of their collective when a member of the group passes. Often we think of grief being a state of mind, but there are physical manifestations. Higher levels of cortisol through stress, a weakened immune system, an irregular heart beat, listlessness, problems eating or sleeping. There is evidence to the existence of suffering a broken heart and so in the first year post bereavement you bear a higher chance of dying from grief.

What also stunned me about death, was the departure of the spark we call life or the soul. Up until death, we imbue the physical body with so much yet when the soul departs, all that is left is flesh and bones. It’s puzzling, because many is the time I have speculated on what is the je ne said quoi which makes us us or moulds us into individuals. At it’s most basic — alive. Science doesn’t offer answers. But death forces contemplation and it hits you with the realisation. You don’t know either. Very quickly after his passing I couldn’t relate the body in front of my eyes to my father anymore and it pained me. I couldn’t understand where ‘he’ had gone. His mannerisms and affectations, his voice whether it was telling me off or proffering affection, the twinkle in his eye, the parental worry that etched his face….all had evaporated…yet somehow he was still here. It was surreal and awful at the same time.

I confess, this post was therapy. I have and am struggling. My heart catches, my stomach lurches and I lose time. But there are positive aspects of this process. Grief for my father is teaching me to be kind to myself, patient with my family and cherish the time I have with those I care about. Sentiments I’m not very good at but hope to make part of my everyday. Thanks Dad. Both in life and in your passing, through joy and grief, it’s comforting to appreciate what you help me be….

When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.

Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,

examines,

gnaws on kind words

unsaid,

promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their

nurture,

now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

radiance, fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of

dark, cold

caves.

And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.

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Curious Rascal

I'm keen to understand more of the world, people, history, science, making sense of the random because it helps me in life and improves my thinking.