Dealing with Grief

My dad died a month ago. Grief is a mysterious process, and one to which I am no stranger.  I lost my mother when I was 6, which pretty much defined my life. In fact, I have spent the majority of my life pretending that this actually never happened to me as a way to deal with that grief. Super healthy, right? But with my dad dying, it is different. He and I were estranged for much of my adult years, mainly because I chose to disconnect myself from the abusive person he married (and chose to remain with) right after my mother died. When you live in an abusive situation as a child, you think that it is normal.  If you’re smart, like I was, you learn how to “handle” your abuser so that you are her target as little as possible. You basically figure out what makes them angry, and then spend most of your time preventing a blowup. As a child, however, you believe that your parent (my father) is going to protect you. It is devastating when they don’t. Despite the betrayal I felt from my father, I still loved him. He himself was a victim of abuse and never learned quite how to free himself from it. He tried a few times but always went back. I think that perhaps there is a sick comfort from being in an abusive relationship because it confirms the false belief that you are not worthy of love. In no way, however, am I excusing his abandonment of me. Despite being estranged, I held out hope that he would, one day, come back to me. He never did so, and, as my counselor pointed out to me, it’s like I am grieving him twice.

Grieving my dad is different than my mother. When my mother died, I was expected to simply move on and act like she never existed in order to please my new step-parent. No counseling was provided. No talk of my mother in a positive light took place. In fact, my stepmother would often tell me how much better of a mother she was than my own mother. I know--totally fucked up, right? During this grieving process, however, I actually have the tools of yoga and meditation to help me through. I am in relationship, thankfully, in which my partner doesn’t judge me for crying when I need to and gives space for the quiet that I enter into when I feel sad. My children have both been incredibly supportive, even though their grandfather ghosted them, too.

One area in which my dad did not abandon me was anything that had to do with physical exercise. He actually got a degree in physical education but never taught. He became a police officer instead. When I was in junior high, I played for the tennis team, so my dad would go play with me pretty much any time I asked. And I was not a great tennis player. In high school, I trained for cross country and he would sometimes run with me. I was a slow and steady runner. I remember running with him and when I got to the point where I’d want to walk, he’d say stuff like, “Just run up to that tree,” and then when we were almost to the tree, he’d say, “Let’s run to that light post up there,” and so on until we finished the two miles. One of the sweetest times with my dad was when I ran a half marathon in my thirties. He got up at 3 a.m. to drive me to Disney, which is where the event was. My husband and kids met up with him later, and I’d get to see them at different points during the run. For the rest of the weekend, my dad called me, “My daughter, the athlete.” It was one of the few times in my life in which he and I had space as a father and daughter.

I took a week off of work when my dad passed. I cried during my morning meditations, and still do when I need to. I went to hot power yoga and yin daily that week. Yin is a restorative form of yoga that is extremely gentle and meditative. It is the kind of yoga that I bring friends to when they are taking their first yoga class ever. For me, one of the best parts about yin is that it is a great place to cry. You can lie in legs-up-the-wall pose, throw a towel over your face, and just feel the emotional/mental release.  And yin offers a quiet, gentle space in which you feel safe and not alone. I think loneliness is a dangerous part of grief because it is so easy to isolate yourself as you deal with the pain. Don’t isolate. Find a yoga class you can attend.

I am not “fixed” because of yoga and meditation. My grief remains. But I have been able to enter into the process of grieving rather than avoid it because of what yoga and meditation do for me: allowing me to honor who I am right here, right now. How do you deal with grief?  I’d love to hear ways in which we can support one another in this process.