Sunday 5 April 2015

Bereavement and Grief (2) | Platitudes, Metaphors and Swimming

As I suggested in my most previous Blog entry platitudes following bereavement are often unhelpful but metaphors (figures of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action which is not literally applicable) are useful for some people. I have heard grief described as being like a punch in the stomach or a series of waves washing over a person. I can relate to each of these examples. Recently I read an account by a woman who described her own experience of grief as riding a wave. This makes sense to me too although I can’t imagine ever being able to stay upright on a surfboard, and I’ve tried body boarding and I’m pretty useless at it, so it’s not appropriate for me in the way it clearly is for her. For me grief is like walking up a steep hill, it is hard going and the pinnacle seems far way: the walk is tough. Sometimes you slip back, sometimes you need to rest, sometimes you are not sure you’ll make it to the top, sometimes you feel sure you will; eventually. This works for me but it might not for others.

Although I’m no surfer I do like to swim (I swim for at least an hour, often longer, four or five times a week googling to find a pool when I am away from home) and swimming, alongside other physical exercise (as a non-driver I walk a lot and a little later in life than some I’ve discovered that I enjoy Spinning (a gym-based cycling class that takes place to music) and BodyPump (a weight based class, again with musical accompaniment)), has also helped me emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically. I am not the only one, as these two articles - Sweating Out the Sadness: can exercise help you to grieve?
and Sweating Out Sadness: How Exercise Can Help the Grieving Process - demonstrate.

The author of the second piece reports that exercise not only helps the body it also helps the mind; the focus needed leads to a sense of control and exercisers report that they feel less anxious and sleep better. Exercise increases circulation and blood flow throughout the body and improvements to the immune system mean the individual has a better chance of fighting an illness before it spreads. For many there is a reduction in the aches and pains, loss of appetite, headaches, fatigue and so on often experienced during the grieving process. My own experience of bereavement brought home to me the impact that such loss can have on one’s body as soon after I suffered from a number of (ill)heath conditions. This takes me back to swimming (more of this next time) although of course swimming (and other exercise) is only one form of occupation that the bereaved might find both challenging and helpful. As Steve Hoppes’ (2005) experience suggests occupations (using the term broadly and not merely in relation to paid work) may lose meaning when one is grieving but paradoxically occupation can help in regaining meaning in life and in general health and wellbeing. I agree. 

Hoppes, Steve (2005) ‘When a child dies the world should stop spinning: an autoethnography exploring the impact of family loss on occupation’ American Journal of Occupational Therapy 59(1):78-87.

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