Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Other observations

A Mayo Clinic publication describes grief as "a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one, or from a terminal diagnosis........(t)hey can't control the process (and) need to prepare for varying stages of grief".Why is grief such an intense feeling or emotion? Some recently available investigative tools may help us to understand.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) developed in the early 90's, measures changes in blood flow in the brain or spinal cord, and has come to dominate the brain mapping field. In a recently published experiment, (Biological Psychiatry, 66, 33, 2009), 20 recently bereaved subjects were tested with deceased related and control words. When tested with deceased related words, the subjects showed activity in the amygdala area, the insula and dorsolateral prefrontal   cortex of the brain. Amygdala acticvity, particularly, predicted induced sadness intensity.

Why are these areas important? Because they are areas of the brain associated with fear conditioning. No wonder CS Lewis so accurately described grief as feeling like fear, back in 1961. This a preliminary study. So, when we learn what areas of the brain are involved, then we can begin to find out how to turn off, or lessen that response that induces such sadness

In the  meantime, we just have to await the passage of time, and compassionate human contact for healing.  Each grieving person takes his or her own time to heal. One must embrace one's grief, live in it, and not run away from it. Peace to all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death and Grieving

You see, my wife of 53 years died recently, after a long final illness, and I have been overwhelmed by grief. It is not only the grief, but the intensity of the associated emotions that took me by surprise. Well known British author C. S Lewis wrote, in 1961, after the death of his wife,

 "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me" A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, 1961.

Indeed, it does feel like a severe concussion, like being hit between the eyes with a 2 x 4 - a stunned, mask like facial expression and a non-comprehension. Stinging tears start quickly and easily.  Quite apart from observing myself, I have seen that set, mask like face on other bereaved friends.

On Facebook, yesterday, a high school friend of my daughter wrote, "I didn't think I could live another day when M. died. Now, 12 years later our sons are married, and I am in love with a wonderful man". I hope this tortuous journey does not last 12 years for me, and our (now) grown kids.  Di was a wonderful companion, and a superb mother to our children, and grandchildren, and we all miss her intensely. She leaves a giant hole in our lives.

During the next week I hope to talk with two other bereaved people, and share experiences, One describes the "grief journey" as a tortuous path full of land mines. After 2 years she finds herself on a happier path, but still encounters unexpected "land mines".

In the next blog entry I will try to understand what neural connections cause these symptoms. and why they are so intense.