"... then sigh not so, but let them go
be you blithe and bonnie
converting all your sounds of woe
into hey nonny nonny."
I've noticed lately that I seem to sigh a lot. Not ho hum kind of sighs, but deep-breath-in-woe-is-me sighs. I wonder if it's because I'm not breathing deeply enough so I have to fill my lungs to the top every once in awhile. Or maybe it's like sleep apnea (which I've been accused of having, thus turning me into a chain saw-sounding snorer) that I have to gasp for a gulp of air before I fall of my chair. Really, I find it weird and a little disconcerting especially now that I'm aware of it. Silly me, it never occurred to me that it could be just one more symptom of grief.
In his discussion of repressed emotions and defense mechanisms (pg. 70) John Bradshaw says that body therapists have been able to describe the way some of these work.
"Emotions, for example, can be numbed by tensing muscles. People often grind their teeth and tense their jaws when they are angry. Emotions can also be stopped by holding one's breath. Shallow breathing is a common way to avoid emotional pain. "
Putting one and one together for a light bulb moment I bet shallow breathing leads to deep sighs. Makes sense don't you think?
Another book from my stack of light nighttime reading is The Long Goodbye, a memoir by Meghan O'Rourke. As you might guess it is a story about loving, losing and (hopefully by the time I finish it) living again. It might sound like I'm just continuously hitting a sore toe with a hammer. But for some reason I find a strange solace in what others have to say about their experiences with death. It's a kind of validation, I suppose. If someone else felt this way, then perhaps I'm not going crazy after all. And if I read enough books where there is an end to grief and a beginning to what comes next, then maybe I'll begin to believe it.
Naturally I agreed with O'Rourke when she wrote:
"I had been sent healing workbooks and Buddhist texts about how to die. I had been sent On Grief and Grieving and On Death and Dying and the Bible and memoirs about deaths of parents. I read nearly all of them; I was hungry for death scenes." (pg. 126)
She quotes CS Lewis as saying,
"Grief is paradoxical: you know you must let go, and yet letting go cannot happen all at once. The literature of mourning enacts that dilemma; its solace lies in the ritual of remembering the dead and then saying, There is no solace, and also, This has been going on a long time." (pg. 126)
"No one ever told me grief felt so much like fear" wrote Lewis at the beginning of A Grief Observed. In a 1942 study on grief by Erich Lindemann found that
"grief, like fear, is a stress reaction attended by deep physiological changes - tightness in the throat, choking with a shortness of breath, need for sighing and and empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, and an intensive subjective distress described as tension or mental pain. It is brutally physiological. It literally takes your breath away." (p152)
It literally takes your breath away. In the seven months my father has been gone my breath grabbing moments have lessened some only to be replaced by sighs and intense dreams that leave me feeling weighed down and heavy all day. My father is not in the dreams. By that I mean, I do not see my father, but I always know he's there. The dreams are full of unresolved conflict. Yup, that would be part of my dad's legacy.
I don't really have to read it in a book to know that grief is not a straight shot from start to finish but more of a curvy road with potholes and creaky bridges. But it's good to know others are kind of bumping along too. The thing to remember, I think, is to take care me. When I feel my jaw lock or my teeth grinding against each other perhaps I could stick a donut in my mouth. If I find myself arguing with Sweetie over the checkbook balance I should remember that we are both on the same side. And if I find I'm sighing more than usual I'll remind myself that sometimes a sigh is just a sigh. And that's okay.
Today I'm grateful for new understanding. I'm grateful that even in my own sadness, I can gently reach out to others. And I'm grateful for really dumb insomnia-busting shows on TV at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Wishing for you an opportunity to say "hey nonny nonny."
Deep sighing, Merry ME
The Long Goodbye a memoir, by Meghan O'Rourke, Rierhead Books, 2011
Homecoming Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child by John Bradshaw, Bantam Books, 1990