Abreaction: A Path Through Grief

Abreaction is the bringing to the surface of unpleasant suppressed thoughts and feelings in such a way that their being felt, emotionally, out in the open, lessens their power or hold over a person, and sometimes can seem to extinguish them completely. Abreaction is like a reverse lightning-rod, for it can “ground” tempestuous psychic energies that exist inside a person, in order that such energies will lose their power on the outside.

A vivid example of abreaction occurs in the dramatic conclusion of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 psychological thriller Marnie.

I found Mockingbird though my news feed link to this article “Grief, Gethsemane Hospital: Our Interview with Ray Barfield“. (I will take a longer look at the interview with Ray Barfield in another post. There is much to deconstruct and understand.)

As I tooled around the site which identifies itself as…”a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways”. Not dissuaded I continued to poke around with great curiosity what secrets Mockingbird may hold for me. Or at least point to a topic. I was not disappointed. They have a glossary of words. Abreaction was there. They have rich trove of articles.

A ‘reverse lighting-rod’ is a great descriptor for my thoughts on loss, mourning, and grief. The exercise of examining the grief we experience when a loved one dies is far more effective than denial as a way to manage grief. Experiences integrated into our current compendium of understanding creates new knowledge and insights.

Inside Out: A Compendium of Loss and Grief captures all the relevant posts on this topic. In death there is wisdom and knowledge.

The Symbiosis of Grief and Love

Do you have a sofa in your living room that needs to be replaced but it is comfortable and perfectly meets your needs?

Loss, grief, and mourning are the pieces of furniture I’ve placed in the various rooms of my life. I rest on them, sleep on them, put my feet up to watch TV, and game. I move the furniture around to see what fits better where. What I won’t do is put them in storage nor leave them for goodwill. These are the decorative considerations of my life.

At least that’s how readers mentally respond when they read about my journey with loss and grief. Move on, find closure, get a life, replace all of that.  I’ve said closure is denial said pretty. So it ain’t happening quite like that.

My thoughts on grief and love are not absolute we all love and grieve differently and for some, love and grief become acute and abject. For others not so much. What I am presenting here is my journey, what I’ve learned, and how grief and love flow though one life leaving rich the silt of understanding on the banks of emotional reality.

There are two questions I ask myself:
  • Can grief exist without love?
  • Can you love without grief?

I’ve put a lot of energy and thought into each post and podcast about loss, mourning, grief, and death. If you examine those you’ll understand my coexistence with grief. At times it is as peaceful as summer day. Other times a raging hail storm pelting my soul. Over time there is revel ever so teasingly unveiled of understanding and progress. More on that shortly, for now grief and love: hand and glove?

In my post “The Space Between Memories Known and Unknown” my premiss was grief is a light to guide us to understanding of what was and what is. I wanted to put grief and memories driven by grief into perspective. There is the time before diagnosis, the time during treatment, and the time after death. These distinct bands of sediment revealed on the eroded side of my past and current life is a living history. Each strata evokes a response that is different from the previous and creates a sum far greater than its parts.

I did not willing submit to the abuse of grief. Grief is the crystal water of an artesian well bubbling up from deep within the love we shared. When the waters of grief pool on the surface it becomes a nutrient rich medium that takes on a life of its own. The primary nutrient for grief are memories real, imagined, held, seen, and spoken. For me the memories appear as random reflections in the water that take me back. Collectively they drive an understanding that was not there previously. Grief has a life and will of its own and begins with love.


What is love? In no way shape or form is this a treatise on love. I went back to Plato’s thoughts on love from his Symposium. I found this review, Plato’s theory of Love: Rationality as Passion by Lydia Amir. From Plato on, all human thought about love repeats in some form or another. I know that sounds cynical and reductive.

Amir’s key points on Plato’s idea of love are:

Love as desire for the perpetual possession of the good. We as humans are always seeking happiness. This desire for happiness is to have what is good. For the Greeks beauty and harmony reside in a perfect relationship and humans could not achieve that perfection unless they were good for one another.

Love is the desire for immortality. Simply put love is procreation and children are nearly our own perpetuity. There is the soul which is immaterial and indestructible—immortal but placed on earth in the world of life where forces of life move us away from the soul. When we find true love and it captures our heart we begin to find that which is immaterial and indestructible. “When ascending the ladder of love, the true lover possesses the good by enabling the Good to take possession of him. When this happens, the lover attains knowledge of reality.”

The path to successful love Plato details a journey to clarify our desire and find the real objective. “For till we realize that all out striving is motivate by a search for beauty and goodness, we live in ignorance and incapable of loving properly.” I’d suggested reading that section it is far too long to summarize here and some of the other considerations presented.

Salvation through love of another person. The Romantic love is the section where Amir presents the reality. Love fades and especially sexual love becomes a dissatisfaction. She references the psychologist Theodore Reik who notes that we generally look to another to fill the void within us. And when love fails we look for another and may not find it and thereby keep repeating that search.

I am going to skip to the Amir’s summary. In her practice she notes that when most people experience the end of a relationship they blame themselves, their partners, or both. When the person recovers from the mourning of the loss they search for a new relationship in hopes of not duplicating the failure. In fact we may fail again because no ‘real understand has been reached, no real work done,…’ She goes on in Plato’s analysis we as humans are striving beyond what the individual gives us. Yet we continue to search for it and fail and we repeat it. She quotes Schopenhauer that once our work (reproduction through love) is done there is nothing more we can do about it. Amir responds to that buzz kill Schopenhauer noting  this:

“But, Plato tells us, everything begins where we used to think that everything ended.”

This fits with my thoughts on grief and how grief was a beginning of sorts. There are many posts and podcasts about this which are here, here, here, and here.


A dear and long time friend emailed me a couple of articles on grief with this “to me felt a bit like the struggle to move through grief…the emptiness that lingers, the cherishing of what was, a conflict of not wanting to forget or to let go, but the reality that you have to keep moving forward.” The key for me here is moving forward. Included in the email was a Wikipedia reference for the Portuguese word saudade.

Wikipedia defines saudade as profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. In a stronger form it is felt towards someone who is missing or separated or died. Further described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. It is the remembering the memories of feelings, experience, events that were joy filled and meaningful. You relive those memories with the mixed emotions of sadness for the loss and the wanting to live again. The complexity of this word is seen in the example where you can feel saudade with someone who is in your life about the way you were or what you had. It can be a longing.

Duarte Nunes Leão’s definition of saudade: “Memory of something with a desire for it.”

The Symbiosis of Grief and Love

To answer the questions presented I wish I could say with absolute certainty yes or no to each. What I can say with the full weight and authority of my journey is:

You can grieve without love. As Plato describes we are seeking good and perfect and we keep repeating until we find that. Or believe we have found good and perfect (i.e. love). If we have not found that good and perfect we are grieving for what was not found which is different from what was lost. In that example the grief may be short lived or not expose one to a further understanding of what was and is regarding the genesis of that grief.

Love carries the specter of grief. Love and grief are the tensions at the edge of the pasture and the forest where you cross from the light of an open field into darkness of trees blocking the sun. In the middle of love in the middle of life that edge, that tree line, is not seen or our vistas. We turn in another direction seeking the light and warmth.

The magnitude and trajectory of grief is determined by the individual. We all grieve differently. My grief is not your grief. We  all step into that darkened forest unfamiliar with the direction to take bringing with us memories of what was lost and what has died. Those memories are glow sticks that are snapped to illuminate what can’t see. Still our hands touch the trunks of gnarled bark on tree trunks feeling our way what we hope is forward.

With Plato’s direction we begin where everything has ended. With saudade we desire what was lost. The tension between those push and pull us. For me and my brand of grief I have not denied the grief or the memories. They are instruments of understanding new and complex ideas. I’ve begun again to look at what is good and perfect to measure what is and isn’t to move forward. I will admit that there are days and moments of some days where I surrender to the darkness. I walk into the empty home and call out her name and curse the silence. Today I am writing this knowing from memory of what was lost.

Grief is the Space Between Memories Known and Unknown

“Now would be a good time to have end-of-life discussions with Donna,” the Hospice Rabbi said. “What does she want for her funeral? What are her regrets? Did she find joy in her life?”

Joy? I failed her. All I could do was think of that.

I hesitated for a day. Then next afternoon, alone in the room with Donna, I looked at her in the bed and said, “Donna, perhaps you want to talk about your funeral.”

She looked over at me and said, “Don’t be a maudlin pussy.” Then she rolled onto her side and fell asleep.

I smiled. That was the woman I married 28 years ago, life and death on her terms, her way, take no prisoners, with no doubt about what was needed. She was not dead yet.

This occurred about a week to ten days prior to Donna’s death. Yet my grief was an orchard in full bloom and thriving finding nourishment from the memories of our life together. It took seed when she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer two plus years earlier. After she died it sunk it roots deep and remains part of me. Many may see my grief as a failure to launch away from the pain. You know that entire finding closure meme which is denial said pretty. I will not deny my grief nor Donna.

There is more to grief. Let me defend grief, specifically defend my grief and hopefully your grief. Grief is life’s artesian aquifer. It flows from within, bored out of the loss of a loved one.It is part love and light. It holds promise to satisfyingly quench our loss. To sustain us.

Grief should not be seen as a proper place or an improper place. It is the space between memories of the past and hope for the future. Those are distant points on a compass that intersects within us. At times where it overlaps may be a soft and subtle or hard and painful. No matter it creates a newness within us offering a fresh look that what was, what is, and what may be. If choose not shy from it or ignore it can open up new memories and new understanding.

I have written about grief and will continue to. Grief has its own narrative arc and begins as thumping numbing recognizing that what once is is now was. It moves with us and becomes dullness. We need to take grief and partner with it, in a sense embrace its strength and aching to create new.

Maine Public has a piece by Patty Wight. ‘If It’s All About You, There’s No Reward:’ Coping with Grief by Helping Others

She relates the story of Floyd Hastings and the death of his wife. How Hastings like many of us who face the loss of a loved one sought to give back to those who helped us care for our loved one. I remembered the chemo lab nurses and hospice staff for years following Donna’s death. I have posted about Donna and podcast on grief and how I’ve managed it well and not so well. I am volunteering. All of this as a way to pay forward what I’ve learned.

That is what we do but more to my premiss, our grief is a light within us to guide us to a better understanding of what was, is, and will be. Below are some links to my podcasts on the topic and posts. But stay tuned more to come.

Podcast 39: The Organic Nature of Grief. An Observer Effect

Podcast 37: The Insipid Nature of Grief, The Horse Latitudes

Post: Domesticating the Feral Nature of Grief

Post: Inside Out a Compendium of Loss and Grief


The Organic Nature of Grief, An Observer Effect: Podcast 039

This process of grief feels like a hamster on a wheel. Sometimes it feels seems the clouds have parted and there is the brightness of understanding in the light braking through. Taken in the whole the path is ongoing and changing. It is slow, it is fast, it and above all else it gives me a chance find a balance in today while adjusting the past. The distance in the rear view mirror is longer than the view through the windshield.



This Too Shall Pass: When I Say So

Richard A. Friedman, MD

Podcast #36 My Idiosyncratic Fingerprint of Grief: Grief to Knowledge

Hold Still by Sally Mann

Untangling The Memories of Grief and Loss: Podcast 038

My last podcast addressed the changing avatar of my grief and loss. How for years it was a daily presence yet recently I noted it became a part-time visitor. I remain hyper vigilant to applying what I read or learn into the context of this visitor. I hear a phrase or read a passage and I think about it in terms of my grief avatar and I wonder as I reflect, what have I learned? Am I missing today and tomorrow because my vision is in my rear view mirror? Can I untangle myself from looking back to construct a new environment for my emotions to reside?


The Insipid Nature of Grief, The Horse Latitudes: Podcast 037

It’s a strange and curious time in my journey from caregiver, to widower, and grief ambassador. It feels as if I have navigated my way into the the horse latitudes of life. I’ve entered that legendary becalmed moment where I find myself searching for horses to throw overboard in a ritual to speed my journey and create movement. It is an emotional desert that I am not sure what to do with or if I will find a way forward. Speaking into a microphone, creating a podcast seems to help.


My Idiosyncratic Fingerprint of Grief: Grief to Knowledge: Podcast 036

Teri Gross on her podcast Fresh Air interviewed Fenton Johnson who had the cover story in Harper’s Mag “Going it Alone”. The essay addresses the importance of solitude and what it means to ourselves our well being and sense of self. What we can learn from that.What can we can with do with it?

I wondered if my being drawn to this idea/way of life was driven by a rationalize of my current state of mind and life. Or am I seeking to find more in order to take this journey from dx to tx to loss mourning and grief and apply what it meant to a better life? To shake were I’m at and morph into a new me? To leverage a death and loss to make me whole again? What does this tell me? And how to do I apply it? And what outcomes am I seeking?

Inspired By Monks, A Writer Embraces His Life Of Solitude

Going it Alone” Fenton Johnson

My Grief Through Their Eyes: Podcast 035

I’ve been writing and podcasting about EOL, HPM, grief, mourning and dying. It’s my personal journal and journey based on reflections, memories, and experiences surrounding Donna’s diagnosis, treatment, and passing. That is the nature of a narrative it’s a reflection based on personal or learned experiences.


It struck me that my musing were personal and emotional. What if I missed a point, a nuance, a message, that some may find valuable. Or more importantly I find valuable. I thought why don’t I interview those who knew Donna, knew me, and were part of this journey. I wanted to learn how they saw the arc of Donna from diagnosis to EOL my arc from diagnosis to EOL to grief and mourning. Did I miss anything? Was I short sighted in my self analysis and reflection? Was my narrative accurate and clear? What did I miss because we all know how clear hindsight is.

NYT Memento Mori by David Malham

Sweet Life Communications

This Too Shall Pass, When I Say So! Podcast 033

Patrick O’Malley writing in the New York Times Opinionator section Couch addressed the topic of grief with his piece “Getting Grief Right”. That got my attention because I’ve been struggling to get my grief right as well. I talk about my path to getting it right and how it fits with O’Malley’s view and thoughts.


The Arc of Loss, Mourning, Grief, and Release: Podcast 032

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

E.E. Cummings

It’s been three plus years since we lost you, I lost you. And six plus years since your diagnosis and treatment. Writing this now feels a day late and a dollar short. It’s not like in some way shape or form I haven’t been speaking with you, to you, about you. And I it will come as no surprise to you I am wearing my welcome out with friends on this topic, remembrances etc.

This letter/podcast is not a review of EOL HPM its just news about those who loved you and still do. You know like those annoying notes people include with their Xmas card.