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.