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Grief and Peace

Grief Takes Its Toll


Grief is incredibly debilitating; to the psyche, to the immune system, and to the body. Once I realized this, I began to understand how the brain and body are affected by grief. Tuning into this is important, especially if we are older, because if we want to eventually THRIVE after the death of a loved one, we are going to need to be healthy.


This was a conundrum for me.


On the one hand, I didn’t care if I got wiped off the planet by a Mack truck. With my heart broken in pieces, I didn’t want to live. I didn’t want to live if it was going to feel like this – this awful pain and sorrow, day in and day out.


On the other hand, there was a strong, instinctive drive to live. I didn’t understand it at first, but eventually I did.

As I became aware of what was happening in my body through grieving, I was able to give more attention to staying healthy. I learned that my nervous system was wrecked and that I needed to heal it in order to move forward. I put my focus on healing my nervous system.


Going to healing sessions like acupuncture, network chiropractic and cranial sacral was the easy part; I always felt peaceful afterwards and I began to feel the cumulative effects of these therapies. The hard part was learning how to sit with my feelings. I’ve talked about how important sitting with feelings is for grief recovery in many of my other articles.

Grief is Tiring

Every griever knows that grief can be exhausting. Being tired helped me let go and sit with my feelings. After a therapy session, I wanted to be home, in my comfy chair, prolonging the feelings of peace. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to allow ourselves the time and space to simply BE while we’re grieving. Running around taking care of things, shopping, finding ways to be busy, DOES NOT contribute to a healthy grief recovery. Speaking from experience, it just adds to the exhaustion.

In the beginning, grievers feel tired almost all the time. This is partly because of trying to be “normal” when we don’t feel normal. It’s like acting a part 24/7. The bereaved need time to sit, feel sorrow and just BE. I would often do this for 3 hours a day in the first year of my grief recovery journey.

I learned that my nervous systems was tired too. It had been majorly challenged, and depending on the circumstances surrounding the death of a loved one – whether, as in my case, there was a lot of trauma – the effect to our nervous systems will be different.


The takeaway here is – when we feel tired, we should REST.


Our bodies are actually trying to help us out. We can take advantage of feeling tired, rest the nervous system. I learned this the hard way simply because I literally had to learn to rest. I learned to tune into my body and honor what it needed. Often, I would fall asleep in the middle of the day and I became OKAY with that. I finally GOT that I needed this rest to heal, and it began to bring me PEACE, if even for a short while, each day.

Healthy Distractions Can Bring Peace


I love music. Several of my friends play the ukulele. By its very nature, the uke is a “happy” instrument. During my first summer of grief, several of my Qigong friends and I had a standing date each week to meet by a friend's pool, play ukulele, go for a swim and have lunch. It was a safe way for me to feel like I belonged. As I’ve said in other articles, I was alone, with no family, and feeling quite isolated during my first year of grief. My EARTH ANGEL friends were trying to give me something to hold on to, to help me heal, and I can’t say enough how grateful I am.

At first, I borrowed a ukelele from my friend and tried to follow along. I practiced at home and slowly began to play better. It’s a very easy instrument to learn. I felt I was doing well enough to get my own uke. A good ukulele ranges from $200 to $300 and I wasn’t sure I was ready to spend that much.

That August I went to visit my elderly mother in Arizona. She had short-term memory loss. It can be frustrating, but one day I was bringing her home from her hair appointment. We were stopped at a light and she pointed and yelled, “Go there!” I was startled but followed her pointed finger to a pawn shop across the street. She said, “I think your ukulele is in there.”

What???


It wasn’t unusual back then to feel my husband’s presence. I figured he “motivated” my mom to speak up. We turned into the parking lot and both went into the pawn shop. There, among the instruments, was one ukulele. MY UKULELE! (There are 4 types: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.) This beautiful concert uke was brand new, beautiful, with inlaid mother of pearl. The price? $80, AND the owner threw in a case for free.



I believe my husband directed me to my uke and I’ve been playing it ever since. I even played on stage at the county fair with a ukulele group called the Strum Bums.


I have mentioned my ukulele before in other articles I’ve written, but my ukulele has been a BIG part of my grief recovery journey. During a visit to Kauai, I went into a unique store which sold a variety of crafty items. It turned out that the woman behind the counter, Pam Woolway, is also a poet, and she has written a poem about the ukulele. Pam puts her poems on Guest Checks which are hard to come by these days as most restaurants are computerized! They are very creative. I told her the story of how my deceased husband helped me find my uke. She created this especially for me:



You can find Pam and her work here: http://www.shortorderpoet.com/

I eventually took ukelele classes from the gentleman who leads the Strum Bums, Dan Scanlan. He wrote this great book for beginner ukulele players:



Dan’s website is www.coolhanduke.com. It’s a great site with a lot of songs and tips.


Playing the uke is a healthy distraction. I can lose myself (and my grief) for an hour or two. I believe these types of activities are healthy for grievers. There is a balance between taking the time to BE with our feelings and finding healthy distractions from the constant sorrow. I believe our psyches and our bodies need a break from the pain for a few hours. Just like if we had a broken arm and it hurt to keep it in the sling, a few times a day we might let it out of the sling for a break from the pain.


There are lots of healthy distractions, the kinds that allow us to lose ourselves. Any kind of creative expression is a healthy distraction. There is something about the heart being cracked open that allows a creative flow. Whether it’s playing an instrument, painting, sculpting, gardening, cooking, dancing, writing, quilting, building things…it doesn’t matter. Whatever gets us into that place of freeing up our minds and hearts. It allows S P A C E between the cells. Next to a good night’s sleep, losing ourselves in a creative project is one of the most positive things we can do as a griever – one way to find peace, if even for a little while.


Here are a couple of great links to some creative ideas:

https://www.greatseniorliving.com/articles/crafts-for-seniors

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/g30246497/best-hobbies-for-women/


PEACE


What does peace mean for me? It’s a breather. It’s a break from pain. It can be found in sitting with my feelings, in meditation, in prayer, in losing myself to creative expression, in being in nature, and probably many other ways I haven’t yet discovered. Finding peace, in whatever way I can, helps to calm and heal my nervous system, which is necessary for my grief recovery. While I nourish my body with rest, therapies, and healthy distractions, my nervous system is slowly healing, making it easier for me to navigate the new life I must create for myself.


Picture credit: https://stannscommunity.com/resident-profile-pat-tingleybeyond-hurting-healing/

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