Home » A Splitting Headache: Signs of Grief Burnout and a time to let go?

A Splitting Headache: Signs of Grief Burnout and a time to let go?

Mum's death and accepting that it is time to start the process of letting go

by Judy Wanjiku Jørgensen

Grief burnout might explain why I woke up today with a splitting headache in my left temple. It felt like someone was hitting me with a hammer. As I processed the pain, I wondered if this headache and the physical exhaustion I’ve felt for the past two days could be signs of grief burnout. Although I’d never heard this term before, it made sense

Yesterday, after getting the children ready for school and kissing them goodbye, I felt completely drained. I should been following suit, get ready and head out for my commitments, but I couldn’t. Instead, I crawled back into bed and slept for another four hours. The exhaustion was overwhelming, signaling that something was wrong.

I am drowing in Grief burnout: An Epiphany from Mum

While sleeping, I had a lucid dream that felt like sleep paralysis because I was floating in the room and felt someone scratching my feet. Normally, sleep paralysis is terrifying—I often see a dark figure approaching and can’t move or speak. This time, it was different. There was no shadowy figure. Instead, I had an epiphany—it was my mum, telling me it was time to let her go.

In that lucid dream, I felt peace wash over me. I knew it was time to let Mum go. I’ve been grieving for the past eight months since the day she called me to say she had seen her death. Four hours later, she was gone. My mind has been reeling since then, burdened by guilt for living thousands of kilometres away. Not to mention the helplessness I felt when she called. Yet I had this lucid moment that reassured me she called because she loved me and wanted me to have a head start on my grief journey.

Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” – Jamie Anderson

Navigating Grief with a Therapist’s Guidance

I asked my therapist if I should seek extra grief therapy, and her response surprised me. She advised me to sit with my grief, feel all the emotions, and let the memories of Mum guide me. Grief isn’t linear—some days you feel fine, and the next day you’re in shambles. The key is to let the emotions flow without rushing through them. If grief starts to impact your everyday life, seek therapy, but otherwise, allow yourself to process it naturally.

Thinking about it now, I see how the weight of grief has led to burnout. My body has been in survival mode, with physical symptoms like headaches, inability to focus, and crippling fatigue. It’s like alarm bells from my body and mind. I’ve been caught in the thick fog of grief, wondering if I’ll ever feel the warmth of joy or the normalcy of everyday life. The visitation from my mum, asking me to rest and let her go, along with my therapist’s words, affirms that I can continue to love and remember Mum without being weighed down by grief.

A Reflection on Mortality and Mum’s Wishes

My mum was never afraid of death. She knew that when your time is up, there’s no avoiding it. She always joked that when the Book of Life is opened and your name is called, you can’t hide. The best you can do is hope you’ve lived a good life, loved as much as you could, and forgiven where possible.

I can’t keep reliving the day my mum passed away, nor can I let my mind wander back to the mortuary—even though she looked peaceful, her lips in a gentle smile. I need to stop revisiting those memories and let my heart begin to heal. Now, I understand that I should let the ray of tranquillity back into my life because that’s what Mum would have wanted. She always wished for my happiness.

When I go through my phone, I can now look at videos and photos of Mum without breaking down. I remember her with gratitude, knowing I got to share my life with a remarkable woman who loved me unconditionally. Her love and lessons are a canvas on which I can paint the picture of the woman and mother I want to be.

Letting go Does Not Mean Forgetting, it means healing from grief burnout

Confronting grief for the past eight months has left me exhausted, oscillating between denial and disbelief. Denial was my way of shielding my mind from the harsh reality of loss, but the energy it took to maintain that state left me burned out. There’s no right or wrong way to experience grief. My fear of letting go was compounded by the thought that doing so would mean forgetting Mum. But like my youngest son says, Mum is always in my heart, and I’ll never forget her.

I can start taking small steps towards healing from grief burnout while holding onto Mum’s love and guidance. I can let the pain go and let healing seep into other parts of unresolved grief, allowing love to replace the pain. Grief is a complex journey, and it’s not linear. Letting go is what Mum would have wanted, and I’ll do my best to honor that. There will be days when grief hits hard, but I can find comfort in knowing that, even as my heart yearns for Mum, the pain will eventually lessen. I will adjust my sails towards more healing and the life Mum always wanted for me.

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