Recently a woman came to see me who was mourning the unexpected death of her son two weeks earlier. She was using a cane and as any grieving mother would-looked totally exhausted. During our conversation it came to light that she normally does not use a cane. She explained that she had not been eating much, a little yogurt and cantaloupe. There was more: she had been feeling weak and dizzy and was fearful of falling. Thus the cane was a necessity.
I quickly inquired if she had been drinking plenty of water. Her immediate answer was, none at all. The result was a common condition affecting the vast majority of mourners: unrecognized chronic dehydration. This hidden condition-occurring in non-mourners and mourner alike at any age-plays a major role in developing headaches, confusion, stomachaches, feeling sluggish, dizziness, having old injuries flare up, and falling. Grieving exacerbates dehydration due to the emotional swamp that has to be navigated.
As simplistic as it may sound, daily water consumption is an absolute essential part of self-care, and more importantly is a critical coping technique when mourning the death of a loved one. Grief work is highly stressful demanding great energy and endurance. The need for water in the body-not soda, alcohol or caffeinated beverages-which take water out of the cells, is critical. Water, spring water if possible, will help immensely in reducing the physical pain of grief and in supporting brain maintenance.
Here is what you should know about daily water consumption and dehydration as you grieve.
1. If you say to yourself “I’m thirsty,” you’re way late, because you are already dehydrated and your body is paying a heavy price. This means you need to drink water at specific times before you get to the “I’m thirsty” stage. This is especially true as you age, when thirst awareness is much slower to come into conscious thought.
2. How much should you drink? In general, actual consumption depends on body size as some need more than others. However, diet, exercise levels, stress, climate, sweating, and other factors, make a goal of (don’t let this figure scare you) 40-ounces per day essential. All you need to do is drink five 8-ounce glasses. Whoa, you say. That may seem way out of reach for you but hold on. See for yourself how small 8-ounces is by taking a liquid measuring cup and filling it to the 8-ounce mark. Then pour the water into a glass and see how small it actually is. It’s like taking 8 swallows when you were on the playground as a child.
3. Try this schedule for your water intake. About 15 minutes before each meal drink 8-ounces. This means the first thing in the morning drink water, with a little lemon if needed, before anything else. Your kidneys will love you for it. About an hour after your meal, drink another 8 ounces. Yes, I know with three meals that adds up to six glasses and a total of 48-ounces. So if you wish, skip the one after your supper or before it. On the other hand, six glasses is ideal because 40-ounces is minimal, as most physiologists will tell you. You know you’re drinking enough if your urine is clear or lightly colored, not dark.
4. If you have not been eating, like the mother above, electrolyte levels may become abnormal and you may have to add some electrolytes, the absence of which adds to confused thinking and blood pressure problems. Electrolytes in the blood are substances like sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium which in solution become electrically conducting ions. Our cells cannot function without this electrical transmission. Electrolytes are not found in drinking water. You need to get those minerals in your system in another way.
However, you don’t necessarily need to drink Gatorade or other sports drinks to meet this need, like many athletes do. Food is the best source. If you eat some veggies (especially broccoli, kale, or green beans), fruits, and nuts it will fill the bill. Of course, this is not easy to do when grieving. That’s why it’s so important to eat just a little bit, like a small salad, even at a time when you don’t feel like it.
In summary, consider looking into scheduling your water intake as one of your new routines. Make a note or put a picture of a glass of water on your bulletin board as a reminder. One of the tasks of mourning is to develop many new routines to adapt to the absence of our loved one. The water routine will not only reduce the physical pain associated with grief, it will become the basis for increasing the energy and stamina needed to deal with the transition you face in managing emotions associated with your great loss. And, once habitually established as part of your new-normal, you can use it for the rest of your life.