It had been a rough week. Sometimes it’s the date and sometimes it’s the day. This year it was both. June 21, 2010 is when I brought Claire to the ER and our lives were forever changed. It was a Monday, the day after Father’s Day. It was a typical cool-ish, overcast June day. Not too hot, not too cold, humidity hanging in the air. This year, now nine years later, I was bracing myself for the anniversary of the date, June 21, which was to fall on a Friday. However, it was on Monday that I felt it all coming back. Who knows what triggered it? Perhaps the weather which was eerily very similar to that day in 2010. Or perhaps because it was a Monday, the day after Father’s Day. That’s the thing with grief. You just never know when or why exactly it hits when it does. At any rate, as the day progressed I almost felt as though I was suffocating from the memories pressing in on me. I felt it physically in my body as I was transported back in time. Emotionally I was overcome with paralyzing sadness. I became very thankful for the unexpected cancellations of clients and made it through my relatively light work day.
Tuesday and Wednesday I began tackling a painting project in my kitchen. But my energy was lacking and my whole body ached. Facebook reminded me that on the same date a few years back I had been painting my kitchen. That intrigued me because I have discovered one way I manage my grief is through remodeling and painting projects around the house. Not surprising I was painting at this time of year. My physical symptoms increased and I thought I was catching the cold my husband just got over so I bulked up my vitamins D and C and tried to boost my immune system to ward off the germs. A cold didn’t materialize but I continued to feel worse and by Thursday I was barely functional.
Then came Friday, the actual date of June 21. I felt slightly better but was glad I was scheduled to see both my chiropractor and acupuncturist in hopes that they would do their magic and my aches and pains would disappear and my energy would return.
I left the chiropractor feeling quite discouraged. I have been having trouble lately holding an adjustment. The ribs on my left side seem to frequently go out – something I have not experienced much previously. He told me what I already knew – my spine is beginning to hunch forward and I’m developing the “old lady hump” (my words, not his) just like my mom had. He said it is not hopeless, however. With dedication and work I can most likely correct the issue, or at least slow down the process. But the first thing that popped into my head was, “This is a result of my grief.” We conversed about the impact of emotional trauma on the body before I headed to my next appointment.
You see, the natural physical response to grief is the fetal position. To curl up into a ball of protection. Internally and externally protecting and hugging your wounded heart. And during the time of Claire’s death I also had surgery on my left breast to remove my own cancer so I imagine my body was extra protective and huddled inward. It has really only been in the last two years that I have felt ready enough or safe enough or healed enough to actually open up my chest. To stand up straight with my shoulders back and take a deep breath. Even as I write those words, however, I feel the vulnerability in that stance. How can I lay my broken heart out bare in the open again? Some days I can’t. But I can much more now than I have been able to so far. In light of this it makes sense to me that the ribs on my left side, under my heart and breast keep going out. They aren’t used to being open and out there. They have been protected for many years. I have to retrain my body and my spine to feel safe again and strong and stand upright. It is no small thing.
So when I arrive for my acupuncture appointment, I give a short recap of my chiropractor visit and the significance of this date. As I attempt to describe to her the physical symptoms I had been experiencing most of the week it dawns on me that what I have been feeling were the same symptoms Claire had the week before I took her to the hospital. I got chills with this revelation and don’t have words to describe the emotional intensity of the illumination. The cellular bond between a mother and her child is a fascinating mystery. She proceeded to feel my pulses and place the needles where my body was telling her they should go. Some I couldn’t feel go in at all. Others stung and sent a powerful and slightly painful current through my body. One of those was in my right upper chest. When I commented on it, she told me that was the “grief spot.” Wow. Of course. Then a few minutes later I asked if there was a needle pulling on my right arm near my elbow because I felt a searing, tugging, pain. She looked, but there were no needles in my arm at that place. I showed her the spot where I was feeling it and she said, “That is your heart spot.” Another wow. I said, “Of course my heart hurts right now.” She finished her needling and followed it with some energy work. Every time her hands passed over my chest I felt like I was suffocating. Like a very heavy burden was crushing me and making it difficult to breathe. However, with each subsequent pass it lessened, until finally I felt lighter and like I could take a deep breath once again.
While this may sound way “out there” to some, others may resonate with my every word. I guess it doesn’t much matter. I don’t have scientific research to back up anything I’m saying, I’m just relating what my experience has been. It is one thing to academically study the physical manifestations of grief and trauma as a mental health professional. It is another thing entirely to live it. I live it every single day. And every day I feel like I learn something new.
I did feel better after my appointments. My energy returned and the constant aching of my entire body subsided. I did notice the next day, however, that there was a small bruise where the needle entered my “grief spot” and it lingered for almost three weeks. “Appropriate,” I thought.