Grieving Our Bodies

I tore something in my knee again. Don’t ask me how it happened. My knee is as weak as cheap toilet paper. For all I know, I simply looked at it wrong.

There’s no sense in going to my orthopedist. He’ll just tell me, for the zillionth time, that there’s nothing he can do except replace the old girl.

But I know what it feels like to recover from knee surgery, and it scares me to think of doing it again. I’d rather hobble around, lose sleep, miss out on almost every outing or fun time if necessary just to avoid that pain again.

This week, icing my knee while making the final edits of my book, An Obesity of Grief (coming out in June), I realized I deal with physical pain in much the same way I used to deal with grief: by ignoring it or convincing myself it was no big deal and that in time (and by some miracle) it would go away without any effort on my part.

The problem with that way of thinking is that both grief and physical pain only get worse when they’re ignored. Both cling like a spider web, and the more you fight it, the more it sticks.

Physical pain is hardly the only reason we grieve our bodies. For me, my weight was always (and sometimes still is) a source of grief.

When I was a teenager, my weight became everyone’s business (everyone as in “well-intentioned” relatives and the boys who called me fat). I internalized that my body was bulky and in the way, an annoyance and embarrassment to others. My body—and by extension, all of me—would never be good enough.

Over the years, I came to understand that my desire for my body to be something different was a form of grief, and that—no matter the cause—there are commonalities that make everyone’s grief stories relatable: fear, uncertainty, loneliness, an inability to articulate needs, brokenness, and the overarching question: Why? 

I love when my words come back to haunt remind me of something I need to relearn. As I write in my memoir, it’s important that I acknowledge—without running away— all the things I am and have been and might be: someone who is sometimes depressed and sometimes not depressed, angry and not angry, anxious and not anxious, a sometime loner and a sometime attention-seeker, 300 pounds or 140 pounds. I carry all of me with me all the time, so I get to choose what kind of companion I want to be.

And right now, I’m not my best companion.

Recognizing when and how I don’t accept myself, or when I’m denying physical or emotional pain, allows me to respond with more self-compassion.

It’s time I faced the fear of physical pain. This knee has to go. It’s gonna suck for a while, no doubt, but I know that when I face grief and physical pain, it isn’t as scary as I imagine, although I have a big imagination.

12 thoughts on “Grieving Our Bodies

  1. I’m sorry for your recalcitrant knee, Lynn, and totally understand your hesitancy to climb back on the surgery/pain/recovery train. I have bumped up against some of my own body-grief recently, and no amount of gratefulness that I’m still alive and (kinda) kicking quiets that inner voice that wishes it were different. *sigh* Good luck getting to a place where you’re a better companion to yourself, wherever that may be 🙂

    1. ((emmaclaire)) Gratefulness is a much harder thing to do than some people realize. I’ll be writing about it soon in conjunction with an author interview. My friend Emily wrote the book Moonlight Gratitude and she has a follow-up workbook coming out in January. If you don’t mind, I’d like to quote you in that post (“…and no amount of gratefulness that I’m still alive and (kinda) kicking quiets that inner voice that wishes it were different.”) You know where to find me if you ever want to write out your frustration 🙂

  2. Ohhhhhh, my weight is definitely a source of grief, and has been since I was 12 years old. I’ve been mourning my abusive family life since the age of three (three!). I have fairly recently regained half the weight I lost in the early Aughts (nearly 200 lbs at the time), for the millionth time. It is so distressing, and humiliating. Nowadays, I realize few people concern themselves with the size and shape of another person’s body, and while that is a helpful thought . . . my weight was always a source of either well-meaning people making microaggressive to flat-out mean comments (family, mostly), to the taunting of peers for many years. My family of origin and my inlaws are super judgy, and although they keep their mouths shut these days, I’m aware of the undercurrent of their disapproval. I look forward to reading your memoir. The very best of luck, and speedy recovery wishes for the ongoing pain in your knee. ❤️

  3. It was so nice to see your name again! Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry your family is so judgy. I’ll never understand what satisfaction people get from making others feel small. Sending you a big hug and wishing you peace with your body and those who just don’t get you.

  4. This hip/knee thing must be hereditary. I am having a terrible time with my knees and hip. Mylanta, I’ve had too many surgeries, I wanna be done! I am in denial BUT TIME. Don’t know if it’s worth another painful surgery and recovery.

  5. Grieving our bodies-oh, yes! At almost 64, I feel like my body has new & unwelcome surprises for me all the time-new wrinkles, new varicose veins, new age spots, new skin tags, new aches & pains. In general, I’m pretty accepting of those changes because they are unavoidable & I feel fortunate not to have any major health challenges at this point. But my weight is a different matter. Until very recently, I felt like my weight was something I SHOULD be able to control. Now, I went on my first diet about 50 years ago & my weight has been up & down (mostly up) since then. I’ve finally decided that heredity has more sway over my weight than my limited willpower. Acceptance of that fact & giving up diets forever is difficult, but not as tough as the yo-yo cycle of dieting & regaining the pounds. When I struggle with that acceptance, I reread my favorite poem, Desiderata, especially this:

    “Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.”

    Grieving our bodies may be unavoidable if we are fortunate enough to live a long life, but we must remember to be gentle with ourselves. We deserve that self-kindness.

    1. What a lovely poem! Thank you for sharing it. I’m so glad to hear you’re making peace with body weight. That’s NOT easy to do. And you’re right, the constant dieting is exhausting, physically and mentally. There are so many amazing and wonderful things in this world that I don’t take in as readily when I’m consumed by my body grief.

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