How Grief Works


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You can probably name the five stages of grief - from denial to acceptance - they've become pretty well known since being proposed in 1969. But later researchers are finding that grief is rarely that cut and dried, and it may not be as widely experienced as we once thought. Join Josh and Chuck as they look at the sad science of grief.

Female Speaker: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, bud, before we get going -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah?

Josh Clark: We want to plug our new little animated short series because it is literally, aside from the podcast, probably the favorite video product we've ever put out.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so let's tell everybody about it. Basically there's this incredible animator named Nick Shoen, and he takes a, you know, four to five minute segment of the actual audio podcast and then animates it, complete with us talking. And then frequently, he goes off into this other universe where it shows what we're describing.

Josh Clark: Yeah, like we're telling a story, he'll animate that, and it's really pretty awesome.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and he's got this amazing knack for noticing things that I didn't even notice about you or myself, but he's just nailing it like leaning in a little bit, crossing the eyebrows, just little things that really like make this animated series like really awesome.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and the folks that are out there watching it are loving it. We've gotten like a hundred percent great feedback, so we want to ask you because we want it to stick around.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And the only way this is going to stick around is if people watch it because that's just how it works in life, you know.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Friends, we don't ask you to do things very often for us, and when we do, we really believe in those things, and this is one of those instances.

Josh Clark: That's right.

Chuck Bryant: Like we think this animated series is really great, and we'd love to have it stick around, so please go watch it. We have to get the numbers up.

Josh Clark: Yeah, so just go to stuffyoushouldknow.com is our website.

Chuck Bryant: Our website.

Josh Clark: And go to the video tab, and there may be one front and center there, but the animations are easy to find. Or if you're on YouTube, we have run on YouTube channel, and you can find them there as well. And give them a shot. And share them around. And we appreciate it.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so check it out, stuffyoushouldknow.com, Stuff You Should Know the animated series.

Josh Clark: All right, let's get on with it.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark There's Charles W. Chuck Bryant that makes The Stuff You Should Know the podcast

Chuck Bryant: Good grief.

Josh Clark: Yes, good grief.

Chuck Bryant: I looked that up.

Josh Clark: What did you come up with?

Chuck Bryant: Well, it just struck me, you know, because Charlie Brown says it, you know. That's where I know it from. Then I thought, where did that come from? Because I wonder about these things, and it's just apparently they think it's just what's called a minced oath. Like when you substitute God for good gravy or good googlies or -

Josh Clark: I got you. Great googlie mooglie.

Chuck Bryant: Googlie mooglie. But then I thought, grief was weird because that's such a specific thing, but then good gracious, gracious is very specific too and like ill-fitting so I guess it's just a minced oath. Good grief. Josh Clark: Well maybe good gracious came from good grace, and somebody was like, just feeling a little buzzed on schnapps, and they added gracious instead.

Chuck Bryant: Maybe so. Minced oaths. Good gravy.

Josh Clark: That's good. That's probably the funniest thing that will happen in this show. That wasn't even that funny.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but this one's not supposed to be funny. It's about grief, you know, and I think we should point out from the get go that this is about grief. Human grief, western human grief, but that's not to say that there aren't different types of grief and that humans are the only ones who do grieve. In fact I have a story for you.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I got a little animal action too, so.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, you do. That was the funniest thing in this episode. The story took place back in the spring of 1999 in Utherprodeche State, India. Specifically in the town of Lucknow, and even more specifically, at the Prince of Wales Zoo, there was a 72-year-old elephant, female elephant named Dominee, and Dominee was hanging out in her little house at the Prince of Wales Zoo, when all of a sudden she got a younger pregnant friend delivered to her named Chumpickalee. And Chumpickalee was, as I said, pregnant. She was actually on maternity leave from her regular gig where she would just let tourists ride on her back, all right?

And so she was taken to the Prince of Wales Zoo to basically just have a nice, comfortable term and then give birth. And Dominee just fell in love with Chumpickalee.

Josh Clark: This is so sad already.

Chuck Bryant: So she basically became a maternal figure to Chumpickalee. They were best friends. Chumpickalee would lay around, and Dominee would stroke her pregnant belly with her trunk. They just got really, really tight, which is very normal in the elephant world. So you can almost imagine that Dominee was growing excited as Chumpickalee got closer and closer to her due date. And then finally she did go into labor. Chumpickalee died during childbirth and gave birth to a stillborn calf. And Dominee, I guess they let her come in and like hang around the body because elephants are known to grieve.

Well even as far as elephants go, Dominee's story's a little - it's pretty bad. She cried over the body for a while, and then went over to her enclosure and just stood still for a week, right?

Josh Clark: You're killing me.

Chuck Bryant: After the week, she - during this week, she stopped eating. She got to the point where her legs swelled from basically starvation and dehydration until she fell over and then she just laid there for what turned out to be the rest of her life where she wept and refused to eat and refused to drink and grieved over the death of her friend. And finally died herself a few days later. And the vets tried to keep her alive. They did what they could, but they said in the end, in the face of Dominee's intense grief, all her treatment failed.

Josh Clark: [Inaudible]

Chuck Bryant: No, they're buried next to one another.

Josh Clark: I had a dog situation like that, similar when I was a kid.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah?

Josh Clark: One of my dogs died, and they were best buds. And the other one just like was never the same and died about three months later. And seemed happy at the time. And I went out and laid down in the dog house and cried.

Chuck Bryant: Nice.

Josh Clark: When I was like seven. It was devastating.

Chuck Bryant: That's a wonderful thing to do. That's working out your grief.

Josh Clark: Yeah, but as far as the animals go, it really is pretty evenly divided among scientists who say, yes they show all the signs of grieving, and that's what they're doing. And then others say, no they are not grieving. We are putting that on them as humans.

Chuck Bryant: That's - yeah, I totally disagree with that.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it's just, you know, it's really two camps. Some say it's mistaken -

Chuck Bryant: We've talked about this before. We've run up against this before, and I don't think either one of us have changed our positions at all.

Josh Clark: I think they grieve, but then you hear like this one great ape, you know, was famous recently for carrying her little dead baby around for like three days, and other scientists came out and said, like you know this is a long gestation period. They have singletons. Having a kid is a big deal, and so she's carrying this baby around in hopes that it will come back to life, and it's like in a comatose state. And you know, it's a practical, adaptive evolutionary thing that's happening. It's not grief, and then I think you're heartless.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Yeah.

Josh Clark: They're grieving because adult chimpanzees don't grieve.

Chuck Bryant: They took the baby chimp and made a purse out of it. That's what those scientists did after that.

Josh Clark: Well but then for animals, I don't want to get too side tracked, but you have to think like when some clearly show signs of what looks like grief and some don't at all. Like the chimpanzee in the same you know arena like they eat other chimpanzees while they're still alive and screaming.

Chuck Bryant: Well, those are the ones that backtalk.

Josh Clark: Or they go off to die by themselves, and there's no grieving. Or they will make, like if one of them is dying, they will like kill them.

Chuck Bryant: Right, but imagine you're an outside observer of the human species. We loose chemical weapons on one another, and yet we still have funeral practices. I mean -

Josh Clark: I know. It's interesting. I wonder why certain animals do and certain animals don't, you know. It's very interesting.

Chuck Bryant: Well getting back to humans.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: The human realm of grief, there is a man who recently was married to his wife for 62 years, and she died. And on the way to her funeral, he died in the back of the limousine.

Josh Clark: Oh, really?

Chuck Bryant: And yeah, which I though was incredibly sweet, and then his daughters -

Josh Clark: They died at the funeral.

Chuck Bryant: No, no, no. They put a sign up. They decided to just have a double funeral, and they put a sign up at the wake that said, surprise, it's a double header, and then buried him next to her like that day.

Josh Clark: Wow.

Chuck Bryant: Well I guess their family has a good sense of humor.

Josh Clark: But the point is, yeah, it is. That's - they used a sense of humor to grieve, or else they weren't going to grieve, and the point of that whole thing is that there's no set way that grief works which is great because we can say just about anything here and still be in the right.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: Because psychology is still grappling to define the process of grief, and some very recent studies that you found show that grief is not present in everyone. And that everyone deals with it very differently. And there's not really any specific way to handle it. There's just some great, general guidelines, and we should say grief is a very personal thing.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and I myself have experienced the spectrum of grief in my life like including like family members that, passing away, not to be too cold, but some are - you super grieve for, and some it's like, well you know, they were very old, and they had a great life, and we saw this coming, and that's one of the things that you know that's one of the types of grief. Anticipatory grief they say is probably easier because you're working that stuff out over time, and it's nothing like an accident or a child dying, unanticipated grief. Completely different.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it is. So you mention anticipatory grief. That's like if somebody's got a prolonged illness or something like that. You have the chance to say goodbye ahead of time maybe.

Chuck Bryant: Deal with these emotions.

Josh Clark: Exactly. And then once death actually comes, you've been prepared for this for days, weeks, months, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and a lot of times maybe there isn't any quote unquote traditional grief going on at all because you're just so prepared, and it's just a matter of executing all the things that you need to do if you're the person that's in charge of that kind of stuff.

Josh Clark: Right. Like you're so prepared, you blow off the funeral to go to the grocery store.

Chuck Bryant: I don't know about that. It's like a serial killer if that's the case.

Josh Clark: Psychologists call that kind of grief, anticipatory grief, basically the money grief because it's about as light as you can get. Post-grief, post-death I should say. Right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: And again, I want to say like there's probably a listener out there who like helped their husband or their mother through a long bout of cancer that the person finally succumbed to, that's like, that's absolutely untrue. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Like again, there's no specific - like no one can tell you what your grief was. Again, it's personal. This is just -

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: These are very broad strokes, so okay. Then like you mentioned, unanticipated grief, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I meant that's, from my experience, I had a friend that fell off a building and died, and that's like definitely the hardest. Someone young, an accident, and but still if you want to talk about five stages, I'm not a big believer that that's the case because I didn't experience all those stages at all. But again, it varies. Someone might experience ten stages.

Josh Clark: It does, but the point is with unanticipated grief. Like you couldn't have - you or your friend didn't wake up that morning like he's going to die, you know? But he still died, and you have to deal with it all of a sudden. And then there's ambiguous grief, which for my money is probably the worst kind of grief. This is the kind of grief that comes where say if you have a loved one who is kidnapped, and you never hear from them again.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I've never felt that one.

Josh Clark: Your parents abandoned you as a child, or just something happens to somebody, and there's no real resolution or closure.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, or you know, it doesn't have to be even death. It can be like your girlfriend, you come home to a note on your bed, and you never hear from her again or a wife I guess.

Josh Clark: Yeah, because I guess we should also say like grief doesn't just come from death.

Chuck Bryant: No, of course not.

Josh Clark: Grief is basically the deep and poignant distress caused by bereavement, and bereavement is the state of being deprived of something or someone. So -

Chuck Bryant: Loss of a relationship.

Josh Clark: That could be through death, whatever. Yeah, exactly. But yeah, so those are the three types of normal grief, just off the top of our heads. We made those up, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And you mentioned the different kinds of - they're the different stages of grief, and you - I mean that's such like a pop trope these days.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the five stages.

Josh Clark: But it was actually new just as recently as 1969, when Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came up with the five stages of grief that you always hear about today that any ten year old could probably recite to you but have since been kind of deconstructed and changed and questioned and challenged, but these are kind of the road map to go through grief, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Josh Clark: Right, and denial's just basically saying, this is not true that they're still alive like what you say is a lie, and I don't want to be anywhere near you because you're lying to me right now about something very horrible.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I've never experienced that. Even with my friend who fell off a building, like that's as sudden a news as you can get over the phone, and I'm just not the kind of person who's like, no that didn't happen. I was like, man. It immediately hit me that that had happened. You know?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And I started from there, I guess. But I didn't experience anger either. But you know, if it might have been my brother, I might have experienced anger, you know.

Josh Clark: You've raised a very good point. There's different I guess risk factors. There's different elements to grief, and some of it is personal. Some of it has to do with how close you are to the person.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Some of it has to do with the type of person you are. You're a pretty resilient person.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: If you were a very sensitive, bookish type you might have taken it a little harder, you know what I mean?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: You have a very, very, very strong, tight support group. You do.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So I would say that probably helped quite a bit. I'm sure you had a group of friends that like helped you through that. They were probably friends with the kid too.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, absolutely.

Josh Clark: So you went through it as a group.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, going through something alone is always hard, even if you think you're a loner and don't want to be around anyone, you're probably not doing yourself any favors.

Josh Clark: Right. And then lastly, you had prior experience with grief. You'd thrown yourself down in the dog house when you were seven. So you had that experience to draw upon and to know that you can make it through it. It does get better. It does go away. So you're going to have the hardest normal kind of grief if you are, like you said, a loner with no support group, if this is the first time that you've ever experienced grief, if you're the sensitive, bookish type, and if you are extraordinarily close to somebody. Right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Totally, and in fact I used to do acting exercises in college when I took this acting class, and - believe it or not. I took one acting class, and I was not very good at it. And he used to tell us to try and do like crying exercises and stuff.

Josh Clark: So what did you think of?

Chuck Bryant: About my brother was always the go to. Like imagine my brother had gotten killed or something, and I would just like, boom. Water works.

Josh Clark: That is so sweet.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

[Crosstalk]

Josh Clark: I think I'd make myself cry if I thought of your brother dying.

Chuck Bryant: I know, he's a bull of a guy.

Josh Clark: He's such a good guy.

Chuck Bryant: I'm just kidding about the other family members by the way.

Josh Clark: All right, so anger. That's the second one.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, it is the -

Josh Clark: Pretty self-explanatory. Bargaining fascinates me. Like the idea -

Chuck Bryant: Totally.

Josh Clark: The idea that you feel like you're suddenly in a position to make a deal with God to reverse the circumstances or bring the person back or take away the pain. That's just so crazy, and it's, you know, you think of somebody bargaining with God or some higher power, and they're like looking up, talking to the ceiling or the sky. And that that is one of the normal stages of grief, that's - I just find that fascinating.

Chuck Bryant: I did that when I was young with girls.

Josh Clark: Oh yeah?

Chuck Bryant: Well I was heavy into church, very emotional kid, and girls like, you know, it was one of those deals like, God please if she would just come back to me, I promise I'll like do this and I'll do that.

Josh Clark: Yeah. I'll clean behind my ears.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I grew out of that pretty quick because I realized it didn't make any difference. That girl was either coming back or she was hitting the road.

Josh Clark: Exactly. And God probably had little, if anything, to do with that.

Chuck Bryant: That's right.

Josh Clark: He was dealing with bigger problems.

Chuck Bryant: That's right.

Josh Clark: After that's depression, and this one's kind of tricky. If you go through the stage of depression - if you do, it's not necessarily requisite. They're starting to wonder if possibly you were already depressed. And if you were already depressed that probably means you're going to maybe get stuck in this stage for a while. Or you might go through a depressed stage and come out of it. It's not necessarily - but the problem with this stage is that depression is a recognized mental disorder, and grief is not considered a mental disorder. And yet, in one of these five widely accepted stages, you go through a period where you're - you have a mental disorder, but it's part of a normal process, you know.

That's basically like taking psychologists and throwing them into the Thunderdome, you know, greasing them up with chicken fat and handing them battleaxes and saying like, explain that.

Chuck Bryant: Now that's the funniest thing.

Josh Clark: That I've said in this podcast. The last one is acceptance, of course. This is when you are finally able to move on, and I found that one fairly interesting article where they charted this, and they said it would look like a W. Is that right? Like the high points and the low points?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, which I guess denial's a high point, and then it goes down to anger. Up to bargaining?

Josh Clark: I guess, if you feel like that's getting you somewhere. Maybe it's an up.

Chuck Bryant: Maybe, maybe. At the very least, it's manic I would think. Back down to depression, and then finishing the W with a nice bit of acceptance.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and they've, as you've said, that we've sort of been studying this for like 30 or 40 years, and it was always that five stages thing. But recently, they've been looking more into it, and they've done some studies with widowers and widows. And they found that they really oscillate wildly from day to day, and it's not necessarily going to be a W. It's, I felt, great today and really my spirits were up, and I was even laughing. Then the next day, they were really sad, and it just - really, it's all over the map.

Chuck Bryant: Right, but I think overall what they're finding is that on a long enough arc, people emerge from it, and it seems to be somewhere on the order of six months to three years. Seems to be, and I think that's the outliers are maybe six months to three years.

Josh Clark: That's such a ridiculous time frame.

Chuck Bryant: But I mean, like if you study enough people, you can probably -

Josh Clark: Yeah, but you can probably -

Chuck Bryant: Probably create like a -

Josh Clark: Make up like -

Chuck Bryant: Three months to five years, you know.

Josh Clark: No, totally.

Chuck Bryant: And then say anyone else is an outlier.

Josh Clark: Right, but that's the thing, like you can't - that's why everybody is very wisely - they avoid saying things like that. This is like -

Chuck Bryant: It's almost with respect for the process like no one wants to come out and say, no this is how it is.

Josh Clark: Yeah, because you can't. That's a mean thing to do, and actually there's - grief is in danger of being medicalized. In the DSM 5, one of the proposals - there's always been an exemption to bereavement with depression, like a depression diagnosis. If the person has recently gone through the process of grief or is in the process of grief, you can't diagnose them with depression. You can, but you're not going to get reimbursed for any meds you prescribe them.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Well under the DSM 5, they're taking away this bereavement exclusion so that doctors can get reimbursed.

Chuck Bryant: That's good.

Josh Clark: Yeah, but it medicalizes grief. It's says, no now it's a mental disorder.

Chuck Bryant: Well -

Josh Clark: When it's not supposed to be, and it's a slippery slope. You know?

Chuck Bryant: A temporary disorder though.

Josh Clark: You would hope so.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. All right. Very keen insight. Nice work.

Josh Clark: Thank you, Psychology Today.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, is that where you got it?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. So should we talk a little bit about dealing with it, I guess?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: You know, these are - it's good advice, but it's also any time I read something where they're like, take care of yourself and eat right and exercise.

Josh Clark: Yeah, avoid drugs and alcohol.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but it is very much true you know. It only is going to make things worse if you wallow in this and abuse yourself with drugs and alcohol and don't eat -

Josh Clark: You don't think there's some -

Chuck Bryant: Stay up all night.

Josh Clark: There's not a therapy to pouring like half of a 40 out on curb like someone who's gone and then drinking the other half?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I mean, sure. But don't do that every day for like weeks and week.

Josh Clark: Right. Starting at 9:00 a.m.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I think me and my friends got together and got really good and plowed after we got the news about my buddy, but we weren't -

Josh Clark: But Chuck says to avoid alcohol.

Chuck Bryant: My advice is to avoid it after one time.

Josh Clark: Yes, but okay, so in addition to avoiding drugs and alcohol, eating right and getting regular exercise, just the standard stuff. What was that also in, jet lag?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's -

Josh Clark: Any time it's anything.

Chuck Bryant: There are like some really good suggestions to dealing with grief. If you find yourself overwhelmed by a profound sense of sadness, there are things out there that you can do to make yourself feel better. You can write a letter to the deceased. That's said to help.

Josh Clark: Scrapbooking?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, why not?

Josh Clark: Throwing yourself into say, making a memorial like those roadside memorials, or a video clip show. Who knows?

Chuck Bryant: Actually, you know what? When my friend died, I did a video.

Josh Clark: See?

Chuck Bryant: Because his family put together a website like a memorial website, and I had video footage back then of him, and I did a little video for the family, but it ended up being like a great thing for me.

Josh Clark: Did - It made you feel better.

Chuck Bryant: Absolutely.

Josh Clark: Basically putting yourself into a project where you're thinking about this person. I imagine - this isn't an article. This is just me doing some armchair psychology, but I imagine it forces you to remember good things about the person. And so during this time when you're possibly a little more emotionally fragile than usual, you are being reminded of positive memories, positive things as well. You know, so your - maybe that's why it would help, but it definitely does help, you know?

Chuck Bryant: For sure, because when you're going through and doing like a scrapbook, it's these great memories and these pictures, and it's not - you are remembering the good stuff and like the life which is how I think everyone wants to be remembered, you know?

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: It's like these great photos that we have -

Josh Clark: Alive.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly, you know?

Josh Clark: You want to be remembered as alive.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I mean I'm one of those people that always wants my funeral to be, you know, a little bit more of an upbeat affair. As much as it can be, you know? Whereas some people are like, no man I want people really sad. I want to be mourned for days. Not me.

Josh Clark: So you want the upbeat affair?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Like have a party and you know, make fun of me.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: But not like G. G. Allen's funeral.

Josh Clark: I have to research that one. I can only imagine what it was like.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Pretty hardcore?

Chuck Bryant: Pretty much.

Josh Clark: Did they inject his corpse with heroin, or -

Chuck Bryant: No, he was buried naked though, and he -

Josh Clark: He lived naked?

Chuck Bryant: It was - yeah, you need to do some research if you feel like it.

Josh Clark: Okay. Man, he died in like a horrible way. Didn't they find him like murdered in an alley, naked, and like never found the murderer?

Chuck Bryant: No, I think he killed himself.

Josh Clark: I thought he was murdered.

Chuck Bryant: Or OD'ed.

Josh Clark: I thought he was like stabbed to death.

Chuck Bryant: No, I don't think so. He used to threaten to kill himself on stage. That was his big thing was he's like, one day it's going to happen.

Josh Clark: I thought his big think was like pooping onstage.

Chuck Bryant: Well, he did that a lot too.

Josh Clark: Yeah. He kept that promise. Man, sidebar on G. G. Allen.

Chuck Bryant: Who know G. G. Allen was going to show up in the grief episode?

Josh Clark: For real. Another thing you can do to, I guess kind of help through the grief process is to throw yourself into a new project that you think the deceased might appreciate.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, or some organization they might have been affiliated with.

Josh Clark: Right, that's what I meant.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, if you lose someone to cancer maybe get involved with the Komen foundation or one of the other groups.

Josh Clark: Or apparently MADD. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in memory of a deceased person.

Chuck Bryant: Absolutely.

Josh Clark: Killed by a drunk driver, one would imagine.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: There's just a lot of stuff out there that you can do yourself. A lot of people, pretty much immediately, go to therapy at least initially to get a little help, to get some insights, some advice, whatever. That's not necessarily the case for everybody, and they've definitely found that therapy is not even necessarily helpful for everybody. There's a lot of people out there who probably wonder if they're dead inside because they don't grieve like supposedly everyone else does, but study after study is finding that actually people who go through significant grief is a fairly small portion of people who experience a loss.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, didn't we have a study in here? Oh yeah, right here. What they do generally is they track groups of widows and widowers for a period of time and just have them remark about how they're feeling on a day to day basis. And this one was for up to five years I think, and between 26 and 65 percent had no significant symptoms in the initial years after the loss, and only 9 to 41 percent did. And there's a big variability there, but they said it's partially from how the symptoms were measured, so.

Josh Clark: And in another study, they found that about 21 percent experience what you could diagnose as depression after the loss, and only about 11 percent had trouble with it, like couldn't shake it after 6 to 18 months, I believe.

Chuck Bryant: Right, and ten percent of people who lost a spouse felt relief. These are people that had reported being unhappy in their marriage. So there's that.

Josh Clark: Those are the ones that dance on their spouse's grave.

Chuck Bryant: I guess so, and I don't necessarily think it's that cold, but there could be some mild relief if you genuinely weren't happy in your marriage. That doesn't mean you're dancing on graves and partying, but it might just be like, all right well now I can go move to Cabo, St. Lucas like they'd always wanted to.

Josh Clark: And hang out with Sammy Hagar.

Chuck Bryant: But my wife hates the ocean. And now I can do that.

Josh Clark: Right. My wife also hated Sammy Hagar, but I'm going to go hang out with him.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they also think that men may grieve heavier even though it's long believed that women do, but I think a study like that is sort of silly. It's so variable from like person to person. I don't know.

Josh Clark: Right, but we say all this to point out that if you don't experience what other people would recognize as grief, there's nothing wrong with you any more than there is if you experience grief.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: What psychiatry and psychology have started to pay a little more attention to is what's been termed complicated grief.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and that is interesting.

Josh Clark: Technically, if you go say several months to where your life is really, really interrupted - you can't sleep. You can't eat. You're having trouble focusing on anything but the death of this person, the loss of this person.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you start to seriously doubt things very important in your life, maybe like religion even. Like I've lost a child, like there can't be a God, that kind of stuff.

Josh Clark: Right, or conversely if you can't even mention the person's name or hear the person's name. Basically if your life is disrupted for many months, then basically everybody from the Mayo Clinic to the APA says, maybe you should go see somebody about this.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah because it can also manifest itself in aggression and violence, self-destructive, physical self-destruction, so it can complicate it is an understatement here for this kind of grief I think.

Josh Clark: Right. So there's different kinds - if you go see a counselor with what's considered normal grief, they're probably going to help you let go of the person while still honoring their memory and recognizing them and the impact that they had on your life, but to get out there and live your own life. They're going to try to reach the same goal if you have complicated grief, but they're going to do it a different way. They're probably going to encourage you to really form an even greater bond with the person now that they're deceased that you can nurture and hold onto and carry around with you.

Chuck Bryant: That makes sense to me in this case. It's not like - you can't tell a parent who's lost a child, like and you need to work through this and get over it.

Josh Clark: Right. And that's actually one of the risk factors for complicated grief is the death of a child, the death of somebody that you are possibly co-dependent on and very, very close to, or the sudden death usually from trauma, say like a murder or something like that. Those are risk factors for complicated grief, so I would imagine that if you had a loved one who was murdered, you probably are already getting some sort of professional attention. And if you're not, maybe you should.

Chuck Bryant: Well, yeah, and that - what we were basically talking about was the difference between grief and trauma, and when you've experienced it to that degree, trauma is a whole different deal. They'd say it feels unreal, and it can be terrifying. Terror is the most common emotion. It's common if you have dreams about a deceased loved one, but if you're having traumatizing dreams about yourself being in danger, then you've crossed the line from grief into trauma and complicated grief. Heavy stuff.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it is very heavy.

Chuck Bryant: Losing a pet is, for some people, a very, very, very big deal, and other people - well, people that aren't into pets at all don't get it. And then some people that do have pets are just more equipped to deal with the loss of a pet and not like it's the loss of a human. But for people like me and Jerry over there, I know that losing a pet was like equivalent to losing, you know, a family member. And the grieving process is about the same, I would imagine, if it's that impactful. And my advice is you should talk to other people who have similar feelings.

Because one of the things that can be toughest about losing a pet is when you talk to people who don't have pets and don't think it's that big of a deal to lose a pet. That can make things a lot worse.

Josh Clark: Well they say that if you do experience the loss of a pet, and you find that your grieving over it, you should go ahead with the grief. Don't feel embarrassed or dumb for that.

Chuck Bryant: Of course not.

Josh Clark: Go lay down in the dog house and cry.

Chuck Bryant: Or -

Josh Clark: Like a six year old.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Yeah, you got anything else?

Chuck Bryant: I ran across one thing. There's a guy in 1983 named Paul Rosenblaut who carried out a study of I think like 56 Victorian diaries of people who had experienced loss.

Josh Clark: Oh, interesting.

Chuck Bryant: And so grief is definitely cultural and also historically bound too. Like he found that the goal for these diarists was to keep the person alive around them like all the time. Like they would try to sense the person around them, or like maybe sit in their favorite chair because they could tell that they were still there in some way or whatever. And that under those circumstances, they found that grief never really seemed to ever go away, that it was something that they carried around for the rest of their lives. And in fact, one of the things the Victorians did was they would wear black for a year I believe and then dark colors after that, especially if you were a widow.

Josh Clark: On the anniversary, you wear black too, right?

Chuck Bryant: I think so. And you're expected to carry around this grief for the rest of your life. And one of the things they also did that actually is still around today was bereavement photography, which is post-mortem photography.

Josh Clark: Yeah, we've done a thing on that.

Chuck Bryant: Have we?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And it's - we did, didn't we?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And we got an email just as recently as today from a woman who lost a child and had a cast made of the baby's hands and feet.

Josh Clark: Really?

Chuck Bryant: And she said that it was something that has very much helped her through.

Josh Clark: I hadn't heard that one yet.

Chuck Bryant: She said that it was a gift from the hospital.

Josh Clark: Wow.

Chuck Bryant: To help them through their grief, and the hospital said, hey you know you might not want it now, but we really encourage you to have this done, and we'll pay for it because years from now, you may really be happy that you have these. She said they're absolutely right.

Josh Clark: Wow, that's really great. What was email in reference to? Death Masks?

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: But it just happened to come in today when we were researching grief.

Josh Clark: Wow.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: That's about it, I guess. That's it. That's A to Z grief. We've touched on every single thing possible.

Chuck Bryant: What a downer.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I guess if you want to learn more about grief, you can type that word into the search bar at howstuffworks.com. Remember, I before E except after C. Chuck, hold on. Let's take a message break, huh?

Chuck Bryant: You know Josh, these days, everything is On Demand.

Josh Clark: It's all about On Demand, including this podcast. You can listen to it whenever you like. So why do people still go to the post office when they have limited hours, when you can go to stamps.com?

Chuck Bryant: I don't know. It's one of the great questions of the universe, Chuck, because everything you can do at the post office you can do right now from your desk, or if you're in your car, you can pull over and go to your desk with stamps.com. You can buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package using your own printer and computer. And, unlike the post office, stamps.com never closes so you can get postage when you need it 24/7.

Josh Clark: 24/7 is a lot of activity time on stamps.com. Right now guys, we have a promo stuff, S T U F F, for this special offer. That is our code. There's a no risk trial.

Chuck Bryant: How much risk?

Josh Clark: No risk. Plus 110 dollar bonus offer which includes a digital scale and up to 55 bucks in free postage.

Chuck Bryant: So don't wait. Go to stamps.com before you do anything else. Click on the radio microphone at the top of the homepage and type S T U F F. That's stamps.com. Enter stuff.

Josh Clark: It is time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant: So Josh, you can find a way to jump back and look into more grief on our website, or you could go to Google and look at pygmy goats.

Josh Clark: That helps too.

Chuck Bryant: That's what I would say.

Josh Clark: All right, so now -

Chuck Bryant: Not listener mail, Josh. Today we have Administrator Details.

Josh Clark: Nice, Chuck. Well done.

Chuck Bryant: All right, so we're going to - this is going to be an ongoing thing because, as usual, they stack up.

Josh Clark: Well, man, we have very busy work schedules.

Chuck Bryant: I know, and we'd like to say thanks to as many people as possible. For those of you that don't know, Administrator Details is a segment that replaces listener mail in which we read out thank yous to fans who have sent us -

Josh Clark: Stuff.

Chuck Bryant: Tokens.

Josh Clark: Yeah, anything. For example, a postcard of Ralph Anewi from Ryan Confer. Thank you for that.

Chuck Bryant: Nice.

Josh Clark: That's Easter Island.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. Jacob Ward sent us Yellowstone Park shirts, postcards, info cards, hats -

Josh Clark: Oh yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Because he works there. That was a pretty sweet gift.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and he gets a discount.

Chuck Bryant: We hope he does.

Josh Clark: Thanks to Shantay Diva for the postcard of the monkey nuts.

Chuck Bryant: Casey Herring sent us cookies, and they were delicious.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Which cookies?

Chuck Bryant: The delicious ones.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: Not those crappy ones.

Josh Clark: We got a wedding invitation from Rachel and John Reed.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah?

Josh Clark: Congratulations.

Chuck Bryant: I'm surprised no one's asked us to officiate. I'd do that.

Josh Clark: Oh man, you just opened the floodgates.

Chuck Bryant: Hitch Safe inventor, Tim Freeman, sent us a Hitch Save, and that is a little thing that you stick in your trailer hitch if you have a pick-up truck. And it's got a little key, and it's hollowed out, and you can like put your wallet and stuff in there if you go kayaking. And lock it up.

Josh Clark: I didn't see this.

Chuck Bryant: Well, because you don't have a pick-up truck.

Josh Clark: Oh, okay.

Chuck Bryant: You get a trailer hitch, buddy, we'll split the hitch.

Josh Clark: Okay, we'll share. Let's see, we've got a Christmas card and postcards plural from Becca Evans at UCSC.

Chuck Bryant: All right. Justin Norman sent us an ergo-desk and iPad holder, and I'm actually using the one for the laptop on my desk. It's quite lovely, and it's handmade wood, and you can find that at woodbold.com.

Josh Clark: Yeah, that's really a sight to behold.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: It's amazing.

Chuck Bryant: It really is.

Josh Clark: It looks like plastic, right?

Chuck Bryant: But it's wood.

Josh Clark: Yeah. We got a Christmas postcard from a Devine B. who for some reason was dressed as Wilfred from the TV show, Wilfred. So thank you¸ Devine.

Chuck Bryant: Lorrie and Lenard sent us some yummy chocolates from Figot's in Marshfield, Wisconsin.

Josh Clark: Yeah? All right. Those look lovely. We got a copy of the book, Brushing the Teeth of Elvis' Monkey¸ and a nice letter from Nurse Beth, so thank you for that.

Chuck Bryant: You know what? I'm going to go ahead and bust through my books here. We got How Colon Why Colon We Do Anything Means Everything by Dav Seedman. We got Swing Colon The Search For My Father Louie Prima by Allen Gerstille. Science Nearly Explained by Dick Maxwell, and that is on Amazon and Kindle. The Vampire Combat Manual from our buddy Roger Ma who sent us the zombie combat manual, and I imagine pretty soon we're going to have a werewolf combat manual.

Josh Clark: I would hope so.

Chuck Bryant: Unless Roger's getting lazy. And Trunkless, which is a children's book from John Antoniak and Matthew Antoniak.

Josh Clark: That was sweet. That was like a graphic novel.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and they sent us some cool stickers from 811graphics.com. So those are my books.

Josh Clark: Nice. Let's see, what else? We got another postcard from Rapanewi from Emily B. that rhymes.

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: We got trifold wallets from Trihold from Trifold Wallets.

Josh Clark: Nice, man. You should get paid for this. There's a dude named Lars C. who kind of went all over the place. He went to Los Cabos, of course Sammy Hagar's place, Seattle, Philadelphia, Calgary, Montreal, Nova Scotia, and he kind of took us with him and sent us postcards along the way, so thanks a lot, Lars.

Chuck Bryant: Erin Cooper, thank you for your cool thumb core poster versions of some of your best Stuff You Should Know Photoshop jobs. Love these.

Josh Clark: Yes, it's not the first time they sent those either, so thanks a lot, Erin. That's a regular, Coop. We got a nice Poster-gram from Michael Steward.

Chuck Bryant: Caroline Larson, Miss Magnetic Skulls.

Josh Clark: Yeah, those are awesome. They're the dead skulls of her own art, I believe.

Chuck Bryant: I think so.

Josh Clark: I've got her down too, and I have her website.

Chuck Bryant: It is, I believe, Carolinelarsonart.com. If I come across it, I'll correct myself if that's wrong. But I'm pretty sure that's right. Okay. I've got one more for now, and then you pick one more good one. And then we'll pick this up again.

Josh Clark: Jennifer Dunaway sent us a knitted tree scarf, and this is just a scarf that you go, and you pick a tree, and you put a little scarf on it.

Chuck Bryant: You okay?

Josh Clark: And it's pretty darn cute. And it makes the city more beautiful.

Chuck Bryant: Nice.

Josh Clark: So thank you Jennifer Dunaway for that.

Chuck Bryant: And then I got a nice handmade birthday card for me specifically from SYSK Army member, Courtney Hoover, so thanks a lot for that, Courtney. And that's Administrative Details for this week.

Josh Clark: Part one.

Chuck Bryant: As far as this list goes, we've got this for the next six months, and I am right. It's Caroline Larson Art, C-A-R-O-L-I-N-E-L-A-R-S-O-N Art.com.

Josh Clark: Yeah, get a tree scarf.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's what I say.

Josh Clark: And a skull magnet.

Chuck Bryant: All right.

Josh Clark: Yeah, okay, let's see if you want to tweet to us you can join us on Twitter at SYSK podcast. You can join us on facebook.com/stuffyoushouldknow. You can send us an email to stuffpodcast@discovery.com, and you can send us good old fashioned website visit to stuffyoushouldknow.com.

Female Speaker: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit howstuffworks.com.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 42 minutes

Topics in this Podcast: grief