My friend Ellie and I were driving to the beach when she asked me to pull over. She was experiencing sharp pain in her chest. We stayed quiet as she put her hand to her heart and focused on her breathing. The pain eased and then stopped within a few minutes. I suggested going to the emergency room, but Ellie insisted she was OK. Earlier that day, Ellie had shared the details of a daughter in crisis, a relationship that was bringing up unresolved issues, and her mother’s mental illness and steep decline in a nursing facility.
Job loss, death, divorce, break-ups, financial strain, and the many challenges life presents are painful and tramautic. Sadness is stored within our bodies, sometime long after we think we've moved on. Addressing the issues in the tissues can in fact help individuals move more quickly through the grieving process to help reclaim stability and, ultimately, happiness. And massage can play a key role.
I define grief as a mental and emotional experience, usually triggered by a traumatic loss, that has physiological correlates associated with deep pain.
Grief is the most available, untapped, emotional resource for personal transformation.
On the eleventh day of September, 2001, I awoke to a crisp northern New York state morning, the best of blue skies and an audible fall crunch in the air. I am New York City-born, so I remember those fall days well. I was in Rochester, N.Y., to present my work on the “somatic aspects” of grief. It was 9:01 a.m. as I stood in front of my class.
These are uncertain and unsettling times. It’s not just what is played out in the theater of world politics but the very nature of modern life with its ever-present shadow of uncertainty and threat that has produced a continuous low-grade “fight-or-flight” anxiety as the basal pulse of our normal human condition.
In February, we at the McKinnon Institute of Massage were honored to provide massage for Alaska Airlines employees at the San Francisco and Oakland airports following the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261. With short notice, the McKinnon On-Site Team pulled together to organize the needed personnel. Alaska Airlines is a regional carrier, and many of the people on board were from the Bay area. For us this went beyond a sad story on the evening news: our friends and neighbors had died, more were in mourning, and we were directly affected.
Traumas usually follow from loss, and any loss can disrupt our sense of self, identity and permanence. We easily recognize some losses, like that of a loved one, of health, of possessions or of affection. Some losses are more subtle, such as loss of an ideal, or one’s sense of purpose, hopes or plans.
The use of somatic treatments to address grief is both the unique factor and the integral part of the success of the Degriefing process. Treating the physical body is what differentiates Degriefing from other therapies that rely solely on talk to affect the healing of grief after loss. Grief is the body’s innate reaction to loss and the symptomology is complex, multi-faceted and case-specific. As we approach the body filled with grief, we must recognize the work is like delicately peeling back the petals on a lotus flower.
“Grief is the most available, untapped emotional resource for personal transformation.”
Holding space is one of those phrases that evokes furrowed brows and quizzical expressions from the uninitiated. Like comedian George Carlin’s popularized use of such oxymorons as “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence,” holding space presents its own contradictory challenges in the world of grief and bodywork. Yet, it is a critical element in the Degriefing process.
The language of our culture is full of sentiments acknowledging how we feel after a loss. The term “heartache” and the phrase “I’m so sad, it hurts” immediately come to mind. Grief is the body’s response to loss, and we attempt expression of physical, emotional and mental feeling with words or displays of emotion to express these painful sensations.