the problem with grief II

bonus to breaking my essay up into parts, I get to take a break and eat a late dinner with Mrs. SoulDoc. Now where was I?……

grief cycle

The next myth about the grief cycle is that it is in fact a linear set of stages. Much like climbing a ladder or a set of stairs one progresses through each stage in turn and then moves on to the next one. That is not at all how the grief cycle works, because it is a process, not a set of destinations.

A better way to visual size the grief cycle is as a large iron ring. Around the ring are the five stages of the grief cycle and you my unfortunate friend are a ping pong ball in the center of that ring. You will bounce around inside of that ring from stage to stage seemingly at random (the process is not at all random but the pattern your grief takes is uniquely your own and one which you may not recognize until after you have process some, possibly a lot, of your grief). You may bounce up and down with in a single stage for a while, you may bounce back and forth between two or three stages before shooting off to a different stage, or you may spin around the ring smoothly from stage to stage quickly or slowly or intermittently

Eventually you will settle into the acceptance stage of the ring and you may stay there for years or only minutes before someone or something comes along and bumps into your ring and sets you in motion, bouncing around in the grief cycle again.

My point is you will not move from stage one through five in a nice even process or even in numerical order. You are not baking a cake, you are mourning the loss of a loved on, a close friend , or even a long held habit.

The next myth is you only go through the grief cycle when someone you care about dies. If only it were so.

The truth is that you are an emotional creature trying to live in a world you wish was logical but is actually emotional as well. That emotionality leads us to get attached to people and pets and things and stuff and habits as well. In truth a person could be thrust into the grief cycle when faced with all sorts of loses, those which are either chosen or forced upon him or her.

Take addictions for example. A person has smoked, or nowadays vaped I suppose, perhaps for years. They are physically addicted to nicotine but they are emotionally or psychologically addicted to smoking. Quitting something one is physically addicted to is painful, withdrawal, for those who have never had to go through it, truly does suck. The truth about physical addiction, however, is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, and regardless of the chemical a person is addicted to (be it drugs or alcohol), the physical addiction is completely resolved within two to four weeks. After that period of time the physical addiction is actually over.

The psychological addiction, however may only really be just becoming noticeable after the physical addiction has resolved. A big part of the pain and horror of the battle with the psychological addiction is the grief cycle which is triggered by the “loss” of the treasured habit and past time.

Another example of an unexpected eruption of the grieving process would be change. As the Buddha once said, nothing ever remains the same. Everything is constantly changing. Which you would think people would lead people to readily accept change, you’d be wrong but I would not fault you for thinking that.

Change manifests in a lot of different ways in daily life, and the more someone is attached to the old way doing things or the old state of being the more pronounced that change and the grieving process resulting form it can be.

I have noticed, in my own life, I have reached the age at which I become quite irate when the grocery store I go to moves things. These moves, which stores actually do on purpose, not to make their customers angry, but to keep you in the store longer (because statistically speaking the more time you spend in a store the more likely you are to purchase things you had not intending on buying when you entered the store). What I am experiencing when my store does move cereal or bread from isle 4 to isle 9 (for no damn reason I might add {said in grumpy old man voice}) is a grieving process. What am I and my fellow old guys actually grieving? My knowledge of where things were in the store in a general sense, but to be more accurate I am grieving the loss of my comfort which flies right out the window when I cannot find my favorite cereal in the spot where it has always been.

Another example of this phenomena is when a company changes the recipe of a product. Coke learned this the hard way in the 1980’s when they changed their recipe to the New Coke recipe. I was not the only one at the time who thought the New Coke recipe tasted an awful lot like the Old Pepsi recipe, and as a result the stuff did not sell. Not even discontinuing the old Coke recipe and selling only the new recipe helped them sell the stuff. In fact their sales bombed so significantly they went back to the old recipe and discontinued the new within a matter of months. Not even the Stranger Things episode on the subject could make people buy the stuff, which I am told is still available.

People get attached to things and I’m sure this will come as no surprise; people don’t like change. What may be a surprise to you is that the discomfort you feel when forced to deal with a change, even a minor one, is the grief cycle.

Another myth is that each instance of you being forced into the grief cycle is isolated from every other. Emotions, and emotional processes, simply do not work that way. Human beings, maybe all life, simply does not work that way. One reason for this is that the same bit of brain goo that deals with assigning emotional meaning to an experience is the same bit of goo that is responsible for encoding memories. The end result of this is that memories and emotions are intrinsically connected, the practical experience of which is that when you are in a particular emotional stated you will not only more easily remember past experiences when you were in a similar emotional stated but you will also more easily be able to create fantasies of instances when you are in that emotional state.

The application of that for our purposes here is that when you experience a loss in the future you will more easily be able to remember the loss you are currently experiencing. To make the memory-emotion connection even more interesting the emotional materials you have yet to process, those bits and pieces you refuse to deal with now, will be what comes up first when a triggering loss sends you back into the grief cycle. Also the type of loss is not very specific, meaning in the future if you have to give up a habit, or you noticed they changed the flavor of Coco Puffs cereal (which they did about 25 years ago) the grieving process that change initiates will not just allow, but cause, you to more easily bring up from your unconscious all the emotional baggage you neglected to completely process when your loved one died.

Aren’t humans fun?

There are other myths about the grief cycle which I may get to at some point but I think that is enough for part II. If you have made it this far why not comment “I did it!” in the comment section to let me know you are still here and interested in part III. I’ll be posting part III in a minute anyway but why not let me know you are interested?

Next up: Myths about the specific stages of grief.


One response to “the problem with grief II”

  1. I do like the iron ring and the ping pong ball analogy. I was reminded of those spirograph sets too where different patterns emerge from the inner motion of the circles. Just reading this felt like my ‘iron ring’ got a nudge so the part about change is useful.


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