There have been and still are times when I feel like this: I am hanging upside down in a body-sized tank of water, like Houdini, and I see and hear the world in a distorted and blurry, thick and muffled way. But at the same time I am the spectator watching the weird and surreal way in which I am seeing the world. But unlike Houdini I don’t know if I will ever escape from drowning.
In the first few years after my son’s, Sam’s, death you, Grief, were so completely overwhelming and suffocating that I felt brain damaged, paralyzed. Attempts at moving felt like I was wading through quicksand. A short walk to the mailbox was exhausting. At times driving was probably perilous, because I don’t even remember driving, or even picking up my son, Joey, at school. Sometimes writing (while lying down) was the only moving I could do. I could use only my hands and eyes, and then wait for thoughts to come from out of the sludge. My brain felt—and still feels—damaged.
You see, Grief, I am trying to write but this dullness makes concentrating, comprehending or retaining information very challenging to say the least. My brain still works, but intermittently and unpredictably. Some days I think my mind has been so altered, so lost, like the mind of a brain-injured person, that I wonder if I just have to accept lowered expectations and be okay with simple accomplishments (a sentence instead of a page?). But this, to me, means that I have to accept yet another loss—my mind. And if I lose my mind, my ability to remember, I may lose memories of him (Sam). The memories are slipping away, and this, Grief, is what I am afraid of now.
Can you tell me…
- Will I ever see and hear the world in a less murky and muffled way?
- Should I just accept a lowered level of intellectual ability and be okay with this?
- How do I hold on to my memory and save it from further damage?
I am searching for words that will help me to understand how you, Grief, affect me so that I might be better equipped to deal with the days yet to come. If you can answer any of the above questions it would be greatly appreciated.
Bereaved Mother and Writer
Dear Bereaved Mother and Writer,
As you know I am Grief and not a specialist, but I will tell you what I have read. In The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatry’s diagnostic bible, it calls the death of a child a “catastrophic stressor.” This dullness you describe might just be your brain’s way of coping with and surviving your loss. Your entire being, your body and your mind, is trying to make sense out of an incredibly painful and traumatic experience. And, by the way, I have also read that the inability to concentrate is the single most common of all responses to loss.
Your first question: “Will I ever see and hear the world in a less murky and muffled way?”
My answer: YES. Though the water in your body-sized tank will never completely drain, it will ebb and flow. You may always have moments of murkiness but mixed with moments of clarity too.
Your next question: “Should I just accept a lowered level of intellectual ability and be okay with this?”
My answer: I cannot answer this. Only you can decide whether or not to “be okay” with your decisions. But as you have already learned your mental ability is intermittent and unpredictable. Perhaps you may come to “accept” that your cognitive level, like the water in your Houdini tank, will ebb and flow as well.
Your last question: “How do I hold on to my memory and save it from further damage?”
First, let me remind you that your brain has been injured. Your heart too. This hanging upside down in a tank of water, like Houdini, and seeing and hearing the world in a distorted and blurry, thick and muffled way is pretty much the aftereffect of loss—especially the loss of a child. And this injury affects your capacity to concentrate, comprehend, and retain information. How could it not? So how do you hold on to your memory? My answer: Write. And keep writing.
Today, right now, this minute, your brain is on. You are writing this post. You are thinking, creating (for minutes, hours), despite the dullness. If or when you sink into the quicksand again, tomorrow or next month, remind yourself to power down…rest…do something else…and wait. Wait for your brain to come back on. There will be hurdles; rest between them. Be patient with yourself. Repeatedly pushing the on button will only prolong the rebooting process.
I hope these words have helped you.