On Chronic Pain and How to Grieve (Part 1)


A life of chronic pain is a life of loss. Somewhere in the process of living out years into decades of pain, we learn the importance of grieving our former lives and who we once were. We think of all the things that have been taken away and know we must learn to live without them. Somehow, we must grieve our losses if we want to move forward. 

But what does grieving even look like? How are we supposed to grieve? We know grieving is important, essential even, but often feel unsure how to begin the process. How do we turn the concept of grief from a noun into a verb? How do we move from overwhelming feelings of grief into an active and helpful process of grieving?

Grieving feels abstract if we have never done it before, but unfortunately, we will get nowhere if we just wallow in feelings of grief. For grieving to “work” and help us move forward, it must be carried out as an active process. Although grieving can feel like this ethereal process that occurs with the process of time, in reality, we can’t grieve by doing nothing or just letting days go by. Grief must be active, or we will become stuck in cycles of grief indefinitely.

I believe that, at times, our bodies and minds have an intuitive and subconscious sense of what we need to do to grieve. Awhile back, I was going through a particular bad spell of chronic pain, and other parts of my life were falling apart at the same time. It seemed so random at the time, but I found myself starting to take time each day to put on some praise and worship music, lie down on the living room floor, and cry as I listened.

Doing this was extremely uncharacteristic of me. I never listen to praise and worship music, not because I have something against it, but just because I don’t. To be honest, I rarely listen to music of any kind, so the act of taking specific time every day to do so was way out of character. This ritual represented a strange shift from my normal habits and way of doing things.

It felt strange and random, but as I looked back on it later, I realized that it was anything but strange and random. What was happening was my body and my mind knowing that I needed to grieve when I was unable to logically and consciously process this myself. And for whatever reason, listening to music and having a good cry was the way I subconsciously chose to do so in the moment.

I believe that at times, we start to add habits and rituals into our day that are a means of carrying out the grieving and mourning of our losses of chronic pain. If you think through it in this way, it is possible that you are already carrying out grief rituals without even realizing it, just like I did as I started to listen to music. Consider the habits of your days, especially any shifts that have come since the experience of great loss.

For example, if you are journaling, writing, coloring, crafting, baking, exercising or listening to music and processing your pain and loss in some way while you do these things, you are already doing the act of grieving. This does not mean that every time you write you are grieving, or that every time you do a craft or bake or exercise you are grieving. But, it does mean that sometimes we subconsciously bring these activities into our days in a way that helps us process our pain and losses.

  1. Have you incorporated new habits or rituals into your days since loss that could be your way of grieving?
  2. How could you turn some of your current habits or rituals into a means of processing your grief and pain?

Perhaps you already have some means of grieving, but it hasn’t been quite enough. Or perhaps, you feel completely stuck and need ideas to move forward. If that is the case, stay tuned for part 2, where we will get even more practical about specific ways you can grieve your chronic pain.

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  1. I’m facing a lot of grief with my chronic pain disorder, a long and extremely difficult disability fight and the loss of one of my birds this month a year ago. Even my surviving bird still calls out his companion bird’s name at night before bed sometimes. We’re getting through it, though slowly. And now winter is just around the corner…

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