Tuesday, March 18, 2008

When a Loved One Dies

I am very conscious of the fact that, because I have fully recovered from Deb's death, the articles I write may not be of much help to someone who is newly bereaved. I am quite far removed from my early grieving experiences, and besides, I've been spending quite a lot of time recently in cleaning my memories ;-)

I'm always on the lookout for articles that speak directly to someone whose partner died recently, and if that is your current circumstance, I hope that you will find the following article to be helpful:

When a Loved One Dies

At some point in time, we will all have the experience of a loved one dying. The death may be abrupt like a car accident or sudden illness. It may take place over a longer period of time when your loved one has a long-term illness such as cancer. There is nothing to prepare ourselves for such a loss. There is nothing you can read, no words that can be said that will reduce your pain immediately after the death.

You will feel hopeless, despondent and numb. You will feel that no one really understands what you are going through and feel isolated from friends and family. You will be amazed that life for others goes on as usual. People go to work, children go to school, and the sun rises in the morning and sets at night. You will go through periods of time where you feel a huge disconnect between yourself and the rest of the planet.

These feelings you experience during the initial stages of grief will devastate you to the point that you don’t want to participate in regular activities that give you pleasure. You will also feel like being sedentary, sitting on the couch, mindlessly watching television, but paying no real attention what show is on.

Eventually you will become tired of sitting around all the time. You will hear a voice inside you that you need to move to the next step of your grieving process.

That next step is moving your body.

There is a ton of research that indicates that physical exercise improves your physical health, decreases feelings of depression and anxiety, improves self-esteem, reduces stress and increases mental and physical strength. Some studies indicate that your endorphins can kick in after only fifteen minutes of exercise and at the point you can experience a sense of well being.

Exercising is certainly a healthy way to deal with the death of a loved one. A short walk, run, bike ride or other aerobic activity will help you face and work through trauma.

What is going to help me get off the couch and into an exercise program?

1. Become aware that it is normal to feel overwhelmed with sadness, confusion, anger, and deep despondency immediately after a loved one dies. This sense of overwhelm and shock will cause you to be sedentary much of the time during the beginning stage of grief, but you don’t have to feel guilty about it because this is a normal part of the morning process.

2. You will eventually reach the point where a voice in your head will inform you that it is time to do something else rather than laying around when you are not at work or actively parenting. Pay attention to this voice, don’t ignore it or push it away. Make an appointment with your physician to determine if it is safe for you to exercise.

3. Repeat these words throughout the day: “Exercise will help me get through this horrible time. It will put me in a better state of mind where I will be able to get through the pain. Moving my body will enable me to feel good about myself and eventually improve the quality of my life.”

4. Choose an activity that you feel that you can do on a regular basis. Some of you may not have exercised for years. Others may never have worked out. If you are not sure what to do, begin walking. You can do this in your neighborhood and it does not require any equipment other than good shoes. Begin short and slow. When you start exercising, create a realistic goal such as walking for fifteen minutes at a slow pace. You can gradually increase your speed and distance as you go along.

5. Become self aware as you are exercising. Ask yourself: How does my body feel? What is my breathing like? What am I thinking and feeling about?

Once you experience positive results, you will be motivated to continue a regular exercise program. Moving your body is a safe, productive means to deal with tragedy. The pain you are experiencing can move out of your head and into your body. You can feel the anguish gradually leave as sweat pours through your skin and mixes in with the tears falling down your face. You can discover this new way of letting go.

Bob Livingstone, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for almost twenty years. He works with adults, teenagers and children who have experienced traumas such as family violence, neglect and divorce. He works with men around anger issues and adults in recovery from child abuse. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy and the upcoming The Body-Mind-Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise (Pegasus Books, Aug. 2007). For more information visit www.boblivingstone.com.

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