“Stifter, Adele Zita Saltarrelli slipped away on a ray of sunshine between snowstorms at 11:17am on November 17, 2022 with family at her bedside.” This is the opening line of the obituary I wrote for my mom. I had kept vigil with my younger siblings in the week preceding her death.
We all knew what was coming, and still, this grief has been complex and surprising for me; a deeply emotional and intensely physical process.
During the days before Mom’s death, there were long periods of intense stillness. While sitting quietly in her room, conversing in whispers with my sisters and brother, sadness settled into my chest. I caught myself holding my breath at times and had to remember that it was OK for me to breathe, even as it was becoming more difficult for my mom.
Then, there was all the heavy physical exertion and subsequent soreness of clearing her apartment, packing and moving out boxes of belongings and heavy furniture, while simultaneously processing a flood of emotions.
I canceled my teaching schedule for the last few weeks of November. Couldn’t imagine instructing a class to move when all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch Netflix. My clients were very understanding.
I slept in and let my mind wander. By mid-December, I was taking slow walks. Soon, I returned to my routines. Part of what helped me was discovering a simple program designed by my colleague Carla Harless. It’s called Move Through Grief.
Like me, Carla is a Restorative Exercise Specialist. “I am a movement teacher and massage therapist, not an expert on grief. But I have had numerous experiences with the deaths of many beloved family members and friends. I see the need for supporting those left behind and I am doing so in the way that I know how. Being with my mom as she navigates the end of her life is the catalyst for Move Through Grief. This is not only for others but for me as well.”
Carla believes that physically “moving through grief, helps to metabolize your feelings… moving the grief as you move… redistributing the weight, the heaviness of loss, allowing it to become a lighter load to bear.” And she’s designed a series of unique movement practices and self-care techniques to help tend to these physical aspects of grief.
As many of you no doubt have also experienced, the impact of grief can be hard on the body, mind and spirit. The grieving process requires an enormous amount of energy. It may cloud your thoughts, keep you up at night or flood you with a range of emotions from anger to guilt, sadness and confusion.
My mom was cared for by Brighton Hospice, a wonderful organization that continues to support our family through written resources, personal counseling and an online bereavement group. But nowhere in their materials is there any information on the importance of movement.
Carla has created a program of daily practices and behaviors to aid the grieving process that she calls “The Daily Do’s.” These are:
I’ve linked each of these to Instagram posts where Carla demonstrates or teaches her method. She also offers a downloadable PDF. It hangs on my refrigerator, because here’s the thing with grief, it can keep you from taking even the simplest steps to self-care. Any of us may experience moments of fear, anger and grief that can seem immobilizing.
“The most simple thing,” Carla says “is to tend to your sleep hygiene, which starts with regulating your circadian rhythm, which affects your hormones.” Besides the physical and mental health benefits, Carla says her program can become a ritual for self-care.
I’ve previously written for Sixty and Me about how to get a good night’s sleep. Taking a walk outside offers time for reflection, fresh air and exercise. Click on Carla’s demonstration of the benefits of nasal breathing to see how to reduce stress by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system. But viewing sunlight? That one might surprise you.
Stepping outside to fill your eyes with natural light first thing in the morning is a free natural resource for resetting your internal clock for sleep (and alertness).
The recipe is:
Even when it’s cloudy, these 10 minutes are a non-negotiable part of my daily self-care routine. It takes 1-2 weeks to feel the effects of this practice. Try it! I’ve never slept better.
To quote from Brighton Hospice’s handout, The Impact of Grief, “We often do not realize the many ways grief can affect us: physically, emotionally, mentally, behaviorally and relationally. Grief expresses itself differently in each individual because each relationship is unique.”
In the three months since my mom’s death, I’ve carried her memory with me on my daily walk in the woods, and I enjoy wearing bright turquoise and silver earrings she gifted me last summer. One morning I woke up missing her deeply and remembered that I saved her last voicemail message. The tears flowed down as I listened to her calling just to say she missed seeing me and that we’ll talk the next time we can get together.
My mom was well-prepared for her death and able to talk about it. That has helped me in my grief. Along with adding the Daily Do’s to my own regular movement practices. If, or should I say when, you experience the loss of a loved one, I hope you find this resource as helpful as I have.
Comment with the name of a loved one you have lost. How has that grief felt in your body? What rituals or practices have helped you move through grief?
I lost my daughter 7 years ago in a car accident in Florida. We are Canadian and we had to fly to Orlando and bring our daughter home. It was a numbing, haunting experience. There are times, even now that I can’t quite believe and my daughter is not with us. I miss her so much.
But I believe that she is with me when I hike through the woods, or see Cardinals on our bird feeder or the beautiful Monarch butterfly that comes every spring. She is part of me.
My condolences on your loss. Thanks for sharing how you continue to feel connected to her.
Thank you so very much for your timely article!
My husband just turned 63 and unexpectedly died last month.
The pain and grief is real…and sad…and heartbreaking.
You offer some very good suggestions for moving on.
I would also add that allow yourself to experience the emotions with periods of crying.
Everyone’s grief is different, Monnette. Hope you take all the time you need to feel the sadness. Thanks for your comment.
I lost my beautiful son Brandon in 2020 , never was I expecting that dreaded call as he was a light to so many. He passed to an overdose (homicide) to fentanyl after moving from his home in Alaska to Florida. There are days that I look at his urn and fill up with u bearable grief even still but I sit with him in prayer asking him to guide us and to help me to navigate this sometimes violent and senseless world we live in. He loved to visit my place and said it felt safe and calm so I light a candle play-off music take a walk with my wo king caviers, or I fix his favorite meal or coffee. We do not forget the loved ones that we loose and at times I’ve heard things like are you over it now or once my now ex partner said we all have lives and so do you . I think we grieve forever but we just move through it in our own way and walking , yoga ,prayer a hug or just saying there name for me is comfort. I hope this helps as grief comes in waves and never really goes away but knowing it’s ok to have Good and Bad days helps me and always know that it’s all a part of tbe Grief.
Say his name! Brandon. May his memory be a blessing. Thanks so much for this beautiful remembrance and reflection on your experiences of grief.
Deepest sympathy goes out to you on the loss of your son, Brandon. May your memories bring you comfort & light. I’ve found so many quotes & thoughts on Pinterest after losing my dad, that reading them makes me feel like I’m not alone – others understand & feel the same things I feel.
Focus on just getting through ‘now’, don’t look ahead too far, take it slow & allow yourself to grieve. He was a special gift to you.
A wonderful way I’ve watched friends grieve is to do something in honor of their loved one. One person bought a whole stack of free ice cream sundae certificates because his mom loved ice cream. He passed them out to others & it made him remember a good time with her. There are many other opportunities – a book placed in a library in memory of him on a subject he would have enjoyed or perhaps did as a child. I love to hear of these types of rememberences because they help in the healing. You don’t ever get over it, but you get through it. Blessings to you, Marci
my husband ,Gary, passed away June 2nd,2020. He had a stroke. He was 65 years old. My body just shut down. I have MS any type of stress is bad. Focusing on our adult children and grandchildren helped. I am beginning to feel better about going out and having a good time
Sorry for you loss, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing how you are moving through grief.
My husband died suddenly in January. I have been very busy cleaning out his clothes and dealing with the insurance company. I don’t think I am taking the time to grieve and everyone says how strong I am. I don’t want to be strong. I want to curl up in a ball and be miserable.
Being with your own authentic emotions is self-care, Julie. I’m sorry for you loss. Take your time to move through grief. You don’t have to be stronger than you already are to grieve.