I was gut punched, sucker punched. When I least expected it, a ton of bricks fell and they kept falling. I staggered through the day and more would fall. Maybe a movie, maybe a little kid, it could be someone’s smile, a thoughtful act, I couldn’t avoid it—wham—another brick, sometimes a wheelbarrow full.
The world I knew with it’s order, it’s just results, it’s scientific, theoretical, and spiritual underpinnings ceased. It’s like when I was a little kid I thought China was on the opposite side of the globe. It was a mystery how people could hang on to the earth and not fall off. Now I was hanging on but at the same time I wanted to fall off.
Nothing else matters when you grieve, it’s you. You know others hurt but you can’t help, you know he’s gone, you may know where, but you desperately need to check on him, like you did when he was just a boy and you’d slip into his room to watch his angelic breath. At that point you got to realign and know he was God’s creation.
But now you go in and there is just an empty bed and all you want to do is reach out and touch him, hold him, kiss him one last time. Just one moment, it’s all we want.
Death. The first frontier—the last mystery. Cain killed Abel, the first recorded death, but what of the parent’s grief—no clue. When my son died in a motorcycle accident at the age of thirty, I felt incredibly guilty. Somehow it was my fault. I wish I had never grown up, never lived for that matter, to bring this on him and my family.
Imagine how Adam and Eve felt as parents. Imagine the guilt, feel the responsibility. Overwhelming.
Despite the universal phenomenon, forget that it’s the most disruptive force that’s been going on forever, it continues to be an overwhelming mystery. Religions are born, philosophies are created, and narratives are originated all to explain the inexplicable. We still try.
We work out, we take pills, we color our hair, avoid the sun and fatty acids thinking we can control the uncontrollable. In the end we are as effective as a childhood nightmare. No matter the method, suicide, physician assisted termination, living will, pull the plug, write the last will and testament, buy the plot, burn the bones—no matter, it still sneaks upon us like a thief in the night. It chokes those who are left, it blinds the ones who care, it hangs the ones who care the most.
The experts are still debating what to call it. Is it grief, its it depression? Is it complicated or is it prolonged? Is it both? Maybe it’s all those things—maybe it’s more. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is popular these days. We’ve made PTSD sexy after feeling for the returning war vets. Sexy unless you’re the one dealing with the memories, the triggers, anger, guilt, and self-abasement. Somehow we just can’t get a handle on death. Strange, we can’t control the uncontrollable.
Name it and claim it, the popular expression goes. Well just because you call it a thing does that give you any control? It is a force, the ultimate force in human experience, a force we have to reckon. So the studies go on. Can a fish know wet? A fish knows dry. You know it if you’ve had a guppy flopping on the floor. But it doesn’t seem that a fish knows wet. Do we know life? We try. If we don’t really know life, how can we know death?
Grief is the acknowledgement how little we know, and it scares the bejesus out of us. Theologians think, philosophers imagine, and psychologists feel. All blind men at differing ends of the elephant. Grief isn’t just prolonged or complicated. It isn’t PTSD, MDE, or OCD.
The closest label is addiction. Addiction? That seems strange. No one chooses an addiction. They may choose a dangerous activity, they may choose to do something more than the rest of us, but they don’t choose a life of misery, guilt, self-esteem issues, pessimism, and a mixture of anxiety and depression. Whether they were born with addiction or developed it with too much practice is not my point. That question is just another mental gymnastic that is a useful as figuring out the chicken or the egg.
But considering the symptoms, the appearance, and even the progression and remission of grief, there are some definite similarities to addiction and the lifestyle that results. Just like alcoholism, when someone stops drinking, they don’t stop “addicting,” someone can’t just stop grieving.
It’s only when meaning partially fills the void left from the substance, or in this case, the dead person, that the survivor can continue to live. So that leave us all with the final question—Where is your meaning to be found?
Next week we’ll look closer at meaning. And oh—it’s the chicken, always has been.
Andy is a Clinical Psychologist who lost his son in a tragic motorcycle accident and now authors articles on bereavement. The quiz is available! Go to http://andymdavidson.com/Home/Pgd to find out if you may have Prolonged Grief Disorder. Look forward to his upcoming posts, and book, When Sunday Smiled. COMING MARCH 15TH!!
Follow him at his website, AndyMDavidson.com and Facebook.com/ThroughLifeandLoss to find out more about grief.