Grief can indeed lead to health problems and I'm very happy to see that Harvard is taking a close look at the connection between health and grief. They got a lot right. In my humble opinion, they missed the mark on a couple of important points. Most widows and widowers have trouble sleeping and it can last for years, not just weeks or months. Sleep deprivation is going to lead to health consequences. Where Harvard fails to connect the dots is when they talk about grief and the sluggishness and fatigue being depression. I don't know about you, but if I'm not getting enough sleep, I'm going to be sluggish and fatigued, not depressed. Lack of sleep for the widowed is often in fear and anxiety over concerns that are quite real. Widowed folk worry about having enough money, about managing repairs alone, about facing health problems by themselves, about personal safety alone in their homes at night for the first time. That's not depression, that's quite rational. How did they miss that at Harvard?
The other very important connection they missed is about socialization. The article talks about how grievers isolate themselves. While that may be true in some instances, Harvard completely missed that the isolation isn't always a choice. Our society tends to shun grievers. This is not mere speculation. I talk to thousands of widows. The experience of being shunned is quite real, and way too common. The invitations stop, the people around the griever move on and neglect to reach out and include us, often to events and occasions we were habitually part of in the pre-loss days. Yes, we sometimes cocoon ourselves, but often those alternatives are removed from us.
That said, I am ever so glad to see the medical community, beginning with the esteemed Harvard Medical School, taking a close look at the effects of grief on the human body. It's a good start. Please don't stop here!
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