Anatomy and Physiology of Grief

By Kathleen Christ, LMT, NCMBT

The Grief Process is similar to the aging process:
  • Slowing of the metabolism
  • Shrinking of tissues and connections
  • More contraction, less flexibility
  • Less clarity and awareness
  • Less vitality and energy
  • More stiffness, weakness and atrophy
  • Less muscle tone
  • Less appetite, less good digestion and process of nutrients
  • More dull, confused and foggy thinking
  • Slowing response time in any given situation, including physical healing
  • Less deep and full breathing
  • Slower blood circulation
  • Slower lymphatic circulation

All of these symptoms and more are familiar to us, and they are a natural part of life. They are also a natural part of death. So, as when someone who is very important and close to us dies, part of us begins to die as well.

Time is a great healer, but we can intervene and help each other through this difficult situation. And we can do this through our friendships, our compassion, and through our touch.

Since our bodies and minds are one, if we begin to gently shift the body, we will also be affecting the mind, the emotions and all the biochemistry that controls us.

Once the body and mind have developed a pattern for dealing with grief and sadness, and the entire system believes and behaves in accordance with this response, providing a gentle interference or disconnect from the grief response can be most beneficial. The sympathetic nervous system has kicked into high gear to protect us -- fight or flight -- and in grief we are usually in a flight, shut-down, or withdrawal stage. Getting this system to relax is not an easy task.

On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system, which is designed to counter-balance with healing, regulating and even happy hormones, seems to be stuck in the off phase. Coaxing the parasympathetic to begin to participate requires some skill, attention to detail, gentle sensing, touching, and creating an environment that feels safe, welcoming and even holy.

Since our bodies and minds are one, if we begin to gently shift the body, we will also be affecting the mind, the emotions and all the biochemistry that controls us.

Then our magical bodies can reestablish normalcy, relaxation, de-contraction, proper absorption of food and nutrients, deep sleep and peacefulness. Initially, the body may not retain this position for more than a few days, but the important thing is the body does remember, can do this, and just a little more assistance is needed.

The joy and comfort that is experienced is real and most longed for. The person does want their life back - for a myriad of reasons - and this will be welcomed and invited again. Each time the person enters this state, there is more memory and desire for this to remain, and so the body responds for longer periods, until it just becomes the body's normal pattern once again.

Missing or loving the person who has died will never leave, but when the person's bodily response to the grief has shifted, they will be able to continue to live with all of us. Living, truly living, engaged with all their faculties and continuing to dream toward the future, not just living in the past, will be their consistent mode of operation once again. Real life has truly returned to the body and mind.

My favorite intervention is through massage therapy in warm water - Watsu - water shiats














Since our bodies and minds are one, if we begin to gently shift the body, we will also be affecting the mind, the emotions and all the biochemistry that controls us.