Today, I am happy to welcome a guest post to I MATTER day. Ruth W. Crocker is the author of THOSE WHO REMAIN: REUNION AND REMEMBRANCE AFTER WAR. She lives and writes in Mystic, Connecticut predominately about dealing with grief. In order to carry the I MATTER sign, we must take care of ourselves and deal with our grief in healthy ways. Please read here and visit Ruth at RUTH CROCKER.COM.
Caring for ourselves during a period of grief
Ruth W Crocker
My first experience with grief was the death of my youngest brother when I was fourteen. He had been bed-ridden from a seizure disorder for most of his brief life, but his death at age seven still seemed incomprehensible. When I was twenty-three my husband was killed in the Vietnam War – another unfathomable loss. When I was thirty-five my father fell thirty feet from a roof he was fixing and died a year later of his injuries at age sixty-one, and seven years later my next younger brother died from AIDS. When I was sixty, I was with my mother as she died after ten years of dementia. I have reached a time in my life when I can say, with confidence, that I am an experienced griever.
Fortunately, we can improve with age and when I am visited by loss again, I hope that whatever wisdom I have accumulated will help me during that time that has always felt like I was carrying a stone that I would like to throw down and run away from.
The beginning stages of grief are that intolerable feeling of heaviness in the chest, lack of concentration, restlessness, difficulty sleeping and frequent tears. What has helped me the most after many losses is the knowledge that what I feel is normal. Many people don’t realize that learning terrible news - being suddenly and powerfully aggrieved - triggers an automatic physical response. It’s not a sign of weakness or inability to handle emotion, it is the body’s way of trying to stay safe.
As we battle to survive emotionally, stress hormones are released. They surge throughout the body, making us feel a heightened nervousness and agitation – a desire to move. These important and natural hormones might enable a runner to complete a torturous marathon, but for someone experiencing grief following the loss of a loved one, the result of this hormonal out-pouring can wreak havoc with our sense of how to take care of ourselves.
Adrenalin, the “fight or flight” hormone, increases metabolic rate making the heart beat faster and raising blood pressure. It also takes away appetite, giving us the impression that we don’t need to eat. The physical effects of adrenalin are felt in the area of the heart and chest; the same place where the heart feels broken.
Without adequate nourishment, a body working fast and hard in reaction to either physical or emotional stress can eventually begin to show other signs of stress such as sleeplessness, depression, panic disorder, malnutrition and weakened immunity.
What is the best way to help the body and mind deal with stress caused by an incomprehensible and shocking event that we have no power to change? Sharing thoughts about the tragedy, when it becomes possible, with a trusted listener is a first step, accompanied by baby steps to replenish the nutrients, energy stores and fluids lost during the body’s hard work to cope and survive. If possible, arrange to meet a trusted friend for meals and eat whatever seems appetizing. Sometimes we may suddenly crave a favorite food from childhood.
Eat wholesome foods in small quantities; whatever is appealing. Choose fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, easily digestible proteins like eggs, fish and poultry, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy products and water. In the beginning you might imagine that you are eating for the person you have lost. You might even begin with the foods that you know they liked. It’s not unusual to assume the mannerisms or traits of the loved one in the transition through grief. The goal is to regain the pleasure of eating and living – even though a sense of having goals is impossible during this time.
Low-intensity exercise like walking is another important component of recovery. Walking at a modest pace (2-3 miles per hour) enhances the feeling of wellness. You can keep body weight under control and improve well being simply by moderate walking each day. Walking is also a way to free the mind and find peace.
Returning to a healthy balance after an emotional shock takes time and loving concern for both body and mind. Evening is often the worst part of the day. As the sun goes down and fatigue sets in, try to establish a quiet, healing ritual. For some people it helps to find a comfortable resting place, creating a sort of nest, and read inspirational poems and quotes. If it’s difficult to concentrate, choose small books and short pieces. Writing in a journal helps, too. Just let the words flow in a stream of consciousness. They do not need to have an order or make sense..
Grief can seem like a bottomless pit or an endless dreary storm. There is no real solace or cure except to decide to be in this moment and then the next. The weight will lift eventually, like clouds that dissipate and eventually allow the sun to beam through. With time and self-care, we find our way back to hope.
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