March Newsletter: Making Space for Grief Healing
This month of March is rich with the beauty of early Spring! Here in middle Tennessee flowers are blossoming open and sharing their fragrance with all that would like to smell their rich & delicate aromas. From an ayurvedic perspective, Springtime is connected to Kapha dosha, and if you look around at the world you can see the growth & beauty of Nature expanding all around you with the budding open of trees & the birth of baby animals having their first experiences of life. Now's a great time to also start new and fresh with childlike wonderment in all that you experience, even if it's something you've been doing for years.
For me, March is also a contemplative month of personal growth that I turn inward for self-reflection as I continue to mourn & celebrate my mother's birth & death.
Before I continue with this month's newsletter I'd like to be transparent: I'm not a grief counselor and I don't have academic/ clinical/ professional training in grief therapy. All that I'm going to share is from my personal experience in creating my own space for healing my own grief combined with the reverent experiences I've had when holding space for other people to begin or continue their grief healing process after the death of a loved one.
A part of my grief healing was also seeking counseling from a professional grief therapist. If you are grieving/ mourning the loss of a loved one I encourage you to seek out a professional who resonates with your needs in combination with practicing holistic mind-body interventions with experienced Integrative Wellness Professionals. If you need help finding yoga therapists, bodywork therapist, reiki practitioners, acupuncturist, etc., that can hold space for grief while addressing the physical, energetic & spiritual pain that often times accompany losing a loved one please email me for recommendations.
My mother, Janet Bernadette Jackson, passed five years ago from stage IV colon cancer. She was born at the very start of Spring on March 23, 1952 in Kingston Jamaica, and died late winter on March 4, 2017 in Manchester Connecticut. Even though I had time--2 years--to reckon with the fact that my mom would soon die upon hearing her diagnosis, when she actually passed the physical finality of losing her was acutely traumatic.
To be honest, it continues to be one of the hardest challenges I still experience and it has truly shifted the trajectory of my life & my livelihood. The passing of my mother is what directed me to seek deeper spiritual healing from the pain I experienced from her death; and it's what ignited me to take a risk on myself as a self-employed yoga teacher with only three years of teaching experience at the time, so this month of March also marks 5 years since I've been "in business" for myself. My mother's death taught me to be disciplined, courageous, sincere & compassionate.
In my experience since mom died, what I've learned is creating boundaries around what I can & can't do is important for grief healing. I've also learned making time for rest is vital, as healing from loss is fatiguing. Something else I've learned is giving myself permission to receive compassion from myself & others; this can be in the form of feeling loved & nourished, feeling seen & cared about, feeling comforted & supported, feeling vulnerable & crying. All these things allow for the painful experiences to move through me--albeit slowly--with more grace & deeper meaning.
One thing I've learned is grief healing asks you to slow down, but having the time to put things on pause for experiencing grief isn't easy. Here in the USA, our modern American society isn't exactly supportive of mourning a loved one; as of writing this newsletter there are no federal laws providing workers with paid time off to even attend an immediate family member's funeral. If you are able to receive paid time off from your employer, typical bereavement leave to mourn the loss of an immediate family member is on average 3 days before you're expected to get back to work as usual.
It can seem like an insurmountable challenge in overcoming the cultural & societal hurdles that can prevent you from creating time & space to mourn the loss of a loved one, but any time you can spend creating & holding space for your grief heal is time well spent. In my experience, I used the last of my savings to take a month off from working before I felt like I was in a place to return to the public. I know something like this isn't feasible for everyone, and realistically it wasn't my best financial choice but I deeply needed that time so it was fully worth it for my emotional & mental health. That being said, try to take some time off from your everyday schedule, even if it's just shortening your regular work hours for a month, taking a few extra days off on top of allotted bereavement or asking a family member to watch the kids for a weekend while you rest.
Since mom's death, I've developed sustainable mindfulness tools that can be easily integrated into my everyday activities for building emotional resilience & empowering personal healing. One such tool that has helped me a lot is the "micro-practice." This is practicing a subtle/ energetic skill for short timeframes (1-5 minutes) multiple times a day--once every hour if you can. These subtle skills are practices such as breath awareness of my heart, mentally chanting a mantra or checking in with my 5 senses. What's great about these subtle micro-practices is they are discreet so you can practice them anywhere and no one has to know that you're doing it. Micro-practicing has been a valuable tool for returning to my present moment awareness and feeling what's going on in my whole body.
What I've also learned is grief healing asks a person to experience pain & to self-reflect. Neither of these things are easy--if I didn't already have my yoga practice at the time of my mom's passing I probably would have relied on drinking or sex to numb out the pain or dull my awareness. Being present for painful experiences are not easy things to do, so take baby steps at a pace that is best for you. I notice when I let myself show up for even the hurt, within the hurt is a lot of wisdom & knowledge, and a chance to offer myself compassion & grace. In my experience this helped me establish a more authentic & honest sense of Self that I don't think I had before mom passed.
One last thing I'll share in my experience of grief healing is having a positive outlet to channel & release some of the emotional energy has been very beneficial. For some people, journaling, sketching or creating music will work. For other people reading memoires, or studying a healing modality will be best. And for some other folks community support groups such as Gilda's Club will offer the most. Listen to what makes you feel whole, and it's okay if it's a combination of activities. For me, I took a dive into practicing & learning about holistic healing modalities such as restorative yoga, somatic movement techniques & ayurveda because I felt a lot of physical pain & energetic closure in my being. To be honest I couldn't really play music all that much for the first year after my mom died as the pain I experienced was heavily affecting my creativity.
These are the things I found were--and continue to be--most important for me when my mother passed. I hope this can serve as an offering of love, compassion & support for those of you that are grieving the loss of a loved one. The greatest lesson my mother taught me was through her passing, and I hope I am honoring that lesson as she rest in eternal peace.
For my mother, Janet B Jackson, the crazy Jamaican woman, the greatest Love of my life
3/23/1952 - 3/4/2017