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Hunger and grief: how do these relate?

• Hunger can preoccupy us, as food gets on our minds and tends to stay on our minds.

Grief is similar...thoughts and images of loss can preoccupy us and perseverate. But there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy rumination in grief. The healthy kind assists us to acknowledge our past, reconcile that which can be, extract and learn the humble lessons from that which cannot be rectified, and go forth into a future with a mindfulness to not repeat the mistakes of the past, but instead, improve.

• Hunger can influence decision-making (remember the Biblical account of Esau and lentil stew?). More personally, ever gone grocery shopping while famished?

Grief is our minds may be preoccupied or weary, we can become distracted, forgetful and vulnerable. In short, our judgments can be compromised. Decision-making can be temporarily incapacitated as we may not be as clear-minded. Whenever possible, give yourself time to think things through; talk matters over with someone you trust.

• Hunger-pangs (stomach pains or growling, fatigue, light-headedness, etc.) can hurt or be distressing.

Grief is similar...grief-pangs can sometimes hurt physically, bring on fatigue, and be flat out exhausting. Grief-pangs can manifest in our speech, emotional reactions, body posture, attitudes, etc. Physical rest (as it becomes possible) and bodily maintenance are vital for grievers.

•Hunger can elevate anxiety (feeling shaky, dizzy, heart palpitations, altered breathing pattern, etc.).

Grief is similar...deeper realization of loss can make some of us more nervous, which can lead to brooding: What next? What else can I lose? Who else will I lose? What will happen to me now? Anxiety in grief cannot be ignored (historically, bereavement-grief has been considered a form of “separation anxiety”). An encouragement is to balance out anxious thoughts with a focused and intentional effort to make the best use of the time we have every day. This routine may help to somewhat quell anxiety bouts.

• Hunger can make us irritable, grumpy, and cranky; our patience can run thin.

Grief is similar...losses we have to face can trigger frustrations, irritations or anger inside us. Such feelings can foster impatience and even blaming others unjustifiably. But we are still responsible for our actions in grief; we must be careful not to drive people away when we most need them.

• Hunger is proof that feeling full is temporary (we may eat and be sated, but it is only a matter of time before hunger returns).

Grief is similar...though immediate sense of loss can be stabilized, and even consoled, sorrow can return in time and in unpredictable ways. It is also only a matter of time before future losses must be faced. This is a mortal’s lot.

• Unaddressed or excessively denied hunger can lead to lethargy, infirmity, including death.

Grief is similar...unaddressed or denied grief can lead to gradual or abrupt self-depreciation. It is evident that grief can spark self-destruction or ruining of others in our lives. We must take care. Grief is not a license for self-absorption or self-centeredness. Our living and remaining relationships still require and deserve our good attention.

• Hunger reveals a fundamental human need: We require food and nourishment.

Grief is similar...
Grief reveals a fundamental human need: We require meaningful, fulfilling relationships.

More deeply realizing that our valued human relationships will one day end on this earth makes us hunger for more.

Much courage to us all

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Paul is the Bereavement Coordinator at Alacare Home Health & Hospice based in Birmingham, Alabama. He is married to Esther, and their children are Samantha, Christopher and Andrew. Paul studied mental health counseling and adult education, and has worked in the field of hospice for several years.