At some point in our lives, we all experience the death of a loved one – humans and pets.
The grief and stress can be overwhelming as life’s normal, daily activities suddenly lose their meaning and purpose.
I remember attending the funerals of my grandfathers, grandmothers, my great-grandmother, and my aunt who died early from leukemia. As a child, I experienced the wounds of the death as my childhood cats, who I cared for from a young age, left me.
I was present with my maternal grandmother when she passed. It was the middle of the night, and I was a holiday break from medical school at the time. My mom was traveling, and my aunt needed rest, so I offered to stay with my grandmother overnight. I had been working on a project to record her life stories, so we sat in her living room as she recollected, once again, her travels and life lessons.
My grandmother, you see, didn’t follow the same path of others at that time. She taught school in a one-room school, then ran a farm and business, just as her mother had, for most of her life.
She traveled with her girlfriend and sister to Mexico City by car in her 40s, and she rode a bicycle across Europe, after the war, when she was 50. She learned to paint, loved to sing, and traveled to every continent.
She cared for my grandfather when he had dementia for 10 years. And she was raped in her own home when she was 80 years old.
When she took her last breath, which she wished to do in her own home, I knew she was ready to leave this life. To me, she was the most wise and courageous person I’ve ever met. I loved visiting her home, cooking with her in the kitchen, walking barefoot in her garden, going for long drives to the beach, and looking after her farm cats.
Losing a loved one is not easy.
Dealing with Death: Personally and in My Practice
As I’ve helped patients over the past two decades, I’ve heard about many stories of loss. Women who have lost a pregnancy, or more than one pregnancy, loss of a spouse or parent, loss of a child, and loss of pets. There is also preparing patients for their own death.
I didn’t realize that dealing with death and processing grief was going to be a large part of the service that I provide to others, nor did I know that my life experiences would prepare me for that very thing.
Now I am in the position to support my mom through the loss of my father, who passed away last week. I haven’t lost a partner due to death, however I have experienced the loss of a long-term relationship and sudden loss of communication with that person.
As a midwife, I tend to associate nearly all the experiences we have as humans in terms of phases. Labor, for example, has stage 1, 2 (when the baby is born) and 3 (when the placenta comes out). Death also occurs in phases, and so does grief.
The grief process has been delineated into stages as well:
Grief can show up as shock or disbelief, sadness, feelings of guilt, anger, fear, and even as physical pain, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, weight loss, and lowered immunity (susceptibility to viruses and other infections).
From my experience, much of the time we experience all those emotions at the same time or in the same day. I see grief as coming in waves. Waves of intense sadness, realizations, memories, and even a sense of relief or freedom.
Often, we don’t speak about death or loss, especially loss of a pregnancy. I have found that while grieving, sometimes we need quiet and silence.
Sadly, we don’t know what to say, because we are not taught what best to say (or not say) to someone who is experiencing loss and grief. That’s why most people who are mourning say that they feel alone in their pain, or that they feel invisible to others.
Accepting and Processing Death
In cultures around the world, there are different ceremonies and processes that have been established those who are left behind to process grief their grief. Examples of death rituals include a funeral, wake, memorial, celebration of life, wearing black, cemeteries, tombs, and scattering cremation ashes.
I love to travel and observe cultures and I remember distinctly that in Japan (also in China and Thailand), there is a Buddhist ceremony and cemeteries for miscarriage, stillborn, and abortion. I thought how wonderful that their cultures allow for acknowledging loss even prior to birth.
My belief is that the more we accept death and loss as part of our human experience, and the more we are present for each other through all kinds of loss, the more we learn compassion for ourselves and each other.
While we wish grief and other uncomfortable emotional experiences would be over with quickly, from my experience, and from helping patients, what I see is that processing loss occurs over time.
At first, the waves of grief may be more intense, like a tsunami, and then gradually, we integrate the feelings into our daily life and experience.
It can help to find a way to understand the loss.
For some, religion, and beliefs about what happens to our loved one after they die helps. For others, comfort may come through recognizing that we can connect with those who have passed away through memories, prayer, and other spiritual experiences.
Finding gratitude for the time we have with each other in this life, and what we learn from each other about ourselves, can be one of the greatest gifts we can give to those we love.
How to Deal with the Loss of a Loved One
Many people who have experienced loss, talk about embracing the importance of being present in each moment by communicating what they feel and how they appreciate the people in their lives, because ultimately, we never know what the next moment may bring.
When we come face-to-face with our own mortality, it can cause us to rethink everything:
- Are we really doing what we want to be doing?
- Are we being our authentic selves?
- Are we speaking our truth and being considerate of others, all at the same time?
Many studies have been done to help patients with a terminal illness understand what helps them cope with the inevitable. Patients report that spending time in nature, a sense of belonging, acceptance, understanding oneself, purpose and experience in their life, and gratitude for life and loved ones provides comfort and relief.
Those same things help us all.
If you are experiencing grief, selfC.A.R.E™. is essential.
Sometimes the death of a loved one can feel like you don’t know how to get through the day. The sorrow is so heavy it’s difficult to function normally. So, I encourage you to absolutely be in touch with your practitioner and to contact a therapist who specializes in grief.
Asking for help is not something we are used to doing, but when you are going through loss, having help is a necessity.
Start with the simplest selfC.A.R.E™.
- C – eat small, easily digestible meals containing protein every 3-4 hours
- A – sleep and rest, more than usual if needed
- R – choose recovery activities you enjoy – spending time in nature, with pets, with friends and family, listen to music, journal, prayer, meditation, and consider plant medicine, all of which have research showing benefits
- E – exercise is okay but listen to your body because you may need do much more gentle movement and for shorter duration.
I have a 7-day program devoted to teaching these concepts – it’s free and I invite you to join.
I’ve also observed with my patients that when you go through a loss in your life is an important time to recheck your cortisol and adrenaline and neurotransmitter levels. Of course, it is when we are under stress, including the stress of a loss, that our levels go out of balance.
We may wonder – what is wrong – or think that we are “supposed to be able to handle it,” but I’m here to say that it is normal for your cortisol, adrenaline and neurotransmitter levels to be disrupted by the experience of loss. By acknowledging it, we can then become proactive about testing the levels to find out how they have been disrupted, and that gives us the information we need to help you recover.
There are specific herbs and nutrients that can help bring cortisol that is too high, back down to optimal, and cortisol that is too low, back up to optimal. I’ve studied clinical nutrition, herbalism, and amino acid therapy for the past two decades and have identified the step-by-step protocol to most efficiently re-establish healthy levels and know what your body needs in order to maintain those levels over time.
Start by doing my Stress Type Quiz – which is available in my book, Master Your Stress Reset Your Health and, on my website.
TAKE THE FREE STRESS QUIZ TO FIND OUT YOUR STRESS TYPE:
Next, if you want to test your actual levels, you can order the panel, which is an at-home urine and saliva kit, with a consultation with me. The consultation is essential so that I can help you implement solutions based on your unique results. Do that here: https://doctordoni.com/work-with-me/
Once you know your Stress Type and your levels, you can follow my protocol and use the supplements I have identified and made accessible through my company, Nature Empowered Nutritionals.
I don’t want you to have to go on a scavenger hunt to find ingredients or wonder if you found a safe and effective product, so I did that research for you and have them available for you.
When your cortisol, adrenaline, and neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) are at optimal levels, using nutrients and herbs that are not addictive and don’t have withdrawal symptoms, you’ll be better able to process grief, loss, and find peace and acceptance.
The tsunami waves of loss become more manageable. Instead of avoiding the process, which leads to more suffering, you’ll have the tools, including hormones and messages within your body, to help you navigate more confidently.
My father didn’t want to have a funeral, so he is giving us the opportunity to redefine how we remember him. I planted new plants in my yard. We plan to travel to his favorite places. And we hope to spend time with people who knew him so we can remember him together.
You Can Feel Joy and Gratitude Again After Loss
I believe we can shift the experience of loss and grief with a better understanding of what can actually help us.
There is no one correct way for grief to happen or for you to feel. It is for you exactly what it is meant to be.
I see that it is an opportunity for us to reflect, to be vulnerable, to be present with ourselves, to appreciate our life and the people in our lives, and to ask ourselves – what is that we really want to do in this life? What is it we value and how might we want to shift our choices to prioritize what matters most?
I’m here to support you through your process. Please reach out if I can be of assistance.
2nd Nov 2022
P.S. I published an additional blog post and a podcast episode this week about grief and loss:
- BLOG: What I Learned from the Loss of My Dad: Sometimes we learn the most about ourselves when someone close to us dies.
- POD: Grief and Stress with Dr. Doni (Episode 132): Steps you can take to prevent health issues associated with grief.
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