Updated: Aug 23, 2019
"You were just a CHILD!" I found myself discovering through a swell of tears during a recent Grief Yoga™ class. These were five words I could never acknowledge about myself during the death of my grandmother, but 16 year-old Julee had been waiting 20 years to be allowed to feel this fact. It wasn't that people had never said that to me in response to hearing my experience of her death; I just couldn't embrace it until now. At 16 we don't see ourselves as children; we are too eager to grow up at that point. I had just gotten my license, I was dating, and running around trying to "be somebody." There was no room for that kind of vulnerability in my mind.
My Grandma Ruth was only 57 when she died of cancer in the summer of 2000. It was a painful battle with only a brief remission between diagnoses over a 5 year period. Earlier that year my paternal great-grandmother passed away at 91. I was sad, but I understood she had lived a full life. Ruth on the other hand, was young, a comedian, an athlete, a party planner, and my second mother. I just couldn't imagine the reality of her gone until I had to live it. No one in my small family was equipped to manage this loss, much less support each other through it. We all put on a brave face, but were in full melt-down on the inside. My mother was the most expressive of all of us, which made her look like a basket case in comparison. My coping mechanism was withdrawal, and I dove head first into my social life desperately looking for love and acceptance. Conflict began to rise between my mother and grandfather once Ruth was no longer around to keep the peace. This created a lasting divide in the family that I walked the tight-rope between for the remainder of their lives. I loved them both so much, yet I had to play both sides like a double agent for what I convinced myself was my survival and stability. In addition to normal teenage rebellion and angst, there were additional layers of pain, suffering, and tension that stirred the pot into an unruly boil at times. I have spent 20 years looking back at the fights with my mom with regret and guilt. I couldn't see how much pain she was in or that her anger was really a cry for support, a plea for someone to hold her and tell her she was loved and okay. For this I now say, "Julee, you were just a child. You didn't need to know."
I set an intention to explore my grandmother's death during this Grief Yoga™ class. I knew that 20 years later, there were still many pain points living within me like emotional landmines. As I came to the realization above, I found myself tripping over residual pain and suffering centered around regrets and guilt. "I should have called more. I should have been of more support to my grandfather and mother. I should have told her I loved her aloud while I stood at her deathbed and she was still breathing. I should not have been so scared. I should have been stronger. I should have been smarter. If only…" We moved into a practice of channeling anger and pain into physical movement and sound. I found myself letting out loud tear-filled wales while internally screaming, "YOU WERE JUST A CHILD! YOU DIDN’T NEED TO KNOW! You didn't need to be strong! You were just trying to survive! They were your parents, not the other way around!" OMG, did it feel so good. I just really let it out. I let myself FEEL anything that came up. I was in a room with others doing this exploration and I felt safe being in an environment of people who "understood" what I was doing there. It wasn't me being broken, it was me coming out of the cocoon of pain and emerging into a new evolution of my relationship to the grief.
From there, we worked with releasing the regret, pain, and resentment stories that live within our grief. As my suffering seemed to center around stories of this nature, I found this releasing visualization quite powerful. At the end I lay there feeling like a weight had been lifted off of me, but also acknowledging that this didn't "fix" my grief as that is not possible. What this experience did was allow me to better live in the love I have for my family within that grief experience. For that, I am grateful.
Grief Yoga™ was created by Paul Denniston out of Los Angeles. To learn more about this practice, visit griefyoga.com. I am a certified Grief Yoga™ teacher and teach private and group classes in the Seattle area.