Grief. Denial. Loss. Bargaining. Sadness. Despair. Depression. Anguish. Anger. Resentment. Acceptance.
They say there are fives "stages" to the grieving process but I'm convinced it is more like a tangled mess of threads, some easy to unravel, some tied in stubborn knots and some that slide easily out of the group - threatening to bring you completely undone.
Today would have been the 49th birthday of my eldest sister, and Facebook, Instagram and even my calendar are taking their time reminding me of this fact. Of course being in the US as well means I really get 1.5 days of my Sister's birthday - so the reminders started last night.
When I woke up this morning, it's not like I didn't know this day was coming. There are two days a year that get me like this - the anniversary of her death and her birthday. This year, her anniversary went by fairly unmarked by me. It snuck up on me, pulled the rug from under me and then smacked me in the back of the head - but that's a story for another time.
This time I saw her birthday coming. I noticed the signs, the symptoms, the moments in my body/thoughts and feelings that indicated to me that something was going to shake me. Of course I tried to ignore it. I ate a little too much bread and pasta, I revelled in coffee and alcohol and tried to shrug off the knowing that this was a protective, desperate act of self preservation.
I'm not saying I don't always eat these foods, but they're my comfort foods - hence why the signs were subtle. But I did notice the feelings behind them. I suppose because in the last year or so that's what I've been trying to teach myself to do. Feel.
Not just name it when I'm feeling angry, but truly somatically experience the depth, breadth and texture of my physical experience and the sensations and responses to my thoughts and external world. And this time, today, that paid off in huge measure.
Flash back to the first birthday after her death. I drank. and drank. My family got together and we commiserated. But for me, it was about blocking that pain out. Rinse and repeat, for the following 2 years - whether alone, on the other side of the world or not - for me it was about escaping, running, hiding.
It's not a new pattern, but this level of pain, grief and anguish brought it to light in a whole new way for me.
Today I tried something new. I followed my intuition and cancelled my morning appointment. At that point I thought I just needed more sleep. I hadn't even remembered what day it was and quickly checked Facebook only to be thrown into the loving memorialization messages and then just burst into tears.
I could have gone back to bed. I could have hugged my man and called in sick. These are great options, and for others may be just the solution. For me though I pulled out my yoga mat and just got on it and moved. My training kicked in and I breathed into my body, felt my heart and gut and cried. and cried. and breathed. and cried. and rocked. and cried. and rested. and cried.
I gave expression and movement and voice to my feelings and just let them be.
Thoughts were there, I let them in and let them pass.
And then peace. Quiet. Calm.
I'm not cured. I still miss her so fucking much. I still have tears to cry. But...
I'm not going to drink myself stupid this weekend.
I'm not going to push myself to the brink of rock bottom to escape feeling pain.
I'm not going to run myself to exhaustion ignoring the depth of my grief.
For me this was an act of self love and care, I had tried to ignore it, seen the patterns, and my training kicked in.
I will miss her always, but as I processed that grief, I also found moments of clarity, of gratitude. I'm grateful I can see her in the faces of her children, my sisters and in the mirror. Grateful that she lived at all. Grateful for the online social apps that allow her children to post about her and send that gentle reminder of her into the world. That my mum has a place to share that pain with others. That her friends are able to unite over a shared memory and shared pain in an easy way that gives voice to the memories and to those who are grieving. That give me a way to stay in touch from afar.
There is no one way to express, hold and merge with grief. There is no right way. Whatever you need in your gut is the way for you. This was just my way today, and no doubt it may change over time.
If this resonated with you in any way, or you have any experiences with grief or loss and want to learn more about what I now know, please reach out. I love to hear about new resources for grief and/or to help those who need space held for them.
I strongly believe we need to change the way society (especially in the white western POV that is my background) talks about death and illness.
Cover Photo by Kiki Siepel on Unsplash