Grief is not just about feeling sadness and longing. I was surprised by the physical symptoms. For me, the biggest one was the tremendous weight on my chest, this oppressive heaviness that was constant and prevented me from being able to take full breaths. It was more than an ache. Slowly I got used to it, but wondered if it would ever leave. It was intermittently worse or better depending on how I was feeling, but even on the good days, it was still there. And then, one day, it wasn’t. I can’t remember now when exactly that heaviness lifted, but I know it was around nine months because that was the first time I was able to go for a morning jog. Until then, running was impossible because my chest was so tight I just couldn’t get enough air into my lungs and I would simultaneously burst into sobs and hyperventilate. It wasn’t pretty, and I’m sure there are more than a few people that saw me on the bike path wondering what on Earth happened to that poor lady.
Disclaimer – for some masochistic reason, I chose my morning walks as one of the times I listened to music that I knew would trigger a wave of sadness. It became a Pavlovian response. Song comes on, tears start. Music was helpful in that way, and many friends told me it was for them as well. Apparently, putting on sappy tunes in the car is not uncommon for the grief-stricken. Whether in the car, or at a yoga class, or in my kitchen, often times a song would come on and it would just trigger the tears. I came to accept it, knowing I would feel better if I just cried for a few minutes. My pattern seemed to be fine, fine, sadness building up, needs to be released, tears then ok, ok, building up again. Repeat. Often. It did seem to come in waves.
For my good friend, the heaviness came not in her chest, but on her shoulders. She said it felt like two huge cinder blocks, a constant weight on her for several months. Like me, she couldn’t remember exactly when it lifted, but said she remembered it re-surfaced on the year anniversary and then left again. Other physical symptoms of grief include numbness, fatigue, nausea and insomnia.