As someone who has become a grief educator, it serves to talk about grief, about sorrow and loss. Two reasons come quickly to mind.
First, our culture at-large can then begin to understand the many colors of sorrow and loss without sweeping it under the rug, without easy platitudes to try to solve the enigmatic puzzle of grief.
Second, to speak about grief serves others who are experiencing loss. Resonance is found in knowing another walks this path, the pathless path, and it helps the one who grieves to feel a little less alone. When a person can fully say and feel and be with what is going on in their life without the labeling of good or bad, healthy or pathology — and feel accepted and lovingly witnessed by another person — there is a freeing of the cells. There is no fighting in ourselves to try to be other than who we are. And when there is no fighting in bodies and brains, there is a relaxing, and we can discover ourselves resting in the present again. That, too, is one power in speaking about our sorrows and pains: we find ourselves and each other.
I have not talked about grief deeply. Though, with all my heart, it is probably the only thing I have wanted to speak about more than anything for a long time. It is with some apprehension that I walk into this territory so publicly. After all, grief includes emotions that are in no way tidy, in no way considered happy. We are supposed to grieve and move on. That’s the myth.
What happens when people grieve? They are often met with a barrage of platitude coming from well-meaning people, who often know nothing of their pain. And that pile of platitude leaves them feeling lonelier. Below is a short piece I recently wrote after the fourth anniversary of my mom’s passing. I write about how it feels to miss my person …
“My mom was my number one person. She was my very best friend, twin-sister, daughter, mom all rolled into one. She was the number one person responsible for getting me everything I needed in life creatively. I lived with my mom and watched over her for the last nine years of her life. What I miss? Everything. How silly we could be together. I never laughed harder than I did with her. We’d sing together, talk, and understand each other in our secret language.
The other morning, I had a dream that I was helping her zip up a dress and we were talking about the hairdryer. Little conversations like that are forever gone. The small nuances of your day: cooking for your person and eating with them, going out with them, coming home to them, wanting to call and tell them about something special that just happened, someone to decompress with at the end of your day … the list of what is missed is endless.
One day when she was here, I realized how entirely physical watching over someone else is, how one day I would miss that, too. Our arms always touching if we were out at a concert sitting next to each other, me helping her, hugs. And then suddenly that is no more. Simply knowing she was in the next room helped me rest. Knowing she was breathing on earth helped me rest. My cells felt like they were on fire after she left, and resting was hard.
When your person leaves this world, the landscape changes forever. Hearing her voice read to me at night was always a treat. And before I came to live with her, we talked daily over the phone. Her voice. And now, her voice was gone. A voice that could bring calm and reassurance. Not only to me but to thousands of her yoga students and countless others whom she touched in her five decades of teaching. I even miss hearing my own voice talking aloud with her. No one to have those small daily conversations with anymore, no one to hear the story of your day, no one listening back, reflecting love your way. No one to simply hear. And no one talks about these things after a person dies, and this is just a drop in one bucket of many buckets that overflow with missing.
Over four years later, it is not much easier. I remember, soon after my mom died, how people would say, “Are you better?” But grief is not the common cold. You don’t get ‘better’ from grief. They would ask, “Have you adapted?” You adapt to a bad haircut, but how do you “adapt” to your person forever missing from your physical life? The language misses the mark entirely. Few people ask about your grief after four years. In some ways things have shifted and may be easier—or different. Different is the more accurate word. In some way things are harder. There is a space in my heart where all my loved ones live. With that is also a place in my heart that feels darkened by their human absence. This is not bad. No need to make better. It just is and it may always be for as long as I live, and I am at peace with that now.
Tears can still pour, and no one knows. It is the way this life goes. I weep as much for grief as for the beauty and love I see that reminds me of my loved ones, gone on. I am grateful for those tears that can bring literal relief to the parasympathetic nervous system, which can bring calm and rest to my body and its cells, boosting endorphins. Tears do not mean I don’t also laugh my raucous laughter, and have my naughty, bawdy, and irreverent humor. It does not mean I do not have space and time to hear other people’s suffering. I have been sensitively aware of death and grief my whole life, and so there is an enormous room of welcoming that lives in my heart for all of our human experiences: the sorrow and sunshine, the pained and the beautiful.
My sense of home changed when my mom left this world because wherever she was, I also called home. Home now comes in dreams when I see my loved ones. And when such a dream wafts into my day, there is a different sense of peace and warmth which permeates the air, thickened with extra love. My mom was my person, is still my person. My dad was one of my people, as are many of my closest friends, now gone on.
Do you have a person you love with your whole heart and soul? A person whom, without, your life is not the same, a person whom you call your home? Who helped your life feel fuller and richer and wider and deeper, with whom you dreamed a life? Do you now sometimes feel yourself in an alien world, marooned on Planet Earth wondering how you got here and where home is? What you may not know is that in these feelings you are not entirely alone. There are others who know this landscape, too. And so, I wish you peace with all my heart. I wish you rest. For in deep rest, sometimes we find our loved ones and ourselves, again. I wish you comfort in whatever and wherever you call your home, even if it’s in a dream.”
When we grieve a loved one’s death or when we are experiencing a non-death grief like the loss of a home or career or your health or your dreams, or the loss of a friendship, a community or your country, there are many ways in which you can accompany yourself to find small comforts. Writing and journaling is one key creative way that I have taught to others for well over thirty years. Writing after my mom’s death delivered to me a slew of poems paired with art. I also began a podcast, Unfathomable, to speak more frankly about grief. And then the How to Rest Course came into existence.
The How to Rest course is a loving guide for those who are tired and wearied, worried and anxious or grieving. Its four steps are Relax, Exhale, Surrender, Trust. It’s not the surrender and trust you may normally think about when you hear those words. I have a slightly different outlook, which invites you to be okay with yourself just as you are without pushing and shoving yourself to try to make yourself “better” or “get over” grief and loss. And it does serve us to be who we are, however we are. Right now, the course is half-price with the coupon code RESTWELL. To learn more please visit: www.how2rest.com
May you know love and peace, and comfort in the simple joys.