January 14, 2010

Depression after loss of a parent

William Styron, on depression following the death or disappearance of a parent:
(from Styron's Darkness Visible)

The danger [of depression] is especially apparent if [one] is affected by what has been termed 'incomplete mourning' -- has, in effect, been unable to achieve the catharsis of grief, and so carries within himself through later years an insufferable burden of which rage and guilt, and not only dammed-up sorrow, are a part, and become the potential seeds of self-destruction.


Closure, but never healing. So perhaps this is what happens when closure occurs over infection.


  1. I think the great danger is in trying to make the pain just "go away" by trying to move on too soon. Like you mention, it's like an infection that grows due to not getting the splinter out all the way before letting the skin heal. It might take some painful digging to get it out all the way. Digging might leave a scar,and scars may not be attractive, but they don't kill you the way infections can and do.

  2. Dan wrote:
    "I think the great danger is in trying to make the pain just 'go away' by trying to move on too soon."

    This is precisely the case with me (I suspect). And it's prolonged digging, which creates more chronic side-effects, and also widens the radius of effect, ya know?

    I'm not sure what it was that caused me to abort my grief. Bunny was born (prematurely) only three days after my dad was pronounced dead (and the doctors weren't sure she'd survive). Car accident three days after that.

    I wonder, did I not have a chance to grieve? Maybe I buried the grief behind other traumas? Maybe Denial moved in and set up permanent residence?

    I ask all these questions of myself, because I hope in understanding, I'll be able to cope and heal properly the next time I lose a loved one. I can't imagine going through life repeating the same destructive behaviors over and over and over again.

  3. I think part of the problem is that we're always told to "acentuate the positive" in everything. This does result in denial in my opinion. We're told that if we lose an arm, we should just tell ourselves "Well, that's less money I'll have to pay for gloves!" or some such nonsense.Or even worse; we are told to act as though there was no loss at all. Loss is just that: loss. Part of us is gone when we lose someone close to us. If you're spiritual, you believe that they are on the other side now and that you will see them again, but that merely means that part of us is over on the other side too now. Accepting loss is crucial to surviving, denying it is just delaying the inevitible. Pretending that nothing has changed when you lose an arm is fine and good until the next time you try to play the banjo.

  4. Dan, this makes plenty of sense to me. I think I tend to do this in some form -- maybe not necessarily accentuating the positive in a strict sense, but certainly taking a proactive approach that goes awry. The need to "solve the problem" or "endure the blows, get up, and move on." I definitely think that leads to denial. Instead of giving myself time to really suffer the reality, I suck it up and move on the the next problem.

    This may help survive the day, but it's like walking on a broken toe too soon -- the bone will heal all wrong and cause problems in the future.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and observations.