By Clark Zimmerman, LAc.
A few years ago I suffered a huge loss: I was completely overwhelmed. Though I had always considered myself to be a optimist who could put a positive spin on difficult events, none of my tools were enough to pull me out of my profound grief. I found it nearly impossible to function. All of life’s regular activities, such as meals and work seemed so meaningless. Food lost its flavor, joy became a faint memory. I had been down before, but this time was different. It was my first real taste of deep grief. If given a choice, many of us would make joy our permanent abode. We live in a culture that loves joy. We “smile for the camera,” or click the “like” button. Life is not always joyful though. Some cultures are much more attentive to grief: They wear black, they have lengthy, culturally recognized periods for grieving a loss. We do our best to minimize the pain that accompanies grief, and we try to move through it as quickly and quietly as possible.
Grief doesn’t heal if we don’t help it to heal. In fact, pushing it away or minimizing a loss actually makes it worse. It can make us chronically sick or depressed; It can drive us to medicate with alcohol, drugs or food. According to Chinese Medicine, grief is one of the five emotions. Along with joy, anger, worry, and fear; grief is a powerful signal that our body’s give us to implore us to pay attention to a situation and work on healthy ways to acknowledge and express our feelings. According to Chinese medicine, grief is related to the lungs and the metal element. This is why so often we cry or even sob when we grieve. Moving the lungs is the bodies method of moving grief through the body. If we stifle this expression, we often develop lung related illness. I can’t tell you how many patients I have seen who have not properly grieved only to develop lung cancer or frequent bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis.
So what can a person do if they are feeling grief? The first step is to grieve and do so without a care for how your grief appears to others. It is not your job to make others feel comfortable when you are in a state of grief. Secondly, seek out help. Find a good therapist, join a grief group, spend time with friends who can hold your grief and all its darkness. This doesn’t mean you should find someone who will help you cover up your grief or try to talk you out of it, but someone who can hold space for your process. Third, get body work, including massage or acupuncture. We store emotion in our bodies and bodywork is a great way to address the somatization of our emotions. Acupuncture in particular has very specific protocols that are remarkably helpful in clearing grief from the body. Fourth, consider herbs, supplements or essential oils to help the body manage the effects of grief. Since grief can effect different people in different ways, it is helpful to speak with a professional who can recommend specific things to address your individual situation. Lastly, breath work or singing also move the energy of the lungs and helps with the stagnation that can occur when we are grieving.
It is also important to realize that there is no time table to the grieving process. It can take years to feel that something has healed. Often we carry a noticeable scar for the rest of our life. These experiences of grief have so much to offer us as we move through them and integrate their lessons. We can use our experience of suffering to develop more empathy and understanding, ultimately becoming more caring human beings.