On a typical workday in mid-afternoon, Sandy slipped quietly from the conference room meeting. With a rapid tap, tap, tap, her heels echoed along the corridor. Purse in hand, she checked her watch, then shook her head. The meeting had taken longer than expected, and she was running late for her doctor appointment. The elevator arrived promptly and before long, she was out the front door.
Lately, she had been plagued with migraines. The throbbing pain had become such a constant companion, she hardly remembered a time before it existed. She signaled a cab by raising her arm and was quickly on her way to the other side of town.
Much in the spirit of a scientist or detective, she sat listing all she had done to expose the source of her discomfort. She had ceased to eat all foods which might contain heavy preservatives as well as MSG. Though she dearly loved red wine, she’d switched to a lighter white wine with her dinner meal. When that didn’t work, she stopped drinking wine altogether. She’d cut out all artificial sweeteners, and soon cut out salt as well. Not one to drink carbonated beverages, she drank copious amounts of water and had even switched to decaffeinated coffee.
Just to be safe, she’d stopped eating all aged cheeses to avoid tamarind, and she’d visited the eye doctor to purchase new glasses. Exhausted now, out of ideas and feeling betrayed by the false promises made by over-the-counter pain products, she hoped the doctor would offer insight and greatly needed relief.
During the consultation, Sandy and her doctor discussed the attempts she had made to determine the root of her problem. No, she hadn’t been ill, so it probably wasn’t a sinus infection, and though demanding, work wasn’t any more stressful than it had ever been. Yes, she had a wonderful state-of-the-art computer chair and while she readily admitted to not sleeping well, she was 56 years old and attributed that nugget of reality to age. Plus, she had been using the same natural sleep aid for several years with no problems.
Yes, she was wearing new glasses though her vision had hardly altered, and they were purchased after the migraines began. Sandy’s doctor checked her sinuses, performed a rudimentary eye check, and then felt under her neck and at the base of her skull for swollen nodes. As he wrote prescriptions for a series of blood tests and skull scans, as well as a potent pain reliever, Sandy shrugged back into her suit jacket, and adjusted the sleeves.
On the return cab ride, she read through the various test recommendations she would now need to schedule. Sighing, she thought of the necessary phone calls involved in setting up the follow up doctor visit and various tests as well as all the additional time away from the office.
Staring through the cab window, yet oblivious to the buildings, pedestrians and cars, her imagination took hold, and she began to truly worry that something was seriously wrong. “Maybe it’s a tumor…or some form of cancer!” she agonized as she chewed her lip. Sandy grabbed her cell phone from her purse to call her sister Beth, but as her thumb hovered over the ‘send’ button, she hesitated.
Sandy pondered the difficulty with which Beth was adapting to the death of their mother four months before. It certainly didn’t help that they were in the midst of selling their mom’s home while working their way through mounds of financial paperwork. Much like Beth, Sandy couldn’t believe Mom was gone. How many times had she felt that impulse to call and even drop by her house?
Once she had actually picked up the phone to dial, only to have reality come crashing in. Levelheaded and capable, her siblings had turned to her for strength. Yet some days, like today, were harder than others, and all Sandy really wanted was to break down and weep…or yell, pound a pillow and kick her feet until everything made sense again. She wanted Beth to say the headaches would go away, that nothing was wrong and everything would be ok. But it wasn’t ok; and without Mom, it truly never would be again.
And life doesn’t stop. As the taxi rounded a corner, she spied her office building up ahead. There were two meetings to contend with before calling it a day, followed by an hour trek through traffic, a short stint in the grocery store, dinner preparation and clean up, and a load of laundry waiting. She also recollected a conversation with her husband from earlier that morning. His company was downsizing and he was anxious to discuss his concerns over dinner.
She decided the medical calls would have to wait until tomorrow. Ruefully, she almost hoped they would find something when they ran the tests, just so she would finally know the source of this incessant pain.
As the cab pulled to the curb in front of her building, she glanced down to find the cell phone waiting there in her hand. Her sister’s number was displayed on the screen and her thumb hovered above the send button. Taking a deep breath, she slipped the phone back into her purse, tipped the driver, and exited the cab.
Today, many of the outward signs connected to mourning are no longer in evidence. Ladies once wore black for the first year and a day, and then slowly transitioned through partial mourning shades of lavender and grey. In addition, black ribbons and arm bands were commonly worn by survivors.
These obvious symbols were significant in the beneficial message they provided. They proclaimed to onlookers that an individual was a survivor and enabled an opportunity to offer condolences. In addition, if a survivor were to visit a doctor to complain of persistent headaches, an inability to sleep or stomach ailments, the doctor understood he was speaking to a survivor moving through bereavement. While grief might not be the origin for the medical complaint, at least the possibility was subliminally presented for consideration.
The medical community provides ample evidence that stress is physically debilitating and during grief, the body endures cycles of stress without relief. Though it is not thought of as a physical process, there are more than 20 common physical complaints spoken of by bereaved individuals. And since it is no longer customary in our country to wear outward symbols to herald this taxing phase, it is helpful to have familiarity for the common physical complaints, the vitamins depleted by the body during such times of enormous stress, and the physical means to facilitate relief.
Most people think of grief as an emotional period and only know that life doesn’t stop.Tags: grief, hope