Talking to Kids About Death and Dying

Grief in Motion

People often think that grief is an emotional state. While grief is often complex with many competing feelings, including joy and sorrow at the same time, it is also physical.

Grief manifests itself in headaches, stomachaches, sore joints, lethargy, and plain old tenderness all over. While some of these physical manifestations are most common with acute grief, meaning in those days and months after the death, grief’s physicality can pop-up any time of year.

When Tommy’s mom was dying of stomach cancer, Tommy’s belly hurt too. Sometimes, grief can be like “nesting,” where dads put on some weight in the last trimester of a pregnancy as they anticipate a major life change. For kids, especially, grief becomes physical because they do not have the vocabulary to correlate feelings to particular words. So, many kids physically hurt because their grief is all bottled-up inside of them. How do they get it out? Beat up their little sister. Behavioral outburst. Shouting. Temper tantrums. And so much more.

Grief is physical for adults, too. Sometimes we eat our feelings by enjoying comfort foods and other dishes that trigger a comforting or chemical response like the release of neurotransmitters, such as how chocolate releases serotonin—my go to best friend!

If grief is physical and kids have physical symptoms then we must be intentional about putting grief in motion—we must find healthy ways to get it out.

Exercise is one incredibly healthy—emotionally healthy—way to cope with grief. Running and walking, yoga, bike rides, sports, 5K races, kayaking, swimming, soccer, football, and every other physical outlet is relevant to grief.

Need to get it out? Planning to run a 5K or walk? Spend a moment thinking about the feeling, the experience, where it hurts, and then get to it. Or just hit the pavement . . . grief in motion is grief expressed and the expression of grief is good for the mind and the body.