I was going to write about moving with grief, living with grief, being with grief… because that’s what I felt like I was doing last week. I had the good fortune of tapping into a gift practice that Paul Denniston of Grief Yoga had shared with his email list the day before Mary died – Grief Dancer. I practiced two days in a row (surely, that’s enough, right!?)… I cried, I laughed, I looked at Mary’s picture, I said her name out loud, I dedicated the practice to her and I let myself sob and bring up what had been pushed down. I felt like I was doing a pretty good job being with my grief in a world that doesn’t do this well. I talked to a couple of people who I hadn’t already burdened with my story, because I don’t want to weigh anyone down with hearing the same thing over and over, when there’s nothing new to say.
One Day of Grief (Yesterday)
Damn, this grief stuff can be very lonely. I wish I lived in a community that knew how to grieve together. I wish I had people I could spontaneously call and just cry or vent with. I probably do, but when I feel like this it’s hard to find the energy to figure out who that might be or to have the resilience to deal with needing to schedule a time, with voice mails or unanswered calls.
And so I turn to my writing… because reliably and consistently this is an outlet for my heart to express what’s going on. To discover this myself as it pours itself onto the page. I know there isn’t a person out there who can really hold this with me in a way that will feel satisfying because there are no words to describe the ache within.
I tried to sit down to meditate, and I wanted to explode. My whole being was way too agitated… being still wasn’t what I wanted or needed right then, but I didn’t really know what I wanted or needed so I headed outdoors to take a quick walk in the brisk wind. I talked out loud to Mary, risking appearing to be a crazy person talking to myself. I told her how pissed I am – not at her, but at so many things (and everything right now because that’s just what’s brewing in my belly and heart). I’m pissed at the people downstairs who yell at their screaming kids all day and night. I’m pissed at myself that I skipped yoga to take a phone call that didn’t even go well. I’m pissed that the cookie didn’t make everything ok. I’m pissed that my husband can be in the guest room and laugh with a friend while I’m locking myself in my room and going through 4 tissues (even though yesterday I tucked myself away for several calls where I did laugh).
Today I feel a little jealous. And I feel sorry for myself. I hate feeling sorry for myself. I want to jump out of my own skin, but of course I can’t get away from me. Can you see all the #@^& that I’m swimming in?? I’m pissed that I can’t call Mary. I’m pissed that I feel so alone and don’t know where to turn to talk through the hard things coming my way. I’m pissed at systems that are so messed up. I’m pissed that so much is uncertain in the days and months ahead. I’m pissed at Covid and how it impedes my desire or ability to plan. I’m just pissed.
Only it’s not just pissed because I’m also sad… really, really sad in a way I don’t remember feeling before though I’m pretty sure it’s familiar. Probably times I’ve blocked out of my memory. Sad in a way that leaves me feeling lost and not caring that I’m lost. Sad in a way that buckles me and takes away the light. Sad in a way that just leaves me feeling flat and like I just don’t care… but that’s not true. I care very much about so many things and people.
“Grief can have a quality of profound healing because we are forced to a depth of feeling that is usually below the threshold of awareness. “ – Stephen Levine
It’s confusing, this grief thing… It eats away at me at times and other times it’s a silent resident, letting me live a more normal life. I can play cards, eat meals, go to the beach and enjoy the playful dogs, I can talk with my husband and friends. At times I can even get out of my own stuff and listen to them. But not always. And I worry about being a burden. I worry that no one wants to hear this. I worry that they’ll dread my calls or texts. So, I keep it to myself until someone asks and then it comes leaking out or gushing out – depends on the day. Put me in a space with a tender loving heart, and I lose it. If someone could actually hug me, I don’t know what that would do – melt me, support me, or break me. It wouldn’t break me, but I might just have a big old ugly cry for a long, long time. If I actually had the space to do that.
Lots of the time I feel numb and flat. Not sad but not happy or inspired. Just here. Existing. Getting by. Taking one step at a time – left foot, right foot, as my friend Steve says. And maybe that’s all we can do in this world called grief. Keep on slogging forward, feeling alone, but knowing we’re not because we know there are others grieving along with us. We try to find inspiration. We try to find healing. On my way back from my chilly walk I picked up the mail – Healing Through Yoga: Transform Loss into Empowerment by Paul Denniston is waiting for me. I smile wryly at my ongoing pattern of thinking someone else has an answer for me – thinking it’s “out there” in some book, podcast, social media group, or program. I keep searching, even though I know that this is a time when the real work is an inner journey. There is no magical anything out there that will make this any easier or quicker.
I know there’s no easy fix. I know that the only way to heal is to feel. I know I have to move through this, one icky bit at a time. And I know it sucks. No one can take this pain from me and maybe I don’t even want them to. I don’t know what I want. I want my person back. Beyond that… I just don’t know.
Today I had signed up for a workshop on Joyful Ease – I log in even though I’m not feeling it. Maybe I’ll get a little something. Mostly I don’t. I can’t really connect with the idea of joy so coming up with a plan for how to bring joy in each day just doesn’t land. I’m tired after those 90 minutes. So, I lie down. I close my eyes and give the weight of my body to the bed… this feels nourishing. I rest but don’t quite sleep. It’s weird because I can feel the relaxation in most of my body yet inside there’s still an energy that feels like a trapped wild animal. I want to scream until I have no voice, but I am aware that there are people around. I could scream into a pillow… and I can’t even gather the energy to do that. So, I lie here… I rest. I take a break and I do relish a brief period of peace and quiet. Momentarily the furnace muffles the ticking clock. Blessedly the screaming kids and yelling parents from downstairs go away for a while. I can breathe. The hours have ticked by and somehow, I’ve made it through another chunk of time. Another day is almost over. I feel wrung out. And, somehow, I did it. I made it. One moment at a time. Maybe I did find some degree of joyful ease within the pain.
Stages of Grief
The “stages of grief” aren’t something we move through in a linear way. They are not things we can experience once and check off the box. They come in and out and overlap. My husband came to talk with me while I was in the midst of all of this today and together, we looked them up and tried to identify where I am in this moment… seems like I’m swimming around in denial, bargaining, depression, and anger right now according to this chart. The first week as I learned the end was near the denial was intense. There have been moments of acceptance, but not peaceful acceptance. Acceptance as in, “OK. I know she’s gone. I know I can’t pick up the phone and call her. I know there are no more days ahead when we will laugh or play together.” But not acceptance that comes with ease.
All of that was written just yesterday – less than 24 hours ago. That’s important to note because it highlights impermanence – the truth that nothing lasts. Nothing. Not the way you feel right now. Not the way you see the world. Not the weather. When we stay awake and aware we can remember that and lean into it with confidence. Not as a panacea, but as a gentle reminder to hang in there when it feels like we can’t.
Today I woke up feeling some of the residue of yesterday’s slog, but not nearly the heaviness that I was carrying then. The sun coming up each day sometimes annoys me, because it feels like the world should stand still when you’re facing a loss such as this; mostly it reassures me by reminding me of the natural rhythm of things, of one thing we can count on day in and day out. Today it reminded me that I could begin again this day.
I get to choose how to greet each moment. I set my intention to be gentle with myself. I get to choose to not skip yoga, but to do the recorded version so that I can talk to my son when he calls and then finish my practice which feels like the best of both worlds.
Today I can talk with my son about what I didn’t like about yesterday’s conversation, what troubles me, what I need us to do differently going forward. Today we can talk it through, and I can hear his perspective that wasn’t nearly as dire as mine.
I can see that it wasn’t any one thing that set me off yesterday. It was a collection of many things. Missing my boys and wishing we could talk more easily and often. Missing my friends and the ease of being together. Grateful for Zoom, but so tired of this way of having to be together. Remembering that Covid has put an ongoing level of stress and feeling unsafe on all of us as it’s added a layer of complexity and contemplation that makes daily life exhausting. Grief. Loneliness. Angst. It all came together in a perfect storm. And, I was able to ride it out in my own imperfect way.
Today I can see all of the many things I could have done yesterday to help me cope better or maybe to move through all of the struggle more easily. I have a ton of practices and tools that support me. And I see that I didn’t want to use any of them. On some level I knew that I needed to wade through the swampiness yesterday. I needed to cry. I needed to rest. I needed to let myself be miserable. It was part of my healing. It was part of the journey. I knew I was ok even as much as I didn’t like it. It reminds me that I can live through moments that feel unbearable. It reminds me of the ground upon which I stand that knows it’s not about jumping over the hard stuff to get to the good feels again. I don’t want to go for the silver lining or even relief too soon. Yesterday there was no comforting me, and that’s ok.
I don’t even know if I should share this with you. I worry that you’ll worry about me or think I’ve fallen apart beyond repair (I can say with confidence that I haven’t). After talking with a lovely colleague yesterday about the value of being REAL, I’m going to hit “publish” in hopes that maybe it will resonate with someone. Maybe someone out there needs to hear one little bit of this. Maybe there’s some value in what I have to offer. I know there’s value for me in getting it out of my head and being able to take it in in black and white. Maybe one grieving heart will connect with my words and feel a little less alone or misunderstood. Maybe, just maybe, we will grieve together for a moment. If this is you, I’m sending love your way. You do not walk alone. We are in this messy human life together.
Want a little further reflection on grief? I invite you to read my last post, Good Grief, Gratitude, and Grace.