“Breathing is the first act of life and the last.”
– Joseph Pilates
Death and loss are unavoidable and yet it is a topic many of us avoid. It is dark and uncomfortable and filled with sorrow, and yet it is inevitable that we will all feel it at some point and we will eventually all die. Already while writing I am finding myself all kids of distractions and avoidances because it is not a topic most people love to explore. But what if we changed our idea about death and grief. What if we chose to sit with it and its uncomfortable cloud instead of trying to fix and change it into something more pleasurable. My idea of death and grief transformed the most when my ex-boyfriend and father to my child died. The process was long; not sudden. It was the after effect that was most interesting. The inability for some to sit with the pain. Not just their pain but mine. The looks and greeting asking for permission to release them and let them know I would be happy and able to cope without them. Like I had a tangy molasses that would drag them in. In my grief I understood the pain of loss, dreams of what could have been and the movie of what had happened. I allowed myself to feel it and be in it and learned from it.
Death is a process and we all need to go through it, but our relationship to it can change. Each year my daughter’s teacher asks the class to write something about themselves that the teacher should know. Each year she writes,”My dad died and I hate when people say I’m sorry.” The funny thing about this is she has been writing the same thing since she was 5. The amazing thing is most adults feel the same but can’t express it so clearly.
So what do we do if we can not say” I’m sorry” and remove our sense of awkwardness around those who are grieving. I now don’t really say much. I speak my truth. I say, “I don’t know what to do or say because nothing fills that void and makes it OK.” And then I let them lead. I be there. I crack inappropriate jokes (especially about death). I try to be as normal as possible while also being honest. Death sucks. It is uncomfortable. It is dark and awkward. So let’s not cover it up and try to pretend we will all be OK.
Truthfully we will and do get through it. Often we grow and see the world better. Sometimes we create blessings and positive things from grief. But none of that changes the core pain we felt or feel that still comes in bursts without warning at the stupidest and most inappropriate times. But that is what is beautiful also because we allow ourselves to feel it. The good, the bad and the awkward.
Mind: Grief after loss is normal and healthy, but if it seems to intensify or linger without change it is best to seek out professional help. During the phase of grief often it feels like a dark tunnel or cave and it is difficult to imagine a future where we would feel light or happy. When grief continues without change we may withdraw from people or events, become depressed and isolate ourselves from the world.
Body: Grief will show up most obviously in our chests, more specifically near our hearts. The body may become stiff or concave with the shoulders moving forward in an act of protection. Our thoracic spine and upper back will become weak and overstretched as we curl forward to protect the heart from additional injury.
Spirit: During grief we tend to isolate and go within. It seems that our spirit would also close but in some cases as we go within we also can connect and communicate on a deeper level with our spirit. In these instances we can grow and move forward through grief. Other ways of connection during this time are through music and meditation or breath. Sometimes movement and physical exercises seems daunting and distant but the use of music helps to raise our emotional and spiritual energy while our bodies remain passive.
EXERCISE: Cobra and Swan Pose
- Lie face down. Bring your hands under your shoulders with bent elbows.
Place legs together or shoulder-width apart.
- Engage your abdominals and keep them engaged and lifted throughout the exercise.
- Inhale: Lengthen your spine, as you press your forearms and hands into the mat. Keep upper arms outwardly rotated to allow openness in the chest.
- Exhale: Keep your abdominals lifted as your torso returns to the mat.
Benefits: opens heart, clears the mind, increases flexibility, stimulates circulatory and lymphatic systems.