I just finished reading the book My stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. It is a fascinating book. She worked at Harvard Medical School researching how the brain functions when she had a stroke which shut down her left hemisphere’s functions. I know, about now you are thinking, “What does this have to do with grief?” Stay with me. It will make sense soon.
She talks about the experience, what she felt, and the recovery process. What is really interesting was at the end of the book she talks about how through this experience she learned that she had a lot more control over the emotions she felt and how happy she is. She talks about a physiological response. You have no control over this reaction, but it only lasts about 90 seconds. After the 90 seconds have passed, you have the ability to choose whether you will continue to stimulate this emotional and physiological loop or move on to another.
The reason I thought about this in the context of grief is because when my mother-in-law passed away, I found myself in a self-recriminating loop. I wished I had spent more time with her. I wondered if she really knew how much I loved and appreciated all that she did for me. Because of the distance, I did not take as much time as I should have talking with her. I wished I would have done things differently.
The thing I realized was this loop wasn’t helping me feel better. It was not helping me remember and keep my relationship with her. It was shutting me down. I was not able to go beyond the loop, “Why didn’t I call more?” or “What if I visited more?” Etc.
Jill talks about the importance of feeling the emotion of the moment and allowing it to pass through us. Since reading this book, I have caught myself in other loops. I have to pull myself back to the present. There are many ways to do that--repeating a phrase, humming, singing. What works best for me is to close my eyes and listen to all the different sounds I can hear or see if I can feel different textures. When I have come back from the loop, then I think of the situation again. This time I can feel the emotion and let go of the loop. I cannot explain it better than that. I don’t know how to, but it is different, and I feel at peace.
I am not saying that you can take the pain out of grief, or that it will bypass the work needed to grieve and mourn properly. What I am saying is getting beyond the loops helps to see things as they really are.
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