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Friday, July 3, 2009

Good Grief

I'm not a person who shows public grief. I don't say that with any kind of machismo...its just grief in my life, is dealt with like any other of my emotional thinking, in private, alone with myself. Its the way I like it.

So with the outpouring of mawkish footage, on my rolling world news, at the demise of Michael Jackson, especially in LA, and with the recent spate of my friends also turning out the Big Light, combining with my endless fascination of how animal/human mechanisms have evolved to such bizarre levels in this day and age, I decided to look into the received thinking regarding the mechanics of grief.

Nearly all our thought processes that we think to ourselves are highly sophisticated decisions, really just come from a few core commands. Or as Billy Connolly says in his famous rant " do we want to Eat it, Fight it, F**K it or Flee it". Annoyingly it is almost always that simple. We're all about survival. But what about that anomaly, grief?

In evolutionary terms, grief has a number of useful adaptations: the first is a preventative function. As your relatives contain your genes, your goal is to keep them alive so the genes can be spread. The knowledge that you will experience grief if you were to lose one is a motivation to prevent their death.

An example is a mother, knowing she'd feel grief were one of her children to be run over by a car, forbidding them to play in the road.

Grief is obviously an inherited state. The mother does not actually need to lose a child to feel grief, she instinctively understands it. This is probably why nursing mothers discuss common scare stories such as children choking on grapes and children who've not been secured properly in car seats, so they can experience this grief in a harmless way.

Grief also shows us who our allies are. Those friends and family who respond positively when we are at our most helpless are good allies, best suited to help our own chances of survival.

Finally, Humans are generally part of distinct social, religious and cultural groups. One thing they have in common is that they all give priority to the bereaved. The rituals surrounding funerals and dealing with mourning all contribute to a reaffirmation of the society's beliefs and strengthen that society and its survival chances.

Maybe there is a hint of our own mortality muddying the reasoning too, but which of those above got us to the wailing and gnashing of teeth I see on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I'm not quite sure. Even us stoic shoulder shrugging Brit's went overboard with the flowers when Princess Diana hit the seat in front. It usually ends up with those concerned scratching their heads in three months time asking themselves why they acted so. Well I hope this has been some help.

Sir Dayvd ( reporting from the third rock from the sun ) in Oxfordshire.


  1. Grief is illogical, which makes it very human. My first memory of grief was watching my dog get run over by a car at age 7. I experienced grief in its most powerful form with the death of my mother at the age of 17. In light of your comments, I offer the following observations:

    1. I believe it has more to do with your last observation than anything. Humans grief because of their own mortality. Nothing else explains our morbid fascination with death. In my home town, it's a social event!

    It's also why throngs go to Michael Jackson's star on Hollywood Blvd and mourn. We hate being alone (well, at least most of us do), and a good public mourning satisfies the need to belong, as well as to grief our mortality.

    2. Until we experience true, gut wrenching grief...we can never truly appreciate the great gift that is life.

    3. Grief is a great teacher...or a life sucking prison...whichever you choose to embrace.

    4. Once you emerge through the hallowed halls of grief with your learn to appreciate all life, not just your own...your family...your race...your species....but all life in its wonderful and miraculous forms!

    Sir Hook the Good Grief Guru of Warrick

  2. As i say in the blog...grief is anything but illogical... and is why i love going back to the big bang of our major emotional experiences and finding out thier original functions.

    Our lack of need to watch out for our overall survival these days ( especially us pampered sorts ) means a lot of these original defense mechanisms have been given new sophisticated twists.

    of Ohhh