During the years of Lev’s declining health, I simply could not deal with my own health. It was not just a lack of time. I had more doctors’ appointments on my calendar than I wanted to think about. I was worried and stressed about him. I coped best by simply denying that I needed to take care of myself. I knew then that my thinking was irrational—that it was more important than ever to take care of myself—but I didn’t care.
After Lev’s death, I was swamped with work learning his business, moving his office home and settling his estate. I did not have time to worry about myself. I saw my doctor about my anxiety—tight throat, tight chest, insomnia—but I walked out of the cardiologist’s office when I was sent there for an echo-cardiogram and stress test. I had flashbacks of all the times I had been there with Lev.
Dr. Helen Harris, grief expert at the School of Social Work, Baylor University, reminded me that grief has many dimensions: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. And I would add financial. She said that she always advises those she counsels to get a complete physical. Our immune system is compromised. If hormones are too low or too high, clinical depression can set in. For weeks or even months, we have cognitive issues: We simply don’t remember things. Diet is important.
But for more than 10 years, I watched the pounds pile on, and I did nothing. My response was psychological:
- I tend to eat for energy and comfort. I eat more when I am stressed, busy…grieving. Carbs and Cokes provide the best high of all.
- I did not like cooking for one or eating alone, so I stocked my pantry and frig with staples like crackers, cereal, peanut butter and cheese and went out to eat with friends every chance I had. I even preferred going out to eat by myself to cooking and eating at home. I know that I am not alone in this response. Many of my widowed friends simply graze at home, never sitting down to a home-cooked meal.
Vanity (and cost-consciousness) finally motivated me—my beautiful, long, blue lace dress hanging unworn in my closet for three years after the older grandson’s wedding. I want to wear it to a special party this Christmas. And a bet with a friend stirred my competitive spirit.
The surprising bonus: In the early years of my marriage, before the children were old enough to be picky, I loved experimenting in the kitchen. Now, though I begrudge the time and dirty dishes, I am having fun creating new recipes again. And I suspect that my pleasure is another sign that finally, after more than six years, I am recovering from my grief.
Do you relate, or was your physical response to grief and loss completely different from mine?