*Note: This blog post originally appeared in the October Letter that went out to Luminous Leanings subscribers. I rarely share these insights on the blog, but I felt this one was important. To get the Letter in your inbox monthly, sign up here!
Oh, Dear Ones, I’m in it right now. Grieving the loss of a precious grandmother. Juggling flights home, funeral plans, and death logistics with pre-planned visits from friends, and no paid time-off from either of my jobs. All the while, trying to carve out time for stillness and healing.
When I first learned of her death, it was in the quiet of the early morning before Jon rises. Just me and Tucker (our cat) and the sunrise. I sat on the couch with my coffee and let the tears come. It dawned on me, my self-care practice has prepared me for tragedy. My body and spirit simply knew what to do, as I had been carving these self-compassionate neural pathways for quite some time.
I listened to my sobs and felt them deep within me. I set an intention to clear my day and really feel the grief wash over me. And that’s what I did. After sending an email to my boss, and sending a chat to my fellow bartenders to see about getting my shifts covered at the brewery, I sat on my meditation cushion and called my family. Then I lit some candles and burned some incense at my altars, rolled out my yoga mat, and practiced yoga (this Yoga for Grief practice from Yoga for Adriene). I talked to her directly, and felt her spirit’s love and freedom.
As I blew out the candles, it came to me to say aloud, “We come from love and we return to love.” Life and death are a mystery, but I know this to be true.
I watched the leaves fall from the trees and reminded myself that tears are medicine. I took a walk to a park filled with cottonwood trees near my house, sat on the ground and read poetry. As the sun waned, I drove to the grocery and bought ingredients for the comfort food I was craving: ramen and pad thai. I came home and prepared the ramen with coconut milk, soft boiled eggs, and spicy sriracha. Definitely not the food of my ancestors, but a dish that always serves to soothe and warm my soul.
In the days since, I’ve carried this gentle reminder with me – there is wisdom in the dying time. Internalized capitalism transmits the beliefs that productivity should never cease and we should DO until we die. The Celtic tradition of my ancestors, on the other hand, called the fall the “dying time” and the winter the “dreaming time.” And it seems so fitting to me. Of course we need the Yin of rest, darkness, healing, even grief to counterbalance the Yang of summer’s activity, life, and labor. The light is waning, days are shorter, and the plants perform dormancy as their energy goes downward into their roots, causing summer’s fruits and flowers to die.
We are a culture yearning for rest, for permission to pause. For the darkness of winter to cover our strained eyes and bring us relief. Grief and death are more pieces of the life cycle that our society resists, rejects and turns away from. We suffer because we know, deep down, that – to resist death is to resist nature and life itself. It’s to resist what is inevitably coming for each of us. But our ancestors knew how to die and grieve. The earth surely knows how. And there are still cultures that celebrate death as a part of life, choosing to remember those who have passed rather than pushing them out of their memory as a defense mechanism from pain (Dia de los Muertos comes to mind).
It’s really important to create meaningful ritual and ceremony with one’s community after death (as with all rites of passage in life). I did have the opportunity to write my grandmother’s eulogy, which my father will read at the funeral tomorrow. And my sister and I will sing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” as made famous by Billie Holiday. This song was on my heart and mind so strongly the days after she died. When our parents asked us to choose a song to sing, I told my sister she should have the honor since my grandmother and she shared a connection over music. The next morning I woke up singing, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” as it was still on my mind. I checked my phone and saw I had received a text from my sister with pictures of the sheet music. “I found it!” she said. Of course, it was the same song – “I’ll Be Seeing You.” So it feels very fitting, and like her wish for us.
As I sit here in the Dallas airport, between my flight from Albuquerque and my flight to Louisville, I set my intention for the days ahead surrounded by family and grief.
- I intend to honor and say goodbye to my “Memaw” in the ways that feel most authentic to me.
- I intend to be a beacon of light and love to members of my family, even those who are handling grief in a particularly painful way.
- And I intend to care for myself and cultivate even deeper self-compassion and connection to the Divine through the process.
Grief is exhausting and expresses itself sometimes suddenly in unexpected ways. If there ever was a time for self-love, this is it. May we all rise to the challenge and be proactive in cultivating a lasting self-care practice. You don’t have to self-care by yourself. I’m here for you! Discover tangible rituals & powerful mindset shifts that lead to a genuine embodiment of self-love in Become Your Own Soul Mate, my 12-week 1-on-1 self-care program! Learn more here.
Dear Ones, have you experienced the death of a loved one? Did your culture and traditions meet your needs? If not, how did you cope? And how did you care for yourself along the way? Sending so much light and love, especially to the grieving ones today.
P.S. I have learned a lot about the death industry in the U.S. and about conscious dying through this podcast episode, from my favorite ancestral worker, Becca Piastrelli. Check it out!