Grief Brain: Six Years and Counting

When I first became aware that Grief Brain was a real thing, it was a blessed relief!

I had long known that physical, mental or emotional stress could alter thinking and make it hard to remember things but I had never experienced such inability to hold even the most basic information in my head or found it nearly impossible to complete simple daily tasks.

It was truly frightening.

And it made life extremely hard.

I think the really, truly awful period of confusion, memory loss and difficulty lasted a good couple of years-not every day as bad as the next or the one before-but it was fairly consistent. I had to use lists, alarms and strict habits (like where I put my keys, the route I took somewhere, etc.) to make it through.

Now, six years later, it’s not nearly as bad.

That’s partly because I’ve become so good at relying on aids and helps like alarms and calendars and partly because I’ve gotten better at keeping the constant hum of loss compartmentalized in my brain so I can actually think of something else.

But if there is any added stress in the system I regress.

I forget words, names, places, why I’ve walked into a room, where I’m going, what I’m doing and (much to my horror) food in the oven or on the stove.

So if you are in the early days of loss and wonder, wonder, wonder if you are losing your mind, odds are-you aren’t.

It’s just Grief Brain.

It WILL get better.

In the meantime, use whatever helps you do what you have to do.

And be kind to yourself.

Wondering If All These Crazy Emotions Are Normal In Grief? Yes. Absolutely.

You’d think that the depths of despair, the breath pressed out of your lungs would stop a brain from wondering if even here, I’m “normal”.

I’m not sure it’s the same need for affirmation junior high girls crave-am I doing/saying/being the things that will guarantee I fit in-but it’s a close cousin.

The human heart longs to know that what it feels is something other hearts feel.

I was desperate for assurance that what I was going through fell well within the range of “normal”.

So let me assure you.

If you wonder if all these crazy emotions are normal in grief, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”.

Grief is a ball of emotions any one of which may demand more or less of your attention on a given day. It’s not just sadness or missing or sorrow or even pain.

It’s anger, frustration, rage, relief, abandonment, jealousy, rejection, inadequacy, guilt, denial, dismay, apathy, bitterness, longing, anxiety, woe, depression, vindictiveness, despair, confusion, depression, yearning and more.

Just like loving a living child is complex and complicated, loving a child that has run ahead to Heaven is just as complex.

So don’t make your journey harder by worrying that what you’re feeling is outside the range of normal.

It isn’t.

I promise.

I am NOT Crazy!

It was just over a year after Dominic’s accident and a friend forwarded an article about odd behaviors of those who were “stuck’ in grief.  Along with the forward was a little tag, “Reminds me of you.”

It hurt my feelings.

And it was inappropriate.

Because not only had I not participated in any of the listed behaviors (most of which anyone would deem odd and some that were actually harmful) but as far as I could tell, I was doing pretty good, considering.

Considering I went to bed one night with four children alive and well and woke in the wee hours of the next day to the news that one was dead.

No warning.  No good-byes.

Just gone.

In the months since that day I had gotten up each morning and taken care of necessary tasks.  I was not abusing alcohol, drugs or food.  I was still exercising when I could.

And I was engaged with my family -working with them to put the pieces of our shattered lives and hearts back together again.

Yes, I cried.  A lot.  No, I didn’t like to be around crowds.  I stayed at home much more than before. I struggled with anxiety when anything out of the ordinary happened.  I found small talk hard to follow and forgot things (still do). And I was not participating in many “extra” activities.

I slept with Dominic’s pillows every night-it was a way to touch what was left of him.

But I was functioning.

My friend’s reaction to the fact that I was “still” grieving after a year is not all that unusual.

I speak to bereaved parents who are often made to feel by others as if they should “be over” the death of their child.

They are told to “move on”.

Or, in faith circles, to “be happy he is in heaven”.

Most mental health professionals agree that child loss is probably the most difficult loss anyone has to bear.  

A simple Google search will turn up dozens of articles that support this understanding of a parent’s heartache and lifelong struggle to embrace the pain of losing a child.

Yet most people are unaware of this fact.

So I’m here to tell you-grieving mama, grieving dad-you are NOT crazy!  

You are not overreacting to one of the most awful things that can happen to someone.  Out of order death is devastating!

When asked about his son years after he had died,  Gregory Peck replied:

every day

As I’ve written in a previous post Am I Normal?

No one thinks it strange that the ADDITION of a child is a life-long adjustment.

So, why, why, why is it strange that the SUBTRACTION of a child would also require accommodation for the rest of a mother’s life?

I understand that if you haven’t walked this path, you can’t REALLY know what it’s like-even if you try.

I don’t want you to know this pain by experience.

It’s awful and unrelenting.

What I do want you to know is I am NOT crazy for missing my son.  I am NOT crazy for wishing I could turn back the clock.

I am NOT crazy because this devastating, paradigm shifting, unbelievably painful event still impacts my everyday life.

Please don’t treat me like I am.

The best help a friend can offer is a listening ear-no judgement-and a hug that says, “I love you. And I’m sorry.”

changed for life