When your life goes on, as it does, with the daily routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner, work and play in various guises, or parenting versus you moments, time is not something you think about other than perhaps, “is there time?”, “what time is it?” or, “I need more time”.
Have you ever had the strange experience that goes hand in hand with early grief and shock that I call, Time Holds No Meaning?
Even if the death of your loved one was expected, there is still shock and disbelief. If the death was unexpected, then the shock and the impact are often exacerbated. There is a period of time when there is a lot to do like planning a funeral, registering the death, sorting paperwork and much more. While you did these things like an automaton, interspersed with bouts of grief and crying there may have been some moments within all of that when you lost time.
It might be that you sat down one day to think or rest for a while in your exhausted state. You suddenly ‘came to’, looked at the clock and two hours had elapsed but you didn’t know what happened to the time or indeed, what you did during that period. It seemed like you were not present to the clock hands going around the clock face. You may have been confused as to how that came about or alternatively, you were pleased that two hours went by with no emotional pain, no yearning, and no crying or dreadful thoughts.
The weird thing about Time Holds No Meaning is that your body seems to disappear from consciousness. What I mean by that is that you don’t feel your body at all, no aches, no hunger, no stiffness, absolutely nothing.
A friend once told me that about a week after her Mother died, she sat down one morning to have her first cup of coffee of the day, in her dressing gown, but ‘came too’ at some point and strangely it was dark again. When she looked at the clock she saw it was the evening time. She hadn’t moved all day, the coffee was still in the cup, she had not been to the bathroom, nor had she eaten. Her mind took her off somewhere else, but where she could not say.
It happened to me once when I was driving after my Father’s death, I suddenly ‘came to’ and didn’t recognise the road I was on. I had been driving on automatic pilot and had missed my exit and overshot it by ten miles or more. This is why driving can be dangerous when we are in shock, but that is another story.
It can be very disconcerting and disorienting.
Perhaps what is useful is the way you might choose to frame it. If you initial thoughts are, “that’s really weird”, or “I shouldn’t be lazy”, or “I shouldn’t be doing that because I need to look after the family”, perhaps you could think about it differently?
How about trying these: “my body and my mind need time to rest”, or “I need a break from the intensity of this experience” or even, “it’s OK to zone out sometimes”. I should hasten to add, unless like me you are on the road.
What is good to know is that it is a very common experience in early grief and is shared by many, so don’t worry about it, try to accept the ‘down’ time’, I am sure you had an awful lot to cope with for the rest of the day.
If you are worried by the things you are experiencing after the death of a loved one and would like some time to talk things through, give me a call or email me and we can set up an appointment.
Have you ever experienced losing time, share your story below:
Are you feeling tired, paralysed, inert, heavy, sick, anxious or achy? Have you got pains in your body, is your digestion upset, are you up during the night? Do you feel your memory has evaporated, your concentration is a thing of the past, are you conscious you are talking too much, or do you feel mute? Are you self-harming, drinking too much, eating too much (or too little), smoking a lot or hitting the bottle? Have you been sick with a cold, cough or flu since the death of your loved one? It’s a tough list, that’s for sure.
You are certainly not alone if you said yes to several of these experiences. All of the above are physical symptoms of grief.
The strange thing is that people don’t talk about them much.
Through 14 years of counselling the bereaved, those who have suffered profound losses and my own experiences of grief, I have come up with a very inexact, totally untested, un-researched theory that grief is about 70% physical and 30% emotional.
That might surprise you because most people believe that grief is expressed totally by an emotional response to the death of a loved one. Everyone experiences physical responses to grief, but often they go overlooked, ignored or unconnected to the bereavement. It often comes as a great surprise that I might ask a lot of questions about someone’s physical wellbeing at the first counselling session.
Take a moment to think back to the first 6 months of your bereavement. Looking at the symptoms, in the first paragraph, on reflection, might you have suffered one or more of the physical symptoms?
Disrupted sleep is a very common one. Mourners often have sleep disturbances, it may be that you fall asleep exhausted, but wake in the night and cannot get back to sleep because your mind is whirring. Some people suffer with early morning waking and they nap in the day, too tired to function, but then cannot get to sleep at night. It can quickly become a vicious circle. Tiredness exacerbates grief because it is so much harder to cope when fatigued.
Emotions sit perilously close to the surface and could break through any moment.
Do you know for example, that it is quite common to develop similar pains to those your partner may have suffered before their death? It is often the physical manifestation of your natural anxiety about getting ill yourself. You may also have very understandable concerns about who will look after you if you get sick (since you did the bulk of caring during your partner or loved one’s illness).
I feel it is very normal and understandable if you turn to excesses when you are grieving.
More alcohol than usual, too many cigarettes, reaching out or longing for sex, eating too much or taking drugs (either over the counter ones or illegal substances) are all ways you may unconsciously or consciously choose to numb your mind and body. Truthfully, I think they work in the short term. The knack is to realise when it is becoming a problem, a habit or you say to yourself, "this just isn’t really me." I reassure clients that they are not the first ones to turn to these things as a way to feel better. Most people will stop as their bereavement progresses and their experiences and feelings start to even out a bit and they develop other ways of coping.
What can help?
Finding support helps. Be brave, ask friends, family and neighbours to help, find some spiritual guidance, read a book which ‘calls to you’, walk in nature, get on the internet and look for a bereavement forum or find a counsellor, grief supporter or bereavement group to attend.
Be mindful of your need to be gentle with yourself, don’t beat yourself up about that bottle of wine, those cigarettes or the chocolate cake but accept that you needed it at the time, “it’s OK.” Try to hold onto hope that things can be different. Your feelings will slowly change, I don’t know how that will turn out but it will not be like it is now. Honestly.
If you think counselling might be something you would like to explore then contact me and we can have a chat.
If you have experienced physical symptoms of grief, do share here to help others.
Do you wear your heart on your sleeve and cry easily and willingly (and maybe for you, embarrassingly), at the smallest of triggers? A sentimental card, a beautiful view, a sad movie, good or bad news alike can set your tears off.
Perhaps you are someone who is not given to tears at all. It takes the most cataclysmic of events to induce your tears, or maybe being completely at the end of your tether or tolerance.
What is difficult to negotiate, is the judgement of each group, from the other side of the fence. The criers may think the dry-eyes ones are ‘hard-hearted’, ‘lack feelings’, ‘don’t care’ or maybe are ‘in denial’. The slow to tears group may judge the criers, ‘overly sensitive’, 'too much to handle’, being 'demonstrative’, or simply ‘ridiculous’, though all these thoughts are not usually voiced out loud!
The period of time when this might get judged the most, is during a bereavement or periods of loss. The cultural expectation is that people cry when someone they love has died, a relationship has finished, a partner has abandoned them or someone got ill. We expect to be met by someone weeping when we visit to give support or condolences. If we aren’t, we might flip the other way and think something akin to, ‘she is so brave’, ‘he is holding up so well’ or ‘oh…he’s OK then’. The assumption being, ‘they don’t need me here or require my help’.
The point is that neither way is right nor wrong.
I think it is a great mistake to assume that people, who don’t cry, don’t feel. They do, very deeply in fact. Tears are only one way in which people might grieve or ‘show’ their sadness. Another way is deep sighing. The act of sighing helps expel deeply held feelings without words. People often don’t know they are doing it as it is a natural response to deep feelings. It really works, try it yourself sometime.
Copious tears are OK too, there should be no shame if you are someone who cries a lot. Hormones levels, stress and tiredness all have their place to play in the speed of the crying response. There is some research which suggests that emotional tears contain stress hormones, which the body is able to physically expel in the tears. You may experience that sense of feeling better after a ‘good cry’. Other research shows that crying triggers the body to release ‘feel-good’ endorphins (similar to when people exercise or laugh). So there is a purpose to tears above and beyond the expression of sadness, grief and loss.
Men are often constrained by cultural messages which get passed down to them through generations such as ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘don’t be such a baby’, ‘man up’, ‘get up and get on, you need to be strong’, and many more. This is a great shame because men need to cry too. As a counsellor, I aim to help men feel comfortable to express their emotions, whether it is through tears and/or words in the counselling room. Sometimes it just is easier to cry away from the home environment.
Whether you are prone to tears or not, one of my favorite quotes written by Washington Irving says;
“There is a sacredness in tears. They’re not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief….and unspeakable love.”
If you want to explore your deeply felt emotions, that are hard to contain or understand, then contact my counselling service. You will be welcomed, tears or no tears.