A few years ago I became a Death Doula.
You would think as a physician we would be taught in detail about the death and dying process in medical school, but we weren’t. Not at all.
We were taught how to pronounce someone dead, how to perform advanced life support to try to stave off death, how to sign a death certificate… but never about the intricacies of it:
- what the body feels and experiences as the soul prepares to leave it
- what the dying process looks like
- what order the organ systems shut down in and how that looks and feels
- how long afterwards it takes for the body to have the soul no longer palpable in it
- how to make the process more meaningful for the person transitioning on
- how to make the process more meaningful for the loved ones still here
- how to care for the body in the immediate hours after death
- the meaningful experiences folks who have technically died and then returned to live have to say about the death process
- and so much more about the possibilities — and the healing — that go hand in hand with the death experience.
To learn these things, I had to find my own education by other death doulas and death midwives (this one is my fav.)
What I found, is that like most big changes, death brings with it many opportunities to find deeper fulfillment. I’ve seen many patients greet death with joy, surprise, wonderment, love and even gratitude. Don’t count out the possibility that death may very well be one of your favorite phases of your life.
In medical school, I had an attending physician who had a heart transplant. He said as they removed his heart on the operating table, he went somewhere totally different than earth. After putting his new heart in, the surgeon shocked it to get it to start beating again. He says he felt that shock and felt himself feeling pulled back into his physical body and when he woke up… he was so damn mad. Angry to have to be back on this heavy painful earth. Although he very much loved his wife, he loved his kids, he loved his job… whatever side he was on for the brief moment he was on it was infinitely better. The last thing he wanted to do was leave it, not even to come back here to his family.
I had a patient in the ICU who was dying, and as the veil lifted she started seeing her mother (who had died decades ago) sitting bedside with her. My patient would not let anyone sit in that chair, because that’s where her mother was sitting… so I stood nearby and listened as she talked to her mother. She was so joyful and expressive and illuminated when talking to her mom, she laughed often and she gestured freely with her arms. She had not seen her mother in 40 years, and you could literally feel her light up at seeing her again and simultaneously relax into knowing it was all okay and that she was not alone during this death transition.
My very own grandfather woke up after having heart surgery in his mid-eighties, and told my father that he saw his dead wife (my grandmother, Grams) while he was on that operating table. He said Grams had told him to go back and eat — to finish his applesauce, specifically — and yes there was applesauce waiting for him back in the hospital room. When he did just days later, I painted this painting of the two of them reuniting:
And on and on. Just before my best friend’s mom passed away, she told me that her mom started seeing energy — the light of souls that were in the room with her. She first started seeing them at the hospital she was in, and when she was able to come back home on hospice care, she told her daughter that she now saw the lights in her home too — and that they were full of color.
Watching people as the veil lifts between the two worlds — the living and the non-living — has always been my favorite thing. It’s so comforting, to know no one dies alone. Think of all of the billions of souls that have lived and gone before you, that not only make you who you are biologically but who have crossed over, and wait for you still, on the other side of that veil.
People you know and loved, people you never met, all knowing exactly who you are and welcoming you home. Row after row after row of beautiful soul energies, lighting up as they come to greet you.
But of course, for those of us left behind, there is great sorrow and grief.
No one likes to feel separated from those they love most, from those they love even a bit, from those that they had a complicated relationship with, from those they had unresolved issues with… it’s hard to be separate, which is why I feel there is so much joy in the re-connection. The joining of each of our souls with all the souls that have gone before us.
I am so enamored by the joy that the dying person feels as they reconnect with the vast oneness of it all, and the vivid description of the colorful light that appeared in front of my best friend’s mom, that I painted it. I called this painting As The Veil Lifts and made prints for you right here:
I painted all the beautiful multitude of souls that await you, that have gone first, that surround you. I truly believe no one ever dies alone, no matter what it looked like on earth as they passed. There is great love surrounding us all and we see this most clearly as the journey towards the death transition unfolds.
If you’ve experienced a sudden loss then you know first hand how it knocks your feet right out from under you. Whether from the death of a loved one, a trauma, a job loss or divorce, severe illness, surgery, or any other unexpected change, it can be hard to endure… both emotionally and physically.
Below I offer some concrete help for specific grief symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, sadness and decreased appetite. I am also running — for the only time in 2022 (so please join me!) — my Trauma Recovery & Resiliency online class this month. It starts on August 29th. Sign up here and let’s get you feeling centered again.
Meanwhile, here are some ideas of holistic things you can do to support your journey through the transformation of grief. It’s not all inclusive and if you are having trouble with completing normal activities of daily life, absolutely reach out to your in person physician. But here are some little things you can do that might make all the difference in the world:
Holistic Ideas For Moving Through Grief Symptoms:
1. Depressed Mood
Feeling down or depressed while grieving should remind you to prioritize TLC for your body, and give yourself plenty of restorative time to allow it to lift. Here are some holistic ways to help the process along:
- Eat chocolate — Yep, it’s true. Published on July 29, 2019 in Depression and Anxiety, researchers found that dark chocolate consumption significantly reduced a patients chance of feeling depressive symptoms for a 24 hour period of time. Looking at over 13,000 patients, researchers found that eating any amount of dark chocolate decreased depressive symptoms by 70% over patients who did not consume chocolate in the previous 24 hours. Oh my gosh… if I could give you a Rx drug that was 70% effective in taking away depressive symptoms for 24 hours, we’d literally all be fighting to get it, some might even advocate for putting it in our water supply, ha-ha. Now imagine if this miracle drug tasted just like chocolate. Now imagine it wasn’t a drug at all and it was just simply chocolate itself. Wish come true, that’s what they found.
- Supplement with Zinc — In the December 15, 2013, the medical journal Biological Psychiatry published the results of a huge study that found that zinc supplementation can effectively reverse depression… and that zinc added to antidepressant therapy may produce more rapid and more effective improvement in symptoms of depression than without zinc supplementation.
- Add Probiotics — The natural flora of the gut is diminished in depression, so restoring the natural vitality and variety of healthy organisms in the digestive tract is a very powerful way to improve outcome in depression. A study published on Nov 15, 2013 in Biological Psychiatry, showed decreased depression when participants received probiotic supplements for 30 days, and another study reported clinically significant improvement in mood when participants ate probiotic-containing yogurt for 3 weeks.
- Consume Omega 3 Fatty Acids — shown in many different studies to impact brain health… from improving symptoms in ADHD, protecting brain volume as we age, and decreasing postpartum blues, omega fatty acids are a must have to soothe and support your entire body inside and out, from skin to brain.
- Take Vit D — The link between low levels of Vit D and depression have long been established, but newer research suggests that Vitamin D supplements, taken for 12 weeks, can reverse depressed mood. Most of us are Vit D deficient, so if you are experiencing depressed mood this is a great time to give Vit D supplements a try! Read more about these medical studies here.
- Sleep — A study presented at the31st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, Abstract 0335 in June 2017 showed that patients who were medically treated for depression but did not sleep well were three times less likely to recover from depression, and that sleeping 7 hours or more nightly actually tripled the rates of full resolution of depression. In the study, 62% of patients who received help for insomnia and got at least 7 hours of sleep nightly had their depression fully resolve, compared to 42% of patients sleeping 6 hours a night and only 18% of patients sleeping 5 hours a night. In other words, more sleep = higher chance of recovery in depression
- See your in person physician — don’t hesitate to ask for help. Depression is hard and there are medical professionals literally waiting to support you. Reach out.
Sadness needs to physically flow through the body in order to release. You must *feel* the sorrow. Don’t try to resist it or put it off, instead get into the state of allowing the flow using this one simple trick: water.
Water is the ultimate medium of flow on earth, and comprises the majority of our body. In fact, water is the body’s natural choice of release as well, in the form of tears. Tears often help facilitate the flow of sorrow through the body and allows it to release more easily. So one tip is — allow the tears. Let the water of your tears release your sorrow and lift it from your body.
Can’t cry? You can still use the power of water to help facilitate the release of your sorrow, worry or grief:
- Use a hot water bottle full of warm water and hold it on your body where you are feeling the sorrow (chest, abdomen, neck, back…) and breathe into the sensation
- Take a long hot bath (add some baking soda and apple cider vinegar to turn it into a detoxing experience)
- Sit in a warm shower and envision the water carrying your sorrow down the drain for you
- Use steam/humidifiers to help hydrate your head, clearing out the old mental fog and allowing room for the new
- Drink water — hydrate hydrate hydrate during times of worry or sorrow more than any other time of your life. Let your body be flushed out inside and out and with every urination or bowel movement recognize you are flushing the old energy down the drain and making way for new healing
The feeling of heavy fatigue or during grief means your body needs a break… NOW. Not later. You must to honor this sensation/symptom for the important information it is providing instead of ignoring or resisting it.
Fatigue and depression show up to alert us that we are in a time of healing/repair and not in a time of action.
Help it by:
- Low intensity exercise — respect your body’s need to slow down. Now is not the time for strenuous exercise… honor caring for your body in gentle ways such as yoga, stretching, long slow walks through nature.
- Get help — you don’t need to do it all alone. Ask for help. Call a friend. Lean on family to help with some of the burdens you are seeking relief from. Flag down a neighbor and just simply and literally ask for help.
- Passive body work. Your body needs to get into receiving mode and not giving mode. Your giving mode is burnt out. What I’ve noticed is that most people who struggle with fatigue are the givers who are giving to everybody but themselves. You DESERVE to give your body the message that there is a time to stop and receive. Get a massage, acupuncture, reiki, physical therapy, a facial, a haircut. Anything that is a passive process for you — let others actively help move that energy through your body and help you on your way to release it.
- Deeper sleep at night… see below
You absolutely, 100% NEED deep, restorative sleep! It’s non-negotiable… poor sleep causes memory impairment, decreased life span, weight gain, worsened anxiety and other debilitating mood disturbances, increased risk of dementia and an increased incidence of Alzheimers, widespread brain atrophy and much much more!
Here are some ways to get that much needed, deep restorative sleep you absolutely NEED to make your way through the process of grief:
- Grounding — connecting to the earth has been shown in sleep studies to increase the amount of time we spend in deep sleep, as well as treat jet lag and other circadian rhythm disturbances. Sleeping with a grounding product will support your body’s healing process from head to toe, all night long… find my favorite indoor grounding products in my Grounding Boutique right here.
- Melatonin — Taken as the sun sets (not 1 hour before bedtime as printed on the label, but whenever the sun actually, literally goes down — this is when it’s most biologically critical for your body to get a melatonin boost) allows sleep to be deeper and more restorative.
- Daily activity — simply getting up every single hour of the waking day and walking for a bit (instead of spending several hours in a row inactive) just might be the best gift you could ever give your body.
- Develop a nightly routine — turn off all the lights, make sure there are no computer screens or clock faces or nightlights lighting up the room while you sleep, and drink a soothing cup of warm milk, sleepytime tea, or take a hot bath to relax your body and transition into bed. More on this in a blog post I wrote for you right here.
- Sleep with an external source of warmth — we all have a deep seated, cellular need to be connected to others while we sleep — it comes from the caveman days of sleeping in groups to help increase survival. So especially if you have recently lost a spouse, a pet, or a loved one that you are used to sleeping with, insonmia might be a real struggle. Fulfill your instinct to sleep share by sleeping with a hot water bottle (the warmth provides that deep comfort your body is craving) or with a loved pet or pray to loved ones and angels to surround you as you sleep each night so you go to bed feeling connected and supported. In fact, you can combine grounding at night with adding external warmth with the only grounding hot water bottle in the world (that I am aware of) that I had made for myself and love it so much, I offer it to you here too.
Anxiety is a very active state, where you have lots of energy building up inside, and the answer to this (as in all emotions) is to really allow the flow to open up and release it to find relief.
With the energetic state of anxiety you generally need to get into a more active state of allowing, in contrast to the passive allowing state required by sadness, grief, depression and fatigue.
Anxiety states respond to active release… so give some of these a try:
- Meditation — this is a very active and aware state that puts you in the perfect open-but-alert mind-frame necessary for relief. Focus on taking 3 deep breaths in and out and choose a mantra for the in breathe and the out breath. If you can do 5 breaths, do 5. Work up to 10, 20, 50 breaths of focused openness:
breathing in: I am lovable
breathing out: I am loved
breathing in: I am safe
breathing out: I am taken care of by God
breathing in: I am protected
breathing out: I am healing
- Movement and exercise — moving the body and quieting the mind is the goal of many gentle, healing practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong. If your energy feels more intense and will not allow you to settle down enough to do those types of exercise, honor your body’s need for active processing by something a bit more intense like pilaties, karate, kick boxing, or going on a long jog.
- Give to others — unlike depression and fatigue, the gift of anxiety is the gift of having energy to give and express… and one of the best way to off-gas this is to give to others in need. Volunteer at a cause that is meaningful to you, start a year of gratitude (doing one act of thankfulness to loved ones or strangers each week and record it in a gratitude journal) or just go out into the world each day asking that you be shown a way you can be of service. The point here is not to add any more stress into your life — do not do anything that doesn’t feel right. This is not a burden, it’s a very simple way to get rid of extra energy/tension. Consider doing simple things that don’t require a lot of preparation but will allow you to actively process and off gas extra energy. For example, walk along a road in your neighborhood and pick up litter for an hour after dinner. Pick up an extra pizza on your way home from work and give the extra one to a construction crew as you pass (this is my daughter’s favorite “gratitude attack”) or head to your local SPCA and take some of the dogs on a walk each weekend. In fact…
- Care for a pet — caring for a pet is the perfect way to allow your energy to flow in a loving and active, yet low stress way. Simply walking your dog every day, spending 30 minutes petting your cat while she purrs on your chest, whistle to a pet bird and teach him your favorite TV show theme song… study after study has shown that pets improve our health simply by being in our lives. During times of anxiety and frustration, loving on a pet a little extra each day gives a heart-centered but simple way to open our heart chakras and allow excess energy to flow.
6. Decreased appetite
It’s important to consume nutrient dense food even when your appetite is low-to-gone. Your body needs healthy fats and protien in order to keep up it’s immune system and help get you through the intense and often exhausting grieving process.
Just when you don’t feel like eating at all is right when you need the nutritional support the most. So here are three tips to help you stay healthy even when your appetite has left:
- Hydrate — it’s really important to at least stay well hydrated during emotional times. Although you can go for days without eating, you can not survive for days without water. Drink non-fluoridated, fresh, filtered water and drink drink drink some more. If you simply you can’t eat a single bite… drink a glass of water and take a deep breath and stay well hydrated.
- Gentle movement — while it is okay to want to curl up and not move while you are hurting, it’s also important to make sure you get gentle activity each day — going on a daily walk in nature is the best therapy. The movement stimulates gut perastalsis and will help gently nudge your appetite back into place.
- Nutrient dense foods — when all you feel like eating is a few small bites, make every bite count. There is a reason folks deliver nourishing bone broths like chicken noodle soup to loved ones who aren’t feeling well… the healthy fats and minerals in bone broth is nurtirtionally sound and will help keep your immunity high (see side bar). Other options include easily digestible casseroles, stews, organic nuts and peanut butter (when my kids just don’t want to eat, we compromise on a scoop or two of organic peanut butter), healthy fats such as avadodo and coconut oil, organic yogurt, and organic butter (a comforting warm grilled cheese sandwhich with organic cheese and grilled in organic butter is wonderful, especially alongside a cup of bone broth!)
If your grief is particularly intense, lasting longer than a few months or accompanied by suicidal thoughts… or you simply want the support of a counsellor… be sure to seek professional help by a medical or mental health practitioner who is experienced in grief counseling.
There absolutely is a way to the other side of grief… you will get there… ask for help when you need to and healing will happen.
And again, if you want more direct support from me, I’d love to see you in my Trauma Resiliency & Recovery Class — click over here right now to save your spot. And don’t forget to share this healing idea list by forwarding this blog post to your loved ones too!
With much love, faith, and encouragement to you in your healing journey… and happiness over the unconditional support that awaits us all when it is our turn to transition onwards…