When my son died from brain cancer in 1987, I wanted to die too. No one should experience the death of their child. In one fatal swoop time stops and surreality steps in; dropping a coin that lands on its edge, we can’t believe what just happened, it stuns our brain and we step into the twilight zone. Life as we know it will never be the same.
Hearing of or witnessing the death of a loved one, the flight or fight response immediately sends hormonal shockwaves throughout our body with enough Cortisol in our system to paralyze an elephant. We go into shock head to soul. We are ground zero; we are in pause; we are the phoenix preparing, we are the cicada gone underground, the worm in the cocoon, the seed deep in the ground. We have been assaulted body, mind, soul and spirit and the body is our immediate front-line autonomic defense. We are numb because we are, with almost toxic levels of stress hormones. Over time the levels naturally dissipate until the next “trigger” that may give us a booster shot but overall it can be reduced through mindfulness techniques and diet.
Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Our brains are amazingly resilient and can create new neural pathways with consistent repetition as in learning to play the violin. Research indicates that on an average after 66 days of a newly created daily routine, through the process known as neuroplasticity the brain will establish a new pathway of behavior that can become dominant over previous “habits”. The caveat being what are the new pathways that we are creating in the early days of our grief journey?
When Kelly died, I was 32 years old and in pretty good shape weighing a consistent 175 lbs. regardless of what I ate or drank. I never worked out, not a runner or sports enthusiast but being a bit ADHD, I was always busy. After Kelly died, my busy died too. PBR me ASAP became a very strong new neural pathway, and Brussel sprouts turned into Burger King. I did not give a fuck anymore. Life obviously can be too short, our time here feeling like a spurious assumption of joy at best. There is no gravity, the world just sucks. Life Sucks. I don’t care if I live or die. Call me apathetic…I don’t care. I will eat my way through my despair.
By the time I turned 42 years old I was up to 225 lbs., balding, wearing bifocals, on medication for blood pressure, high cholesterol, & acid reflux. In those first 10 years I also tore my cornea on two different occasions, shattered my left heel from falling 30 feet, broke my left leg twice, broke a left finger, tore my left rotator cuff, tore my left knee meniscus, enduring unabated chronic plantar fasciitis in my left foot, as well as intermittent tachycardia with ablation surgery recommended. I was still using those dominant pathways created in the first 3 months of my grief journey, they had become my default drive for 20 years. I was a physical wreck at age 62 and I was afraid my grandbabies would not have a wise old grandpa around to see them graduate.
In January of 2017 I set an intention to get back to my body weight chart of 175 lbs. I called it the 66-day Heartlight Challenge. At the end of those 66 days I had reached my goal weight shedding 50 pounds and although happy for my success my arthritis seemed much worse in areas where I had broken bones. Not unlike grief it’s a bone itch that aches and you cannot scratch and it persists. I started to research cosumptionary agents with natural anti-inflammatory properties and discovered that many blue juices (dark berries) have high concentrations of polyphenols, antioxidants called flavonoids which attack free radicals. As the body ages, it loses its ability to fight the effects of free radicals. The result is more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and more damage to cells, which leads to degenerative processes, as well as “normal” aging.
Grief amplifies oxidative stress and we age faster, gray faster, cellular age increases more rapidly, wrinkles etc. We are the tin man after a rainstorm. These free radicals are one electron short of a full deck and will bond to the electrons of other healthy cells resulting in a weakening and aging of their host’s cellular structure. No different than the rust on your old Ford pickup. Oxidative stress ages it. I had been stuck in a dark wet place for a long, long time and I was in desperate need of an oil can.
Although I had reached my goal weight, and was off all medications, I did not feel that great and I felt and looked like a skinny old man. This free radical needed more free radicals to stop the deadly progression of stress oxidation going on inside my body. After two years of trial and research on the use of natural juices for relief of discomfort due to arthritis I eventually developed this daily use tonic that I dub blue juice.
Part of reclaiming my vitality was the addition of naturally occurring probiotics & prebiotic in my diet as well as the blue juice concoction. I make my own kefir, yogurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, Kimchee Kombucha & Kvass as part of my staple diet. To aid daily ingestion of probiotics I added some probiotics to my blue juice tonic which is listed in the recipe. Without these two ingredients you still get all the critical flavonoids from the juices to combat oxidative stress.
Blue Juice Heartlight Elixir, the oil can for the Tin Man
Basic Recipe for 1 Gallon
- ½ gallon long steeped (until room temp) green tea. Green teas is robust in antioxidants and the caffeine aids in accelerated metabolization.
- 2 cups pure Blueberry Juice
- 2 cups pure Cranberry juice
- 2 cups pure Red Tart Cherry Juice
- 2 cups pure Pomegranate Juice
- 1 cup Kvass which is a fermented beet tonic (optional)
- 1 cup Kombucha fermented sweet tea (optional).
- If adding probiotics, merely reduce the green tea amount
Drink at least one large glass a day of blue juice, more if arthritis symptoms persist. Drink at least as many glasses of pure water a day. Get some sunshine.
In addition to diet for cellular repair, we need vitamin D directly from the sun. It provides critical elements for cellular, bone and tissue repair. We need at least 15 minutes of outdoor sunshine 3x a week for adequate of levels of Vitamin D; 40% of people in this country (especially the elderly) have deficient levels in vitamin D. It is the UV ” B” rays in sunshine that turns cholesterol in our skin to Vitamin D and releases serotonin in our system.
Unfortunately UV “B” rays cannot penetrate glass as UV “A” does and we need to be outdoors. The use of sunscreen, body coverings and individuals with dark skin will require longer periods in the sun. Many women in cultures who are heavily veiled have high incidences of bone rickets from chronic Vitamin D deficiency. We need sunshine as surely as the cornfields do. Try to ge limited sunshine regularly and/or regular use of a mood light can do much to retard aging and promote cellular health. The use of tanning beds is not encouraged as UV “A” rays are carcinogenic. We need rays from the sun. We cannot eat enough salmon to get enough vitamin D without getting mercury poison but foods with vitamin D and supplements are highly encouraged October through March.
Vitamin D deficiency is also is the direct mechanics behind Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) when there is not enough sunshine to turn melatonin into serotonin which is our mood boosting/happiness hormone and why become become sad. When depleted of serotonin sadness, depression and apathy can insert their influence much easier.
Field tested by sufferers of arthritis to include my 90-year-old mother in law who claims it works better than the cortisone shot had received previously. If I am out of town and off my routine for a week, those old familiar places again start to throb…my cells are screaming oil can. And as the Scarecrow said to the Tin Man “oil can what?” It can reduce the inflammation of oxidative stress. Don’t take my word for it, try it. I drink one or two large glasses of iced blue juice a day, in several days you will feel a marked difference.
On a side note, one unanticipated result I have noticed now on my third year of drinking the tonic every day besides experiencing no/little arthritic pain, is a reduction and even reversal of gray hairs, wrinkles and sagging skin. I have gained some weight back from the target weight as I did lose some muscle mass losing my weight so quickly. The weight I gained back is some muscle, healthy tendons etc. and not the normal stomach/saddlebags areas where stress fat is stored. Even my toenail fungus disappeared, and my old yellowed nails grew out pink and clear in one year.
Over 200 years ago the brilliant French physician Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote:
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.”
In English “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”.
Be your best advocate, be your best physician, trust your body to do the right thing but provide it the best fuel and means to do so.
Grief and your diet can both kill you, or it can propel you into an area of your destiny never imagined. Imagine; believe.
One thought on “The Weight of Grief and Free Radicals”
Mitch!! I want to do this! I have some of the same ailments since Branden died! I may have questions! Pure meaning you can buy them like that? I need this! Kambucha you make?