Grieving and your Health – Jane Whitehead
Grieving and your Health
Grief can be an all-consuming insidious feeling and seem as though it will never end. Lots of things can go through your head at this time when trying to look after yourself. These ‘many conversations’ swim around endlessly. All the advice states to look after your health. Eat well, exercise, meditate, get a good sleep and don’t use alcohol and other drugs.
The reality is a bit different especially in the early days losing someone you love. It tends to be: don’t eat, drink a shit load so you can get that good sleep the experts bang on about, lie on the couch and watch movies, just to stop thinking about it all. Our guest room under the house was nicknamed ‘The Cave’ I drew the curtains to block out the world and hid to watch movies, to drink and to cry.
The next phase, after a few months: Geez, dad (insert your own loved one here) wouldn’t be happy with me being like this. I really should make an effort to get back out and socialise, go for walks, eat good food and so on. However, the other voice in your head would very quickly chip in with, “F___ off dad, you aren’t here, who cares what you think?” This phase can last a while.
When you lose a loved one you can feel abandoned. It took some time for me to realise he didn’t abandon me. He died. It wasn’t like he had a choice in the matter. (Even those people who suicide don’t really mean to abandon people. It is not as though they are thinking clearly and rationally at the time when they are caught up in their own despair. -Except for those who plan a euthanasia death and even that can’t be classed as abandonment.)
“They’re the forgotten grievers, the lucky ones whose parents had a good innings, the people who after a few months or even weeks are expected to dust themselves down, put their pain behind them and get back to a normal, happy life. … Psychologists warn that the impact of losing your parents goes way beyond organising the funeral and sorting out the will. It might be the natural order of things that parents die before their children, but the sheer inevitability is no cushion to the pain, soul-searching and sheer feeling of rudderlessness that so often follows.” https://www.theage.com.au/national/the-peculiar-grief-of-the-adult-orphan-20030908-gdwaws.html
I hate the fact that somehow my mother’s grief, after the loss of dad, should be less than a younger person’s grief. Years ago I had an elderly neighbour and when I asked her how she was coping after the death of her husband especially since they had not long celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, she told me I was the first person to ask her that. Can you imagine?
“Bereavement can have a devastating impact on the immune systems of seniors, and may explain why many older spouses soon die after the loss of their loved ones. … It’s common to have rollercoaster emotions for a while. Grief is a severe ? but self-limiting ? condition, not a permanent state. Whether a grieving senior is able to move on afterward depends on his or her own inner resources, as well the kind of support they receive from friends and family.” https://www.comfortkeepers.com/home/info-center/senior-health-wellbeing/helping-seniors-cope-with-the-loss-of-a-spouse
Finally, dad wins. He is right. What about everyone else around you who love you, who care about you? So start small. It is still difficult but a short walk, or a visit to a good friend does make a difference. Allow the feelings to come to you, acknowledge those feelings while they are with you. Blocking them out won’t work. Sooner or later you have to concede and deal with feelings.
I think there are many factors at play.
- Guilt is a biggy. Guilt about not doing enough for the person, guilt you are still alive. Some of my guilt stems from not truly understanding what it means to lose a parent. When my friend’s parents have died, was I there for them? Did I even feel compassion? I don’t think so, and that makes me feel guilty. My own father lost his father when he was sixteen years old and talked about that loss many, many times over the years and I didn’t understand despite the obvious sadness and anguish he and his sister were feeling when they talked about their dad. I feel guilty I didn’t offer more, to both of them. Now I know exactly how they feel. Guilt can eat you alive.
- The complete sense of loss and intense anxiety about never ever, ever seeing, talking, laughing, hugging or writing to the person again.
- The many moments of ‘The Firsts’ without them around. The first birthday without them, the first Christmas without them, the first Father’s day, it’s endless.
- The ‘I must ring dad and tell him….’ Or ‘I’ll just ring dad and ask him…’ only to remember he isn’t here anymore. These jarring moments are very painful.
- Music you hear can bring back memories and it is a real pain if you happen to be in a public place.
- I have friends who have lost children. I cannot imagine the utter gut wrenching despair one would feel. To live with that for the rest of your days is inconceivable. In situations where a friend has lost someone so dear to them, it is best to follow their lead. Some people like to keep talking about the person, others don’t. Don’t neglect your friends and allow people to talk about the person if they want to. It is never about your awkwardness, it is all about their path to some sort of healing.
- For some people, going through belongings is extremely challenging and I always tell people, there is never a hurry to clean away belongings and memories. It may be some time before you can do that. So if it is practical, do not rush that job. Take your time and do what you are able to do in that moment. It may be better to pack some things and put them in storage just in case at a later date you regret throwing something out.
Loss and grief are inevitable happenings life dishes out and you will never avoid it. Loss comes in many forms; a person you love whether through death, divorce, estrangement from family, the end of friendships, living a long distance from loved ones, losing a job, the loss of a possession like a child’s teddy bear he had for twenty years or a trench art ring your brother made you when he was serving in WW II. The death of a pet is enormous and it can take a long time to get over losing a beloved pet. For many people pets are surrogate children whether they had no children or their children have moved on. People who live alone often rely on a faithful pet for companionship and the passing of such a friend is devastating. Loss is loss and there are no rules. Each of us will deal with it differently and that is OK.
When the sadness is so large, so enveloping and fills you with colossal feelings of anxiety, fear, frustration and anguish, it is very hard to think about one’s own health. However, lots of people do start/continue yoga, meditation, jogging, walking or whatever it is to ensure depression doesn’t encroach and take over. If nothing else, take a turn in the garden and inhale nature. Sometimes sitting quietly in the garden is not only peaceful but is soul healing from nature. The sunshine will help with depression too.
If your appetite is small, make up a bit pot of nutritious soup. Most people can manage a bowl of soup. Chooroo.com has a couple of great soup recipes you could try. Take ‘serve size’ containers of soup to your friend/family member to keep in the freezer if they are too fatigued to make it for themselves.
Life can be a struggle. It will break you sometimes. Nobody can protect you from that, and hiding alone in a cave somewhere won’t either, for prolonged solitude will also break you with an endless thirst for connection. You must dare to love. You must dare to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth.
To never struggle would be to never have been blessed with life. It is within the depths of darkness that you discover within you an inextinguishable light, and it is this light that illuminates the way forward.
‘Daring Greatly’ Brene Brown:2015