The Ripple Effect

Recently our cousin Andrea and one of her friends created a podcast, “Grief“, as part of a series, We Muse Aloud. In it, Andrea and two friends discuss the losses of their parents (to a natural disaster, to suicide, to cancer) and how that and grieving has impacted their lives. Even though I was alive when Andrea lost her parents and even though I’ve had several deaths in my life (my dad was #9), the podcast gave me a little more insight into not only grief, but into her and myself. I never thought that my grieving experience could be impacted by my existence as an Asian woman, but through Andrea’s discussion and the contrast with the other speakers, I’ve begun to think about how my experience may differ from others.

One concept that Andrea brought up that particularly resonated with me was the Ripple Effect that occurs with loss. With the initial impact of a physical loss of a person comes other losses, likely less tangible and certainly less predictable. One loss includes the loss of innocence, of the idea that the world is a good, safe place. This eventually happens to most of us as we read the news and Bad Things happen, but usually the cause of loss of innocence comes later in life (when we’re a little more jaded), from further way (because it’s happening to Other People), and almost certainly less dramatically (through the slow build up of Too Many sad news articles). Obviously my loss of innocence was much less traumatic than hers, but even the death of her parents was part of the cause of my loss of innocence; they were the first deaths in my more cognizant being (the prior ones being when I was 2-years old) and the concept of Horrible Things Happening Especially When You Don’t Expect Them was introduced.

So at 13-years old, I learned about Horrible Things through proxy. At 19-years old, Mom’s Mom died and more familial drama occurred and more of those subtle, unpredictable losses – including respect and love and previous perceptions of people – occurred as well. Six months later, Dad’s Dad died and the same thing happened. And over the next few years, it all happened again with a family friend, another aunt, and my dad. After a while, how surprised can you be at the ripples? (Answer: still a lot. There will always be a surprise, someone who does something (possibly good, usually bad) that you couldn’t have predicted.)

The ripples also happen in a spiral-sort of way. When my dad first died, Andrea mentioned that loss can dig up other loss; the loss of our dad dug up things for her, in addition to her sympathies for us. I’m not sure if it’s the depression in me, but most of my Bad Things do this ripple-spiral effect. “Remember how much it hurt when ___ died? And ____? And those Bad Things that happened after ____ died?” “Oh man, another Dumb Thing happened with a Dumb Boy? Remember that other Dumb Boy? And that time you fell for that other Dumb Boy? Also the other Dumb Boy that left you? Remember that?” “You probably won’t get this job because remember the last time you applied for a job and it was hopeful and it didn’t work out. There was that other job and that other job and, oh yes, that other one… Remember when all those other Similar Things didn’t work out?” “You know how you feel bad now? Remember when you felt really bad when it happened similarly before? Do you feel as bad now as you did then? Worse? Excellent. That means you still remember how bad it felt last time.”

At the end of the day, the only thing I can say is super depressing: you can never predict how bad it will be, and there are so many more bad things than for which you can prepare yourself. A loss isn’t a singular pain and it doesn’t just hurt in one event.

(I wish I had a silver lining or a note of optimism to finish with, but the unfortunate thing for you is that it isn’t my job to make you feel better, it’s to allow you a glimpse into the depressed mind of someone who knows loss.)


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