Grieving Honestly

The yoga instructor talked us through a guided meditation at the beginning of class wherein we released all the layers of what came before and what will come after in our day. As I consciously peeled off the race to the childcare to drop off my son, and the superficial chatter with a friend who was likewise dropping off her children and racing to yoga, I felt tears wet my cheeks. The more I removed the protective layers of all my superficial interactions and activities, the more I revealed to myself my current state. I was able to admit it: I am sad. And in that room full of mostly strangers, I let myself be sad. All that existed was my breath and my grief. For the first time in a long time I had removed my mask of optimism.

When my maternal grandfather died I was juggling several major life events of my own. I allowed myself a quick cry and forced myself to buck up and get back to living. I knew it wasn’t a healthy choice, but at the time I felt it was my only option. My toddler and my newborn needed me. I didn’t see how I could do what I needed to do while grieving. I reserved my tears for the shower.

I’ve used mindfulness to escape feelings before, and since. In fact I probably use mindfulness more often to avoid my emotions than to truly deal with them. The good thing about being busy is that there is always something to do. If I am teaching my students, interacting with my children, or otherwise engaged, I can use that activity to push away the feelings that would otherwise consume me.

But there does need to be a balance. As much as I can’t fall headfirst into my pain, it’s not helpful for me to avoid it completely.

My paternal grandfather had died less than 48 hours prior to that yoga class. I had allowed myself more space to cry this time around. Yet somehow I had made it to that day without truly facing my emotions and admitting the depth of my sorrow.

My grandfather’s death had not been a surprise. But the thing about protracted grief is that we mistakenly believe that because we already cried about it that we can check the box for mourning and move on. It’s an unpleasant shock to have to mourn again. Whether or not the event is sudden, there is no grief that can be checked off the list and marked as “done.”

This time around I’m trying to be more honest with myself and allow myself the full range of emotions. As I wander through the dark forest of my pain I discover moments of sunshine, moments of agony, moments of guilt, and moments of utter loss. I’ve also discovered I am grieving for two. As I never allowed myself to fully grieve my maternal grandfather I’ve reopened that sadness as well.

There are some major differences this time. It was easier to push aside my pain and get back to life 11 years ago. Mourning in the age of social media is a completely different activity. Those who have married into our family have posted either online or in group emails beautiful, tender tributes. While those of us born into the family maintain radio silence. Admittedly few of us even use social media, regardless we are at heart a stoic lot. We keep our problems to ourselves, sharing the events only after the fact, if at all. Several of my friends lost grandparents the same week as I, so I quickly concluded that I needed a break from social media to get a handle of my own feelings before I could deal with everyone else’s.

As the days go by I find myself relying less desperately on my ability to be mindful. It’s not as hard to be fully present with my piano students – I no longer worry about bursting into tears in the middle of a lesson. The grief comes in waves but there are some guarantees: I’m going to cry in the car; I’m going to sob in the shower; my meditation will include tears.

For now I’m trying to make sure I allow myself some mindfulness in my mourning. Making it through the day without tears isn’t a victory. It is a sign that I had been too busy with the superficial tasks to allow my soul the space to heal. Soon I’ll be able to pull out the photos and tell my children more stories of their great-grandfathers. I’m not ready yet, but I’m getting there.

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