When my friend’s husband died, although I didn’t know him, I wanted to support her and go to the funeral. I stepped through the massive carved doors at the rear of the church and faced the casket at the end of the aisle. My throat tightened. After dipping my hand in the holy water basin and making the sign of the cross, a gesture I hadn’t performed in many years, I walked forward slowly. As I passed each pew, my jaw, then cheeks, then forehead got tighter.
Luckily I didn’t have to greet anyone I knew. When I finally found a seat, I was so uncomfortable I had to wonder what was going on. It struck me immediately. I hadn’t been to a funeral mass where the casket was visible since my fourteen year old brother’s death.
I shifted back and forth on the hard wood seat and tried to relax the muscles in my face. Nothing worked. In fact, the tension kept increasing, now going down to my diaphragm and stomach. I had no idea what the priest was saying; my body had captured all my attention. Tears started to form and I thought, “Good, that’ll help me feel better.” I withdrew a tissue and dabbed at my eyes. But the backlog of uncried tears erupted and I rushed to the restroom.
I had finally gone into therapy fifteen years after the sudden loss of my brother and it helped me accept my his destiny. But apparently my body didn’t know that. By the time I made it to the bathroom I was gagging over the toilet, thinking I would throw up. When people started coming into the restroom at the end of mass, I finally forced myself to leave the church. My torso felt bruised.
The body has miraculous powers to heal itself. When I get a cut, I clean it, don’t poke at it and it gets better. I tell my psychotherapy clients that the mind and body are intricately connected and that we also have an emotional body. Just like the physical body, it will heal itself it. To heal an emotional wound “keeping it clean” means not telling yourself you shouldn’t hurt, not trying to explain the inexplicable, not listening to well-intentioned people who tell you it was for the best, or whatever they say out of their own helplessness. “Not picking at it” means allowing the time it takes – however long that is, talking about the loss when you feel the need, expressing the intensity of your feelings from the sense of betrayal to the incredible sadness.
What I believe is that the emotional body is a miracle too. It will heal itself, like the physical body does, if we let it.
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