When Grief Gets Physical: dealing with physical grief symptoms

There is simply no way to anticipate what grief feels like.  It is one of those experiences that you can describe to someone, but it is impossible to really understand it until you are forced to live with it.  Of all the unimaginable aspects of grief, there is one thing we hear people say time and again that they really didn’t expect: physical grief symptoms. They might not have been fully able to appreciate the emotional rollercoaster of grief until they were on it, but they at least had a sense it was part of the process.  The physical stuff is something many people tell us they simply didn’t know to expect until it hit them like a ton of bricks.

When this happens, it can be distressing.  Anytime we have new, uncomfortable physical issues it is distressing.  But in grief that can sometimes be coupled with a new level of anxiety.  In the past, a headache was a headache.  After the devastating loss of a loved one, you are all-to-familiar with the reality that life can turn on a dime.  Suddenly that headache is clearly a sign of something terrible.  This distress around physical grief symptoms often emerges with thoughts like:

 

So today’s post is going to get straight to the point.  If you take nothing else, just remember: grief doesn’t just manifest as emotional symptoms, it also involves physical symptoms.  Don’t panic, they’re normal.  Horrible and frustrating and sometimes scary, but normal.  You can’t magically cure them, but you can do things to manage them.  And of course, if they are impacting your day to day functioning or not getting more manageable over time, see your doctor!

Here is a quick run-down of some common physical grief symptoms (illustrated by bitmoji) and some tips and resources:

Fatigue

You feel exhausted all the time.  You feel run down. You are always ready for a nap. Ironically, when you try to sleep you may not be able to, only making your fatigue worse.   Or maybe you’re getting plenty of sleep and still feeling fatigued, due to the constant emotional strain of grief.

 

Tips: when you’re struggling with fatigue, sleep is a good place to start but it isn’t the only factor.  If you haven’t already, check out some of our tips for grief and getting a good night’s sleep.   Some of the other items on this list can also help with combating fatigue.

Aches and pains.

Yes, for real, you’re body can start to hurt.   You are experiencing the weight of a constant stress, you are fatigued, you may not be sleeping, you’re body is tense.  It is not uncommon for people to describe generalized muscle aches in grief, sometimes so severe it feels like the flu!  Research has even found that grief  “aggravates” symptoms of physical pain in older adults.

Tips: try to work on body relaxation.  Things like meditation, getting a massage, and stretching can sometimes be helpful.  And who doesn’t need an excuse for a massage! If you can’t afford a massage, check to see if there is a local massage school in your area – they often need practice clients so you can get a massage for a deep discount or free.  If you are struggling with chronic pain that you feel may be exacerbated by your loss, talk to a pain management specialist.  Be aware of the risks of “self-medicating” with drugs and alcohol when physical pain is increased, and consider looking into alternative therapies, like acupuncture, biofeedback, and talking to a therapist.

Tightness in the chest, shortness of breath

This is a symptom that can be associated with cardiac issues, so definitely something to get checked out if it is severe or chronic.  But it can also be a more generalized sense of tightness or shortness of breath that comes with anxiety, a common grief reaction.  Some describe it as a dull and constant tightness, others experience waves of tightness or shortness of breath, which can especially be associated with encountering grief triggers.

Tips: check out tips for coping with anxiety in grief, as well as some general relaxation approaches like meditation and deep breathing.  Learning breathing techniques can be helpful and calming not just with tightness and shortness of breath, but in many difficult and stressful situations.  Lastly, check out our post on coping with grief triggers.

Headaches

Yes this is a type of ache/pain, but it is a very specific and very common type. The most common source of headaches is stress and, as you well know if you’re reading this, grief is one, huge, immense, life-encompassing stressor.  The constant tension that comes with grief can be a source of chronic headaches.

Tips: there are a lot of lists out there for managing tension headaches, though many only scratch the surface (think cool compresses and an ibuprofen).  This list goes a bit deeper than some we’ve seen and may be a good place to start.

Forgetfulness

If there is one thing we hear time and again from grievers it is, It feels like I can’t remember anything! From losing keys, to forgetting to pick kids up from daycare, to missing meetings or appointments, and on and on, forgetfulness can start to feel like a new way of life.  This is even the case for folks who used to have the memory of an elephant.  Try not to get too worried.  For most people, this slowly improves with time.  There are also some ways you can cope.  If you don’t see this improving, talk to your doctor to make sure nothing else is going on!

Tips: Use the simple tools at your disposal: to-do lists, phone alerts/reminders, phone calendars with alerts (that you can set a day or week in advance, so you aren’t getting the first reminder 5 minutes before!).  Create an “important stuff” spot in your house – it doesn’t have to be organized, but if it is something really important at least you know what general area it is in.  Try to keep a sense of humor – it is hard to laugh at yourself when you get to the grocery store without your purse, when you’re emotionally teetering and about to burst into tears, but it can help if you can muster it. I was looking for other good resources or articles on this topic and struggled to find much.  If you have a good suggestion, please leave a comment!

Inability to focus

You may be seeing a connection here.  Focus when you are under stress, distracted and forgetful, or struggling with fatigue or headaches, can feel impossible to achieve.  You may find yourself totally zoning out in meetings, in class, in conversations, and almost anywhere else.  Sometimes you may be distracted specifically thinking of your loved one or the life stressors that have come with the loss. Sometimes it is simply being unable to take in new information so you space out totally. Either way, it is normal, as crazy as it feels.

Tips: improving focus can be tough, even when grief isn’t involved.  Personally, I struggle with focus so I *may* not be the best person to speak to this one.  I read a LOT of books, articles, and tips but find very few that make a big impact when something like grief or other emotional stress is at play.  That said, there are definitely ways you can improve your environment and habits at work or school that can help.  Check out this post from mindtools.com for some good, manageable ideas.

Appetite changes or digestive issues

Maybe you have only eaten 2 pieces of toast all week.  Maybe you stopped at McDonald’s three times yesterday.  Whether it is significant increases or decreases, changes in appetite are normal with grief and many other life stressors.  Even if you’re appetite has stayed the same you may experience feelings of nausea or other digestive issues that can come with grief and stress.

Tips: food is connected to both physical and emotional health, so trying to get this in check is important.  If you are struggling with eating enough,  it is important to make sure your basic nutritional needs met.  If you are eating minimally, focus on making sure the foods you are eating are high in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.   A healthy smoothie or soup with a good balance of fats, proteins, and carbs can go a long way in helping you get what you need.  We have a post here from a wellness coach on tips for trying to eat healthy, even when you have no motivation.  If over-eating is your problem, you’re not alone.  This is a common issue in emotionally difficult times and we have a post on that too!

Getting sick more often

There is plenty of research showing that stress in general, and grief specifically, can take a toll on the immune system.  Couple that with not getting enough sleep, not eating well, and general fatigue that makes self-care a challenge and it is a recipe for getting sick. Research has shown this impact on the immune system is most significant in older adults who are grieving.

Tips: following suggestions for many of the other physical grief symptoms mentioned above can help with this one – sleep, eating well, and managing stress can all help in lowering your risk for getting sick.  In addition, you can also talk to your doctor about nutrition and supplements that help with boosting your immune system.

If you are looking for some general tips on taking care of yourself, don’t miss Eleanor’s epic list of 64 self-care tips.

Leave a comment to share how physical grief symptoms have impacted you and any tips you have for coping! 

April 12, 2017

38 responses on "When Grief Gets Physical: dealing with physical grief symptoms"

  1. I lost my boyfriend and the father of my two daughters in August 2016, to homicide. He was 26 years old and we had been together for about 4 years. I have very recently started going to counseling and also got some medications. I only wanted medications temporarily until I can learn to heal myself. Somedays I cant even get out of bed, it is a struggle to go to work, to clean up the house. To do anything. And my memory is horrible. It took me several months to realize why I was feeling this way, and thanks to my supervisor and a co-worker, I finally built up the courage to go talk to someone. She is whom showed me this blog website, I am enjoying reading it. Thanks!

  2. I just lost my daughter to addiction..and the pain is intense. I have more pain, it hurts to walk and I sleep a lot, I do eat though…
    I feel disconnected with the world, I hurt a lot and miss her so much..
    I am hoping this feeling goes away, as I am older and still want to live out my life.

  3. My husband died less than 3 weeks ago. We were married 48 1/2 years. I held together for 2 weeks and did everything as medical power of attorney through the memorial service. I had to work last week but this week I am so sick to my stomach I can’t work or eat. I called my doctor and have an appointment to get some short term disability started and have a counseling appt on Saturday. I am supposed to start a grief group tonight but don’t think I will be able to handle it. I am asking my body to be strong and it is telling me to take care of myself.

  4. 7/22/17, My amazing, brilliant, funny, loving, 44 year old husband took too many sleeping pills, which made him loopy, and shot himself in the head through a pillow lying next to me in bed. I didn’t even hear it happen…just found him in the morning. Gone a week after our 1st anniversary. We were so completely in love with eachother and having a great time raising his 2 amazing kids. My best friend is gone. He also suffered from several silent diseases, like Lupus among others. I’m seeing this as a recurring theme in some of your posts. I completely identify with those of you saying that you understand why your sick loved ones decided to check out. I also identify with the posts from other mama’s… I do feel like we are expected to keep everyone else running while trying desperately to find time to grieve ourselves.
    I’m back to work this week and my symptoms suuuuuuck. Hair loss, migraine level headaches, body aches, not able to concentrate on ANYTHING. I was so much happier at home, sitting with my memories while the kids are at school… but I know I have to stand up and keep going. I will honor my husband for the rest of my life.
    Thanks for letting me get this out. Sending love to all of you.

  5. My mother commited suicide by hanging just two weeks ago in my grandparent’s bathroom, where we were staying. I discovered her when I began to panic that she was taking much too long, knowing that she’d been emotionally distressed lately, and that we were scheduled for several psychiatric appointments that day alone. But she concealed her suicidal thoughts, assuring me in my panicked state that she was resolved to get some help for whatever was happening, and that she would see me blossom in my future. If only I could read her mind, and know the truth……I would have moved mountains to save her from herself. She was 45 years old, an unusual intellect, and a brilliant social worker. My mother, in my whole 18 years of life, was my best friend, and the love of my world. The first few days after it all transpired, I was numbed emotionally, which worried me because I knew a healthy part of grieving had to be letting it all out (which is slowly being disproven as a close minded approach to the varying manifestations of grief (i.e. resilience) by a doctor of psychology out of teachers college, columbia). But after seeing my beautiful mother’s mangled body, and realizing how desparately she no longer wanted to be alive, all of my emotions flooded to the surface. I sobbed for days straight, refused to eat or talk, and confined myself to my grandparents and my journal. I felt, every waking moment, that I caused this horribly unexpected tragedy. Now just after her funeral, I have been having all of the above mentioned symptons; I’ve gone so far to venture at times that I was having a heart attack, or developing colon cancer. I still will see my doctor to make sure I am in good health (or confirm the contrary). But I have now experienced my worst nightmare, in malevolent form. Where do I go from here?

  6. In a 3 year span my best friend was killed in a car accident, my only sibling /sister (and only family member left) died if a rare aggressive uterine cancer and my husband of 41 years died. Now I have no one left. I’m an introvert so it’s hard to get out and make a new life. After my husband died I had heart palpitations for over a year, very uncomfortable. My blood pressure also went up.

  7. My dad died about a month ago and my best friend died 4 years ago. My dad had a really strange type of pneumonia that doctors were unable to treat and were dumbfounded by what was attacking him. He was in the ICU for 11 days before he decided he had enough. He couldnt breathe without help of a machine and he wasnt eating anymore and he was just slowly dying. My family and I spent over 30 hours in his hospital room as he transitioned to heaven. Since then I have experienced so many symptoms. I can’t sleep, and if I do fall asleep I wake up in a panic and have a full blown panic attack. Sometimes when I am driving, I start to panic out of nowhere. I have headaches and always feel sick to my stomach. Its hard for me to eat. Its hard for me to go back to work. I just started a new job and I cant even focus on things I am supposed to be learning. This is the hardest thing I have ever been through. I feel so traumatized after watching my dad pass away. I have been seeing a counselor and trying to talk about my feelings but sometimes I feel so hopeless. When my best friend died, it was 4 years ago and she was in a terrible car accident. After seeing what happened to my dad, it brought back all of those feelings from when my friend passed away. This blog was very helpful to read.

  8. My older brother died on June 6th – suddenly and shockingly. He drowned. My mind was like a sponge for weeks. Then I went back to work and that’s when the stomach issues started. Gas, bloating, and yes, diarrhea. It is now July 17 and I still have it. Then Saturday I felt a UTI coming on. Sure enough – it’s hit me hard. Waiting to get antibiotics. It makes me wonder if I should go on short term disability. I am not familiar with this “blog” but I’m glad I found it. I feel a little more normal.

    • Maybe short term disability would be a good idea – if you have the financial means to do so, you don’t want to cause more stress at what is already a difficult time. To combat stress, meditation helps, there are many apps to help you with this. I’m speaking from personal experience, having been through several traumatic events which gave me physical symptoms, even though it wasn’t myself that the events happened to. Know that you are not alone, and please, take time to heal yourself. One day you will feel normal, it may just be a different sort of normal.

  9. One year and eight months ago my mother passed away after a very short stint in the hospital. It was totally unexpected. 3 months later my husband would succomb to lung cancer he had been fighting, and 2 weeks ago my father died. The pain (mental and Physical !) was unbearable, , every single muscle in my neck back and abdomen feel wracked with pain,, like i am comming down with the flu. I am trying to breathe deep, take walks with friends ,, (and take meds too ,, xanex when i just cant handle the anxiety, advil for the pain), I dont feel this time as worried because i learned after my husband died (and was shocked to discover) that Grief can cause actual real physical pain,, i guess thats why they call it heart ache.

  10. My husband of 29 years died last July. He had lung cancer, PAH, pulmonary fibrosis and lupus. The last 3 years of his life were filled with a lot of pain, surgeries, hospitalizations, medications and too many doctor visits to count. I feel lost without him. I also feel tired all the time.

    I had an emotional breakdown on Easter this past weekend. Today I was trying to take care of license plates, emission testing and some other errands. I finally gave up and came home because I was getting so anxious and could feel my chest getting tighter and tighter, along with a massive headache. Some days I just can’t concentrate enough to accomplish anything beyond a cup of coffee and making the bed.

    I keep waiting to wake up one morning and feeling better. I have had friends pull away. I am retired so no longer have work to keep me busy. Although I doubt I could concentrate well enough to work.

    Just feel like I am losing my mind. I am so sad and miss him so much. He was my heart and soul.

  11. 5½ years ago I lost my wife, my greatest love, to metastatic colon cancer. We met in 1968 and were married in 1972. Two days ago would have been her birthday. I kept thinking of her as the date approached, and decided to have a private birthday party in her memory. I bought an excellent brownie from a nearby restaurant. At home, I put in a birthday candle, lit it, and sang “Happy Birthday”, slower than the usual because my happiness in remembering her was mixed with sorrow at losing her. I imagined her as I often do— by my side, each with an arm around the other and my cheek nestled in her curly hair— watching the candle with me. Then I blew out the candle, took it out, and ate the brownie.

    In my religion, Judaism, the “official” period of mourning for a parent, spouse, or child is one year. Just yesterday I learned that the actual mourning for a spouse is more typically seven or eight years. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember where on the web I learned this.) Maybe that explains some of what’s been going on in my life since then. I’ve always been horribly disorganized (extremely serious attention deficit disorder), but it’s gotten many times worse since she died.

    About 2½ years after her death I started going with a woman in my congregation. We grew very close, and we were planning to find a place to move into together when her lease ran out. But ten months later her heart stopped during a CAT scan, and she never recovered.

    Last year or the year before I developed plaque psoriasis. In the middle of last year I, who have always loved taking long walks, couldn’t walk 100 feet without stopping for breath and light-headedness. When that and other, sudden symptoms took me to the ER, it turned out I had developed a rare form of blood cancer; fortunately it’s a very slow-moving one that treatment has been counteracting effectively. I had not associated these with my grief before finding your site here, but now I am wondering if there is a connection. Not that it would matter for treatment, I suppose, but still I wonder.

    Thank you for “listening”. I have subscribed here and expect to keep reading.

  12. Hi, I just very unexpectedly lost my brother and father in the same week. I am having A very hard time separating the grief because the circumstance of their deaths were very much the same both on life support in the same hospital one week apart. It is all so much to take in at once, also trying to help my mother get through this is beyond heart breaking.

  13. In the last three years, I’ve lost my ex-father in law, my ex-husband ( who was the love of my life) my boyfriend, then a lifelong friend, then my infant grandson. I am so numb.

  14. My daughter is alive and hasn’t spoken to me in 4+ years. My grief is overwhelming. I don’t know what I did. I am a nurse manager of an emergency department and go to work every day grieving. I’ve put on 60 lbs, can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, have panic attacks in the middle of most nights. I don’t believe in fibromyalgia but I have pain in every joint and muscle every single day. Knowing that she hates me and doesn’t want to be in my or her sister’s life is killing me slowly. I keep going for my younger daughter but I feel dead inside. I put on a front every day of my life. I listen to people complain about their children and their lives and I think “Do you know how blessed you are?!?!?” I have put this in God’s hands but grieve and grieve and grieve.

    • Oh Deneen, I am so sorry. This sort of grief (know in the field as “ambiguous grief) is absolutely excruciating and others often don’t recognize it

    • Whoops, hit reply too soon! I was saying, others often don’t recognize it like they would a death, so you don’t get the same support from other people in your life. Have you tried or considered talking to a counselor?

  15. I sometimes feel like I’m at the edge of no return. I have had to deal with the loss of my mother,whom I spent many a day off work to drive to another town to care for her, and then wrapping things up after her death in 2013.Then the loss of the love of my life in 2016 followed by the major life and death scare of a son who had a ruptured brain aneurysm and stroke and who now is in hospital since New Years eve 2016….On top of all this I had to take on learning to use all the outdoor equipment,dealing with a well that went dry,taking on the financial responsibility of running a house on my own while turning 65.That was more paper work, and waiting,plus taking on a heavier work load…..did I say mental exhaustion?…I’ll be glad to get out of this tunnel…..if only I could. Grief comes in many forms. I sometimes feel like a ship in a hurricane.

  16. My best friend died 9 months ago. Since then, my weight has gone up and my diabetes is out of control. I don’t know what to do to fix it. I have seen my Dr, he can only treat me medically, he can’t make me not be sad anymore.

    • Kathy, I recommend therapy or a support group. I have diabetes too and struggle with depression. My son took his life 10 years ago and every March is tough, tough, tough. I don’t know what I would do without a place to talk and cry and get angry once a week.

  17. Wow, you have hit the nail on the head with this post. 2 days after my 56th birthday my son died unexpectedly in his sleep. It has been almost two and a half years. I have had all these symptoms except headaches. By the way, I absolutely love the drawing with the food. Grief is a horrible thing that influences everything single thing in your life. I thought I was having heart attacks, high blood pressure, extreme aches and pains. I was thinking I was aging and rapidly. Maybe so, but once I got checked out with my doctor i finally knew it was grief related and just knowing this helped me focus on the real issue and I began to feel a bit better. I spend a great deal of time on me with out feeling guilty. If I am late cause I have to tend to my soul, so be it. I laugh at my forgetfulness because I am so thankful I have a purse to forget. Nothing is as bad as losing someone you love. I pay very close attention to my self while driving so I don’t forget to be safe. All your self help tools are very helpful. I am thankful for your posts. One day, one moment at a time. Even 2 1/2 years later.

  18. Since the death of my son I have experienced all of the above symptoms and ailments. As with all the grievers posting here, my world has been turned upside down and my balance and focus have been thrown off, literally, to the point where I fell down the stairs and broke my shoulder. While I was being treated I cried more for the loss of my son than from the pain of my broken should which lead me to tell the story of my son’s recent death to the doctor. He explained to me that it is very common for people who have suffered a major loss such as the death of a child to have accidents while grieving. I politely suggest you add this to the list of things to be careful of and to protect against. Thank you once again for a very informative post.

    • Kathleen, you have my condolences on the loss of your son. I lost my son Aug 26th 2016, and I too have suffered ‘accidents’. As a chronic pain patient already under the care of a specialist prior to my son’s death, I discovered a very disconcerting truth. After Ben passed away, I’ve had several incidents and accidents, multiple cuts and lacerations that should likely have been stitched, and two broken toes, one broken finger, and a cracked rib. The reason I didn’t even consider getting treatment was because the pain was so distant, and I was so numb and overwhelmed with grief, that it felt as if the physical pain belonged to someone else. None of those things were truly dangerous to my health, until, as the article mentions, my digestive system went haywire. I had become so adept at ignoring ‘discomfort’ that I didn’t realize the pain that I was experiencing was a warning sign. I was suffering a paralytic ileus, and when my spouse dragged me to the ER, imaging showed I was hours from a ruptured colon and esophagus. It may be wise to add to the list, pay attention to ALL you pain symptoms, regardless of how remote they feel. Tell someone you trust to be able to judge if it’s a serious enough issue to require attention, and let them attend to you.

      • Cat, my deepest sympathies to you as well. It is a very sad place to find ourselves in, grieving our sons. Your point is important, that we mustn’t ignore our bodies when they scream physically for us to pay attention. When I fell I was actually willing to stay where I was, face down on the tile floor in pain but not caring that my body was screaming get help. It took my husband and a stranger to convince me that it was important and worth picking myself up to get the attention I needed. I’m thankful they were there to talk me back into reality because I have others who need me to be healthy and strong. So thank you for the reminder to listen and pay attention and act when we need medical attention. Stay well.

  19. I lost my brother in the Vietnam War 8/26/1970 and then My mother six years later to Suicide. I can tell you all these years later, my health is not good, I have had Breast Cancer, Not since 2002.. I have Fibromyalgia, High B/P, PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, Raynaud’s Phenomenon, Essential Tremors, RA. Hair loss.eyesight
    Now I am not saying I wouldn’t haven’t had some of these anyway, but I do feel my health went downward, quickly after I lost my brother and even more so after I lost my Mother. It does take a toll on a person’s body, I really am a firm believer that it does.
    Take Care of yourself as much as you can, but that is easier said than done. If you can.. Be Gentle with yourself. Please do.
    Hugs To All <3

  20. I lost my brother in the Vietnam War 8/26/1970 and then My mother six years later to Suicide. I can tell you all these years later, my health is not good, I have had Breast Cancer, Not since 2002.. I have Fibromyalgia, High B/P, PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, Raynaud’s Phenomenon, Essential Tremors, RA. Hair loss.eyesight
    Now I am not saying I wouldn’t haven’t had some of these anyway, but I do feel my health went downward, quickly after I lost my brother and even more so after I lost my Mother. It does take a toll on a person’s body, I really am a firm believer that it does.
    Take Care of yourself as much as you can, but that is easier said than done. If you can.. Be Gentle with yourself. Please do.
    Hugs To All <3

  21. I lost my son on 4/8/16 since then I have had major trouble sleeping but also I am losing my hair. I have a spot that just won’t grow back.

  22. Wow! Thanks for the information. It has been a year since my son passed and I thought I was crazy because I have progressively gotten more fatigued. I am coming up on the 1st year of his passing March 24th. This month is getting more difficult, but now I understand that a lot that is going on with me may be from my grief. I am seeing a doctor regarding my medical issues just in case. I have not gotten to my new normal and just praying that I do. I still function sometimes as if I am in a dream or a fog, it still seems unreal. Thank you for giving information and for all of you who share.

    • Wendy I am so sorry you lost your son .My daughter died suddenly in an accident it will be 8 years ago on 24th March – after reading this article which described so many of the physical symptoms I have experienced since Sarah’s death I can now report my symptoms for the most part have reduced greatly.I have been racked with chronic pain all over my body – I thought it might have been fibromyalgia – I truly felt 100 yrs most days and so fatigued- 2 years ago after seeing a wonderful psychologist who used EMDR and helped me with mindfulness practice I am mostly pain free – just some pain on some days – strangly the pain increases around anniversaries- but I have my memory back and my ability to focus – I was in a fog for 6 years- forgot friends names couldn’t function well daily – but now I am doing better- the new normal I thought would never come did – all the tips in the article helped in some way .I feel joy again now it sits alongside my anguish and grief but there is a future I can imagine it now – I thought I never would. Sending you hugs for strength on your painful journey after losing your precious son .xx

  23. When my husband passed (exactly 4 years ago today on 3/1/13) I had to hold it together for my kids. My younger 2 were in middle & high school. My oldest graduated 2 months after my husband passed and his graduation was excruciatingly hard. But I was expected to smile and be social to put everyone else at ease. When school was out for the summer, I went to bed. Or lay on the couch. For two months until school was ready to start again. Everyone told me I had to pull it together, be strong for the kids, join the living, etc. For 2 years I was Susie Freaking Sunshine for everyone, I was the glue holding everything in place and smiling through it all, while my husband was sick and then dying from cancer. Everyone was so happy that I was the strong one who held our life together so they could fall apart. Then when I decided to take my due over that first summer, everyone acted like I had committed a heinous act. I felt sure I was going to die, I couldn’t stop eating, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t put two thoughts together, slept for days on end and was sure now I had gotten some disease that was going to kill me and leave our children orphans. I knew if I started to cry I wouldn’t stop because I hadn’t cried at all while my husband was sick. I knew all of this was normal from the hospice booklets and my doctor confirmed it. Yet somehow my family made me feel like I was in the wrong. I just wanted a break and to fall apart and to be babied a little and no one would let me–they made me feel guilty about being sick when I really wasn’t. I’ve learned that grief is an entity all it’s own and people aren’t really equipped to deal with it and I may never truly get to grieve the way I want to and someone is always going to feel I’m being selfish when I take a weekend to do nothing. They’re teenagers and can feed themselves so they’ll just have to deal with it. Life is a different normal now and that’s just the way it is.

    • Feb 28 was the one year anniversary of losing my best friend to cancer. We were really close for 25 years. I knew when he was going to die because I heard his voice in my head tell me he GOT to go HOME. that the family would call me within the hour, 45 minutes later got the call. II told my family then fell on the floor and screamed. Every cell in my body blew apart. i lost myself, my purpose, my goals, my world. I cried until my stomach hurt so bad I need medicine for 6 month. it still comes back about once a month. I slept weird. To much. to little. naps all day up all night. I didn’t dream for 10 months. I usually dream a lot. I don’t think i ever slept long enough at one time to get to ReM sleep. I couldn’t read my prayer book for 6 months, letters would not stay on the page. they flew around in a meaningless jumble. I couldn’t paint- I am an artist this was devastating! I kept painting, but i couldn’t concentrate long enough to do normal work. I threw paint at canvas and it was no more that a journal of pain. I still can not paint like I did. maybe I never will. About 4 month in a disc in my back slipped and I couldn’t move. I was hoping that the heart strings would break and give me broken heart syndrome so i could die too. but it was the strings in my back that broke. After that week in the hospital it was clear how bereaved I was and people tried to get me help. I ended up in ER with continued back pain and to be evaluated for a hospital day program. But when I said in frustration that they should just give me enough IV morphine to kill me., they decided to keep me as in inpatient in the psych unit. followed by 5 weeks in a day program. the back pain turned into sciatica and intense pain in my left leg above the ankle. In the hospital I started shaking from head to toe- like restless leg syndrome for the whole body. I had mood swings, pain, anxiety, panic, forgetfulness, NO ability to concentrate. I did not do activities of daily living like cook, or take a shower, or laundry. i sat in my chair and stared into space. My brain hurt my face hurt, my heart hurt. I couldn’t breathe. I cried in the grocery store, the mall, the car. I had a lot of chest pain. When my dreams came back my body started healing. I still have sleep issues, can’t concentrate, don’t paint like me, and have sever depression and no strong motivation to live. Fatigue is so deep i feel really debilitated.
      but i started cooking, shopping, getting dressed properly, and seeing people. The back pain is gone, the shaking stopped, and I cry less and more privately. I will never be the same again. I don’t think I will ever recover. I feel like we were so close – one heart-one mind, that when he left we were torn apart and every cell in my body explode and shattered. I have never felt so bad in my life. I see the stories of people who are further along in the process of adjusting and they give me hope that if I keep moving I will feel better.

      • I feel so Sorry, for your loss I go through similar bouts to My Mom passed away,Oct 13,2015 She was my everything we very Close I never wanted her to Die,I have Depression Sleeplessness Night,But I see a Therapist to Cope with the Stress.And try to keep Active for my well being,Try to stay focus and Busy Good Luck

      • Your post touched me. Susie Sunshine is the other me she has been my alter ego for a long time now. My teenaged Son was not sick but he died abruptly in late August of 2016. One of the things that vexes me now is how few of people who know me (either as friends or aquaintances) know me well enough to know that Susie is just a defense mechanism. Now that my son is gone and I’m just trying to make it through a day, these people seem to expect it/her from me. It makes ME angry. It makes me feel like they never knew ME at all. I have taken to sleeping on the recliner from 6:30AM to 9AM on the mornings that I am not obligated to go to town. I sleep through the phone, the tv, everything. Susie is not available. No fucks given. Its often the only time I sleep. Thanks for sharing.

    • I have been living in a similar situation for nine years….a prolonged grief whilst my husband slowly dies of MND (ALS). We have three children at home so they are experiencing the emotions that go alongside watching your dad graduallly turning into a ghost. The thing I find hardest and it gets worse as time goes on is that every wo/man and her/his dog feel they have a right to an opinion on how I should be reacting, behaving, feeling, conducting myself, thinking and most annoying of all, wife-ing….in a few cases they also see fit to let me know what that opinion is!

  24. It has been 7 months that my husband of 30 years passed away. I have everything you listed. My interests are gone. Seems like I have made all my friends mad. I already had anxiety and depression before Steve passed away. I am just not me. I don’t know if I ever will be again. If it was not for my faith in Jesus and knowing that we will be together again, I could not make it.

  25. I feel like I’ve started clenching my teeth in my sleep while awake since my Mother’s death last year. I really hope this stops soon before I get permanent damage. I also felt like I came close to a anxiety or panic attack once in a shopping mall but haven’t had that happen again.

    • While nothing can make the pain that causes you to clench go away, please ask your dentist for a mouth guard–the damage from grinding really can permanently damage your teeth, in addition to causing headaches and jaw pain. It can be terribly hard to seek care when we are suffering, but your dentist understands and wants to help you! As your grief someday softens and fades, you will be glad you saved your teeth.

      • Hi Jenny,
        Thank you for your advice, I did get a mouth guard. It looks like grinding can be caused by anxiety which makes sense as I never clenched my jaw or had anxiety until after my mother’s accident. I’m hoping that if I work on managing this anxiety, then I will be able to stop clenching my jaw.

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