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Body language

After Dad died, I developed pneumonia… my body’s way of responding to such a deep sense of loss. It certainly slowed me down—I took time away from work. I slept, ate well, coughed a lot and waited—both patiently and impatiently to feel better. During my illness, I began the slow process of mourning the loss of my Dad.

I felt bent out of shape, scooped out, empty. How could this be? My father had been larger than life to me and many other people. It seemed impossible that he was gone. I did not feel resilient. I didn’t know how my life would ever be the same.

Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that life wouldn’t be the same as it had been. I would never spend time with my Dad again. At least not time in the way I’d known for the first 40+ years of my life.

Figuring it out

Slowly I came to see that the loss of a loved one wasn’t about “figuring it out.” There was no way to figure out, to work through the mourning process with my mind. In fact, my mind proved to be a feeble tool for the workings of grief. It turned out that my body—in all its coughing sickness—was really showing me the way to face this loss. Here are some tips I learned from my body for early loss:

  1. Rest more. When you are mourning your body may feel a deep sense of exhaustion. In my case that showed up as pneumonia calling me to rest. Take a 20 minute break and lay down. Even if you can’t sleep, rest for a while.
  2. Listen more. Listen to music, to the sound of falling rain, to the wind in the trees, to the new silence of not being able to speak in the present moment with your loved one. Listen for the words of the past; what has your absent loved one said to you that may carry you a little further down the path today?
  3. Make healthy food choices. During times of loss it can be tempting to overeat; to feed your sorrow with sweets or alcohol. Or, you may find your appetite completely gone. Fill your fridge and cabinets with healthy snacks and appealing food items. Take in small snacks if you don’t feel like eating a full meal.
  4. Reach out. If you find yourself lonely and bereft of feelings call someone. Choose someone with whom you have a deep and trusting relationship. Ask them if you can reach out to them day or night (if they haven’t already offered.) Make the call even when you don’t know what to say.
  5. Practice compassion with yourself. This is a time for radical self-care. If you find you’ve made a mistake, missed a deadline or an appointment, forgotten an important date, or fallen short—give yourself grace. Remember that you are on a new journey and need to be treated with the same kindness and care that you would offer a friend under the same circumstances.

It was hard those first few weeks to listen to my body’s message about loss. I was resistant somehow thinking “I got this,” about the loss I’d experienced. I felt pressure to bounce back, return to work quickly, figure it out and be ready to be my old self again. Fortunately for me, my body intervened on my behalf. She got busy slowing me down enough that I had time to rest, reflect and be still. She slowed me down enough to be open to the feelings of loss that sometimes overwhelmed me. She slowed me down enough to take in the love and support offered by those near and far.