Blue NightsI am reading Blue Nights by Joan Didion, she’s an author who determinedly dissects her experiences of loss working over the hurt, baring harrowing personal wounds.

Early in the book Joan Didion refers the psychiatrist Karl Menninger’s work Man Against Himself, and his concept of exaggerated value. Exaggerated value, is a term that reverberated with a recognisable knell as I read it. Apparently Dr Menninger uses exaggerated value as an explanation for some suicides “…had an exaggerated value, so that when there was even a threat that they might be lost, the recoil of severed emotional bonds was fatal.”

I don’t know the fatal recoil of severed emotional bonds, but I am familiar with the, less deadly, stricken recoil of severed emotional bonds. That recoil is what I identify as grief with all of its miserable symptoms and sadness.

The two terms, emotional recoil and exaggerated value, allowed me to frame my reaction to Shortbread’s death. Sense making. I had invested an exaggerated value into one little dog, she was a Birthday gift from Mottsu – a link with the past. The loss of Shortie has left me feeling more alone than I have before, our little family pod of a couple and their two dogs is all but gone.

From the moment I first held Shortbread, as an unnamed puppy, I cupped her in one hand and gently protected my treasure. I was already afraid I would lose her, most of her life I dreaded her death. Of course dread was not my only emotion, it was present. I also adored her presence and being, we were sympatico each feeling nurtured by the other. We enjoyed a fabulous life my dog and me.

Is that what happens? Do we place an exaggerated value in people, pets, and possessions, the things we love most? I do, that’s why losing those special people, pets and possessions is so awful, so hard to bear. I’m grateful to Joan Didion who provides the words, in her pages, to give expression to the experience of loss.