Riding the Waves of GriefMarch 5, 2012
At a recent energy medicine workshop with my teacher, Deborah King, something she said to a fellow student caught my attention. “Grief has its own schedule. We can’t fit it into a weekend.” Boy, can I relate to that. It has been 10 months today since my partner, Ralph, passed away, and I feel as though I have been riding the waves of grief. As the months slip away, I notice more and more that I am careful not to talk too much about him to certain people, lest I become labeled as someone who can’t “get on with her life.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve written a lot about my experience with grief during these past 10 months. I’ve thought about grief more than I have my entire life. And like most of us, I have had my share of loss. The death of two loving parents, the end to a 30-year marriage, uprooting myself and leaving my home in Michigan for NYC, just to name a few. Even the two family dogs died not long after I moved. But what was different about the grief I suffered from Ralph’s death was that I didn’t bury it this time, like I always did in the past. Buried emotion never turns out in a positive way–it often leads to illness, as it certainly did with me. You can’t disconnect the mind, body and soul. This has become my mantra.
What triggered me to write this post was an experience I had yesterday riding the subway. A man got on the train with a baby in a stroller and when I looked up at him, I almost gasped. He looked like Ralph, but more importantly, he acted like Ralph. He had that Kapha look about him, compassionate and tender. His hand was on his baby’s foot the entire time, stroking it in a comforting way as he kept leaning over to look at her, checking to make sure she was okay. By the time I met Ralph years ago, his daughter was already grown, but he would tell me stories about when she was a baby and he would take her all over the city. His face lit up with joy and pride every time he talked about Tonya. There was nothing more precious to him than his daughter and it was one of the things I loved the most about him. So as I watched this stranger on the train, my eyes started to fill with tears and I was thankful that I was getting off at the next stop. As I got up to leave, his eyes met my teary ones and I saw a look of compassion cross his face. It was so Ralph-like.
Here’s the interesting thing, and why it’s so important. This episode on the train didn’t leave me feeling sad or crippled with grief. Yes, I was crying, but it was equal parts joy and sadness. It brought to mind loving memories about Ralph that opened my heart, and the tears were cleansing. This is what healthy grief feels like (in my opinion). I am able to move forward, living my life, but not denying my loss or the impact it had on me. It has also led me to process old grief that was no longer serving me.
I am grateful to my children, Brian and Amy, who, quickly learned what a kind and special man Ralph was. They have been a constant source of comfort to me, along with a handful of dear friends. I learned that receiving is just as important and necessary as giving. I owe a debt of gratitude to my teacher, Deborah, and to all of my fellow students in her 21st Century Energy Medicine Program, who never make me feel like I need to “get on with my life” when I tell “Ralph stories.” At our last workshop, I commented to Deborah’s husband, Eric, that I felt like the poster child for grief in the group. His response to me was that, by talking about it, I was helping so many others deal with their own grief. I hope that is true and that writing about it will touch some of you and help ease your own pain.
This week I will be taking Ralph’s ashes down to St. Thomas. He loved it there so much, we almost moved there. But Ralph lived in Manhattan his entire life and my Kapha who didn’t like change just couldn’t leave. When we first met and I was telling him that I had never been south of Florida, he would talk about taking me to St. Thomas where, “when you fly over it you will see water so blue it will take your breath away.” He was right, and so we used to vacation there. The picture above was taken on our last trip to what he thought was Paradise. Now he’s really there.