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The Physicality of Loss

In Healing Words, Loss, Grief and Hope on January 13

The Physicality of Loss

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”

C.S. Lewis

The start of 2017 has been full of unexpected brave and beautiful conversations with sister-friends near and afar, many of whom have recently lost loved ones.  I feel blessed to be able to share with them openly about their grief and loss and mine.  The conversations have been full of love, pain, sadness and hope. Inspiring. Up-lifting. Life affirming. Making us feel connected and less alone, demystifying the whole ‘how to grieve’ crap.  There is no ‘way’ to grieve. This is precisely why we need to talk about loss and grief more – to make us feel less weird or abnormal. I don’t have the answers, I only know what losing my Dad has been like for me and it’s helped me to share it and I know it has helped others to read about it.  These conversations are so enlivening.

This post has been sitting patiently in the draft section waiting for me to hit publish. Part of me thinking ‘not another grief post Dal’. See, I get caught up in it all too. So, after one of those precious conversations today I had a good old cry to some of my favourite ‘I miss you Dad’ (imagine me wailing with snot down my face) songs followed by some MJ, bad dancing and a walk in the woods. On the way back past my little local bookshop I noticed a book ‘Yoga for Grief and Loss’ in the window and there was my ‘hit it’ sign. Grieving is a profoundly physical process.

Now that my 4 month soulbattical has come to an end, 4 months of not doing the day job has been utterly revitalising. 4 months of catching up with myself and recovering from being a carer to my Dad to losing him has been a precious gift.  4 months of getting back on track with my fragmented social life. It was hard to give myself this gift – live off my savings because what if……???  Fill in the gaps. What if an asteroid falls out of the sky hitting my house and it’s not covered by the insurance policy? What if I decide that I really do want to be Wonder Woman and need breast implants and hair extensions? What if no-one ever employs me again?  I will have to live in a cardboard box in the underpass (the one near Waitrose please).

Until I stopped last September, I didn’t truly appreciate the profound level of exhaustion every part of me was feeling. Grieving takes a MASSIVE amount of physical energy. Few people talk about the physical effects of grief but they are there. And if we don’t know about them we struggle to extend empathy to those grieving folks who are struggling with ongoing ailments. It’s simply not their fault.

woodland heart                                                                                                                                                                               

In my case, weird symptoms appeared and lingered. For months my rib cage ached and creaked feeling like it was going to crack under some internal pressure. My heart felt like it was so swollen that it would have to push out between each rib and beat there in a big splodge. Random pains moved around my ribs, my abdomen, my back and sides. My kidneys throbbed. My heart rate was scattered. I felt as if I had a huge mass of stuck energy swirling from my chest to my pelvis. It wasn’t just down to the physical exertion of sobbing. This was a profound ache.

I was constantly tired and slept for hours and hours.  Numerous scans and blood tests came back clear. My GP looked at me kindly and said “you’ve been through a major life event…”  Yes, I agreed. No other notable cause other than losing someone I loved dearly.

Yet it felt so physically different from my usual experience of a stress related illness. Maybe my body had pre-programmed physical responses to stress – headaches, eczema, rosacea. But this was something else – my body hadn’t experienced a loss on this level. A broken heart? Maybe my ribcage had to grow and stretch to allow my heart to expand in to the maelstrom of emotions it was experiencing, struggling to protect it at all costs.

Two weeks of sea swimming, sun, tears and journalling in Crete eased the creaks and pains but still they lingered. Finally I sought the ear of a counsellor and after one especially emotional session I awoke the following morning completely creak-free. The mass of energy had disappeared. My heart had let go and resumed it’s place, no longer needing to spill out of my ribs. Moments like this are sometimes described as the hardwork miracle – you do the emotional work and one day everything clicks in to place. Grieving is hard work in every way.

Feel it. The thing that you don’t want to feel. Feel it. And be free.

(Nayirrah Waheed)

I still feel the physical impact of grief on my body like an invisible scar that is slowly healing. When my soulbattical began I knew I had to take very good care of myself, needing the open stretch of time to resume my healthy ways and to recover lost parts of myself. Over the 4 months I returned to daily’ish forest walks (interrupted for a month by a weird ligament injury in my ankle that ‘just appeared’ out of nowhere after dancing to MJ’s Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough – maybe another grief response?), joined a  slimming group (I am metaphorically dying as I confess this) losing almost a stone in weight, and restored my regular Iyengar Yoga practice, focusing on stretching the capacity of my ribs. Little by little I am getting stronger, regaining physical vitality – a work in progress.

This sister is danced again…most notably on NYE for 3 and a half hours.

I’m writing this for the special sisters out there who have experienced great losses recently. Please be gentle with yourself in every way. Give yourself time and space in whatever way you can and do not worry about those around you who don’t understand – they can’t and that is ok. No-one will tell you how much energy it takes to grieve and when you experience the full heft of grief it might feel easier to bundle it away or to try and get through it quickly.

You think the pain will break you – let it try. Let it try and thoroughly break you in every way. You will see that it won’t. Your grief is precious. Breathtakingly beautiful in as many ways as it is unbearable. Tears let loose are droplets of gratitude for the love we experienced and still feel. Grief is alchemical fuel and no text book will tell you that. It cracks your heart open immeasurably and is an agent of transformation, revealing hidden treasures. You got this sisters. xo

12 comments... (add a comment)

  1. Kellie

    Beautiful and powerful writing. So glad you hit publish.❤❤❤

  2. It is so inspiring ~ the pace and the bravery through which you are moving through your tender grief for your beloved Dad, Dal. I was 15 and 18 respectively when I lost my two grandmothers and they were the two people who loved me unconditionally, who I never disappointed, for whom I never had to be anything but my quiet, gentle self with nothing else to prove. Fast forward (or is it slow motion?) three more significant losses and sixteen years later until my body unravelled with the type of symptoms you are describing. Your growth and willingness to learn and live through your grief is truly inspiring. Love you, soul sister

    • Dal

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience here Claire, it really helps me to understand and appreciate that none of us walk this path alone and why it’s so important to share. Your grandmothers sound like amazing women with their unconditional love and to lose them closely must’ve been hard. Intriguing that your symptoms seemed to be stored for so long and I suspect this for many folks. I feel like I’ll be grieving forever for Dad, it’s still so new. We definitely need to chat more about this. Thanks again xo

  3. India

    I have written my thanks on Instagram, but I wanted to write here too. You have really helped me a lot in dealing with my sweet dear friend’s passing. I’m not going to swallow my grief any longer. The physical sensations you’ve described are familiar. My back has been aching as if carrying too big a load – and I think I am. “Tears let loose are the droplets of gratitude for the love we experienced and still feel” – that line will stick with me and I will no longer be ashamed to let the sadness flow. Thank you again, Dal.

    • Dal

      You’re so welcome India and so glad you’ve found reading this helpful. I am so so sorry to hear about the passing of your friend. Grief, sadness is so natural and to be able to fully express it, I believe, is a sign of strength. Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Let the tears flow. The best thing I did when my Dad died was to give myself permission to fall apart as much as I needed to, to allow myself to BE with my grief and to allow it to thoroughly wake me up. A work in progress. I wish you much love at this time. Xo

  4. a beautiful and heartfelt piece of writing, Dal. loved it XX

  5. I love this! It should be required reading for anyone who has faced a loss. Sometimes we all need someone to tell us it’s OK to go slow and be gentle with ourselves. Luckily, you are there to do so.

    • Dal

      Thanks so much Greta, really appreciate your words. Go slow is the way. I think it’ll take me a lifetime! The more I write about grief and the more people connect with the words, the more I feel I need to keep writing about it. It really helps me make sense of it all. Which is why we write, right? Xox

  6. This is beautiful and real – that’s what I wrote on my Twitter share. Thank you for putting this out there, Dal. This is a special piece of writing.

  7. Dal, as always your writing is so personal and you manage to add humour to such a delicate and painful experience, as well as giving others hope that life can and does go on. But also that it is not a requirement to “get over” your grief or move past it as quickly as possible. I think your words can be applied to any type of loss – the point of allowing ourselves to feel the grief. Lots of love always. <3

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