Early on I was of course consumed by wracking sobs and sleepless nights. I knew that my soul was beaten and badly. I knew that my heart physically hurt for the loss of John. I knew that I shook at the mere thought of the next day and if I could get through it. I knew the sore eyes, raw throat and stuffy nose from hours of crying from grief. I knew and understood the emotional and even much of the spiritual grieving that I was doing. It was hideous and hard but expected and really quite normal.
I did not know or understand that the body mourns in its own way and at its own pace as well. I remember catching my reflection in a mirror in a shop about a month and half after John died. I had reluctantly agreed to meet my children there, wanting to be a good mom, not wanting to seem as if I was as big of a mess as I was. I wanted to “hold it together” at least a little for them-on the outside at least. It didn’t work.
I walked into the shop where there was an entire wall of mirrors! Ugg! And there I was- I looked like a trauma victim from TV. I was waif like, my clothes were handing oddly off of me, my hair was stringy-but it was clean at least!- my eyes, oh God my eyes were the worst! Deep purple circles, sunken and hollow, fearful eyes. I didn’t recognize myself at first and when I did I thought. ‘I look very, very sad. And then I thought, well I am very, very sad!’ Still, I didn’t think it was obvious to others or enough to cause alarm until my daughter came to me. She had me sit down and kneeled in front of me. “Mama, are you okay? You don’t look okay? What’s wrong?” all I said back to her as my eyes filled was, “John died.”
That was my first clue into how the body mourns but as time went on it got trickier about how it did it. I was forgetful-about everything! Its been twenty months now and I just made my first actual and fruitful trip to the grocery store without breaking down or leaving with only dog food, saltines and Ziploc bags. I think forgetfulness is really hard because it gives you away to the outside world who you’re trying to fool into thinking you’re okay, if for no other reason than you can’t bear to talk to anyone about anything let alone your current semi-there self. It’s also hard because it isn’t something that only takes place in one spot, such as a place that reminds you of your loved, one or in one way such as not remembering the time.
Now when I say forgetful I mean forgetful! I couldn’t remember grocery lists, or names of people or things, I would lose words! Words! That was one of the worst parts for me because words have always come easily and it is how I most express myself. And I lost time. I forgot for weeks to take the trash out to the curb (at least it was winter!), I would see a month turn over and truly not recall the previous weeks. I don’t remember holidays or special events from that first year either. I can’t tell you where I was for the 4th of July or how I celebrated. It’s gone. Even days of the week I was actually living in would disappear as I would frustratingly reach back and back to try to remember what I had done two evenings prior. My brain, consumed with sorrow, couldn’t not focus on the minutia of the daily. Unfortunately, daily life and social obligations require at least a little understanding of the concept of time and the need to remember one’s co-workers names.
There were and still are mornings where I wake up turned sideways on the bed, against the wall, all blankets and pillows tossed on the floor as if I’ve been battling all night. I wake up exhausted and confused. I’m told I cry out in my sleep, but not the cry of a scared person or a normal sad cry, but instead a deep, painful moaning sound. I didn’t believe my best friend and family members when they told me this but a month or so ago I was moaning so loudly I woke myself up, surprised to hear the sound that was so deeply mournful and forlorn. When I woke up to that sound I realized I was also curled into the tiniest ball I could be rocking back in forth-IN MY SLEEP! I think there must be processing that is going on, on a deep, deep level.
I have noticed that there are occasional mornings (okay about four months ago it lasted nearly an entire month) where I would wake up to such excruciating emotional pain and longing that I would curl up tight and rock myself back and forth till I was nearly late for work. I could barely pull my body out of bed because it pulled back so hard to be allowed to simply be and rest and mourn on its own terms, in its own way.
Of course now I’m finding that the grieving, the sorrow and the undernourishment of body and spirit of these many months is catching up with me. It’s been long enough now for grief’s physical effects to really begin to be seen. My hairdresser said my hair was considerably thinner- I never noticed, my nails break and are brittle, my skin is so dry from lack of normal hydration I think I need to switch from using normal lotion and go straight to dipping myself into olive oil every night-basted like a chicken! and I’m so physically worn down from pushing myself both to get through the normal day to day activities and the emotional work that has to happen, and I might add often happens whether I want it to or not, that I got a really bad case of strep throat that led to my tongue blistering and peeling. Tests revealed that I was incredibly deficient in B vitamins, and others too, but B specifically helps with energy, blood cell health and nervous system health. As a matter of fact low B12 can cause anemia and low B vitamins can cause extreme fatigue.
I guess what I’m trying to say is the body mourns too. It’s doesn’t allow you to sleep or eat properly or remember both important and not important things. The body is working! Hard! No wonder those of us who have or are still experiencing deep, piercing grief look and feel exhausted. It makes me have more compassion for my body and what it is trying to cope with and heal from. It also makes me more aware of its basic needs and purposely trying to get them met-rest, actual sleep and proper nutrition. Of course the knowledge of it doesn’t make it any easier to actually accomplish those things but it does help me to say no to things I don’t want to do or spend energy on and hopefully I will be able to reroute that into something better for dinner than a hunk of cheese and pickled beets.