As I’ve already said, bereavement’s biochemical reaction to death – characterized by shock and numbing in this initial phase – was markedly different from abandonment’s. How could this be? After all, loss is loss. How could the mammalian brain know the difference between the two? I believe that our brains are hardwired to recognize death, to fear death so as to avoid it, to know it warns us of our own, to know that we need to 11
protect one another, keep one another safe, and function in the presence of death for the sake of the tribe. I believe the brain assists this process, mediated by powerful endogenous hormones. Throughout human evolution, death of a partner upon whom we depended for survival, was a common occurrence. These numbing hormones helped us through it so that we could continue performing the tasks of survival so as to perpetuate the species. Being left by your partner – abandonment – is also a catastrophic loss, but the fact that the person is still alive and at large (along with the crisis of rejection, loss of face, betrayal, and lack of closure) gives rise to a distinctly different physiological state from numbness. Following an abandonment, there is a state of hyper-alertness (as if you are under attack by a powerful foe). The emotional brain perceives abandonment’s knife-wound-to-the-heart as a threat to your existence and sustains an ongoing fight/fight response of hyper vigilance. You feel on edge, overreacting to any noise that might signal the possibility that your abandoner is returning to you. Since he or she is still alive, there is a sense of ongoing vigil. You might yearn for or fear of repeated contact. If you bump into him, there is the risk of re-wounding, of feeling abandoned all over again. Sureality:During this initial phase of shock, my group mates and I tended to exist on the emotional border between life and death – much of our energy having crossed to the other side – thedeath side. We were still emotionally invested in a person no longer living. Not uncommon were spiritual and emotional visitations from our partners. We reported feeling their presence in the room sometimes, thought we heard their voices, or saw their 12
faces. (This seemed to provide an example of what Bowlby described as “searching for lost object.”) Some of us went to mediums to make contact with our beloveds. Separation anxiety: As we made our way through the numbing fog we were plagued by free floating anxiety7in our guts (especially pronounced upon awakening throughout the nights and early mornings). We felt dread and panic over future tasks that loomed ahead of us, i.e. paper work, finances, having to clean out closets, having to face the future alone. The irony was that most of us looked perfectly normal on the outside, even while we felt dazed, lost, anxious, and fragile on the inside. Friends constantly said things to us like, “You look wonderful!” leaving us to wonder how we can possibly communicate to them what we were going through and how life can be so split.