“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?