Grieving emotionally and physically

Posted by schowalk

When someone dies, in the aftermath, we experience something called grief.


I was 14 when my family of 6 was in a car crash and my dad died. The rest of us survived, but in the wake of the crash we found grief. While I knew I had entered into a space called grief, I had no idea what that actually meant. Sure, I’d heard about the different stages: from shock and denial to acceptance, but for me so much of what I worked through felt much more than that.


I’d be doing the dishes, something my dad and I used to do together, and realize I no longer was talking with him about my day. I was moving through my day to day life to soundtrack of silence. Moments like that made me feel sad.


Other times, I’d spend all day navigating high school crowds and accidentally people would bump into me in the hallway, knocking my foot that had been injured in the crash. Ouch! I’d get home and feel so angry at the unawareness people exhibited. I’d also feel so angry that I could no longer keep up with my peers that way I used to.


Those times were challenging because, though I can identify the emotion now, the emotions were undirected. Sure, I could direct it toward the car crash, but that car crash kept disappearing into the distance of the past with each passing day. What made me angry today was that someone accidentally kicked my injured foot, but I wouldn’t have been injured if it wasn’t for the crash. I didn’t know who I was angry at.


Most times I expressed those emotions with a select few adults who I trusted: my mom and my teachers. But even that support system couldn’t keep up with the overload of experiences I faced everyday. Those emotions, when they couldn’t go anywhere else, became lodged inside me.


I believe this happens more often than we realize. Think about it. Have you ever been so worried about something you make yourself feel sick to your stomach? Or so stressed about a situation that you think you feel heart palpitations?


After our crash, my mom went into the doctor’s office with the symptom of chest pain. They scanned her and found nothing awry. Her heart hurt for another reason.


A friend of mine experienced severe heart palpitations after receiving a terminal diagnosis for her two month old daughter. When she received her test results, doctors concluded her symptoms must have been a one time effect of severe stress. While she still feels palpitations sometimes, they have changed over time.


Likewise, my physical injury to my foot, each day I showed up to ballet class, spurred emotional responses deeper than I wanted to give it credit for. And going through the physical actions of doing the dishes led me to experience sadness for my dad’s death again. Grieving happens both physically and emotionally.


While I can share about this experience now, when I set out to write a memoir about my experience growing up with grief, I started sitting at a computer typing or with an ink pen and paper writing. But, there was other stuff inside me that wanted out. I could feel it, but I didn’t know where it was.


Then one day, I had an idea.


I had a habit of opening my days with an improvisational dance in our living room, so I decided to dance and bring my laptop next to me while I did so. For hours, I went back and forth. I danced picking different body parts that felt the presence of some energy and sure enough after some coaxing with my movement, suddenly the memory or emotion lodged there manifested as words flowing out of me. I immediately typed them into the computer. It was as though I was pulling out those deeper spots because I tapped into the place my body had physically stored the emotion or experience.


That day, not only did my heart feel free from the emotions I’d been writing about at the computer, my WHOLE body felt like it was floating. It felt like I’d finally been able to get blood flowing through the places where memory and emotion had lodged. I created flow again through every part of my being.


Of course, as soon as there was open space from where the old stories had been, my body began filling it with new stories. In other words, I couldn’t do this practice just one day and expect myself to remain feeling free. I notice even today that there are insecurities and fears lodged somewhere inside that if I took some time to release them in my physical practice, then I just might be able to let them go.


One of the most important lessons I have learned from my experience growing up with grief is that grieving is a process that never stops. I can work through all that I feel emotionally and physically today, but tomorrow there will be more again because I have the amazing gift of being alive.


Soon, my youngest sister, who was 7 at the time of the car crash, will be graduating from high school. I expect to feel angry and sad that day knowing once again it’s another life moment that I wish Dad were here for. Because now I recognize how my grief has been both physical and emotional, I know I will need to open up both in order to continue living.

When have you experienced something emotional that you noticed affecting you physically? What about something physical that you reacted to with strong emotions? What do you think about the relationship between these two key facets of our humanity? Email me at I’d love to hear from you about your reflections. If you’re interested in seeing the memoir that resulted from this process, it is called In My Own Skin and is available on Amazon, Kindle, and select bookstores across the U.S.


I've felt a sharp stab of pain in my heart a couple times: once after the death of a beloved grandfather, and once with a longing for someone I couldn't have. -Kate

Posted by Stubblejumpers Cafe

Thank you

Thank you for this post and sharing your experience. It's through stories like these that I feel healing happens within. My experiences with grief have been indirect.. but significant, I recently found a valuable resource that has been very helpful. When Their World Stops by Anne-Marie Lockmyer, I found it so insightful and helpful. It addresses the silence and discomfort of being around someone in grief. I hope someone is able to find this helpful. I found it here,

Posted by Sally Loomis

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