by Omar Abubaker, D.M.D, Ph.D.
By the definition of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, a chronic disease is one lasting three months or more, and generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they just disappear on their on its own.
Some chronic diseases include cancer, diabetes, mental illness, cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension or high blood pressure, and respiratory diseases such as asthma, and emphysema.
Despite many advances in medicine over the past one hundred years, and despite better understanding of the pathophysiology of most of these diseases, we still accept the fact that many diseases are not curable.
However, most can be controlled with medications in combination with lifestyle changes.
People can live extended periods of times with these diseases. They are characterized by periods of recovery when the signs and symptoms are under control, and are occasionally associated with relapse when the symptoms reoccur, either due to increased severity or due to increased tolerance or medication resistance.
Often, a new or alternative medication is used to put the chronic disease back under control. Most patients who suffer from chronic disease seek and receive treatment that was developed through a scientific-controlled research with an evidence-based effectiveness.
After the opioid epidemic hit home with me through the loss of my youngest son Adam, I have learned that Substance Use Disorder (or addiction) is also a chronic disease with many similarities to other chronic diseases we have come to know for long time.
What I did not know before, and have not read in medical textbooks or medical journals, is that grief from the loss of loved one in general, and from losing a child in particular, has all the characteristics of chronic disease I listed above.
Like other chronic diseases, there is no cure for it but those who are affected can survive it.
Although it can be severe in its acute phase, it has periods of remission and relapses that are often unpredictable. And like many other chronic diseases, if left untreated or dealt with, it can have complications and may be even fatal.
What is unique about grief and unlike other chronic diseases, the signs or symptoms of grief are rarely visible. In fact, many of those who are affected not only have no visible signs, those who suffer appear indistinguishable from other people and often appear as if all is well even to their close loved ones. While there are so many visible and measurable criteria to measure the severity and improvement of other chronic diseases, there is none to measure grief unless those who are affected become emotionally naked.
It is only then that the deep wounds and real scars become visible and hard to miss.
The fact of the matter is that although many of us who are grief-stricken and long-term sufferers would like to share our excruciating pain (as if airing it brings some relief), very few are willing to be seen as emotionally naked.
People fear looking vulnerable, men especially.
Stepping forward to write this piece is my attempt to be an exception to the ones who don’t. And maybe, just maybe, it will sooth these wounds, help ease the pain, and possibly facilitate the healing of my wounds.