Grief – Surprising Symptoms And Wellness Solutions Part One

Dates are funny, aren’t they?

They can mean nothing to you for decades and all of a sudden they are one of the handfuls of significant dates that are branded on your memory. February 14th is that for me.

Last year on Valentine’s Day I was headed up to my mother’s house in Canada. She had not been feeling well and I was eager to see her. She called me in the morning and said she was feeling worse. I let her know I would take her to the hospital when I got there.

She called again. “I feel even worse.” I had her call an ambulance.

After almost two weeks in the hospital, it was confirmed that my mother had metastatic cancer. It had started in the small intestine and subsequently taken over the liver, pancreas, spleen and just about anything else it could get its hands on. The doctors were lovely, caring and did their due diligence in telling us options but it was clear that there was nothing that we could do.

On the day we sprung my mum from the hospital I knew, we all knew, I was taking my mum home to die. My sister, Cynthia and I moved into her condo that overlooked the golf course, the lake, and the mountains.  We cared for her for ten weeks until she passed on April 27th.

Things went very quickly.

Surprising Symptoms And Wellness Solutions For Grief Part One

We went from coffee and biscuits in the morning, to subcutaneous drugs and “cannabis ice cream” within weeks. The changes in her happened so rapidly we barely had time to react. Every day was harder than the last, but often as is in tragic situations, there were moments of levity.

I can remember the day when she asked sweet Dr. Curry, a handsome and lovely man if he would consider hopping into her hospital bed and snuggling for a few minutes.

And the time a visiting nurse gushed that my mother must have been the sweetest most loving woman to raise caring daughters like Cynthia and me. The two of us just looked at each other with the most perplexed look on our faces. My mother was a lot of wonderful things, a nurturing ball of gooey sweetness she was not.

I can remember one night, very near the end where my sister Cynthia and I had rigged “barstool beds” for each of us on either side of my mother’s bed. (Barstools don’t make great beds by the way.) We lay on our sides, holding hands over mum’s stomach. I looked at my sister in the moonlight. She had a single piece of glitter over her lip. I said, “Cyn, you’ve got glitter.” Without missing a beat she said “It’s cuz I’m so fancy,” If you were there you would know she hadn’t showered in three days and hair looked like an 80s heavy metal band member about to take the stage.

A warm spring blew the day my mother died. It was 2:57 on a Thursday afternoon and the windows were wide open overlooking the golf course. Il Divo was blasting as loud as her stereo would allow and her three daughters held every part of her as she took her last breath.

My mother was a complex woman to love. She also personally was very unhappy in her later years. But no degree of relief that someone is free of pain at last lessons the business of grieving. The grief process that follows a death or a loss of any kind can be debilitating.

Grief - Surprising Symptoms And Wellness Solutions Part One


There are groups, classes, books, symposiums, and networks all dedicated to the attending to and to the repair process of those grieving. There is good reason, I am sure each of you readers have been touched by a loss: a parent, a spouse, a baby, a friend.

In this two-part article, long-winded as it might be, I cannot cover a tremendous amount of ground on the subject. Nor do I consider myself an expert. But as a doctor of chiropractic, a wellness blogger, coach, and a recently orphaned daughter, I want to share a few points on aspects of grief I certainly did not expect, and some opportunities to work with your grief from a wellness-minded model.

I remember a good friend told me once she was reading a book on the subject of grief. It talked about cultures that “wail”. As a culture, we are not wailers. The book intimated that cultures that do wail, and process through their grief in very visual and demonstrative ways have been known arrive at a healthier place a little more quickly. I surmise some of the lesser-known grief symptoms are more common in our culture because it is not appropriate to stand at a coffin, throw down, and bawl for hours.

During my grief process, I have been reminded that our bodies and minds are so intricately linked that the processing of emotions is a delicate balance between the physical and emotional.

I have also noted that as women we do interesting things with grief: we hide it in our hands, on a closeby shoulder, excuse it to the bathroom, or we swallow it. I suspect that because we are a culture of somewhat repressed demonstrative displays of emotion, that perhaps our bodies find alternative ways to process these very powerful feelings.


BRAIN FOG – The other day I was in Tommy Bahamas. I was looking through their sale rack of bikinis and I realized I needed to get going. I walked all the way from that store to the other end of the mall.

I don’t carry a purse, never have. I have a phone and a little wallet. So when my phone rang, I looked down and saw my wallet, my phone and a hanger with bikini bottoms on it.

I was perplexed for a five-count. Then I realized I had just shoplifted for the first time in my life. I burst out laughing. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband. He called me a felon. (Luckily, the store was kind enough to not press charges.)

Since my mother passed, the brain fog my sisters and I have experienced has been nothing short of breathtaking. After a death, your brain is working overtime on processing loss. Your brain may be too distracted to draw your attention to simple matters like putting bikini bottoms back on a sale rack.

FATIGUE – Not too long ago my good friend Tony asked how I was doing with the loss of my mother. Tony has had unspeakable loss in his life and he has great empathy for other’s struggles. We talked for a bit, and he shared that the thing that most surprised him regarding grief was the immense fatigue. He was right. Even months after her death, the need to sleep and rest was like nothing I had ever experienced. Fatigue is a real aspect of grief that many overlook.

PHYSICAL PAIN – At some point, my sisters and I realized that we were sharing one peculiar common grief symptom. Pain. Not just the “heartbreak”  left of sternum that people report. We were all suffering similar joint pain. This intrigued me. I dove into the research. I discovered a study by UCLA that confirmed that the part of the brain that deals with physical pain, the anterior cingulate cortex, processes emotional pain, too. They concluded that the two, on occasion, cross lines.  Physical pain becomes emotional and emotional pain becomes physical.

GENERAL DISORIENTATION – I love to travel. However, when I step off that train platform, in a different country, with a different language, I become completely disoriented. I am that guy running over your feet with my luggage, not realizing I dropped my passport twelve feet back.

My sister went to a grief counselor who explained grief like this. “When someone in your inner circle dies you become disoriented. This person was part of your land and now your landscape looks different.” There is a “reframing” process that has to happen for your brain to make sense of that person not being there anymore. That reframing is like stepping off a platform in an unfamiliar land.

A SERIES OF SPRINTS NOT A MARATHON – I am an inline skater and I have done inline skate marathons in the past. For my first marathon, I trained, as you might expect, for a marathon. I downloaded a running training schedule and just adapted it to the fact I was on wheels. Wrong. What I failed to understand was that when you skate 26 miles you frequently tuck in behind a line of skaters and coast. Many of you know this is called “drafting”. The idea is that when you are tucked in behind several skaters they part the wind and eliminate all wind resistance. After a while, you take your turn in the headwind and bear down. An inline skate marathon is not a marathon it is actually a series of sprints. I  did very poorly. Let’s not relive it, but I was reminded of that experience when thinking about the grief process.

Grief has periods of respite and then BAM you are hit almost as though it has just happened all over again. A series of sprints, not a marathon so to speak. But with time the duration, frequency, and intensity of those moments in the headwind become fewer and farther between.



Sweating Out Sadness

Wellness Activities and Their Role In Recharging The Body To handle Grief

Seven Steps Through Loss And Grief

Art Therapy – Loss Grief and Transformation

Check out these articles as well. 

MOVING MEDITATION – For The Entrepreneurial Mindset

BRAVING – The Anatomy Of Trust In The Wilderness

2 Responses

  1. Heather,

    Thank you for the post. It helped me to understand what is going on with me to some degree. Last September I lost my 30-year-old daughter very unexpectedly. Some days are good and some not so very good. Until you described the 5 signs of grief I did not know what I was feeling. Yes, I walk around disorientated at times. Yes, I have brain fog. Yes, I am fatigued a lot of the time.

    1. Oh, Leslie. I am so sorry for your loss. Give it lots of time and be gentle with yourself, my friend. Lot’s of resources out there. Make sure to lean into them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Dr. Denniston

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

Want to look and feel your healthiest?

THE THREE DAY RESET is a whole food, organic eating plan geared to charge your metabolism, give you tons of energy, and provide all the nutrients and vitamins you need.

Ready to work together?

WELLFITandFED’s primary programming includes programs, keynotes, workshops, events and customized consulting. The foundations of these offerings are rooted in 25 years of experience working with companies from small start-ups to global giants like Microsoft.

Popular topics.

Like that? You'll love these.

"BRAVING"- The Anatomy Of Trust In The Wilderness

“BRAVING”- The Anatomy Of Trust In The Wilderness

In her book “Braving The Wilderness,” Brene Brown uses the word “BRAVING” as an acronym for defining and developing trust-filled relationships with everyone from kids to coworkers. Now, who doesn’t have trust issues and who doesn’t love a good acronym? ...
Read More →

Conquering Your Inner Bully

During the height of my grief, after my mother died, I met a woman with whom I became inseparable. We went everywhere together; finished each other’s sentences, and were joined at the hip. I was rarely without her. We were ...
Read More →
Want Inspiration? Head To The Bottom Of The Pool

Want Inspiration? Head To The Bottom Of The Pool.

It is a hot summer day in August. You are at the local public pool with your kids. It is noon. You are positioned in the middle, treading water.
Read More →
What if grown-up recess was mandatory?

What If Grown-Up Recess Was Mandatory?

Yesterday, my personal “Grumpo-Meter” measured at a ten. I woke up not having slept well, and I was in a funk. I felt all “hormoney” and ready to masticate the head off anyone who got in my way. My dad ...
Read More →

Brene Brown Is In My Brain Trust

Brene Brown is in my brain trust but let’s go back. I have a panel of advisors that get me through the day. Folks I can count on to advise and gently turn my shoulders when directional assistance is needed. ...
Read More →
Goal Progress - You Have To Squat Before You Leap - WELLFITandFED

Goal Progress – You Have To Squat Before You Leap

Stand. Just, stand. Now, jump. You can’t can you? To jump you must bend your knees, and in bending your knees, you are dipping down lower than your starting position. The only way to jump up in the air, or ...
Read More →