Five months ago my father died, and then my grandmother died three months later. As a result I have begun to feel badly, including stomach pains. I got tested, and nothing is wrong with me. But sometimes I get panicked and I feel like taking off running. I go to church and pray about my situation, but it won’t go away. At times I fear that I’m going crazy. In spite of my prayers, I don’t manage to feel any better. Why would that be?

Dear Friend,

We are sorry to hear about your father and grandmother. That is a lot of loss to deal with in a short period of time.

In the same way that our bodies are hurt by accidents or illnesses, our brains are hurt when we face the death of someone that we love. And just as multiple illnesses make it more difficult for the body to heal, having to deal with multiple deaths causes increased stress on the brain.

There is a specific area of our brains called the limbic system. It is responsible for our emotions. When confronted by the death of a loved one, chemicals in the limbic system are produced that are responsible for the feelings of grief, sadness, and loss.

As mature adults, we often try to talk ourselves out of our emotions. We tell ourselves that the person is gone and that we can’t change that fact, so we should accept it and move on. Sometimes other people make us feel that it is a sign of weakness if we don’t “get over” the grief as quickly as they think we should. Meanwhile, those normal chemicals keep circulating through our systems, demanding to be acknowledged.

You may have been denying your grief or repressing it. Your stomach pains and episodes of panic could be the result of not acknowledging your emotions and feelings. So find a listening friend or relative with whom you can freely talk about the loss that you feel. If you don’t have someone to talk with, find a grief group or counselor. Most importantly, you need to stop judging yourself for your normal feelings and, instead, find ways to express them. Allow yourself at least a year before you expect to feel better.

You say that you have prayed for God to take away the symptoms that you feel. That is a little like praying for God to take away your hunger. God designed all the parts of our bodies and our brains to work for our good. Hunger, pain, and even grief are signals that alert us that we need to pay attention and act.

God does want to comfort you as you go through this time of grieving. It might be helpful to keep a prayer journal where you write down your prayers, telling your Heavenly Father all that you are feeling. That is exactly what King David was doing when he wrote, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”(1)

We wish you the best,

1 Ps 23:4