Wednesday, January 20, 2021

10 - Sadness and Grief

Journey from the break of sunset 
to the end of night: 
SADNESS, GRIEF and more 

1 – Visual example of a sad situation in life

   The toughest question: … 

2 – Two flashlights on sadness and/or grief 

  • We never experience our life more strongly than in great love and in deep sadness. 
R. M. Rilke 

  • Mourning is the price we pay for having the courage to love others. 
Marilyn and Irvin Yalom 
A Matter of Death and Life 

3 – Two questions 

 • What makes you sad? 

 • What do you do when you feel sad?

This song is the most stunning and life affirming “requiem” that I know. It’s a furious hommage, a vibrant and empathetic ode for and about the creative artist, dancer and choreograph Marcia Moretto, who died at the age of 36 of breast cancer. 
 Et quand tu ris, je ris aussi 
Tu aimes tellement la vie 
La mort c'est comme une chose impossible 
Même pour toi qui est la vie même Marcia 

 4 – Sadness in everyday language games

 In general and in other particular circunstances, most of us don’t want to talk about sadness, loss, grief and death. In the West we live in emotion -, grief -, and death-phobic societies, where we strive especially to be "furiously happy" all the time. The result is that so called "dark or bad emotions" and mental pain are still taboo in our converstions with others, because they remind us a little bit too clearly, that not everything is roses and wine in this life. 

So in everyday relationships you have to master the skill of surface acting, that means, pretending that you’re fine, that you’re living in the best of all worlds, and you are living the high life, without problems or sufferings. In this kind of environment it would be a strategic mistake to show your feelings of sadness or grief, since it makes everybody uncomfortable and soon you will be on your own alone. 

But life is life, and once in a while clouds cover our mind and we may ask ourselves: Why do I feel sad some time and another? Some say the reason is that life may be the best teacher that ever existed, although its teaching methods are not the most compassionate ones, and on top of that, life is a bad listener, and in most, if not all situations, it doesn’t take notice of our wishes and prayers. And when this happens, when we don’t reach our desired and planned goals or when something crumbles apart under the weight of gravity, we may feel sad (or angry!). 

You may feel blue for zillions of near fetched reasons, e.g., because it’s Monday morning, because it's Tuesday morning, it’s cloudy, it's too hot, the neighbours cat didn’t say hello, you have to do something you don’t like, your spouse wants a divorce, your football team lost, etc., and a truck load of other things that come up one day and the next again. 

More concrete, feeling sad is a reaction to something lost or missing, to interpersonal problems or other complex situations, where we didn’t reach an expected outcome. So sadness comes as a result of a certain unfavorable situation for us, and we need some resting time (feeling sad and slowing down) to digest the real or imagined loss and to rest calmly so that our dizzy mind and our weakened body have time to renovate themselves. 

Feeling sad is most of the times - but not always - part of the so called normal life cycle, and it comes and goes like a few rainy days during summer (although depending where and how you live, rainy days can be the norm!). Eventually the sun will shine again, one day or another! 

After sadness, Grief climbs to the next level of pain in the pyramide of human suffering for our losses. It’s the common response to the loss of an emotionally important person (or "object") to us. In general this feeling is stronger and lasts longer than sadness, since it always looks backwards to a cherished situation as it used to be, in relation to how it is now. It’s a feeling of lacking somebody or something irreplaceable in your present life, and its source of energy get fed by our memories. And the memories we have or that we recall every now and then may make us feel better or worse in comparison to our base level mood. 

 Rule of thumb # 7 
Memories warm you up from the inside. 
But they also tear you apart. 
 Haruki Murakami
   Kafka on the shore 

The more we were attached to something or someone, the more we will suffer when that real or imagined “object” is not there anymore. Grief is a response to a loss of what we loved, and all too suddenly isn't with us any more. That feeling changes how we give meaning to our everday activities and sometimes may cloud out experiences of ease for months, years and more. Grief is especially strong after the loss of a close friend, a spouse, a parent, and reaches it peak of despair with the loss of your child. 

Grief implores us to slow down, because something or somebody important to us isn’t part of our life anymore and we have to recognize and honor her/him/it before we can go on with our life as before. 

Grief, as well as sadness, may be accompanied by feelings of anger, rage, shame or guilt, most of the time in cases of somehow former difficult relationships, where a lot of “things” were never mentioned and went unspoken, and now they may be hidden and embedded in your body as tensions or inflammation. 

 We create grief by interpreting "That's a pity!", "No, no, no, I don't want that!", which implies that it's an event we can't change anymore. What happened happened, and even "all the King's horses and all the King's men won't put it together again". Knowing and admitting the facts is the first step - sooner or later or never - in the direction of “accepting” (after a certain time and because there’s nothing we can change) what is and what is not anymore, even if it is different from what we would like it to be. 

Sadness and grief ask us (metaphorically speaking!) to take time and space to feel the loss as well as doing things which distract and anchor us (TV, family life, work, …). Grief may open our hearts again to the love for the person who once was a part of us. If we are too overwhelmed and scared of our emotional pain we may shut down and represse our feelings, with the effect that we run around like rigid robots, hurting ourselves and others without even noticing it.

 Grief is a force of great depth, breadth, "wisdom" and brutal strength and honesty; you can’t escape it. You can calm it down with chemicals and comfort food, but it stays with you saying: “Your world and your life has changed, somebody or something is missing, sit still and cry and get - slowly by slowly - adapted to the new situation.” 

Grief challenges our plans and beliefs about our life, about what we expected would going to happen and what really has happened. The greater the gap between our expectations of how the world should be and how it actually is, the greater our sens of sorrow and grief. We know and expect that a child should outlive her/his parents, but some children die as children, and that destroys our expectations of how a suppossedly“fair and just” reality should operate. 

5 - When do we need it? 

When we lose somebody or something important to us. An “object” we had held on to and who or which gave us joy and a sense of meaning in life. It may be the loss of your spouse, your child, a pet, an idea, a house or plenty of other “things”. You accept through sadness and grief what you cannot change, although you wish otherwise. It is not in your power anymore to change it. In grieving, you try to come to a new agreement of what is, and at the same time you appreciate the wish and longing to have it differently. 

 Some people experience an unrelenting desire to be with the deceased, they can’t sleep at night, have intrusive thoughts and lose all their motivation to do something or to meet other people. It may last for months, years, and even decades. Psychotherapists call that, when it lasts longer than six months “a complicated or pathological grief.” Some people, after experiencing an important loss, just go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. Most of us are somewhere inbetween these two extreme points of grieving. 

Rule of thumb # 8

Some people feel nothing. 
Some people never recover. 
Virginia Ironside 
'You'll Get Over It' 

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross described and explained different stages during the griefing process, but it looks like that it doesn't apply to everybody (maybe it doesn't even exist and it's just a cute idea somebody had), or maybe these stages are just a sugar candy concept to assure us that we are in control and our grief will go as fantasized as the wizards of soul repair imagine and predict.

So Grief is the answer to an enforced change of perspective: An important part of your life has stopped existing, and as such your life has lost its former meaning. All your plans and expectations for a future are blown away like a dried leaf in the first autumn storm, and you have to accept and adept to it, that’s where grief comes in and does the slow work of letting go and searching for and creating a new meaning (which may or may not appear!). 

But there’s no rule for grief, no time limit, no approbiate level of pain, no perfect mode of mourning. Each grief is personal, like each love or any kind of experience that you ever had. It's yours, and nobody else knows how you really feel in a given moment, most of the time not even yourself. You feel what you feel and you take the time you need. There’s no “Greenwich mean time” for grieving, nothing similar to a “McDonalds” kind of Grief. And when an important connection ends, whensomebody dies, every and each grief is different, it’s a personal and completely intimate “grief-love affair”. 

 But in any case, remember, whenever you love, after a certain time, sooner or later, you will experience loss, and the more and deeper you’ve loved, the more the loss will mind-numb and body-wrench you. There’s no easy way out, it’s an experience for all humans who have feelings, and if you don’t want to feel the pain of loss, and the tears of grief, then you better never ever get attached to somebody, which means you will miss out on the strongest drug mother nature has invented and created in and for us, so that we can appreciate life in all its forms and variations: 
  • We are remade in times of grief, broken apart and reassembled. It is hard, painful, and unbidden work. No one goes in search of loss; rather, it finds us and reminds us of the temporary gift we have been given, these few sweet breaths we call life. 
Francis Weller

This clip shows the not so far future of our "Brave New World", when we will live without suffering or pain of any kind, so grieving won't be necessary anymore, and everybody will be happy and happier all of the time and maybe some hours more.

6 – Some evolutionary aspects 

Sadness and grief are natural responses to loss and misfortunes in the life of most of us. These responses to adversity are not mental disorders, they are experiences of sentient beings that don’t have to be treated with medicaments (or only in very exceptional cases where the sufferer asks for it, because the pain is too strong). 

Neuroscientists say that in grief (and depression) the Autonomic nervous system (ANS) slows down, and that this is a response of our defense system against outside attacks, which helps us to survive periods of danger and loss. 

Evolutionary psychologists and the Polyvagal Theory of the Autonomic nervous system declare that it is our body that first reacts to a loss and starts a biological response of slowing down our bodily systems, of which the brain is part. This slowing down process will be labelled by mind repairworkers, depending on the more or less manifest symptoms, as sadness, sorrow, grief, or depression. 

Feeling sad is a low energy process, so you should rest and consum with your activites as few calories as possible, and some evolutionary psychologists compare it to the process of hibernation in other mammal species. 

 The process of grief is different for everybody, it’s a personal and unique experience, and sometimes it brings guilt and anger along, which come on strongly when you start thinking: “I should have done …!”, (negative self-talk is very effective for self punishment!), or you may get angry at the deceased person because you think s/he left you without saying goodbye, although you know rationally that it is not like that, “but the heart has its reasons, the reason ignores”. 

Evolution “made” us somehow that Grief can give birth to a wide array of confusing emotions, so that people sometimes even don’t know what they feel. Obsessive thoughts are coming back again to rewind the tragic situation or accident, either because our brain still wants to change the non-changeable outcome, or because we still don’t believe that it has happened. With time denial fades away and smaller and bigger pieces of reality may take hold in our mind. But time is a quite stretchy concept, it starts in the Now and may lead up to Infinity. 

7- Sadness and/or Grief may be useful for 

• To rage, groan, cry, shout, fight against … 
• To open your heart to the pain of losing somebody you loved. 
• To accept and to let go. 
• To appreciate once again or over and over again an important person and part of your life (which doesn't exist anymore). 
• To give up a position. 
• To acknowledge and accept your helplessness. 
• To mediate between the insistent prayers to make real your fancy desires and the answer of merciless reality. 
• To show and know that you loved and cared for somebody. 
• To fall deep and deeper into a well full of despair and not knowing the way out again. 
• To ask yourself whether vour thoughts, emotions and tears are normal or whether you are going crazy (no, you’re not going crazy, emotional pain can be like that! But then again, others may think that you're acting somehow "strange"!) 
• To slow down and think about the “things” that really matter in your life. 
• To develop some kind of “wisdom” (= another feel-good concept that tends to cushion the real pain. Also may serve to accept the Unacceptable). 
• To lose your faith in a lot of “things” or to regain it. 
• To get broken and splintered up inside out several times over and not knowing how to glue it together again (one tip: there is no rapid glue fix!). 
• To feel no feeling, to walk in an opaque fog of numbness. 
• To cry a river and drown in it. 
• To lose a lot of weight and not sleep at night. 
• To binge on comfort food (everything with a lot of calories), drown your pain in alcohol and sooth it several times over with all the other more or less legal mood improvers. 
• Although everything is completely dark around you and you don’t see a single photon of light, you know that you are still alive, just because it hurts so much. 
• To have obsessional flashes of the past during a few weeks and sometimes until the rest of your life 
• Being stuck and lost in the past (shrinks may call it “unfinished or pathological grief”) 
• After all is felt, said and done (which may last from a nano-second to decades and further on), to move on with another way of life (or staying where you are right now, reliving a loop a la “The Groundhog day”). 
To realize that everything and especially all living beings are transitory objects in the phenomenological world, including yourself (the last one is probably the toughest realization in your life, and on top of it, it has an arty label: Mortality salience). 
 • Others: …

Usaore moyoka 
Neria Mwari anewe 
Usaore moyoka Neria Mwari anewe 
Mwari aneweka 
Neria Mwari anewe 
8 - Forms of sadness and/or grief 

 “Normal sadness”: Every person grieves at her/his own pace, each grief is unique in its own right, sometimes sadness hits you like a tsunami and floods everything in its path, leaving you floating in waves of intense grief, indifferent numbness, anger against the person who died, shame and guilt that you are angry at him or her and a general disconnection from your friends and also from your normal activities. 

 This situation should last for a while, depending on your personal history, on your emotional sensibility and the closeness of your relationship with the deceased person. As grief is not an illness with a defined time-limit for cure, it can last from a few days or weeks to decades. In general for western countries (Europe, Americas) half to one year is the average socially accepted grief period, although it may last a lifetime, coming back in waves, sometimes when a trigger (special date, song, person, smell, place, …) is present, in other times without any obvious trigger. 
  • Another friend lost his mom when he was a teenager. He’s now in his mid-forties, and sometimes hides in the bathroom to cry. “Why? Why do I still feel I am mourning after so many years?” 
Dushka Zapata 
Feelings are Fickle … 

So called “pathological grief”: With loss comes change, and not all change is welcome, especially when we haven’t chosen it ourselves. And even if we suffer of nightmares and bad memories, sometimes it can be that somebody doesn’t want to let go of his memories of the traumatic situations because it would imply the loss of what gave and gives meaning to his life, and by not remembering he would dishonor the life and death of his friends and his own as well. By not remembering, all would have been to no avail: 
  • As the session was drawing to a close, I did what doctors typically do: I focused on the one part of Tom’s story that I thought I understood—his nightmares…. … and as an enthusiastic believer in better living through chemistry, I prescribed a drug that we had found to be effective in reducing the incidence and severity of nightmares. I scheduled Tom for a follow-up visit two weeks later. 
  •  When he returned for his appointment, I eagerly asked Tom how the medicines had worked. He told me he hadn’t taken any of the pills. Trying to conceal my irritation, I asked him why. “I realized that if I take the pills and the nightmares go away,” he replied, “I will have abandoned my friends, and their deaths will have been in vain. I need to be a living memorial to my friends who died in Vietnam.” 
Bessel van der Kolk 
The Body Keeps the Score


Darkness darkness, be my blanket
Cover me with the endless night
Take away away the pain of knowing
Fill the emptiness of right now
In the emptiness of right now
In the emptiness of right now

9 - Shadow sides of grief 

Being numb, not feeling anything!

Nightmares, flashbacks of disturbing images that make you afraid of going to sleep every night. Later passivity and deep depression may join your journey to the end of night. For some it’s too much, they give up and don’t want to live anymore. 

 All your mental and body energy is flowing away, and your mood is changing from a gray numbness to fiercy red burning pain in your body. Deep depression and Post traumatic stress disorder can be the companions and successors of grief. 

When you think you can’t go on like that any more, then you should contact and work with somebody who is specialised in the process and treatment of trauma and grief or join a “bereavement group”. The most important thing when you connect with any kind of professional: you have to trust that person. And you have to trust yourself and your intuition or gut feeling! 

10 – How to lower your Sadness or Grief level 

Denial - should help for a while. All humans do it in some aspects of their life, and what you don’t know and what you negate doesn’t exist for you, and therefore shouldn’t hurt you. In general it’s an unconscious process, so you can’t control it with a rational decision. A few people can go on with denying that something bad had happened for the rest of their life. It’s an ego defense as a lot of others, only that you don’t give reality a chance to play the main role in the imaginary movie of your life. As long as you can live like that and you don’t hurt anybody else, it should be ok. 

The good thing about denial is that you don’t know that you’re in denial, like a drunk who doesn’t know he’s drunk. You don’t suffer because of your denial, but the people around you may sufferr of your erratic behavior which is not adapted to the real situation. 

Isolation – a more conscious decision, since you keep the facts that hurt you and make you feel sad in a closed room in the windmills of your mind. You know it’s somewhere, but it’s locked and you’ve thrown away the key. 

Anchoring (Belonging) - To stabilize your life again, friends, family and a job are important to ground you in daily life and not letting your mind overspin and your body fall apart. Talk to others, participate in life (if you have the energy to do it). Not having a job and neither friends nor family is, especially after an important loss, the fastest train to a nervous breakdown. The problem with that approach is that nearly nobody wants to hear about your loss and even less about your sad feelings.

Not having something to do and a lot of free time is very good for thinking about what might have been, but it doesn’t help that much in the grieving process, since you just get lost in your thoughts and wishes, that most of the time only feed your feelings of guilt and/or shame. 

Distraction and/or Numbing - Already in normal circunstances we keep our mind occupied with gossip, celebrities, football and other more and most important stuff, just to distract us from the smaller and bigger injuries of the physical and social world. Depending on your special case, distraction may help with submerging your grief, and it is also useful for escaping and distracting you from all the things you really don’t want to see and know, like e.g.: 

Look at your body 
A painted puppet, a poor toy 
Of jointed parts ready to collapse, 
A diseased and suffering thing 
With a head full of false imaginings. 
The Dhammapada XI - 147 

SublimationCreating a work of art out of your suffering and grieving is what psychologists call sublimation, that means converting a hurtful event into something more elaborate and ready for consumption by others. Some artists did that when a spouse, parent or one of their children died or when a spouse/lover left them. Requiems and other works of art (books, paintings, …) dealing with loss are the most obvious examples of sublimation. 

Accommodation – a psy concept which describes how we change our ideas internally to adapt to the outside changes. It’s something like rebuilding your burned down house in the same place but with other materials and with a different plan. Life goes on, with or without us. 

Dissociation – that means in your mind and body you were not part of a real life event (accident, physical assault, rape, ...), that was too overwhelming for our senses. So your body and mind dissociate, that means you weren’t there when it happened, you were or you are still floating somewhere in space, you even may have no conscious memory of what has happened to you.

Compulsion and/or Addiction – two concepts which englobe a lot of human activities to cushion their mental pain: being busy all the time, drinking like a walrus, shopping all day, gambling 24/7, overspending, overeating, overinterneting, overhelping others, overconnecting, overmeditating, overexercising, overspiritualizing, overdating, overuse of legal and illegal drugs, etc., are all “normal” ways of repressing, hiding and numbing unwanted feelings. Most of us practice at least one or a few of them, one way or another.

Accepting your feelings - stay with the suffering, let it float in and out of you, although it may seem unbearable. It takes courage to feel the pain, but after some time its force will diminish and maybe one day you will sense these feelings as your best friends which remind you over and over again of somebody very dear to you.
Others: … 

Rules of thumb to live by (if you can) during grief: 
  • Fixed timetable for meals, work and sleep 
  • Extended self-care: Eating healthy food. Getting enough sleep (if you can sleep at all!) Walks in nature and some soft exercises. 
  • Try to do things which give you some joy and energy: paint, walk, visit, swim, dance, listen to … 
  • Write a diary, describe your daily activities and the feelings you notice. 
  • Don’t take big decisions for a while (like changing work, home, partner, etc). 
  • Ask others for help or consult a psychotherapist or spiritual guide. 
  • Organize your life beforehand when you’re in a nearly normal mood.
  • Take your time and don’t listen to your inner critic. 
  • Try to bypass the whirlwinds of: “What if …?”, “If I only had …!” 
  •  Others: … 

11 – Five examples of sadness and grief in literature and/or real life 

  • Mitchell’s family organized the funeral. For Kayleigh it passed in a blur; she recalled only that it had been ‘packed’: all their colleagues from work came, as well as their friends and a lot of people she didn’t know. Everybody said the same thing to her: ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and ‘You’re being so brave.’ Kayleigh didn’t feel brave; she felt numb. Her rational head told her Mitchell was dead, but no other part of her could believe it. Mitchell had been the only boyfriend Kayleigh had ever had, and she’d relied on him entirely to make decisions in every aspect of her life. It was through loving him and being loved by him that she knew what she had been missing her whole life…. 
  • Her spiralling despair left her in a state of confusion and insecurity. Stepping into her world, I found a landscape of desolation and desperation, with a great well of loneliness. I could feel the weight of it pressing down on me, and, imagining what that might be like 24/7, I came away with total respect for her ability even to get up and get dressed every day and to feed her little boy. I also understood why there were some days when she couldn’t. 
Julia Samuel 
Grief Works 

  • Shortly after the Civil War, an outbreak of cholera had taken my mother away. We buried her in Montjuïc on my fourth birthday. … As a child I learned to fall asleep talking to my mother in the darkness of my bedroom, telling her about the day’s events, my adventures at school, and the things I had been taught. I couldn’t hear her voice or feel her touch, but her radiance and her warmth haunted every corner of our home, and I believed, with the innocence of those who can still count their age on their ten fingers, that if I closed my eyes and spoke to her, she would be able to hear me wherever she was. Sometimes my father would listen to me from the dining room, crying in silence. 
 Carlos Ruiz Zafón 
 The Shadow Of The Wind 

  • One face looks very different however, my best friend Rachel’s in the front row. She’s beaming, her face as ever framed by her bouncy long dark hair. She holds the happy hopeful part of us. She dances often and smiles more. Her eyes are bright and body full of vigour from all the swing, jazz dance, hugging and loving. I think she likes me in my new suit. … 
  • Her smile lights me up and gives me confidence. She’ll be dead from suicide in a few years, but I don’t know that now. The world is not always forgiving of such sweetness. 
Mark Walsh 

  • My son Christopher died on a bright New Year’s Eve morning 27 years ago. He was seven a joyful, stubborn child, who was deaf, but seldom silent. His exuberant whoops and enthusiastic signing directed my attention to all the ordinary wonders of our world. I still think about him every day, sometimes with a kind of dizzy joy and gratitude that I got to love him for his seven years. 
  • I smile whenever my lawn blooms with dandelions. “Wind flowers,” he would sign to me before tugging me down to make a wish and blow. But sometimes an unexpected trigger — a friend calling with news that one of my son’s old playmates has gotten married, or the sight of children playing on a slide — and it hits me with the force of a building collapsing; it’s his ashes I’ve now scattered to the wind and no amount of wishing will bring him back. ... 
  • And sometimes when I see a baby reaching for his mother in a stroller in the park, I miss Christopher so hard I forget to breathe. 
Carol Smith 
Psychology Today, July 2021 

  • It was a hot summer day when I buried my baby daughter, Cheyenne. I watched as the men in gray suits scooped heaps of soft earth atop the pink satin casket that held her wrapped body. It was a small service — there were so few who knew her. There were no teen friends to bid her farewell and lament her early death. There were no teachers to boast of her goodness. There was no neighbor who had watched her to express how she would miss her smile. There was just me, or so it felt, and my breasts that burned in engorged dissent at her sudden death. 
  • Only hours earlier, I had closed the casket lid myself. There are no words to describe such a physical, emotional, and existential loss other than by saying that I also died with her that day. 
 I did not ask for this. 
 I did not want this. 
 I hated everything about it. 
  • I remember asking how the world could continue spinning after such a tragedy. I wanted to scream at the cars driving past the cemetery. … 
  • As the hours turned to days and the days to weeks, my grief intensified, stretching every plane of my being. It felt like a physical dying, repeated every day upon the opening of my eyes on the rare occasions that sleep had actually come. Breathing hurt, and a global pain emanated from the tips of my hair to the tips of my toes
  • I paced the hallways late at night like a caged wild animal — searching for my baby. 
Joanne Cacciatore 
Bearing the Unbearable 

12 - Coda

Interpretation: That can’t be true! What a pity! No, no, no,...

Mission: Acknowledge an important change in your life and to slow down your body-mind energy process for a while.
Duration: Depends, from a few moments to the rest of your life up to eternity and beyond.
Shadow: Passivity, numbing of feelings, deep depression. 

Goal: Acceptance, Letting go. 

Energy level: low to extremely low.

Listening to this song you will hear the most exaggerated and outrageous love declaration in the history of human life on earth, and, naturally, as quite a lot of love declarations - for not saying all of them – it is not exactly a scientific truth, but it has a poetic fragrance so tenacious and surrounding, that it dazzes your critical mind, and then again, it’s so beautiful, es tan bello, c’est beau a en pleurer: 
I'd give anything to hear 
You say it one more time 
That the universe was made 
Just to be seen by my eyes 
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist

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