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Grief And Loss – Reducing The Physical Pain
I was recently approached by a woman who was grieving the unexpected death of her son two weeks earlier. She used a cane and like any grieving mother looked completely exhausted. During our conversation it became clear that she does not normally use a cane. She explained that she didn’t eat much, some yogurt and cantaloupe. There was more: she felt weak and dizzy and was afraid of falling. Thus the cane was a necessity.
I quickly asked if she drank a lot of water. Her immediate response was, none at all. The result was a common condition affecting the vast majority of mourners: unrecognized chronic dehydration. This hidden condition – occurring in non-mourners and mourners at any age – plays an important role in developing headaches, confusion, stomachaches, feeling sluggish, dizziness, having old wounds flare up and falling. Grief exacerbates dehydration due to the emotional quagmire one must navigate.
As simplistic as it may sound, daily water consumption is an absolutely essential part of self-care, and more importantly is a critical coping technique when grieving the death of a loved one. Funeral work is very stressful requiring great energy and endurance. The need for water in the body – not soda, alcohol or caffeinated drinks – which take water out of the cells, is critical. Water, spring water if possible, will help immensely to reduce the physical pain of grief and support brain maintenance.
Here’s what you should know about daily water intake and dehydration while you’re grieving.
1. If you say to yourself “I’m thirsty”, you’re too late, because you’re already dehydrated and your body is paying dearly. This means you need to drink water at specific times before you reach the “I’m thirsty” stage. This is especially true as you get older, when the thirst awareness is much slower to come into conscious thought.
2. How much should you drink? In general, actual intake depends on body size as some need more than others. However, diet, exercise levels, stress, climate, sweating and other factors, make a goal of (don’t let this number scare you) 40 ounces a day essential. All you have to do is drink five 8-ounce glasses. Oh, you say. That may seem out of reach for you but hold on. See for yourself how small 8 ounces are by taking a liquid measuring cup and filling it up to the 8-ounce mark. Then pour the water into a glass and see how small it actually is. It’s like catching 8 swallows when you were on the playground as a kid.
3. Try this schedule for your water intake. About 15 minutes before each meal drink an 8-ounce. This means that first thing in the morning drink water, with a little lemon if needed, before anything else. Your kidneys will love you for it. About an hour after your meal, drink another 8 ounces. Yes, I know with three meals that adds up to six glasses and a total of 48 ounces. So if you wish, skip the one after your dinner or before it. On the other hand, six glasses is ideal because 40 ounces is minimal, as most physiologists will tell you. You know you are drinking enough if your urine is clear or light colored, not dark.
4. If you haven’t eaten, like the mother above, electrolyte levels can become abnormal and you may need to add some electrolytes, the absence of which adds to confused thinking and blood pressure problems. Electrolytes in the blood are substances such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium, which in solution become electrically conducting ions. Our cells cannot function without this electrical transmission. Electrolytes are not found in drinking water. You have to get those minerals in your system some other way.
However, you don’t necessarily need to drink Gatorade or other sports drinks to fulfill this need, as many athletes do. Food is the best source. If you eat some vegetables (especially broccoli, kale or green beans), fruits and nuts, it will fill the bill. Of course, this is not easy to do during grief. That’s why it’s so important to eat just a little, like a small salad, even when you don’t feel like it.
In short, consider scheduling your water intake as one of your new routines. Write down or put a picture of a glass of water on your bulletin board as a reminder. One of the tasks of grief is to develop many new routines to adapt to the absence of our loved one. The water routine will not only reduce the physical pain associated with grief, it will become the basis for increasing the energy and stamina needed to deal with the transition you face in managing the emotions associated with your great loss. And, once a habit is established as part of your new normal, you can use it for the rest of your life.
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