Magpies, dolphins, sea lions, geese, elephants, squirrels and, of course, dogs (to name only a few) each express some level of discomfort over the loss of an offspring, a mate or a companion. Whether that response is equal to the expression of human grief is left to conjecture. There does seem to be some resemblance.

It is unclear what role grief plays in our human adaptive response to loss.  We do know that grief, at some point in our evolutionary history, served to strengthen social and family bonds.  Death may disrupt our attachment with others, thereby weakening the very survival of the group.  Grief and its accompanying empathetic response may make reconciling differences between surviving group members more possible.

Grief does appear to have offered some adaptive value to how we’ve evolved and continue to evolve as a species. Like many of our modern-day emotive potentials, however, grief may no longer serve the same purpose for which Nature had intended it, leaving us to grieve without a rational appreciation for its meaning or value.

Death, with its ambiguities and subjective parameters is, much like grief, beyond our human understanding. As much as any group, troop, cult or individual would like to claim a clear understanding of death, the fact is we have nothing more than subjective opinion to go on – a view that relies mainly on Faith and Hope to sustain it. Death and grief are, and will likely remain, the principal mystery of human life.

Human misery appears to rely on Hope to endure it. Moreover, Hope plays an integral role in sustaining our physical and psychological health during times of hardship, helping to reduce or eliminate the body’s bio-psychosocial response to stress.  The expression of Hope may be necessary to sustain human life.

Without Hope, humans may perish at the first sign of misfortune.

Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D. (March 26, 1905 – September 2, 1997), an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor whose book Man’s Search for Meaning [] endorsed the value of Hope in all forms of human existence, especially the most sordid ones. Hope holds the promise of relief from anguish, physical pain, oppression and uncertainty and can serve to moderate the physical and psychological drain that is often experienced during hardship.

Without Hope, humans are destined to Despair. Chronic despair (stress) can lead to cardiovascular disorders, cancer, pernicious anemia, ulcerative colitis, leukemia, lymphoma, lupus, pneumonia, diabetes, influenza, glaucoma, high blood pressure, chronic itching, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic depression, alcoholism, drug dependency and malnutrition. The expression of Hope mitigates our response to despair by providing us with imaginative solutions, fostering the prospect for manageable outcomes.

Humans approach the death of a loved one as they would any misfortune of life – by looking toward Hope to restore pshysical and psychological balance.  Not surprisingly, humans have come to use dogma, mental images, self-talk, ritual, ceremony and custom to foster a Hopeful frame of mind that helps endure the hopelessness the death of a loved one might bring.  Although these expressions of Hope are satisfying for some, death is also a time for uncertainty, confusion, chaos, mystery and disorder.  Under those circumstances, our stress response is activated in order to face it.

We may rightly conclude that grief is mainly a part of the human stress response.  Our brain is stimulated to take action against misfortune; but, since we cannot undo the death of a loved one, there is no rational action we can take.

In times of stress, the fight-flight-or-freeze (the 3F) response is induced.  The 3F has deep evolutionary roots in our basic human structure. Our physical brain responds to stress by increasing the production of CRH, a hormone that produces symptoms of anxiety. Emergency-mobilizing chemicals are released. As our stress increases, the chemical levels increase.  Our central nervous system becomes highly stimulated, along with our breathing and our biological rhythms our normal sleeping and eating habits. Our digestion, metabolism, circulation and respiration change and our ability to concentrate and pay attention decreases.

The absence of Hope in times of stress may be overwhelming for some individuals, resulting in a chronic state of distress and despair.  Chronic despair is often described as a state of being grief-stricken, heart-sick, wretched, inconsolable, woebegone, heavy-hearted and bereft of hope.

In order to better meet the psychological and physical demands of despair, we might view death and grief as instruments of  enlightenment.

Ultimately, death may serve the magnificent purpose of putting life in perspective for the living.

Death may prompt us to enjoy ourselves more;  take more risks; ask more questions; defend the defenseless, and to savor every bite. Death may prompt us to refocus and tend more conscientiously to our living relationships.  Death may encourage us to learn to pardon and forgive others for their errors in judgment and imperfections.  Death may be a time for building new relationships and strengthening existing ones.

It is likely that there will be a period of sadness and loss at the death of a loved one; give them that time willingly.  If your loved one achieved the love and affection of others, s/he contributed in some consequential and meaningful way and may well deserve your focused attention. The rightful use of Hope as a means for adapting to death, however, might be found in how well you reestablish your connection with others and how successful you are, in your own life, at leaving a legacy Hope for the living.

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26 responses

  1. From childhood into adulthood Hope has been and is my saving grace. Somehow I was able to recognize the need I had for Hope as a young person and I still apply it in all aspects of my life today.
    Without that hope that has helped me through the processes of abandonment as a child by a parent; a tragic death of an uncle, grief, health issues (death of a healthy body), events that may have broken me physically, emotionally or spiritually,instead allow me to rock on.

    Hope is trusting that this too can shall be worked through and the ability to get beyond.

    You mentioned maybe working with me? How is that feasible?

  2. I lost my husband of 35yrs. recently to lung cancer and the 3F information is very helpful to me. I knew that he was paralyzed with fear but couldn’t understand beyond that.

    Blessings – Maxi

  3. your post, especially the paragraph, “death may prompt us to enjoy ourselves more,” really helped me. i am 19 and have two younger brothers, 12 and 14. my father committed suicide a few days ago, and I was privy to all of the details leading up to it where no one else was. right now, it is difficult to truly find hope, though I intellectually see it in so many aspects of (my) life… now I am very much still sad, very immersed in the last paragraph of your post. but thank you for your words, they are powerful.

  4. Extremely true. After my husband was murdered, my mother needed a transplant and I almost lost her numerous times, the murderer kept coming back into my home and I have children, he lived next door to us, we woke to a tornado ripping our neighborhood apart one morning just months after his death, we moved, remodeled, mom received her transplant, the investigators on my husband’s case were useless, we had a car stolen, and several others factors, all in a two year period. I look back now and realize I was unable to grieve, due to the circumstances. I was in the fight or flight mode day in and day out. I now suffer from post traumatic and adrenaline depletion. I am a fighter and will overcome this, but it truly has been the hardest part to deal with. Your energy level affects every aspect of your life, including how you breathe.

    When I read this post, I realized…you get it. If you ever have the urge to write on adrenaline depletion, I would love to read it. I had never heard of it or noticed it, until I experienced it.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I am enjoying your site. Have a nice week!

    • Christine: My goodness . . . that’s a lot all at once. Good for you for meeting the challenges. I am aware of the phenomenon of adrenaline depletion as it is associated with the stress response. I will write an article about it in the near future. Keep an eye out. Good luck to you and feel free to contact me any time if you have questions.

  5. Thank you Michael, you are so kind. I will definitely be on the look out.

    I think what you are doing here on your site is a really good thing, and you deserve recognition. So, I nominated you for the Candle Lighter Award. I hope you will accept it. For the simple rules and the picture to post on your site, visit

    I hope you enjoy it and are having a wonderful week!

    • wow! thank you christine. i always wonder what will give me the push i need to keep doing this. i think i know now 🙂 i am planning my next entry to be about adrenaline and how it can be depleted. i seem to remember a discussion about it and its connection to the production of cortisol . . . which leads to muscle ache, joint pain and deterioration of ligaments and so forth. i will spend a little time looking around and then i will write something. thanks again!

  6. You are so welcome! Let me know if you want to post the award on your site, if you need help. It is very easy.

    Yes, to all of the above and then some. It causes some of the same symptoms as a stroke. Major short-term memory loss, slower thinking, words come out jumbled, cannot focus, have to concentrate on one thing at a time (even if you are used to the Wall Street lifestyle, phone in each ear, helping four or five people at once, it all stops), always sleepy and insomnia at the same time, hands shake, some days shaky insides, foggy brain until the sun starts setting, increased heartbeat, fatigue, heat strokes in the summer, dry skin, weak hair (brittle, falls out, grays faster), teeth seem to deteriorate, brittle nails, but the muscle and joint pain are the worst. As far as the ligaments, I can see that, since it hurts to climb stairs or bend over, most days. Working in the garden (squat position) for a couple of hours, causes days of pain. When you get really, really upset, you shake uncontrollably, since your body is trying to over-compensate, for the lack of adrenaline. I literally think it ages you ten to twenty years or more. To add to it all, you become weak due to slower pace of living. Gosh, reading back over this, I sound like I should be in the hospital! 🙂 It is something different everyday though.

    I really don’t know anything about the production of cortisol, but that makes sense. Thank you so much for your interest in helping others. People like you make our world a better place to live in.

    • that is the nature of PTSD . . . the problem i have is explaining everything to wide audiance . .. some understand and some and others don’t. i try my hardest to make things understandable to everyone. i am working on a new book, so i will start the article on adrenaline soon. yes i would love to accept the award and place it on my blog. where do i get the award graphic?

  7. Congratulations and Good Luck on your book.

    I can completely understand the wide audience, since my family doesn’t understand it. They watched me live it. They see I live at a much slower pace now and still wouldn’t understand if it hit them over the head.

    To post the award graphic, right click my image (or anyone that has one), choose copy image url, and then go to your widgets for your side bar. Slide add image over to the area you want to place it and then open it up. You will paste the image url in the corresponding box, add title, and save. It only takes a moment. I am glad you like it.

    Hope you are having a great day.

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