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.

Related post: “Unprepared for Regret”

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Unprepared for Regret

Three months ago today, my wife, my high school sweetheart, Jill Rinehart, died suddenly and unexpectedly next to me in the bed. I tried to revive her, but neither I nor the EMS responders who came when I called 911 were able to bring her back.

We had been married thirty-four years, four months, and eighteen days. We had been together “officially” as a couple for over thirty-seven years, and had actually known each other for over 40 years.

I was not prepared to lose her on that day or in that way.

She had been concerned about surgery she was scheduled to have a few days later, and she gave me some indication that she thought something might happen during the surgery or when she was in the hospital. But she didn’t seem too concerned that Friday night. We talked about our plans to get up the next morning and go to breakfast together (as we did every Saturday), and she made all the preparations for the art class she was scheduled to teach. We even discussed the plan for church that Sunday.

Then, against all our expectations, she was gone. I was unprepared, mentally or emotionally, for her loss.

I don’t mind admitting that I was unprepared emotionally. There’s an element of surprise and shock built into all of this, because even though we vow to love and honor and cherish “’til death do us part” we don’t often think much about death parting us. Or, at least in our case, when we talked about it our reasonable assumption was that I would go first. But, even so (or maybe because of that assumption), Jill and I didn’t discuss it in enough detail to say that either one of us was prepared for it. It was always something that we assumed would be “yet to come,” something in the future, something that we had time to prepare for and plan for and deal with.

But in the midst of my unpreparedness, I was surprised by an avalanche of guilt and regret that buried me, and that I’m still digging my way out from under. I did not expect it, and it has choked me and frozen me in my grief.

For instance, I was unprepared for the guilt I would feel: guilt that I was unable to help her adequately the night she died. I may go into more detail about that in a future blog post, but for now suffice it to say that I hate myself, and probably always will, for every second that I hesitated after waking up to what I now know was her last breath.

But in addition to that guilt, that doubt, that self-recrimination — which my doctor and some emergency medical technician friends insist I need not carry — I have encountered powerful regrets for which I was equally unprepared. Unexpected and intractable regrets …

  • for times that I grew so comfortable in our marriage and our home life and our relationship that I took her for granted, and didn’t tell her or show her how deeply I loved her and how much she meant to me
  • for things I said or did that bothered her, or hurt her
  • for things I failed to do or things I didn’t say that could have made her life — or just one day or just one hour of her life — more comfortable or more bearable or happier
  • for every opportunity I missed to spend an extra hour with her, whether sitting on the couch or the front porch talking, or walking in the woods or on the beach under the moonlight
  • for things I’ve learned about that I didn’t know, that at times during our marriage she was unhappy or dissatisfied or depressed: specifically, for not having clearer vision and more wisdom to see what was wrong and know how to help; for being self-absorbed and ignorant … not uncaring or unconcerned, really, but stupidly blind to her needs

(Jill at Duke Gardens.)


So, yes, I was unprepared for regret in Jill’s passing. Some people have told me that confronting regrets like this is a normal part of grief, and maybe it is — the “unfinished business” of life, as one dear friend put it — but that doesn’t negate the fact that I had never considered it and was not ready to handle it.

I’m not sure I’m ready to handle it even now. But I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

If at this point I can offer any caution to you as you navigate in and through your own relationships, it’s this: do what you can, while you can, to let your beloved know how very much they mean to you. Let them know how sorry you are for those things you might have done (or that you meant to do but didn’t), for any ways in which you may have hurt them or neglected them. And let them know how ready you are to forgive them for anything they may have done, even unknowingly, that hurt you.

Keep the slate of your relationship as clean as possible for as long as possible. Erase any negativity from it as often as you can. And, so far as it is in your power to do so, only write on that slate affirmations and encouragement and praise and expressions of love. So that when — not if, but when, and hopefully many years in the future — death parts you, you are not burdened with so many regrets as I have been.

P.S. If you’re interested, you can read Jill’s obituary here.

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Campaign Chronicle, 3 Weeks to Election: My Distant Cousin Founded This Town

As I began my run — okay, my ambling walk — for the empty Town Council seat, I was surprised to find that I am related to the man who founded Cary, North Carolina.

Back in 2011 I wrote about my family connection to the Pages of Williamsburg, Virginia, and at the time I didn’t give any thought to the possibility that those Pages might be related to the Page family here. But they are.

First, it’s important to point out what my friends have known for a long time: the Gray Man was adopted when he was young, which muddies the water a bit when it comes to tracing lineages and such. For those who don’t know the story: I was born Thomas Graham Lipscomb, and my father was Thomas Page Lipscomb. He died when I was three, and my mom later married Herbert Wade Rinehart. Shortly after moving to Georgetown, South Carolina — where I learned about the Gray Man and latched onto the legendary ghost as my alter ego — my stepfather adopted me and I became Graham Wade Rinehart. Or, as most of my friends know me, Gray Rinehart.

I first wondered about the connection when I was on Chatham Street in downtown Cary and noticed a historical marker about William Hines Page (with whose statue I’m pictured below). Oddly enough, before I thought about whether I might be related to him I thought about a friend of mine named “Hines” from grade school. But once the possible Page family connection came to mind, it was easy enough to check out.

(On the Cary Town Hall campus, I’m standing next to a statue of a distant cousin who was Ambassador to Great Britain and the son of the town’s founder. See any resemblance?)

William Hines Page, who was at one time Ambassador to Great Britain — itself something of a nod to the family history, since Colonel John Page originally came from Britain to settle at Williamsburg — was the son of Allison Francis (Frank) Page, who founded Cary and served as its first Mayor and postmaster. He built the Page-Walker Hotel, which stands behind the Town Hall building and is now an art gallery and focal point for local events. Frank Page’s father was Anderson Page, whose father was Lewis Page, whose father was Robert Edward Page, whose father was Mann Page II, whose father was the Honorable Mann Page.

The Honorable Mann Page, it turns out, is our nearest common ancestor.

The Honorable Mann Page had another son, about whom I wrote in that linked blog post: the Honorable John Page, who was friends with Thomas Jefferson at the College of William & Mary. The Honorable John Page’s son was Major Carter Page, whose son was Dr. Mann Page, whose son was Carter Henry Page, whose son was Carter Henry Page, Jr., whose daughter was Katherine Carlisle Page. She was my “Grandma Kate.” Her son was Thomas Page Lipscomb, my natural father.

Thus, as near as I can figure from looking at canon law relationships, Frank Page — Cary’s founder — was my fourth cousin, three times removed.

I doubt that makes anyone more or less likely to vote for me for Cary Town Council. But it’s an interesting coincidence!

Election Day for the Cary Town Council race is October 6th, but early voting begins on September 24th!

Have you told anyone about my campaign? It’s easy! Just share this post on social media or forward the link to anyone who lives in North Carolina (especially the Research Triangle area or the Town of Cary). Better yet, download a Print-It-Yourself Flyer in either color or black and white and put it up in your office or at your favorite hangout. For additional updates and info, sign up for my newsletter using the form in the right sidebar or visit the election page on my website. Thanks!

Spending Disclosure: As of this date, my campaign has spent a total of $84.

This blog post was “paid” for, at the cost of $0 and whatever time it took Gray to write and upload it, by The Gray Man: Service, Leadership, Creativity.

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Giving Thanks, With a Grateful Heart

I am thankful for so many people, so many things, that at times I’m quite overwhelmed.

At times I wish I could show my gratitude with the exuberance and whimsy of this cartoon:

(From the “Lunch” series by Christopher Rinehart. Used in hope of eventually getting permission.)

Alas, I am not as whimsical as I might wish to be.

But whether I am serious or silly, if I spent every minute of every day doing nothing but expressing thanks I suppose I could never run out of thanks to give — because each thought, each recollection, brings another and another to mind. And so I try to start and end each day with thanks for my family, my friends, my opportunities and achievements as well as my challenges, summed up in the simple, full-of-wonder phrase, “Thanks be to God.”

May you and yours feel blessed on this Thanksgiving Day, and every day.

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Proud Papa

Father’s Day weekend, so I’ll get right to the point: I’m really proud of my young-uns.

Today we picked up our daughter after four weeks as a production assistant on an independent film. That’s four weeks in the farm country of northeast North Carolina, in the middle of which she went to the emergency room for heat exhaustion. And they liked her work so much they changed her unpaid internship to a paid position.

And as I type this, our son is performing at his first paying musical gig: he’s playing violin at a wedding with some other members of the high school chamber group. He’s done some charity gigs before with the band he formed at church (Clantannin), but this is his first time driving to an out-of-town gig and coming home with money.

My kids are cool. Pity I can’t take the credit for their coolness.

But I’m proud of ’em.

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Star Guardians

My son’s painting, “Star Guardians,” is in the “Show Us Your Art” contest on and as of this typing is ranked #169 out of over 4200 entries. I think it’ll be on display in Raleigh this weekend, but if you want to see it now, it’s at this page.

And if you want to vote for it, that would be nice, too ;).

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