We understand that there is an emotional response when we grieve. What is less expected for those just beginning the process is the physical toll of grieving.
Recently I was catching up with a friend who lost her husband to pancreatic cancer. He had fought a long battle, one they both thought he was winning, until there was a sudden and final clarity that he would not survive much longer.
We all understand, or at least we think we do, what someone goes through when they grieve…the sadness, the anger, the regrets, the loneliness, the difficulty in dealing with the permanence of death.
But my friend discovered that there were genuine physical changes, as well. She had so much to deal with, as her husband had a thriving business, they were very involved in the art community, and they had a growing family of grandchildren. He had handled all of the business, and all of the investments and financial side of their life together. He had left estate plans well in place, but had not written down where everything was, who should run the business, what his passwords were to their accounts, etc.
In dealing with all of this, she was still in deep mourning for the loss of her husband and best friend. She found that she ached all over, had stomach pain, and could not eat.
On the mental and emotional front, she would cry unexpectedly, and had trouble making decisions. And would get anxiety attacks all of a sudden. This smart woman would find, to her dismay, she could not add up the simplest amounts when she was out to eat, or figure out the tip.
My friend mentioned that her doctor gave her a list after her husband passed away, explaining physical changes she would likely experience. On the website “Hello Grief” they have a list of physical and emotional responses to grief, which would be helpful to anyone going through this.
Another idea for someone going through this, and wondering if they are going crazy, I recommend Joan Didion’s wonderful book about her life in the year following her husband’s sudden death, while at the same time dealing with her daughter’s serious illness: The Year of Magical Thinking. It can be a thoughtful way to let someone know you perhaps understand what they are going through.