Bereaved Parents Month Post: Physical Manifestations of Grief

It’s a well known fact that stress plays a role in many health conditions.  

And I think most of us would agree that child loss is one of (if not THE) most stressful events a heart might endure.  

So it’s unsurprising that bereaved parents find themselves battling a variety of physical problems in the wake of burying a child.  

grief head in hands and stress words

What may be surprising is how uninformed medical and even psychological professionals are with respect to the very real ways child loss intersects with chronic conditions and often creates new symptoms.  

Here is a list of only SOME of the physical manifestations of grief (via What’s Your Grief?) with my own comments :  

Fatigue.  If you’ve always been an energetic sort, you might find this aspect of grief particularly disconcerting.  This kind of fatigue doesn’t get better with rest.  I’ve written about that here. 

Some days I can barely make myself get out of bed and when I do, I struggle to do any but the most necessary tasks.  Don’t automatically dismiss this symptom as ONLY grief (although it most certainly could be!) get a thorough check-up to rule out other causes such as low thyroid, diabetes, heart disease, major depressive disorder or a number of conditions that can be treated effectively with medicine.  Don’t beat yourself up if the doctor decides “nothing is wrong” with you.  You are grieving and grief is work!  I know this symptom has improved for me over time as I’ve established boundaries, admitted limitations and learned to rest when necessary.

charlie brown too tired to cry

Aches and Pains.  Our bodies and minds are connected in ways not well understood.  Mental and emotional distress can make any underlying pain condition that much worse.  When I’m feeling especially lonely, desperate or sad my autoimmune disease flares AND my perception of the very real pain that causes is heightened.  Pain and heartache can lead to a downward spiral that is hard to undo.  Get help and treatment for the physical and give yourself grace and space to endure the emotional causes of body aches.  Don’t self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or other self-destructive coping strategies.  Reach out to a safe person and let them help you find a better way.

painlevels

Headaches.  Needless to say, stress makes tension headaches more likely.  Sometimes, though, a headache can be a symptom of something more serious.  Don’t dismiss an especially sudden, intense or long-lasting headache as “just grief”.  It could be previously undiagnosed high blood pressure, stroke or migraine.  Those being ruled out, various relaxation techniques, cold or warm compresses, over-the-counter analgesics and gentle stretches might help.

Sometimes grief headaches can be alleviated by the simple act of telling our stories.  Bottling up emotions and thoughts adds to the ongoing stress and tension of my child loss burden.  When I spill them-either on paper in a journal, in a closed online bereaved parents’ group or in person to a safe friend or family member-often I feel the band around my head relax and the pain fade away.

Tightness in Chest, Shortness of Breath.  The day I got the awful news, I remember asking friends who came to sit with me over and over, ” Am I still breathing?”  My world was spinning out of control and my body responded.  Anxiety after child loss is real. Broken Heart Syndrome is real.  Heart attacks are not uncommon.  Don’t ignore these symptoms.  But don’t be surprised if they persist despite all tests to the contrary.  When I feel trapped and overwhelmed, a walk outside or even to another room can help.  Deep breathing exercises and grounding exercises can often interrupt an episode.

Broken_Heart_syndrome_EN-01

Forgetfulness.  I wrote this post on Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing! a couple years ago and am always surprised to see it shared repeatedly.  But I think it strikes a chord with any heart walking through grief.  You are not crazy!  You are not experiencing early onset dementia (most likely).  Like other symptoms, get checked out if they persist or worsen.  But odds are, your experience falls within the range of normal for anyone whose life has been shattered by child loss.  Losing things, forgetting things, getting lost in familiar places, missing appointments or bill payments, inability to remember names of people you know well-all of these are common after loss.  In time, the symptoms usually diminish.  They have for me.  I still have to rely on lists and reminders much more often, though.  And that’s OK.

griefbrain1

Inability to Focus.  Like grief brain, this is another cognitive manifestation that’s not only annoying, it can impact life in significant ways.  Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I was an avid reader.  I often had three or four books going at the same time.  I could spend hours focused on a single project.  Not anymore.  I sometimes find it difficult to read a recipe.

I have to take frequent breaks when working on something because my mind gets fuzzy and I just can’t pay attention for more than a few minutes at a time.  Some bereaved parents have to change jobs or careers because they are not able to perform necessary tasks anymore.  This particular symptom has not improved very much for me although I’ve found ways around it.  I use lists to keep an external record of what I should be doing and when.  I mix up mindless chores with ones that require more attention to give my brain a break.  I try to dissect larger jobs into smaller, manageable chunks.  And sometimes I just have to admit that today a particular thing just isn’t happening. 

Appetite or Digestive Issues.  Stress has long been linked to gut problems.  I suspect we’ve all had that “rumbling in our tummy” from time to time even before child loss.  For many of us it’s exponentially worse after.  Some bereaved parents try to stuff emotions by stuffing themselves with food.  Others can’t eat at all.  Still others experience stomach ulcers or bowel disease ranging from acute to chronic.  I was hospitalized twice in the first year after my son’s death for serious colon issues.

Again, don’t ignore sudden or persistent symptoms.  Try to eat well and avoid self-medicating with food.  Added pounds rarely add up to better emotional or mental health.  I let pounds I’d lost ten years ago find me again.  Get help if you need to from someone willing to act as an accountability partner.  I’ve recently joined a friend in setting goals for ourselves and sharing recipes and meal prep.  Try to treat food as another aspect of grief work and manage it the best you can.

the struggle bus

Getting Sick More Often.  Stress lowers the immune system.  That’s a fact.  So when bereaved parents encounter germs (as we all do from time to time) it may well be our bodies don’t have the energy or resources to combat them.  Colds, flu, strep throat, skin infections may all be more likely this side of child loss.  Don’t be discouraged to seek treatment.  There is so much we can’t control in life, but getting antibiotics for an infection is pretty easy.

It’s not in your head, mom or dad! 

Grief has real physical manifestations.   

Don’t be dismissed or denied the care you need. 

Educate your healthcare providers and insist on being heard. 

the weight of grief without words

*photo credit:  The Weight of Grief  Scupture ~ Celeste Roberge*

 

July Is Bereaved Parents Awareness Month

Certain seasons and topics come around every year.  

I try hard to offer something fresh each time.  

But I reread the post I’ve used to kick off Bereaved Parents Month in the past and really can’t add anything new.  So here it is again.  

If you’ve read it before, consider glancing over it again.  

If you have never seen it, please give it a quick read.  

Don’t miss this opportunity to raise awareness of child loss and its impact on parents and families.  ❤

Bereaved Parents Month

What I’ve Learned About Grief: A Bereaved Dad’s Perspective

I belong to a number of closed online bereaved parent groups.  

I’m not sure if it is a function of gender or not, but the moms seem to be a bit more willing to share their feelings and to respond to the feelings of others.  

Every now and then, a dad speaks up. When he does, I usually pay close attention to this male perspective.

Wes Lake is a bereaved dad in our group who often has thoughtful posts that help my heart.  This one in particular was a beautiful, true and helpful reflection so I asked him for permission to share.

He graciously agreed.  

” [I was] just thinking about 5 years down this road and some of the things I’ve learned:

Grief doesn’t usually kill you.

For a long time I wished the Lord would take me but apparently he had other plans because I’m still here. So if I’m still alive what choice do I have but to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and learn to live again. Yes, I’m severely disabled but I need to make the best of what I have.

It is not the hand your dealt, it is about how you play the cards.

world-doesnt-stop-for-your-grief

I have learned not to trust my emotions.

I will have the blackest of black days and a day later the world will look like there is hope. Nothing in child loss good or bad is forever other than the loss of our child.

On the bad days I hold out hoping for a better day.

good day bad day god is in all days lucado

Time does heal but not in a way that most people think.  

Time shows you all the sides of grief. Time teaches you your limitations.  Time helps you to stuff the grief so you can function again.  Time shows you how to interact with a non-grieving world.

You don’t grieve any less, but your life gets easier.

it has been said that time heals all wounds rose kennedy clock

One other one not part is of the OP [overall process]-I had to come to grips with being happy.

For a long time I felt that experiencing the slightest sliver of joy was somehow being unfaithful to my daughter. I’m here to tell you that is a huge lie of grief. Just because you are experiencing good things does not mean you miss your child any less.

Being a martyr gets you no place good.”

~ Wes Lake, bereaved dad

grieving person is going to laugh again

 

On Suffering and Redemption

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

~Julian of Norwich

Truth is this life is not easy.

There is joy. 

Absolutely amazing awe-inspiring, breath-taking joy.

But there is also suffering. 

Utterly devastating, heart-breaking suffering.

Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.

~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning

When I ponder the pain of child loss, it helps to remember that Jesus suffered too.

Not just at the end, when He allowed evil men to crucify Him, but throughout His life when friends abandoned Him, people tried to kill Him, religious leaders mocked Him and sought to destroy His reputation and work.

It helps me to know that my wounds and scars, like His, will be transformed from evidence of pain and loss into a testimony of grace and redemption.  

The cross is both the symbol of our salvation and the pattern of our lives. Everything that happened to Christ in some way happens to us. When darkness envelops us and we are deaf to everything except the shriek of our own pain, it helps to know that the Father is tracing in us the image of his Son, that the signature of Jesus is being stamped on our souls. For Jesus, the darkness of night gave way to the light of morning.

~Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus

When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t perform another miracle or call down angels from Heaven to testify on His behalf.  He said, “Here, touch my wounds.”  

I don’t know what that felt like for Thomas, but it was the only proof he needed to believe.

And while Christ accommodated Thomas, He spoke a special blessing on those who would not have such proof.  

blessed are those who believe without seeing

I have doubts some days too.  

There are moments when suffering washes over me like a flood and I am swept under with the tide.  

It’s then I cling tenaciously to the promise that my wounds, like Christ’s, will one day not only be proof of pain but also evidence of God’s redemptive power. 

Could it be that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, but not from our memories, that the renewed experience of the glorified saint will be to recall those sadnesses with the transforming joy which God’s presence and God’s disclosed providence will bring? Surely part of our praise in heaven will not merely be that we are now saved, but that we have been saved, that the very title of being those who have conquered means that our memory of victory will include a transformed awareness of what the whole battle meant.

What a difference this could make to my suffering. The scars I bear in my body, my mind, my soul, the adversities and setbacks, the pains that may yet await me before I get to heaven, the relational wounds, the memories from which I struggle to recover, the darkness of doubt and the battles with unbelief, will not necessarily be removed when I get to heaven, but they will be redeemed, they will be transformed by the long view that being perfected in the presence of my perfect God will bring. What an experience it will be to probe the scars, but to no longer feel their pain – to see them as contour lines of God’s grace by which I ascended into glory. What could it mean for my wounds to sing his praise, for my scars to record his perfections, for my memory of old pains to be set in the context of a new and never failing joy. That makes suffering sufferable now, and glory all the more glorious then.

~Andrew Roycroft, Thinking Pastorally blog, 6.23.19

 

 

Child Loss: Friends and Family Can Anchor a Heart

Child loss rips through a life like a tornado-wild, unpredictable, viciously destructive.

It drops from the sky like a meteorite-no warning, no defense, just crushing weight.

It wrecks havoc in absolutely every corner of a bereaved parents’ heart and life.

And there is no safe space to escape from nor insurance policy to cover THAT damage. 

When Dominic was killed, his sudden death instantly untethered me from the world as I knew it.  I needed friends and family to anchor my heart in love and support so I didn’t float away.  ❤

loss makes people feel out of control

 

Repost: Why is the Second Year SO Hard?

I remember very well the morning I woke on April 12, 2015-it was one year since I’d gotten the awful news; one year since the life I thought I was going to have turned into the life I didn’t choose.

I was horrified that my heart had continued to beat for 365 days when I was sure it wouldn’t make it through the first 24 hours. 

And I was terrified.

Read the rest here:  Why is the Second Year SO Hard?

Repost: How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs To Ask

After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet. 

Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.  

Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.

And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream: 

How do I DO this? 

Read the rest here:  How Do I DO This? The Question Every Bereaved Parent Longs to Ask