There are many articles written about grief, and how to live with it. The views they express, and the ways to live with that grief are many and varied.
Recently I read an article about a different way of managing grief. The woman who wrote the article, Kathryn Lane Rossi, is a clinical psychologist who developed the field of psychosocial genomics with her husband Ernest Rossi.
Psychosocial genomics holds that our personal and subjective states of consciousness affect the ways our genes express themselves in the brain and body. That may sound complicated, but I mentioned it because it had a profound impact on the way Kathryn grieved after the death of her husband.
It is well accepted the way we grieve is impacted by our beliefs about life and living.
A friend once told Kathryn “Even on the worst day of your life 95% of it is great. The Sun comes out offering nourishing, rejuvenating light. You have clean water to drink, good food to eat and someone(s) who loves you deeply” (Lee Lawson).
After the death of her husband after a short illness, Kathryn realised grief had become her closest companion. Because of her beliefs about life, she invited grief to be a spiritual experience. In describing this, she used the word ‘numinous’ which was described by Rudolf Otto many years ago as meaning ‘fascinating, tremendous and mysterious’.
Kathryn found that tremendous and mysterious definitely fitted with her grief, but fascinating? How was she going to welcome that to a world that didn’t feel fascinating?
So she researched the meaning of the word. The research showed fascination was a suggestion of something new and different to what came before it. She concluded that therefore fascination was describing something new and original.
The death of her husband was a new and original experience for her.
As a neuroscientist she was interested to understand the neuroscience of her grief.
According to the theory she and her husband developed we have a creative cycle that enables us to change and adapt through our consciousness influencing our mirror neurons. This influence on our mirror neurons then impacts on how our genes express themselves in our bodies and changes our brains.
Mirror neurons are part of our brains that allow us to connect to other people’s feelings. They are what causes us to wince when we see someone else hurt themselves. We can relate to the pain they are experiencing through the activation of our mirror neurons.
We can connect with anyone, but we form stronger attachments with people we are in close relationships with, such as our life partners.
When that person dies, or is no longer with us, our mirror neurons that connect to them have to change. In order to do that, the old neurons have to be removed and new ones have to form.
As a neuroscientist, Kathryn knew that neurons take about a month to come to maturity and a further two to three to make new connections in the brain and body. So she decided that she was not in a good place to make any decisions until these new pathways were developed.
So the first thing she did was resolve to make no important decisions for at least three months.
Instead, she decided to observe her body, mind and emotions.
Every one to two hours she tuned in to what was happening physically and emotionally to her. This gave her structure that she found personally comforting.
She found that just before falling asleep she noticed memories flipping through her mind, like a deck of cards that was being shuffled a card a second.
Many people report being flooded with memories during the day as well.
Kathryn’s research into memory found that the purpose of memory was to help us in the present moment. We constantly adapt memories to help us in our daily life.
Her brain was sorting through her memories to sort those that were more important.
She also noticed that her memory was made foggy by her grief.
Many people experience that in grief.
She observed she was getting brief headaches and pain around her heart. Again, this is not uncommon for people to experience.
She concluded these things were occurring for several reasons.
One was that the growth of new neurons caused pain.
Another reason was that her logic and her emotions were not in agreement. Her brain was saying “accept he is gone” and her heart was saying “I don’t want to”.
She also noticed digestive issues and found she could not eat and do other things at the same time. Her brain was so busy creating new neuronal pathways it did not allow multiple tasks to occur at the same time.
She also found that in common with most people, she often cried or sobbed. Most of these sessions lasted 5 minutes, although she had periods where she cried for about 90 minutes, stopped for 5-20 minutes before resuming crying.
Kathryn was comforted to notice that these difficult times did not continue. Over time she become able to function for longer.
As a scientist she was aware of the impact grief has on inflammation in the body and the depressive effect it has on the immune system. So she set out to exercise in nature every day, usually for 90 minutes.
Many people report that no day is like the rest. One day you can be in the depths of despair, the next you can get things done, the next you may even feel like going out. Kathryn experienced that too. She saw that as positive, because she saw it as evidence she was growing.
Kathryn wrote her article as she approached three months after the deal of her husband. She was aware her immune system was almost completely recovered. She was also aware that the future would hold a lot more pain.
For three months, Kathryn was able to use her own skills as a researcher to cope.
You will use your own skills to cope too. It may not seem like you are coping, and it may not seem that you have any direction or structure in your life, but you do.
You may also notice that some of Kathryn’s observations match your own experience. May that knowledge that you are not alone in what you are experiencing bring you comfort.
You may find it helpful to understand the cause of some of your physical and emotional reactions.
You may also find it helpful to talk to a qualified counsellor.
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief journey, please contact me on 0409396608 or email@example.com
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