Grief Lies | Karen Lankford, PhD, Neuroscientist at Yale University

In this time when once again COVID-19 deaths are rising, the toll from yet another hurricane and wildfires are just being tallied, and the bodies of 13 American servicemen and women were just returned from Afghanistan, I would like to offer these words about grief: grief lies to you. 

Grief tells you that no one else can understand your pain. It tries to drive away those who attempt to offer you comfort. In truth, while each lost person and each relationship with that person is unique, the experience of loss and grief is almost universal.  Even a small child whose greatest loss has been a favorite toy or pet hamster knows the wrenching pain of something deeply loved that is gone from them forever. Each loss has a unique fingerprint, but the pattern is unmistakably human, and instantly recognizable for what it is. The details may not be clear. People may not know what specific things they should say to you, or whether it is best for them to remain silent, but as for the whole, nearly everybody understands your pain.

Grief tells you that it will never leave you, and that if you should turn your back on it, you turn your back on the memory of your loved one as well, that you will forget them. But pain will slip quietly away when are not looking, hiding in a dark secluded corner of your mind, ready to jump out again and stab you in the chest at holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.  When it leaves, you will not forget your loved one. Your memories of your loved one will still be there after the grief has faded, but they will have a sweeter flavor, and the bitter gall will diminish. If you lose someone that you love, you will feel pain, but the love will outlast the pain. 

Greif tells you that it will destroy you, that you cannot endure this separation. But our species could not have survived all the wars, pandemics, genocides and natural disasters in our history if the human body did not stubbornly insist on going on. The heart continues to beat, the lungs and liver and kidney do their job, even when the will to live is gone.  We were built to endure the unendurable.   

Grieve for your losses, for lives cut short, relationships ended, dreams dashed.  Do not hold back the tears or put up a brave front.  Rage at the unfairness of the world. Scream and pound your fists against the wall or the chest of the person standing before you. Shout at whomever will hear your shouts. We will understand. Know though that this sharp pain will pass. You will never be the same again. There will always be a part of you that is missing. However, you will learn to live without these missing parts. You will go on, and the part of your loved one who lives on in your memory will live on in you. 

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