Dealing with Grief
Mary’s son died in Afghanistan a few years ago. Not much later she developed a painful ovarian cyst. She did not want to have surgery. When she came into my office, she was skeptical about the possibility of her son’s death and her cyst being related.
Grief like most painful emotions is one that we don’t deal with well in our modern culture. Everything is moving so fast that we barely give ourselves time to process before we have to be back at work or dealing with daily life. Because we don’t acknowledge how we feel, our feelings become unconscious and leak out in unexpected ways. They can cause serious consequences such as losing your job, sleep disorders, weight gain or loss, or more serious physical illnesses.
Not all grief is due to the death of a loved one. Candy came to me a few years ago with chronic sinus infections. She had been on antibiotics almost every two months for two years. Tired of taking them, she wanted a new solution. Somehow she felt that her answers were not in having sinus surgery. In the initial interview, I learned that her husband had left her two and a half years ago for another woman. She was devastated by the loss and had not felt well since. She hadn’t made the link between her sinus problems and the grief of her loss.
We often assume that we need to get over grief quickly so we repress our pain. Sometimes we can be grieving and not even know it. If you’ve ever tried to go on in your normal life while ignoring your pain, you may notice that your carpeted emotions began to sabotage your life.
I like the Jewish tradition, of “sitting Shiva”. When a relative dies, the ritual requires a week long mourning period of sitting quietly after the funeral. Sitting Shiva allows you to take time out of your life to really be with your emotions and your family. By acknowledging your emotions, you don’t have to let them come out in unconscious ways.
After a trauma, allow your emotions time to be, without judgment. Create your own sitting Shivas to deal with pain. I recommend spending as little 30- 60 minutes each day allowing yourself to grieve or feel whatever emotion you’re processing. It’s not about indulging but about paying attention to what is really going on. If you create the time for your emotions, it will give you a chance to function normally at other times of your day.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously wrote about the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance are emotions that arise as we deal with the loss of our loved one or another equally big trauma. Eventually we all have to arrive at acceptance but we can’t do that if we don’t know that we have grief.
After a series of acupuncture treatments for PTSD, Mary’s ovarian cyst went away. A few months after treatment she came back to my office and told me that she was able to begin going in new directions in her life including a new diet/exercise program and a new career.
We all have our hard times in life, no matter how they came about. Ultimately our goal is healing and acceptance.