How People Grieve – Panic

Lynn Caine, author of Widow, describes the results of panic in her chapter, “Crazy Lady”, by quoting actress Helen Hays:

For two years (after my husband died) I was as crazy as you can be and still be at large. I didn’t have any really normal minutes during those two years. It wasn’t just grief. It was total confusion. I was nutty. How did I come out of it? I don’t know, because I didn’t know I was in it.

Lynn suffered the same confusion:

I didn’t know I was in it either; all I knew was that I hurt. But looking back, I was certainly a crazy lady. Oh, I was eminently sane, that I was making wise decisions. But I was acting like an idiot.

Lynn explains her failure to cope:

I was not prepared for the craziness. But it was inevitable. Folk wisdom knows all about the crazy season. Friends and acquaintances tell the widow, “Sit tight. Do nothing. Make no changes. Coast for a few months. Wait…wait…wait.” But the widow, while she hears the words, does not get the message. She believes that her actions are discreet, deliberate, careful and, responsible. I certainly did. I believed that every step I made was carefully thought out, wisely calculated. But the record shows otherwise.

Severe grief may last a long time. Many victims of grief suffer symptoms of panic, “the crazies,” for a month, a year or even many years. Some people seem to sense their “crazies,” and are afraid they’re losing their minds. They aren’t. They’re caught in the grief “crazies.” Some people suffering the “crazies” think everyone else is crazy. “Everyone tells me I shouldn’t have bought the sports car, but what do they know about me?” complains the secretary whose husband died four months earlier. “They just don’t know the real me.”

Part of the “crazies” really does seem crazy. Hallucinations–the sensations of seeing the deceased or hearing his voice, or “knowing” he’s near–are common. Mrs. Diana C. Horowitz, executive director of the Widow’s Consultation Service in New York City lists these hallucinations and adds reassurance for those who experience them: “Many women who think they are losing their minds because of these sensations are not psychotic, it’s a normal defense mechanism, a way of keeping him with her a little longer.”

For others, the illusion of seeing or feeling the presence of the deceased is comforting…part of a gradual “good-bye.” Often these experiences are triggered by a sight, sound, smell, or taste which reminds the griever of the deceased. Jimmy, a widower, recalls, “I’m allergic to cigarette smoke so Jenny used to smoke only in the small bathroom downstairs. For months after Jenny died, every time I used the downstairs bathroom, I sensed that Jenny was near!? I couldn’t figure out why until one day I noticed a faint smell of cigarette smoke…that’s what made me think she was near!”