"There is no grief like the grief that does not speak."
By Mari Dias, Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University
As a practicing thanatologist the most frequently asked question I receive is: “Am I grieving correctly?”
“I can’t sleep.”
“I’m having severe gastrointestinal issues”.
“My neck is stiff and I can’t move it.”
“I can’t stop crying.” I am having migraines.” “I can’t get out of bed.”
“I’m angry at everyone.”
“My child died a year ago and people are telling me to move on. Am I grieving too long?”
“Is there something wrong with me?” “Am I crazy?”
The short answer is - yes. Grief often affects sleep and eating habits, causes incessant tears and what I refer to as “bathrobe days”- those days when you have no interest or energy to get dressed, or speak with anyone, and lie in bed.
Moreover, there is no timetable for grief, although the type of death we experience can affect our grieving practices. A sudden, traumatic death of a young person may exacerbate the length and severity of the grieving process.
Each of the quotes above are indicative of typical responses to grief. Not everyone experiences “physical grief”, but many do. Physical grief occurs when your sadness and pain manifests itself in your body. This often occurs because the experience of grief wreaks havoc on our immune systems and creates a perfect storm of physical ailments. Before you run to see your primary doctor or a specialist, get in touch with your grief.
Grief is like a mountain and so many try to climb over or go around the mountain in order to avoid the pain. Others numb themselves with alcohol, food, work or drugs. Some project their anger and hurt onto others in order to externalize their grief. We need to go through the mountain and feel our heart break. It begins as “acute grief”, much like acute appendicitis. We experience constant, severe pain, sometimes causing us to double over and we rush for medication or an emergency room. Acute conditions are temporary. At some point (and it is different for everyone), our acute grief morphs into “chronic grief.” Much like a chronic medical condition, it is ongoing and vacillates. You have both good and bad hours or days, where one day the pain is unbearable and the next, manageable.
On another note, there is “complicated grief” where we experience acute symptoms long after the death without the transition to chronic grief. Diagnosed complicated grief requires a specialized therapeutic approach.
According to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “there is no grief like the grief that does not speak.” This statement provides us with direction as to how to get through the mountain - GriefSpeak.
Talk about your grief. Join a support group through your church or synagogue or local hospice organization, or search social media where ubiquitous grief chat rooms are plentiful. There are others grieving at 2am in the morning- you are not alone. Finally, meeting with a grief therapist is not a sign of weakness or mental illness.
Grief manifests itself in physical, psychological, emotional, neurological and behavioral ways. Give yourself permission to experience profound loss and speak your grief.
Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. She is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI. For more information, go to: http://gracepointegrief.com/