Grief and Recovery: A Journey of Sensitivity
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
by: Donna J Maebori, GCFP

Section: Art of Living




The death of a loved one is a physical, psychological, and spiritual wound from which one needs to heal gradually and gently over time.[1] When I experienced great loss the shock, disorientation, confusion, desolation, and unbidden weeping that enshrouded the first weeks gave way to deep anguish, mourning, anger, and tears over the next months. Grieving is its own process, a very significant one. Recovery from grief is another matter, an essential process that can seem enormously confusing with no clear path nor timeline.

My beloved husband died in 1999. I had been a Feldenkrais® practitioner for three years at the time. The awareness developed through the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education was of significant help. Certainly spirituality, religious community, family and friends were of invaluable support, as was having a stable job and good neighbors. Many elements converged to provide a means for healing. What the Feldenkrais Method gave me was the use of intentionality and the capacity to sense and be kind to myself. Both of these avenues for healing can be of great benefit for anyone suffering loss of a loved one, a job, or even a long held illusion.

How one grieves is very personal. There are no prescriptive programs for grief and recovery. Through Feldenkrais lessons one learns to move and act with intention, and too, as in any journey, to “grieve intentionally” is vital. Physical acts of grieving can be especially helpful. Crying and weeping is one such act. So too is sweeping both arms upward in an arc to pay homage to your beloved. Or putting your hands over your heart and resting to comfort yourself. Taking a nap in a context of care for your heart, body and soul. Seeing a flower or a leaf or a pinecone that gives comfort or hope and bringing it inside your home, placing it somewhere special. Drying some, or all, of the flower petals from the flowers given to you at the time of a death, placing them in vases and bowls. Journaling your thoughts, insights and experiences. Creating artwork or writing poems. Buying yourself sympathy cards after the ones received initially begin to feel more faded into the past, and new ones you select speak to what is occurring for you at the present time. Stroking the sides of your loved one’s picture frame. Physical acts give expression to grief, making the grief more observable and real. By going through grief, letting it be fully expressed and experienced, resolution can then follow.

As for Feldenkrais lessons per se, it was a number of months before I could resume doing a full Feldenkrais lesson, due to the shock and overwhelm I personally experienced during that time. However, there are movement concepts from the Feldenkrais Method that can, especially early on, nurture resilience, provide comfort, and relieve stress, such as the following:
  • Taking walks with paying attention to breathing and the rolling of the feet on the ground during the walk.  
  • Noticing an action that seems to come from distress, such as wringing one’s hands. Stay with that action and let the hand wringing become quieter, slower, and gentler as the movement gradually turns into that of the hands smoothly stroking each other. Let one’s breathing come in rhythm with this more tranquil hand stroking. Let the lower teeth melt away from the upper teeth for space in the jaw if tension is noticed there. This same method can be used for any action that is seemingly anxious, such as rocking back and forth when sitting, or jiggling a foot.
  • Breathing in easily with no extra effort, pausing for a moment, observing the out breath as it occurs. Or, have a pause after the outbreath before sensing the in-breath take place.  
Paying attention to the sense of one’s movement, breathing, and contact with ground allows for staying connected with one’s own personhood and with one’s world. Another important connection is a temporal one. Anniversaries are significant, with remembrance occurring either consciously and acknowledged or unconsciously and unbidden. To bring annual remembrance to intentional conscious action, again, makes our grief and healing observable and real. 

On the first anniversary of my husband’s death our twelve year old daughter and I tool a large bowl of dried flower petals, from flowers given at the time of his death, into the back yard. She and I knew the petals were symbols of her father and our love for him, and now a year later would be returned to the earth. I talked of how a garden is like life, with some areas in full gorgeous bloom, other areas withering, others growing wonderfully, others in need of tilling and planting. We tossed the petals into all parts of the garden, and onto the dog, the cat, each other. It was a wonderful transition from sadness and loneliness to celebration of life, love, and connection. She and I continue annual remembrance with dinner together on or near his birthday. It has been amazing to see the development over the years from conversing about grief, sadness, and longing in the earlier years to now talking of love, life, and possibilities. The unique, gracious quality of the conversation that occurs with this annual remembrance has made this birthday a joyous holiday, all our own.  

Finally, a note about “letting go.” How does one truly “let go?” For sure, to “grieve and go on,” as is often said, and not clutch indefinitely to pathos or anger, is needed if one is to move into healthy resolution. Nonetheless in the year or two after my husband died I couldn’t figure out the meaning of letting go. Do I forget I was ever married, or do I stifle any twinge of grief as being “so last year?” One auspicious day at work, on a counter, I saw our hospital quarterly magazine for the public opened to a page that listed myths and facts about grieving. One of the myths was that grieving usually lasts a few months, when in fact it can take a number of years. No surprise there. Of full import for me was the myth that one can let go of the loved one, or any other cause of grief, when in fact one never lets go but in time learns to live with loss. What a welcome revelation! With relief I stopped trying to “let go” somehow and instead turned my attention to living fully with loss. That I could do.

Loss is a part of the human condition and something we all experience. Each Feldenkrais lesson can teach us to live fully and graciously with loss. In a lesson one may re-establish mental tracking that went askew by preoccupation with a life problem, or continue to learn to move safely and effectively with a hip that is often painful, or endeavor to keep balance astute despite advancing age, athletic injury, or emotional upset. During a lesson we become quieter and more attentive, then with experimentation and curiosity we can discover graceful, efficient, and safe action, thereby finding a path that can take us forward in life with connection, wholeness, and dignity.   

Donna J Maebori has been a Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm since 1996. In her career working as a physical therapist in Portland, Oregon she has specialized in addressing persistent pain through the use of yoga and the Feldenkrais Method. She is a published poet and an author of articles regarding the Feldenkrais Method. Recently retired, she is starting to further study and express insights from the Feldenkrais Method.
 

[1] Bozarth, Alla Renee. 1990. “A Journey through Grief.” Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, pg. 11.
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Comments (3)
Annie Thoe
12/16/2015 3:15:38 AM
Thank you for writing this article-- such an important topic and I appreciate your personal story and also am touched with your insights.


Janet Lee
10/10/2015 10:19:49 AM
Thanks for sharing your journey. I too am a PT. I will be finishing my Feldenkrais training in May 2016. I have been wondering how the Method would benefit people going thru grief. I loved that you share we all experience loss and the method teaches us how to live graciously with loss. My friend, a spiritual director who is giving workshops on grief support, has encouraged me to use the Method for grieving people. I have been hesitant until now. Your article has given me courage to consider it. Thanks.


jules
10/9/2015 5:20:31 PM
This is lovely and, spot-On!


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