Can sadness make us vulnerable to accidents? A writer rediscovers her balance after a loss: shots

Can sadness make us vulnerable to accidents?  A writer rediscovers her balance after a loss: shots

A writer in Amalfi, Italy, where her grandfather was from.

Alan Martin Caudillo

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Alan Martin Caudillo

A writer in Amalfi, Italy, where her grandfather was from.

Alan Martin Caudillo

Last March, I became sad.

Days before I left for the Amalfi Coast, I fell down my patio stairs. My partner heard the glass shatter and found me on the ground in the hot New Mexico sun, my fingers pressing on the handle of the mug, the only part intact. My right hand is bleeding. My left knee throbbed.

I was certainly feeling giddy with the anticipation of returning to my beloved writing conference in Positano and spending a few days in nearby Amalfi, where my father’s father is from. But deep within the excitement he also lived an anxiety-ridden sadness, stubborn and taut.

At this same time the previous year, I was saying goodbye to my lively Aunt Teresa, who was dying of a rare cancer. The end came faster than any of us expected. She and I had planned to meet in Italy after last year’s conference; Instead, she died weeks ago. Since then, my mother, older sister, and I have felt the constant pain and darkness of her absence. Teresa was our glue. She hosted vacations, started vacations, and phoned us to hear about our lives.

When I told my sisters and mother about my fall, which occurred near the one-year anniversary of Teresa’s death, I was surprised to learn that they had all recently fallen as well.

In therapy, I decided that it was sadness, deception, and reversal that had stolen our balance. As a way to avoid grief’s final grip on our lives, we have disconnected ourselves from our minds, and indeed from our bodies, enough to harm ourselves.

But I felt there was something more important.

I reached out to Megan Riordan Jarvis, a trauma-informed grief expert who specializes in how grief affects the body. Riordan Jarvis told me that because the death of a loved one is a completely new experience, it is “very expensive.” She emphasized that sadness can impair our balance as well as memory and our ability to perform multi-step functions.

Riordan Jarvis suggested that I contact the neuroscientist and psychologist Mary Frances O’Connor. I already knew about O’Connor, having previously devoured her book, Sad brain. What fascinates me most is that after we lose someone, our brain undergoes a long regeneration process that monopolizes our mental capacity and can be accompanied by brain fog.

Our implicit knowledge that our loved ones will be with us “always” conflicts with our episodic memories, which include their death, so we are left struggling with conflicting streams of information, which O’Connor calls “memory that is gone but also eternal.” Theory.” Our loved ones are always here, at least in our virtual world. But in the physical world, they’re gone, gone, gone.

Lauren and her beloved Aunt Teresa on Kauai in 2021.

Melissa DiPino

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Melissa DiPino

Lauren and her beloved Aunt Teresa on Kauai in 2021.

Melissa DiPino

O’Connor told me she was working on a chapter in her next book about what I went through, but no one seems to talk about — the incidents that happen during bereavement. She said that a study conducted on more than a million widows found that the bereaved are more likely to die due to accidents than those who are still married. She said other studies are being conducted on suicide and cardiovascular disease during acute grief.

“Our ability to balance is essential to moving safely across the world,” she told me. “This has declined for many of the bereaved, as much of the world has switched from the ordinary granite that had always worked for them.”

After discussing her accident, she told me that she had biked into a parked car when she was experiencing some of the most difficult social pressures of her life.

“I wasn’t hit by a car. I ran into the back of a parked car. Clearly my mind’s attention was nowhere in my body…”

From falling to rising

I had forgotten about my fall until I got on the plane to Italy and hit my left knee on the seat in front of me. I winced. It was still soft.

The second my partner and I stepped into Amalfi’s central Piazza Duomo, I looked up at the trappings of a medieval town carved into the rocky hills overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea: lemon groves, colorful with plants; Windows and balconies are impossibly stacked on top of each other; And the draped, swaying undergarments provide welcome shade for people chatting over electric-orange Aperol sprays.

I exhaled, remembering something O’Connor had written. If sadness is a way to convince your mind to create new meaning in this material world without a loved one, then we must learn from everything we have now – the present moment.

“I believe that awareness of the present moment is sincerity, engaging in what you are doing now in all aspects,” O’Connor writes.

I imagined my whole heart to be hollow and holy, not weary and defective, as it felt.

We were greeted by Anna and Maurizio, our Airbnb hosts. Maurizio, who was in his late 60s, hoisted my 50-pound pack onto his back with a groan and began climbing, overtaking us. We struggled to track it for 80 degrees, because it wasn’t like the ones you might walk up and down in your house, every day, without thinking.

I had to muster all my energy to pay attention to every step. I felt a slight throbbing sensation in my left knee, but I continued working. Maurizio veered left, past the kiosk selling lemon sorbetto in hollowed out lemons. The stairs were wide enough but uneven, and the handrail extended part of the way. Still. Make a sharp right into a narrower lane, then veer up stairs surrounded by tall houses. We moved to a single file.

Teal and navy blue T-shirts were hanging upside down from the windows, arms reaching toward us. A railing appeared and disappeared. The gates swung open and closed. The whole time, I focused on each step so intently that I could hear the echo of my own breathing.

If I lift my eyes I see how toxic we are. My stomach dropped. I had to kneel down to regain my position. One mistake could send me toppling six stories to beach level.

Finally, we reached a kind of houseboat with three rooms compacted in a row on three floors, accessible only by steeper stairs.

During my stay, I began to see these challenging climbs throughout the city’s labyrinthine structure as an antidote to my downfall, as a clearing after wading my way through the fog of grief-induced grief.

The stairs leading up to Lorraine’s residence in Amalfi.

Alan Martin Caudillo

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Alan Martin Caudillo

Forward, one painstaking step after another

On my last day in Amalfi, my partner and I made the climb again. We headed to the cemetery further up the hill to see the graves of my grandparents. In awe I saw my last name in its original spelling (DiPino) ​​on almost every third grave. Faces from photo ops of someone’s family, maybe my own, were looking at me, with their big, dark eyes, familiar and comforting.

The stairs that took us there were numerous, rocky and uneven. When I got home, I had fallen down the stairs in my yard, stairs that I had learned by heart, but I had reached the top of this city without being able to catch my feet.

As I backed down the hill navigating those rocky stairs so deftly, I realized that when I fell onto my patio, I was living in a daze. The same intense attention that kept me from falling into the azure sea at which my grandfather stared when I was a boy, is the same intentionality that I must apply to my forward movement. Taking it literally one step at a time means seeing what’s hiding in the cracks, and noticing the moss and mildew buildup.

Grief can creep into our lives, months — even years — after the death of a loved one. It can trap our expected, most joyful experiences so that we no longer see them as joyful. We will not be able to live again until we give grief the attention it seeks.

It was not until I visited my grandfather’s birthplace that I understood the intense concentration and enormous vulnerability it took to climb precarious stairs and brave the face of final grief. I didn’t know I was being separated until my body hit the ground.

I fell. My sisters and mother fell. Amalfi has fallen too. Once the seat of a maritime republic, its longevity has been threatened by earthquake, cholera, plague, and pirate raids. But the sunny, quirky and always vulnerable city also survived. When I left for Italy, I saw myself broken. But when I contacted O’Connor again, she reassured me.

“A lot of times when people talk to me about having brain fog when they’re bereaved, it’s like they think they’re damaged. You’re not damaged. Your mind is simply busy trying to help you. But you have to help it, too. By giving it self-awareness and compassion.”

Although I found my anti-fall in Italy, I cannot know that I will never fall again, just as no one can be certain whether Amalfi or any other city will fall. And when I feel myself apart, I’ll imagine what it felt like to ascend into the azure sky of Amalfi, when I was myself against gravity. It took tremendous strength to balance on one foot, which I had, even for a brief moment, before I had to put the other foot down.

Right now, I pay close attention to every movement, every bite, every surge of love.

Lauren DiPino is a freelance writer, essay coach, and songwriter. She is working on a memoir titled The Funeral Singer: A Memoir of Holding on and Letting Go. Find more of her work at

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