The Princes' Top 10 TRUTHS
of Child-Loss Grief
Truth #9) Child-Loss Grief Typically Hits Bottom Between Years 2 to 4.5
Truth #9) As bad as the first year may feel, Child-Loss Grief typically hits bottom between years 2 to 4.5 when Shock wears off and Reality sets in, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder takes on a life of its own.
In the early months, raw grief, missing her, agonizing over the tragedy that we couldn't break through to her, or she couldn't seem to hear us, questioning God is she okay now (Is she safely with You), the grief was raw, but for me there were some transcending graces that soothed me. Quick comforts would come that later would have to be processed through the grueling grief mill for more longterm resolution... comforts such as
My baby was a believer of the Living God and His Son's saving grace for her, so I know she is safe in Heaven. No matter what happened to her here, she is with God, so she is okay now.
If she had to die on that day, at least it was quick.
- We had gotten to hug her and tell her we loved her, just two nights before she was killed.
You would normally think grief would be the worst the first year, and in some ways it was. The degree of raw grief was much greater and for longer periods of time during the first year. However for us, the second and third years were harder in other ways. The finality sets in during year two that she is not coming back, and that creates a whole different set of emotions and trauma to the body.
The body cannot fully absorb the brunt of all the reality of the death the first year. As trauma specialists explain to us, early on in our grief, there will literally be internal chemicals such as opiates, adrenalin, and cortisol that help us to cope with the myriad of traumatic emotions. But these experts also explain to us, the receptors for such internal chemicals will at some time burn out, and then it is like we are physically and emotionally thrown into withdrawals. So a whole new set of problems are thrown into the already compromised systems of this grieving mother and father. And very often, this is the prime breeding ground for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome now to further compound what the parents already considered was a humanly-unbearable load.
Below is the scientific explanation for much of what I discussed above. It was on my blog previously, on 3/25/2010:
Your Brain and Stress
This article explains so much of what I see going on in my body amidst my traumatic and complicated grief! Let me know what you think in regard to what your own physiological responses to grief have been...
Those aggravating things that go wrong in the day and those irritating things that go bump in the night – disrupting routines and interrupting sleep – all have a cumulative effect on your brain, especially its ability to remember and learn.
As science gains greater insight into the consequences of stress on the brain, the picture that emerges is not a pretty one. A chronic overreaction to stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones that are intended only for short-term duty in emergency situations. Their cumulative effect damages and kills brain cells.
How Your Brain Responds to Stress
Did you know that the emotional and physical responses you have to stress are set in motion by a series of chemical releases and reactions? Find out what is really going on inside your body and why not all stress is bad.
"Attack of the Adrenals" – A Metabolic Story
The ambulance siren screams its warning to get out of the way. You can't move your car because you're stuck in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam that reaches as far as the eye can see. There must be an accident up ahead. Meanwhile the road construction crew a few feet from your car is jack-hammering the pavement. You are about to enter the stress zone.
Inside your body the alert goes out.
"Attention all parasympathetic forces. Urgent. Adrenal gland missile silos mounted atop kidneys have just released chemical cortisol weapons of brain destruction. Mobilize all internal defenses. Launch immediate counter-calm hormones before hippocampus is hammered by cortisol."
Hormones rush to your adrenal glands to suppress the streaming cortisol on its way to your brain. Other hormones rush to your brain to round up all the remnants of cortisol missiles that made it to your hippocampus. These hormones escort the cortisol remnants back to Kidneyland for a one-way ride on the Bladderhorn. You have now reached metabolic equilibrium, also known as homeostasis.
When a danger finally passes or the perceived threat is over, your brain initiates a reverse course of action that releases a different bevy of biochemicals throughout your body.
Attempting to bring you back into balance, your brain seeks the holy grail of "homeostasis," that elusive state of metabolic equilibrium between the stimulating and the tranquilizing chemical forces in your body.
If either one of the stimulating or tranquilizing chemical forces dominates the other without relief, then you will experience an on-going state of internal imbalance. This condition is known as stress.
And it can have serious consequences for your brain cells.
Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) turns on the fight or flight response. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) promotes the relaxation response.
Like two tug-of-war teams skillfully supporting their rope with a minimum of tensions, the SNS and PNS carefully maintain metabolic equilibrium by making adjustments whenever something disturbs this balance.
The strongmen on these teams are hormones, the chemical messengers produced by endocrine glands. Named after a Greek word meaning "to set in motion," hormones travel through the bloodstream to accelerate or suppress metabolic functions.
The trouble is that some stress hormones don't know when to quit pulling.
They remain active in the brain for too long - injuring and even killing cells in the hippocampus, the area of your brain needed for memory and learning.
Because of this hierarchical dominance of the SNS over the PNS, it often requires conscious effort to initiate your relaxation response and reestablish metabolic equilibrium.
The Emotional Brain – Limbic System
The primary area of the brain that deals with stress is its limbic system. Because of its enormous influence on emotions and memory, the limbic system is often referred to as the emotional brain....
Whenever you perceive a threat, imminent or imagined, your limbic system immediately responds via your autonomic nervous system - the complex network of endocrine glands that automatically regulates metabolism.
The term "stress" is short for distress, a word evolved from Latin that means "to draw or pull apart." The Romans even used the term districtia to describe "a being torn asunder." When stressed-out, most of us can probably relate to this description.
Distress Signals from Your Brain
Your sympathetic nervous system does an excellent job of rapidly preparing you to deal with what is perceived as a threat to your safety. Its hormones initiate several metabolic processes that best allow you to cope with sudden danger.
Your adrenal glands release adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and other hormones that increase breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. This moves more oxygen-rich blood faster to the brain and to the muscles needed for fighting or fleeing. And, you have plenty of energy to do either, because adrenaline causes a rapid release of glucose and fatty acids into your bloodstream. Also, your senses become keener, your memory sharper, and you are less sensitive to pain.
Other hormones shut down functions unnecessary during the emergency. Growth, reproduction, and the immune system all go on hold. Blood flow to the skin is reduced. That's why chronic stress leads to sexual dysfunction, increases your chances of getting sick, and often manifests as skin ailments. With your mind and body in this temporary state of metabolic overdrive, you are now prepared to respond to a life-threatening situation.
Getting Back to Normal
After a perceived danger has passed, your body then tries to return to normal. But this may not be so easy, and becomes even more difficult with age.
Although the hyperactivating sympathetic nervous system jumps into action immediately, it is very slow to shut down and allow the tranquilizing parasympathetic nervous system to calm things down.
Once your stress response has been activated, the system wisely keeps you in a state of readiness.
Stress is Not All Bad
Bear in mind that an appropriate stress response is a healthy and necessary part of life. One of the things it does is to release norepinephrine, one of the principal excitatory neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine is needed to create new memories. It improves mood. Problems feel more like challenges, which encourages creative thinking that stimulates your brain to grow new connections within itself.
Stress management is the key, not stress elimination. The challenge in this day and age is to not let the sympathetic nervous system stay chronically aroused. This may require knowledge of techniques that work to activate your relaxation response.