Rippling Through Grief + Death Anxiety
Updated: Oct 4
Undoubtedly, what I consume dictates my therapy practice. August’s read, Irvin Yalom’s, Staring at the Sun, made quite an impression on me. Yalom, a 20th century psychiatrist, writes about the human condition, particularly instructing readers on how to find meaning in death. Many of my current clients have heard a mouthful about Yalom’s ideas regarding rippling over the last couple of weeks, but for those of you I’ve yet to work with, here’s an overview.
Yalom postulates, rippling is the concept that each of us creates circles of influence all around us, like ripples in a pond. The ripples transmit our energy, our memory, to vast networks of people. As a result, the influence that we have on others is beyond our comprehension. On a basic level, if we have a favorite, meaningful song, and share the tune with a friend, that friend may share with multiple others who find it impactful or enjoyable, and so on. On a deeper level, our individual traits, wisdom, virtues or kindness will impact a web of people beyond the scope of our imagination.
In terms of grieving those we love, Yalom tells us that, while we cannot keep their physical presence with us, reflecting on their ripples can provide immense comfort. Beyond their existence, or even your own, their ripple could transcend generations. Think of some phrase, characteristic or favorite memory of your deceased loved one. How can you keep their memory alive through the emotional power of their ripple? As a personal example, I try to keep my beloved grandmother’s memory alive by following her guidance to “always take the higher road” when having a conflict that doesn’t seem to be resolvable. In offering this idea to others I encounter, her ripple transcends her physical form. I hope this idea gives you some solace with your own loss.
Rippling is also significant when it comes to ideas about our own finite lives. Yalom, an existential psychiatrist (concerning the idea that our existence creates a human problem), describes the death anxiety that each of us have. While the degree of dread around our death varies from person to person, it is perpetuated by a worry that we will not have an impact on the world. The idea of rippling can, then, serve as a source of motivation to live life more fully. We want to influence others, we want to be remembered. What type of ripple can you leave by being your best, most highest self today?