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From the Editor's Desk

How the brain responds to grief can change who we are

The five stages of grief can't begin to explain it: grief affects the body, brain and sense of self, and patience is the key

When the hospice nurse called on the morning of 2 April to tell me that my father had died at 7:38am, just two days after he was released from the hospital and seven hours after I arrived in town to see him, the world suddenly felt strange, half-formed. I recognised the shapes of things, but struggled to comprehend what I was seeing. I didn't realise how much of a pillar of my existence he was, until that pillar crumbled. Since the day I was born, he was a constant presence, even at 2,000 miles away - he lived in Maryland, I lived in New Mexico - and now he no longer existed. As much as my rational mind knew this to be true, to the rest of me it just didn't seem possible.

On the outside, I remained calm, quietly cycling through the unwanted tasks incumbent upon the eldest child of the bereaved: telling other family members, making arrangements, notifying government agencies, companies, organisations, the university where he was a librarian for 33 years. But on the inside, I was a churning maelstrom of emotions: sadness, confusion, anger, disbelief, fear, regret, guilt. At times in those first hours, days and weeks after his death, it was hard to breathe. I couldn't concentrate. I forgot things. Fatigue was a constant, no matter how much I slept. I came to understand what Joan Didion meant in The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), a chronicle of her grief over the loss of her husband, when she wrote: 'I realised for the time being I could not trust myself to present a coherent face to the world.'

Continued here


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