When lungs are stricken
by overpowering grief,
each breath drowns in tears.
Take a deep breath.
If you’re grieving a loved one, chances are you haven’t taken a deep breath for quite some time. The physical and emotional stress of grief can do an enormous amount of harm to the mind and body. We become so caught up in our pain that we literally forget to breathe.
For thousands of years, eastern philosophers referred to breathing as the link between mind and body, a belief that the medical profession now accepts. Studies have shown that deep, slow breathing can strengthen the heart, tone muscles, slow the effects of aging, increase energy, improve digestion, and alleviate certain emotional problems. It can even help us lose weight by improving metabolism.
Shallow breathing, the kind that is so prevalent during grief, fills only the upper parts of our bodies with air. It never occurs to us that the headaches, back pain, indigestion, or depression that plagues us during the darkest days of grief might be caused by our bodies simply crying out for oxygen.
Take a deep breath. Take a lot of deep breaths. Stand tall and concentrate on the center of energy just above your navel where each breath should begin and end. Stretch your diaphragm by filling your stomach with air, and you’ll feel the tension fade away and a surge of new energy take its place.
In her delightful book A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman writes, “At this moment you are breathing some of the same molecules once breathed by Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Anne Bradstreet, or Colette. Inhale deeply. Think of ‘The Tempest.’ Air works the bellows of our lungs, and it powers our cells.”
Take another deep breath; absorb all of God’s creation, and breathe in a little bit of Shakespeare. It is good for not only the body but also the soul.
”In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:10)
The laying of hands
the pain of grieving.
Have you looked at your hands lately? What do they say about you and your state of mind? What do they reveal about your soul?
Hands mirror our emotions. No secret is safe. One glance at our hands, and even strangers know if we’re nervous or angry, outgoing or shy.
We hold our hands open in friendship and clap them together in excitement or joy. We open our hands when bearing gifts and close them when we feel discouraged, disheartened, or even lonely.
A young mother receives her newborn child with open hands; a new bride spreads her fingers to show off her new ring. A baseball player hits a homerun and is greeted by teammates with a “high-five.” We say good-bye by waving, palm outward, as if trying to stay connected to a departing friend or family member for as long as possible.
We wring our hands in despair and confusion. When we grieve, we ball our hands on our laps or clutch them to our chest. Mourners at a funeral hold their hands very differently than do guests at a wedding. In sign language, the sign for grief is two closed hands palm to palm, twisting next to the heart.
In Henri Nouwen’s inspiring book on prayer, With Open Hands, he urges us to release our tightly clenched fists and open our hearts to God.
Hold your hands open as if you were bearing gifts. Lift your open hands in prayer, and reach outward to hug a friend, pet an animal, or encourage a child. Lay an open palm on a photo of your loved one, and let all of the love that you feel for that person pour through your fingertips. Instead of striking out in anger, reach out in compassion, love, and understanding.
When we close our hands, we close our hearts. You can’t open one without opening the other.
“Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” (Luke 13:13)
In the gazebo,
I do my woolgathering
with warm memories.
Virginia Wolff understood the importance of having a place of her own. So did Chris Madden, who wrote in her book A Room Of Her Own: Women’s Personal Spaces, “I firmly believe that to give back to our relationships, careers, families, and passions, we must pull in for short moments to take care of ourselves, and then we can return to our lives, renewed, refreshed, and ready to continue the drama of our days with all the joys, sorrows, pleasures, and stresses that go with it.”
Grief is tough and demanding; it depletes us until we seem to have nothing left to give. If you haven’t taken time for yourself since the death of your loved one, plan some “short moments” alone.
One mother carves out fifteen-minute segments in her busy day for meditation and prayer by setting a timer. Her four- and five-year-olds know not to disturb her until the timer goes off.
A pastor friend burns a candle when she needs quiet time away from the family to work on her sermons. The family knows not to disturb her when the candle is lit.
Jesus often went to a garden or climbed a mountain to spend quiet time with God.
Renew yourself by setting your alarm a few minutes earlier and spending quiet time alone before the rest of the family rises. Take a refreshing break during lunch or by simply turning off the TV. Pull back for a while by not answering the phone or by hiring someone to do your errands.
Renew, refresh, pull back. The moments might be short, but they can add up to a very long and satisfying life.
When lungs are stricken by overpowering grief, each breath drowns in tears.
“It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:26)
Prayer is essential to our physical and emotional health. It lowers blood pressure and helps relieve stress. Prayer forces us to put our thoughts in order, our feelings into words. Prayer helps us to focus on something other than our inner pain; it reminds us that someone else is in charge.