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March 20, 2014: The Unnatural Nature of Grief

Today the grief continued to come in waves. I mentioned to Pete that it again reached a high point when I looked into Hrimmi’s eyes. (Her eyes are much like Signy’s.) He then said that perhaps grief is triggered – to which I said, externals.

I thought about this some more, and I realized that I felt grief when I had to fill three rather than four containers with supplements, and when I determined that I had to take two, instead of three bridles down to the hitching area.

I don’t fully understand about internals – what inexplicably brings about the feelings that I am experiencing related

to Signy’s death. Like today, when I was walking the dogs out on the trail. Boom, it again hit me. Our beloved mare is dead.

I am starting to feel like I’m getting to be an old pro at grieving, and know what to expect when yet another one of our animals dies. This does give me pause – makes me think that once the animals here have passed, that I will acquire no more.

The rational, thinking part of me has remained curious as to what is going on in my head. I was mainly interested in what an image or thought might trigger when loss occurs. So I did a bit of research. Not much, just enough to, oddly enough, make me feel better. I first (ahem) Googled grief and cognition. I discovered that there is related information out there on areas that are related to brain make-up.

Cognitive function: I learned that overall, attention, processing speed, and verbal fluency are not affected over the long haul. For instance, grief associated with a spousal death has limited affect on the above, beyond those which would be expected to occur as a result of depression, anxiety, or loss.

Prolonged grief can be “treated” with grief therapy. There are also Native remedies. (Sounds like a job for Dr. Pharmacy.)

There is something called prolonged grief disorder. (Go figure. I was still left with the question, what if there are successive deaths?)

J.W. Worden refers to the four “tasks” of mourning – accepting the reality of loss, experiencing the pain, adjusting to life without the loved one, and being able to invest your entire energy into a new life. (Too cut and dry for me.)

So okay, I next Googled the terms grief and brain function. Here, I had, in a single article, verified what Pete had led me to believe, which is that after a loved one dies, there can be triggers that bring back to mind the incident that brought about the death, or memories related to the loved one. The results of the study in question were written up in “Functional Neuroanatomy of Grief: An MRI Study.” This appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry, in November, 2003.

The abstract indicated that “recent functional imagery research has revealed that during the successive retrieval of autobiographical memories elicited by recall of family members and friends, that the strongest and most consistent activation is in the caudal portion of the left posterior cingulate cortex.” Furthermore, “perception of faces and voices in associated with increased neural activity in the posterior cingulate cortex.”

And additionally, “sadness induced by the free recall of a death of a family member or friend was associated with the activation of the bilateral insula, anterior cingulate cortex, bosal forebrain, caudate nucleus, lenticular nucleua, left thalamus, midline cerebellum, and anterior and dorsal pons.”

This does not (of course) quite explain how the image actually triggers the response, or what neural pathways are followed. I suppose that if I did more research, I’d eventually find out.

Suffice to say that, for now, it is enough to know that this is of great interest to me, and I would like to find out more. All things in their time.

Next: 80. 3/21/14: Getting Through the Day