The Brain’s connection to our hurting hearts

September 5, 2019

14  comments

Via Etsy

I would get to my college Brain and Behavior class early just so I could sit next to the brain in the jar. I thought it was fascinating with all the curlicues and squiggles. It was almost like a religion class of sorts for me because I kept thinking, “who but God could design such a complicated and intricate command center for our bodies?”

And now, I’ve reached the one-year mark of losing my Dad and never before has the link between our scientific brains and our spiritual souls been clearer to me.

Of course, I’ve been predictably sad, but was taken by surprise by how my brain did some pretty crazy things no one warned me about. And yes, I know some people flinch at the word “crazy,” but let me tell you, I’m referring to myself, and in this situation, if fits perfectly. 

Everyone predicted, “Christmas will be hard” and “be sure to do something special on his birthday.” But no one warned, “when your brother is in the next room and you hear him clear his throat, hold tightly to the stack of dishes in your hands because you’ll realize he sounds just like your dad and you’ll nearly jump out of your skin.” 

I’ve learned this past year, that no matter how sane we think we are, no matter how much common sense we think we have, grief can do a number on our brains and bodies. In some ways, grief can be more damaging than anxiety, more consuming than fear and can even dampen the strongest power of love. 

Thinking I spotted my Dad out of the corner of my eye in a restaurant rattled me at first. Eventually, I realized it was a built-in coping brain function that was trying to help me sort through the change and I eventually began to be amazed at all the strange things it could trick me into thinking. 

I remembered studying ways people cope with loss, and now I understand just how normal, and not crazy at all, it is to think for a split second I should pick up the phone and call my Dad to ask about pruning my fig trees or to think I saw him on a fishing boat half way around the world.  

It’s exciting for me to think that God wired us with an automatic defense system to help ease us into accepting bad situations. When the world seems like it’s attacking us, our brain compensates and lets us know these loved ones are permanently imprinted on our brains and are a literal part of us we’ll never lose. 

Just like a cut on our finger can naturally heal with time, our brains try to smooth over the wounds and allow us to move on. Sometimes our cuts are so deep we need extra help, but overall, our minds are stronger, smarter and more beautiful than we ever realized. In a way, I hope my brain never stops tricking me into hearing and seeing the people I miss. It’s good to know sadness can be mixed with fascination and wonder in the science of our amazing brains. And when I catch a glimpse of him in traffic, I’ll know I’m not crazy, I’m just remembering and healing. 

This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville newspapers in the beautiful state of Alabama.

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  1. Giving credit to God is refreshing to see in print. You have a wonderfully thoughtful insight into this painful period called “grief.” It’s a great deal like the sea, often overwhelming us with its wave of melancholy and then the ebb and flow begins to take us to normalcy once again.
    Thank you for your exceptional writing skills and ability to touch our emotions with laughter and tears in moments of contemplation.

    1. Thanks so much for this note. AL.com has never once tried to censor what I write, so it’s nice to be able to share my thoughts – religious or not, with my readers. I think even the non-religious readers appreciate honesty even if they don’t always agree. Then again, there are those who want to hate everything from religion to pumpkin pie to Dillard’s. And yes, grief is a strange thing and I love your comparison to the sea. Much like Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Thank you!

  2. My sweet Daddy has been gone 16 years and i still think I see him in a lot of different places. Our Dads will always have our hearts.

  3. Your piece was beautiful, Leslie Anne. God’s grace numbs us to the initial shock of losing our loved ones and gradually our mind and heart learn how to cope.
    My husband has been gone for 28 years and recently I prayed on what would have been our 50th wedding anniversary if I could have some small sign that he was close by.
    I think this wish was granted as my restaurant lunch bill was paid for anonymously on our very wedding date!

    1. Oh, how that sweet story gives me chills. I definitely believe God works miracles and lets us know in big and small ways we aren’t forgotten and that he cares about our every need. Thanks for that great story.

  4. I don’t believe that anyone is truly gone as long as someone holds them in their hearts. I talk mostly to my mom who was my friend but love to share stories of my father who was truly an individual. Independent, strong-willed and a “product of his environment” before we knew such things existed. I fought his beliefs when I was young and idealistic. How he loved to get me riled up. Mom provided the unconditional love but dad made me think. A true gift.

  5. Your post resonates with me. It has been 12 years since my beloved mother passed away unexpectedly. I still think I need to call and ask a question about a recipe. I still tear up when I least expect it. Grieving is necessary, but so hard. Hugs

  6. My Daddy died unexpectantly in 1957. He was 49 and I was 12. For many years I saw him across the street, at the movie theater, even with other families. His final gift to me was asking my opinion on which car we should buy. I mis him, and I miss all the moments we never had together. He taught Sunday school at the Methodist church in Selma with Kathryn Wyndham Tucker.
    Thank you for sharing your heart, Leslie Ann. ❤️

    1. Carol, what a tragic loss at only 12 years old. It sounds like your young brain went into overtime to help protect you and sort out your feelings. I’m sure God had you in the palm of his hand the whole time you were growing up because you’ve become an awesome lady your Dad would be proud of!

  7. Losing your beloved dad is something you never truly get over. There will always be a hole in your heart that never quite heals, but the wonderful memories give you peace. I lost my dad when I was 22, so it’s been a long time. I just adored him, and it bothers me that now I can’t remember what his voice sounded like. He had that distinctive Charleston Geechee drawl. Nothing makes me prouder when I go home than for somebody that knew him tell me “you’re as smart as your Daddy”. I know I will be reunited with him some day up in Heaven. Praying for your peace on this difficult anniversary.

    1. Thanks Roxanne. So sorry you lost your dad at such a young age. It’s too bad we didn’t think to make more recordings and videos of people we loved. I’ve actually seen a medical show where they tapped into a person’s brain at a certain point and the patient recalled exact conversations with people from their past, so those voices and accents are in there somewhere!

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