This week we will talk about how grief affects your body. The first question I tend to ask is “Where is grief stored in your body?” This question usually follows with puzzled looks. It tends to stop conversation for a moment as we shift from grief talk focused in the head, to thinking “But how does my body feel right now?” Grief can put you squarely inside your head, like a trap, you are trying to find your way through what you have experienced. This mind trap can happen in all forms of grief, even in anticipated death. When your mind must process a new reality, it runs in the background, processing all the time, and that can be where you are focused the most. This does not give much time or energy to focus on how your body is processing your thoughts and feelings.
While I am only a trained chaplain, I do know enough of biology to recognize that our bodies are fully and elaborately connected together. When we experience an emotional trauma or a crisis, our body feels this, even if our minds do not notice these sensations right away. The power of the mind can even hold off feelings of grief in your body for a long time as you try to survive through the first days and weeks of grief. It is something to be thankful for in a way, but to also acknowledge that at some point, you have to start to feel into your body again, to take care of yourself. But reconnecting with your body can be scary, and how do we wrap our minds around such an abstract question as “Where is your grief stored in your body?”
Our bodies hurt and struggle every day in so many ways, the goal with this exercise is not to somehow prevent pain or suffering, with some, that is an everyday experience whether they are grieving or not. However, it is helpful to just ask the question. What am I feeling right now? Does your back hurt? Is there tension in your neck and shoulders? Has an old injury started acting up again? Ask about the good feelings too. Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you think of your beloved? What does it feel like physically to light a candle in honor of your loved one? To pick up their picture, to kneel at their marker or to touch their urn?
Maybe those in the group will be tired of hearing me repeat this, but if there was a goal of grief work, it would be to get to know yourself better. To understand how you are processing what has happened. Because, in knowing yourself better, you will know how to ask for help, for support, and how to name what you are feeling, which keeps you invested in your own wellbeing.
Once you identify the place(s) in your body where you feel your grief, you can find creative ways to engage with that energy in your body. One way we do that here at Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg, is to provide the leadership of our excellent volunteers to lead weekly walking groups. For the past 10 years, these volunteers have led weekly walks with the bereaved of our community in some of our beautiful trails and through Colonial Williamsburg as well. These walks have allowed people to use their bodies to process their grief while in the company of others with whom they can connect in grief. From these walks came Sunday dinners, movie nights, game nights, and traveling too! So many friendships and bonds have been formed from this. But sadly we had to stop these groups due to social distancing restrictions due to Covid-19.
However, with careful consideration we have chosen to resume the walking group, with precautions, and without the breakfast outing we would usually do after the walk. We know that those in grief during this pandemic have been hit hard in our society because so many of the systems of support we have created were essentially dismantled. Loneliness, isolation, and stopping one’s routine of physical activity can be very detrimental overall, it can be stifling.
I would like to get you connected with these groups if you are not already on our email list. Please send me an email and let me know a little about yourself. I would like to hear from you. Look for weekly emails from me with updates about the walks, as we navigate this unsteady time together.
I invite you to comment below, or share with our group tomorrow at 2pm: Where is grief stored in your body?
Join me for our Touchpoint group on Tuesday at 2 PM. It generally lasts about one and a half hours.
Click the link below for more information on how to join us, everyone is welcome, no registration required. If you would like to schedule one-on-one support with me via Zoom, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org