I have a friend going through a very tough time right now. Her best friend, like a sister really, is dying. She has said her heart feels empty. Her experience is heartbreaking, immeasurably sad. And yet it’s something that everyone goes through. As Ken Druck, a grief counselor in San Diego puts it, “If we care about anything, we’re going to experience loss.”
We can’t run from our emotions, as much as we might try. We can’t get over them, but we can work through them.
When I was 24 I lost my boyfriend, a man that I first dated when I was 16, in a fire. When I got the call saying ‘he didn’t make it out’ I was confused. I dropped to the floor as if my legs gave out from under me. I asked if he was in the hospital, not wanting to hear the truth, that ‘he didn’t make it out’ meant that he died. I sat on the floor for a long time. I didn’t have a clear sense of what to do. My 2 year old daughter was with my parents at the time. I had to get her. I had to put one foot in front of the other. I don’t remember how the next few days went really. I recall my body jumping with shock each time a shot was fired during the 21 gun salute which was meant to honour him as military personnel during his funeral. I remember the finality of those shots. It felt like each one went through my heart.I remember trying to conceal my tears. To pretend it wasn’t real.
The grieving process began. It took me a long time to accept he was gone. I kept expecting this to be some elaborate scheme of his. I tried to drink my grief away. I tried to sleep with another man only to end up sobbing during sex. I tried to forget. I tried so hard to push it all away. But it didn’t go away. I still grieve him in some ways. I still tear up thinking about those days even 23 years later. I didn’t have a spiritual practice then, although I did believe abstractly in a higher power. It brought me no solace then.
I don’t drink anymore. And I have my spirituality though my yoga practice pretty firmly ingrained in me. And yet I know that I’m all too human. I know that loss like this is so much to bear. But I also know first hand that you can’t run from it. It took me so much longer to deal with the emotions around this death than it could have if I had been healthy at the time.
Yoga teaches us to breath, to experience each moment fully before letting it go completely. It teaches us to let go of attachments. It teaches us to identify and experience emotional pain in the body so that we can let it go. It teaches us to meditate to experience, to let go, to simply be. These are all lessons I learn everyday with small losses, the less meaningful ones. I teaches us to accept what is, no matter how painful or joyous. These are all lessons to take with us as we grieve. We can’t run away from death or from grief, but we can work through it.