Q. My aunt and a cousin both died unexpectedly last month. I am so sad and cannot stop crying. How long will I be crying and downshifted?

A. Sadness is the appropriate emotion when your brain has experienced a loss. Obviously, there are at least two unexpected losses here. Crying is a gesture of deep emotion. Most brains can and do gesture loss through tears, especially brains that have their energy advantage in the right frontal lobe of the cerebrum. After some period of time, most brains stop crying about the loss, unless you are focused on the loss and keeping that in the forefront of working memory. When feelings of loss overwhelm you, and you fear that you will never again be happy, follow every sad thought with one of gratitude. I don’t know the circumstances of their deaths but it might go something like this: “I regret this happened AND I am grateful that I was able to get to know both my aunt and my cousin.” “I no longer have these two people in my life in a tangible sense AND I carry them in my mind and heart the rest of my life.” “I miss my aunt and my cousin and I remember the time when we...”  And so on.

The natural brain phenomenon of downshifting is not synonymous with the emotion of sadness. Some people become fearful when they have experiences a loss, a death in the family, and do downshift. Others do not. In other words, you can be grieving a loss from an upshifted position. Remembering the individuals with gratitude, recalling times that you laughed together and had fun, can help your brain to upshift.

Refer to “Upshift, Downshift, and About Shift” PowerPoint® slideshow [PDF] on my website. Also available on DVD.

Refer to Grief Recovery Pyramid for additional information.