TCM and Grief

By Susan Tretakis – I wasn’t planning to write about grief this week. Then again, I had not planned on receiving a Wednesday afternoon telephone informing me that a good friend had unexpectedly died.

As a mental health professional, I am well aware of what is referred to as the “Seven Stages of Grief”.   Briefly outlined they are:

  • Shock and Denial
  • Pain and Guilt
  • Anger and Bargaining
  • Depression, Reflection
  • The Upward Turn
  • Reconstruction and Working Through
  • Acceptance and Hope
TCM and Grief in Margate Florida
TCM has given me tools to help me move through my grieving process.

Grief is a horrible emotion; it means that you have lost someone or something from your life.   At some point, everyone will experience grief. I view grief as the price one pays for loving and caring; seen through that pair of lenses, grief can be affirming. My inner- professional knows how to work through the grief process. Because it has always helped me deal with so much in my life, I sought additional comfort and advice from Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM has given me some additional tools to help me move through my grieving process; it is my hope that by sharing this knowledge may help others in their time of grief.

“In the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), each organ has an associated emotion. It is said that when these emotions are severe, uncontrollable or prolonged they can disturb and weaken qi (energy) and cause imbalance, disease or dysfunction. The emotions of sadness and grief correspond to the lungs. The lungs occupy the upper space of the body, known in TCM as the upper jiao. Also located in the upper jiao is the heart. When the lungs are overwhelmed by grief they will disturb and constrict the heart. Joy is the emotion of the heart; in a sense it is the opposite of grief and it can be the key for healing.”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, “the lungs are given a great deal of importance. They open directly to the environment, and are therefore typically the first internal organ that can be attacked by external pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. The lungs also control breathing and are viewed in TCM as the source of “qi”, the vitality or life force of a person; when lung qi is strong, breathing is normal and the body has plenty of energy. Weak lung qi, however, can deprive the other organs in the body of energy, and lead to a shortness of breath and general fatigue.”

This is probably why my chest felt so constricted and why speaking was difficult; I seemed to run out of air before I completed a sentence. And without a doubt, this helps to explain my total exhaustion the first 72 hours after receiving that call.

In, Emma Suttie, D. Ac. provides a list of foods and spices that are beneficial for the lungs. “Since these foods strengthen the lungs, eating them will give the lungs the energy they need to help you to move through your grief more quickly. The flavor of the lung is pungent, so foods that are the most nourishing to lungs are considered pungent in TCM. Recommended foods and spices include: Garlic, Sweet potato, Ginger, Onion, Cabbage, Pears, Walnuts, Black pepper, Radish, Rice, Chili, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Leek, Miso, Navy Beans, Soy Beans, Almonds, Asparagus, Broccoli, Celery, Mustard Greens, Apricots, Bananas, and Eggs.”

Ever since my food plan has been redesigned by my acupuncturist to address my liver qi stagnation as well as my chronic anemia, I am a true believer of food as medicine. Many of these food and spices were already in my diet. While I would leave the herbal remedies to my acupuncturist to prescribe this upcoming week, I could immediately take control of what foods I ate. To protect, comfort and restore energy to my lungs,  I ate more of the foods on this list. I sipped lemon water, cinnamon green tea and miso soup.

In TCM, “the lungs are associated with clear thinking and communication, the ability to relax, to let go and feel happy. The lungs are also associated with attachment. If the energy of the lung is weak, one may experience an overwhelming, constant state of grief that does not ease. This deficiency, if prolonged, can lead to depression and other issues.”

Having battled depression in the past, I wasn’t ready to go down that path again. If food and spices could help me strengthen my lungs holistically, this decision was a “no-brainer” for me. If, as the other articles on grieving and TCM suggest, breath work and cardiovascular exercise will help move the qi in the lungs and heart, then I needed to refocus on movement and exercise as well as nutrition.

I feel better “lung-wise” today – nearly a week since receiving that terrible telephone call. Somehow, I lost three days to doing nothing but TCM rescued me. Eating more of these specified foods and staying hydrated allowed me to move off of the couch and “sneaker-up” to resume my daily exercise routine. I am again able to sit quietly and focus on my breathing. I know I will continue to need the skill of my acupuncturist, his herbs, and my foods to get through the next week of emotional memorials, tributes and telephone calls.

While I feel better prepared to meet the next week, I know I am still grieving. My friend’s sudden death left a void which will linger for a very long time. Having had the chance to know him, both as a colleague and a friend, has left me much richer. I know I am fortunate; I have met many special people in my life and as one, he will always be special to me.

Many months ago, my acupuncturist – another special person – suggested that when I experience anything that gives me pause – be it of great beauty or great sadness – I should try to identify what lesson the Universe is trying to teach me. This time, while trying to process and grieve an inexplicable and untimely death, some answers came to me relatively soon.

This week the Universe reminded me that lifestyle choices directly affect our lives, and that right now, I have one body – and one soul. Both need to be nourished so they can heal. This week I realized – again – the importance of the mind/body connection and the need for balance in both.   TCM has empowered me to realize that if it is important to me, I will find a way.

Every day I am grateful for what Traditional Chinese Medicine continues to teach me. This week, the Universe reminded me that TCM can help restore my balance.

Grief that is expressed fully and resolved can be strengthening both physically and psychologically. It is not avoiding grief, but rather dealing with it in a healthy way, that is key to being happy and maintaining balance in all aspects of life.”



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