Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

A Caring Heart Helps the Patient Connect

By Thomas Smith DC FCCRS   

Features Clinical Patient Care

Healthy grieving leads to healthy living.

18“The act of living is different all through.  Her absence is like the sky spread over everything.”  These are the profound words of author C.S. Lewis after his wife passed away.

For those who have lost someone they love, an inappropriate comment by their chiropractor, or anyone, may act to minimize their loss and cause further pain.  As chiropractors, however, we espouse the philosophy of treating the whole person, and are aware of the importance of every aspect of who an individual is – in body, mind and spirit.  Those of your patients who are dealing with grief need this kind of total care.


After my loss, I became very sensitive to patients who had walked or were walking the same path I was travelling on.  I wanted to be someone with whom they felt safe confiding in and sharing their sorrows and needs.  Their physical pains, I found, were significantly influenced by their emotional status.  Although not a psychologist or counsellor, I sought to be able to companion them in their process, letting them teach me how they felt and how this loss was impacting their lives.

I learned that some of my preconceived ideas about grief were wrong, and I needed to become informed in order to be an affirming chiropractor to these patients.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a world-renowned bereavement and expert counsellor, introduced me in his seminars to the most common myths about grief.

Grief can be defined as the inner anguish you feel after the death of someone you love, and mourning is the outward expression of those emotions, or grief gone public.  Serious problems in your healing may result if you repress your grief and don’t mourn in a healthy fashion.  Doug Manning, in his book The Gift of Significance said that grief ignored does not go away.  Healthy grieving leads to healthy living.

Our world is quick to steer away from any kind of pain, and, as chiropractors, we work hard to get our patients out of pain as quickly as possible.  In grief work, the opposite is needed, as the best way is the one that allows you to face your pain, or, as someone has said, walk into the darkness in order to get to the light.  The griever needs to mourn in doses, taking time to confront the pain, but somehow also find ways to take breaks from it.

Are tears a sign of weakness?  Is it okay for men to cry and still be masculine? Someone has said that tears are words we can’t express.  Isn’t the one you lost worth every tear you shed?  Crying can, in fact, be very healing.

The general public is not well informed when it comes to the duration of the grief cycle.  If you have experienced a significant loss, you are forever changed and there is no allotted reconciliation period.  There is no medal for finishing first in this journey. There is no quick fix.

One of the most important concepts my wife and I learned early in our loss was that, when grieving, each of us is unique even though we may have a commonality of experience.  Every instance of grief is as distinct as the person being mourned (Beth Powning, The Hatbox Letter).  We grieve in keeping with our personalities, and not in set orderly stages that progress predictably from one stage to the next.  Though anger, anxiety, fear, depression, numbness, and disorientation may occur, they do not visit everyone, and certainly not in the same way.

After my son died, I was amazed at how many of my patients, a number of whom I had treated for years, told me of the losses they had endured, in some cases decades previously.  They spoke about how their lives had been changed, and how hard it was to find a health professional who would take the time to understand their pain.  These patients needed a practitioner who could help them to recognize the feelings that were affecting their overall health.

If you take anything away from this short article, let it be this: Learn to listen to your patients with a caring heart, and they will trust you with their deepest pains, which may be influencing their physical pains.  Be the holistic chiropractor that you were trained to be.•

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