Grief Condition Three (GRIEFCON 3)

The U.S. military uses the “Defense Condition” graduated scale to describe our readiness to fight a nuclear war. The DEFCON scale became an integral part of my everyday life when I was an Emergency Actions officer at U.S. Strategic Command, as part of the 55th Mobile Command and Control Squadron at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.

Yesterday, I wondered whether a “Grief Condition” — GRIEFCON — graduated scale might serve to describe the state of my grief on a day-to-day basis.

The DEFCON scale is a five-point scale as follows (from Wikipedia):

  • DEFCON 5: Normal readiness (lowest state)
  • DEFCON 4: Above normal readiness (increased intelligence & security)
  • DEFCON 3: Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes (increased force readiness)
  • DEFCON 2: Armed forces ready to deploy & engage in < 6 hours (next step to nuclear war)
  • DEFCON 1: Maximum readiness (nuclear war is imminent) or immediate response (nuclear war has already started)


Our family posing with the kind of truck I drove as part of the 55 MCCS, where the DEFCON scale was a critical part of my work. (Offutt AFB, 1994)

My GRIEFCON scale would run in a similar fashion. Here’s my first cut:

  • GRIEFCON 5: “Normal” life, with grief (rare tears, prompted by especially poignant reminders or memories)
  • GRIEFCON 4: “Normal” grief, with life (unexpected tears, at ordinarily benign reminders)
  • GRIEFCON 3: Significant grief (occasional tears, at even happy reminders)
  • GRIEFCON 2: Overwhelming grief (frequent tears, with little prompting)
  • GRIEFCON 1: Maximum grief (nearly constant tears, brought on by nothing)

And at the last, beyond GRIEFCON 1, would be nuclear grief: total war with myself, characterized by constant tears with crushing sadness.

It’s not a perfect model, of course, and it could bear some adjustment — but it’s a starting point.

And, as the title says, today I’m in GRIEFCON 3. And I’m just taking it day-by-day.

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Related post: “Unprepared for Regret”

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2 Responses to Grief Condition Three (GRIEFCON 3)

  1. AvatarJoey Starnes says:

    It has been 16 years, and I still find me fluctuating between GriefCon 1 & 2 at any given moment when it comes to my dad. Usually 2. My house has little memories of him scattered all around, and I talk to him often – having to remind myself I can’t call him as my hand is halfway to the phone.

    I treasure the tears, because it means the love I shared was special – and this was my father. Your tears are diamonds – because the love you shared with Jill made you the richest man alive. I thank you for your openness and I’m here to listen.

    • I agree that our tears can be thought of as counters that tally up our love. And I’ve come to realize that everybody’s different, and thus all grief is unique.

      Thanks for your note, and I wish you peace,
      G