If you’ve ever received news of the death of a loved one, you know the feeling: full-body grief that hits you from the inside out. You may breathe more rapidly or feel nauseous; your blood pressure may rise.
You may feel your life separate into before and after, your insides forever changed.
There’s a reason for that, writes Dorothy P. Holinger. In “The Anatomy of Grief,” the psychologist uncovers the very real physical changes that accompany mourning — and the mental processes that grief entails.
“As grief unfolds,” she writes, “the brain will develop new neuronal connections — creating the new patterns, the new habits, of a life that is happening without the missing loved one.”
That’s just the beginning: It turns out that grief can affect everything from blood pressure to sleep to the immune system.
Holinger teases out those intimate connections, and the psychology of the broken heart, fusing science and the humanities, in her introspective and poetic book.
It’s well-timed: The pandemic has taken hundreds of thousands of people away from their loved ones, and more death is ahead.
In July 2020, a group of sociologists from the United States and Canada estimated the bereavement impact of COVID-19 in a study in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). “For every COVID-19 death, approximately nine surviving Americans will lose a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child,” they write.
Holinger helps readers find meaning and solace inside the intricate and never-ending process of bereavement. She encourages us to grieve, warning that “grief that is blocked from emotional expression may be experienced in the body.”
And, she reminds us, sorrow leaves changes in body and heart. “When grief has run its course, it will eventually calm,” she writes. “And the will to live a life that has changed will take over.”