Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sump Pumps And Sadness ...

The emotional tumult of the past couple months has largely leveled off. My brain has processed and accepted the reality of several situations and I move through each day with relative ease.

But every so often, seemingly out of nowhere, a wave of grief hits me and I wonder, "Where did that come from?"

There are no obvious triggers. Take the most recent episode, last week: I was shutting down my computer for the night and was suddenly sobbing, a torrential emotional release that superseded even my ability to breathe.

Of course, I felt better afterward. I always do. But it led me to try and understand the genesis of those moments. And I finally hit on the right analogy: grief and emotion work the same way as water in a sump pit.


When it rains heavily, the sump pit fills with water and trips the sump pump at regular intervals. Each time, the sump pump evacuates the water from the pit.

Eventually, though, the rain stops. But water remains in the ground. The flow into the sump pit, however, is slower and therefore the sump pump trips on and off with less frequency.

It may cycle on and off every 30 seconds during a heavy downpour, but water continues to filter through the soil so that even a day or two later, the float on the sump pump eventually trips the pump on, even though the sun may be shining.

And so it is with grief. For me, anyway. But I suspect the phenomenon applies to most people.

In the throes of a loss, grief is intense and expected. But as time passes, as life returns to some semblance of "normal," as we move further away from that epicenter of sadness, we focus less and less directly on the loss.

But we continue to process emotions. We are simply less aware that we're processing them. But that emotion continues to build, in the background, as it were, and when it reaches a critical mass, it's expressed.

Hence the other night when I was shutting down the computer. Nothing about shutting down the computer reminded me of any of the recent events. My grief had simply built up to the point where it needed a release.

So the storm has passed. But the after-effects continue. Predictably, though, sun follows rain.


Blogger Rick Hamrick said...

It is my opinion that you nailed it, Beth. My experience leads me to promote the idea of letting it out when you feel that tipping point coming on, when you know you are going to cry. The reason why you are going to cry is completely immaterial to the process.

This is a hard one for most to grasp. When your [insert favorite name for it here: whole self, subconscious self, or...] alerts you that you are about to burst into tears, perhaps complete with heaving sobs and a sense it may never end, you may well have no idea where it came from. It's okay.

I love your analogy to the sump pump. It rings true.

The key is to allow it to flow through you. With any luck, you will be in a place where it is not inconvenient for you to simply let go and let all of it out.

Trust me, it will end. When? When that sadness has expressed all there is in you to express. If you decide to bottle it up, you are only begging for it to bubble up again, and more insistently the next time.

The reward is just as you describe it, Beth: you feel better.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous martha said...

what a great analogy, beth! that makes more sense than the overused "waves" one.

i'm sorry you're still struggling, but i understand at least a piece of it. two nights ago i was tucked into bed, ready for sleep, and then i heard dave's voice clearly in my ear, and suddenly the pillow was wet. baseball season is definitely bringing it back for me.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Rick, I'm chuckling to myself, hoping that the next bout of emotion doesn't decide to make itself known, say, in the middle of a job interview.

Of course, that would require that I have a job interview ... : o )

And Martha, how interesting that you heard Dave's voice. Even though it brought on the tears, I'm glad you still hear him. I do, too.

But the Cubs are off to a good start in his honor!

5:57 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

I think you're right, Beth. I had the same thing happen to me after each of my parents' deaths, as well as after one rather painful break up. The grief just builds up and, without a trigger, one breaks down.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It happens for all of us much in the way you describe. It's been over two years since I lost my grandmother, let alone Dave, and the tears come from nowhere for her, too. Especially hard on this last 100th birthday/Easter combo.

It's interesting you and Martha talk about hearing him. I had hoped that I would dream of him, but have not. Instead, I have had several distinct situations at my desk at work where I have heard a male voice call my name while working. It has grabbed my attention. I have only women who work around me and every time it has happened, everyone around me has been in court and there is no plausible explanation for what I have heard. It's clearly spoken and I do not believe that I am imagining it; it must be him. It would be ludicrous for someone around me to play this type of joke--it would have no meaning. But it's always just my name and oh how I wish it could be something more.

And, yes, I even watched a highly edited Snakes on a Plane last night even though I dislike that movie. Just because it was the right thing to do.

I know the grief will never pass completely. Forty years from now when I don't remember who I am anymore, I will probably see a Cubs game in passing on TV and will start to sob uncontrollably and no one around me will know why. But my heart will because it will never forget.

Keep writing, Beth. You will never cease to have something relevant to say.

7:17 PM  

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