A story of grief by a man and a boy

slowing down

I’d probably say that grief has made me a kinder person. I certainly don’t leap to making catty remarks or snap judgments about people anymore. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have the energy to do so or maybe it’s because I’ve lost my sense of humour. But I think it’s definitely got something to do with the fact that I’ve softened.

These days I usually find myself giving people the benefit of the doubt before writing them off. I stop and wonder what they might be going through privately to make them behave in a way that could previously have irritated me. I imagine how I’d feel if someone who didn’t know me looked at my face and said something like, ‘Cheer up mate, it might never happen’. I realise how upsetting their blind evaluation of my expressions could be.

That said, I’m still far from perfect and there is something I’ve noted that really gets on my nerves.

It’s when people tell me how to behave. To be more specific, it’s when people tell me how to behave without being specific themselves.

“Make sure you look after yourself.”

“Take it easy.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard.”

“Try to slow down.”

I never actually know what any of those things mean and I don’t think the people who say them usually do either.

For those who don’t know me personally, I’m a pretty restless kind of guy. I rarely sit and watch TV for long. I work hard. I’d rather go for a run than a walk. I’ve never enjoyed lying on sun lounger for more than 15 minutes at a time. I’ve always got something to do.

And grief hasn’t changed any of these about me. In fact, looking back at the ‘downtime’ I had during the period from after my wife’s funeral on 30th November until New Year, I have never been more miserable or depressed in my life. Sitting around doing nothing made me spiral into a dark, gloomy and lonely place, which I never want to revisit. Not only did I hate that place so completely but I also hated myself when I was there.

So when I put the bottle down and picked myself up, I started to think more clearly. I ran and I got some motivation back. Whilst running I had the idea to start writing. Only at this point did people really discover what was going on in my head. And so it was at this time that the comments started. People could see a guy creating a blog, writing for newspapers and taking part in broadcast interviews. Some saw a man potentially pushing himself too hard. I saw myself running at half capacity. And it’s pretty safe to say that I know myself better than anyone else. Especially now.

I guess this is longwinded way of saying that I don’t place much value on empty comments with no real direction, no opportunity for me to better myself and no advice on how to make things easier for my son. In short, I don’t really like platitudes unless they come with a manual. I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone who has experienced a similar kind of loss to me who does.

So I was having this very conversation with a personal trainer friend who was partly responsible for keeping my wife in such great shape. I told her that I got really irritated when people tell me to slow down, because I’m always left unsure at exactly what exact speed they would like me to go and what I could expect to happen when I finally got to the place where I was oh-so-sluggishly heading.

“Do you eat on the run?” she asked.

“Yes, all the time”, I replied.

“Well then I’ll be specific”, she continued, “You need to slow down!”

‘Interesting’, I thought to myself, ‘I’m being challenged’.

She’d taken one look at the skinny bloke sat opposite her quickly stuffing his face full of eggs, beans and bacon like someone was going to take them away and saw a problem. I’m underweight, I’m not sleeping, my system is under a lot of stress from anxiety, I’ve got a naturally fast metabolism and I generally race around like a blue-arsed fly.

“If you at least slowed down when you eat, you’d be doing yourself a big favour. At the moment you’re risking making yourself ill by not allowing yourself to take the nutrients from the food you eat at the time you need them the most.”

So I wanted to share what she told me in case there are others out there grief-stricken and running on empty. Also for anyone supporting people through grief, perhaps it’s time to think about making that pie, taking it round, setting the table and watching your loved one eat it slowly, before washing up the dishes and passing a duster round their house.

Here’s why.

Taking your time to eat allows the body to register all the different textures and types of foods taken in. The taste and smell cause your brain to send messages to the stomach so that it produces the digestive enzymes needed to break food down.

From the moment you start to eat it takes about 20 minutes for satisfaction and contentment to register. It’s at this time that the brain detects increased sugar levels in the blood and releases the sensation of being full. You can’t get this feeling from eating on the go – gulping food down does not leave you with a feeling of having eaten.

When we eat in a state of relaxation:

  • We absorb more vitamins and minerals from our food
  • Bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) is less likely to increase
  • Cortisol (a stress related hormone) levels stay at an appropriate level
  • We are better at retaining healthy gut bacteria, which means our immune system stays stronger, skin healthier and we avoid diseases related to nutrient deficiency as well as digestive stress
  • We have less internal inflammation
  • We get enough oxygen, which is key to all aspects of the metabolic function

On the other hand, if we eat in an energised or stressed state, the brain and body don’t work together and we lose too many nutrients through waste tracts, which in turn can have a detrimental effect on our bodies and health.

So that’s what I’m talking about.

I’ve slowed down.

But only because someone went to the trouble of giving me the manual.

4 comments on “slowing down

  1. Zainab
    March 13, 2013

    Thanks so much for posting this, I forwarded it to my boyfriend as a must-read. We both eat so fast and I never realised how bad it is for our bodies. I hope we both make more of an effort to relax and really enjoy our food from now on.

  2. Naomii Chaplain
    March 13, 2013

    You’re really good with words. Not everybody is. When people say what sounds like a cliche or a gap filler, it doesn’t mean they care any less or meant to offend, it means they are not articulate.
    I can often be guilty of trying to pacify, soothe or support and just coming across the wrong way or getting my words muddled up and i’d like to think it doesn’t de-merit how much I care or am filled with sadness for another human being.

      March 13, 2013

      I totally agree, Naomii. I’ve actually never found myself being as direct as I am right now either. My aim is increasingly to help people understand how they might be able to help bereaved friends or family. I’m quite courteous when people pacify me, in fact it doesn’t often occur to me to question people’s comments until I’ve thought about them for a while. I aim not to offend at all, simply to help people understand how I feel in order to hopefully help others.

  3. Ruth hong
    March 14, 2013

    Just lost a much loved brother in law.his daughter is 9 the same age as me when my sister died who was like a mother to me she was 11 years older. just wanted you to know im reading about how youre doing.
    My sister posted this im glad youre doing this

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