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Overcoming Grief Through Chinese Nutritional Therapy

Last August, my younger brother passed away. My mother died 24 years ago and my dad, almost a decade since. The death of my brother was especially painful considering he was only 54 years old when he died of a heart attack, which the autopsy allegedly revealed.  Several years back, I also lost the mother of my children as well as my youngest child due to childbirth difficulties. We never married but she was the mother of my children. The death of my youngest was devastating. She entered the world suffering from severe cerebral palsy, and the part of her brain that controlled motor functions was damaged.  She was placed in the ICU for newborn babies where she never came out alive. Her complications were so severe that she could not perform basic physiological functions like gagging when something was forced down her throat. Her breathing was so feeble that she needed a respirator to survive. She had a special nurse who attended to her most basic needs. She died three months after she was born. Both my parents died young also. My mother barely reached 60 years of age before she succumbed to complications brought about by breast cancer, and my dad suffered a massive heart attack in his early 70s. I am no stranger to grief.

We all have lost people and animals we love. It is part of life. The promise of seeing all of them someday is the only thing that gives me the solace and what I need to prevent falling into sadness and despair. Their loss has taught me to love the ones I love even more. My eldest daughter Mary is the treasure of my life and my pet beloved cat Kitty Witty is the only soul who stays with me in every single day of my life here on earth. I dread the thought of my daughter departing from me one day as well as the thought of leaving her all alone in this dog eat dog world.

I admit there were people close to me who have left this world that I have not fully grieved. I did not cry when my mom passed away since I knew she wanted to die and that her cancer was at the terminal stage and that she wanted to end all her sufferings.  She hid her cancer from us, her family, which indicated that she was not happy with her life. I could not blame my father for my mother’s unhappiness since he himself was the product of a harsh and brutal life. In fact, it was the death of my father that me made cry so hard I almost fainted from grief. You see, when he died, I was living in another country and although he had been suffering from heart disease for years, his death still caught me by surprise. I had an issue with my passport then that prevented me from going home to attend his funeral and burial.  

As far as I know, only humans are capable of feeling grief when a loved one dies. Other mammaIs like the elephant also exhibit this trait, but we really don’t know for sure if it’s grief they are experiencing when a member of their herd dies.  The natural, complex cycle of life and death and the fact that we can’t change it is how we accept, adapt, and move on in a world that is in constant change. Yet somehow, we can’t seem to get over it completely.

In Marlton traditional Chinese medicine, grief is the emotion of the Metal element/Lung organ system (large intestine/lung). The Lung system pertains to release or letting go (large intestine is to bowel movements, and lungs is to expiration) and moving on. When it comes to the Five Element theory, people have their own unique constitution in which they are more of a certain element than any other element.  When I evaluated myself, I found out I was more of a Metal element person. This implied I was prone to avoiding disappointments, self-criticism, obsessive-compulsive behavior, inability to let go (as evidenced by constantly tight muscles), inflammation & sinus discomfort, and to hold on to the idea of how things ought to be rather than as they are (unresolved issues, living in the past).

Grief that is unreleased causes problems in letting go and weakens the lungs. We may manifest illogical predilections and be concerned about things unrelated to us. Unreleased grief forces the lungs to generate stagnation (constriction/tension) in the upper chest cavity, which prevents Chi from flowing smoothly throughout the body. This can lead to a number of issues: conditions in the lymphatic, vascular, skin (integumentary), and respiratory systems.

Depending on your imbalance, which for me is an excess of the Metal element, you’ll realize that there are certain foods that are good and foods that are bad for you. For an excess Metal person, foods that should not be eaten are bitter/warming foods (several autumn vegetables), sour foods (pickled foods) and warming/bitter drinks (herbal/decaf coffee). In my case, I prefer Fire element (spicy) foods, since the climate these days is colder and I catch cold more easily. I need to consume lots of Earth element foods from the sweet full section to shield myself against dryness, and to moisten and warm myself. Some Earth element foods include almonds, wheat, alfalfa sprouts, walnuts, apples, sweet potato/yam, bananas, squash, bok choy, rice, brown sugar, red meat, cauliflower, pears, chicken, peaches, coconut, papaya, corn, mushrooms (shiitake, white fungus), cucumber, molasses, dates, millet, eggplant, legumes, figs, and honey.

Also included in my diet are cooking herbs which many are my favorites: nutmeg, anise, licorice root, cardamom, ginger, fennel, clove, and cinnamon

Once the imbalance is rectified, to overcome my grief and strengthen my lungs, I can add a few pungent foods from the Metal element category.

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