For Real Friday: Grief, by Raye Wagner

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I just want to thank Raye Wagner again for taking over my blog this week while I get some much needed editing done. Raye is the author of The Origin of the Sphinx and The Curse of the Sphinx, two very entertaining books about an ancient mystery that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Today she’s here to talk to us about a very real issue her fictional character deals with in her novel. Grief.

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I’m not a psychologist, but I work in healthcare, and I frequently deal with individuals who’ve gone through a major life event. While death of a loved one brings understandable sorrow, other major life changes will bring similar stages of grief and/or adaptation. The top 5 major life changes are death of a loved one, marriage, divorce, job change, and moving.

I’m always surprised when I ask about stress and a patient denies anything significant, only to disclose that they’ve moved, had a job change, and oh, yeah, just broke up with their boyfriend. (Statistically, more women than men go to healthcare providers, so I use ‘boyfriend’ solely because I see more heterosexual women than men, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals).

Individuals suffering with intense emotional distress frequently experience physical symptoms, which is why 60-70% of patients seen in a specialty practices have what would be classified as “functional disorders” (no organic pathology). Receptors for neurotransmitters are not limited to the brain. In fact, serotonin, the “happy hormone” has a significant percentage of receptor sites on the GI tract. Interestingly enough, serotonin and cortisol (stress hormone) have an inverse relationship so if one is up the other is physiologically depressed. I tell patients that if they are stressed out enough, it can physiologically induce a chemical depression, and quite often make them physically ill.

Grief associated with significant loss, be it job change, or the mourning of a loved one that is deceased, has several stages (5 or 7 depending on which model you look at) and an individual’s journey through those stages is highly variable. Some people move quickly through them, and other’s get stuck, either lacking the tools, skills, or support system to adjust to their loss in a healthy way. The stages include: Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

In Curse of the Sphinx, Hope carries a curse from Apollo that forces her to move over and over, developing no lasting relationships. Her isolated life pretty much sucks, and she knows it. She has her mom, who is also cursed, and a family friend who visits semi-regularly, and that’s it. Then she loses her mother. No more spoilers, but things go from bad to worse.

Hope has several challenges, not the least of which is her grief, and she goes through each of the stages throughout the first novel, and even into the second (not yet released). Because of her immortal state, she can’t get physically ill, but we see (and hopefully feel) the emotional strain, and the effects it has on her life.

But isn’t that what we want? We want to read about protagonists who triumph over weaknesses, insecurities, or trials. We want to feel their pain, knowing it isn’t our own, and yet in some small part reflective of something in us. And when a character we identify with takes a risk, or makes a sacrifice, we collectively hold our breath, and hope for the best. We feel their sorrow, pain and loss, just like we feel their victories and achievements. It is part of the human condition, this empathy for one another.

If at the end of a book, we feel a little braver, a little stronger, a little more courageous, a little more hopeful, grateful, or empowered. . . Isn’t that what leaves the sweetness of the story imprinted on our soul?

And did you know reading a well-written novel releases neurotransmitters in our brain (and the rest of the body, too)? It’s these chemicals that lend to the emotions we feel towards the characters who, when the author does a really good job, are just as human as the guy you sit next to on the subway, or the barista at the coffee shop, or even a loved one.

Happy Reading!

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