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Acute Grief--A Treacherous Landscape


Day 84: Acute Grief—A Treacherous Landscape

Acute grief is the term that refers to the initial phase of bereavement. Acute grief is the grief experience on steroids—the phase of grief in which every part of our bodies, heart, and minds are overcome with our human biological and psychological system’s desire to 1) figure out what happened and 2) assess if what happened is actually real.

Acute grief is peppered with so many landmines including post-traumatic stress symptoms, emotions about our emotions, self-judgements, guilt/regret, shame, and often times, lengthy to-do lists which inflame the emotional suffering.

I have been thinking of the wave metaphor lately, as it relates to acute grief. While yes, grief in the acute grief phase comes in waves, acute grief waves feel sharper and the landscape feels more treacherous. The wave metaphor still fits, in the sense of the massive wallop and overwhelm and choking feeling and wonder if there is air up there or which way is up. However, the waves don’t encapsulate the sharpness that I have come to call “the emotional cliff fall.” This is that moment that all is seemingly ok, and then something happens—a thought, a glance at an item in the grocery store, an email, a seemingly benign comment from a friend, or the damn “memories” on the phone that pop up

These cliff falls infiltrate acute grief and can feel like they come in incessant succession. The closest experience I have to a proper metaphor is that of walking (or sometimes crawling or not moving at all) on a very tenuous and narrow path high in the mountains, surrounded by massive edges on each side. I climbed a fourteener once with some friends in Colorado and needed to get on my hands and knees for a portion of the trip, coaching myself to not look over the edges as I crawled to the next summit on the narrow path, all the while asking myself, “how did I get here?”

What metaphor fits for your acute grief?

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