“It is June. I am tired of being brave.” Anne Sexton
After teaching yoga one morning a student, and widow, said, “You should be really feeling it now.”
She is right. The numbness and shock over Mark’s sudden death have faded and all the grief feels have emerged. Mostly at night. And I cannot use my grief chair, because -- as shown in the accompanying picture -- Jake has taken it hostage.
I wonder when this will pass, when I will feel stronger. “I am tired of being brave,” as Anne Sexton says.
Grief is not an appropriate small-talk subject
Since I am nocturnal in my grief, my acquaintances believe me to be better. Recently in the work lunchroom, I was asked:
“How are Mark’s kids doing?”
No other words before or after that sentence. Just this small-talk grief bomb.
During the day I have my face turned toward the work at hand. Like yoga spiritual writer Michael Singer suggests in “The Untethered Soul” I am not living in my grief all the time. It is healthier not to. A Harvard study found that in the year after a spouse’s death, 50% of widows develop depression and a study from the PubMed website says widows have an 11% higher risk of mortality compared with married persons.
So I am using yoga and spirituality tools to handle grieving better. Working to build a resiliency to suffering – an acceptance that it is part of life. After all, grief is something that we will experience more frequently as we age - as people die out of - rather than leave their relationships. But when I do experience grief, I let it wash over me. I feel it fully. Which can leave one emotional for a bit.
So please – I beg you – don’t make grief a small-talk subject.
The lunchroom person meant well. Her words were supposed to land kindly. Yet I spent the next hour in my office with the door closed - quietly weeping.
Early after his death, I sensed Mark was always with me, and that lulled me into forgetting that he was gone. Now, having to face Father’s Day this month, and Mark’s birthday the next, I am not sure how to get through it. Although my therapist says the anticipation of events is often worse than their arrival.
I understand why some grievers become agoraphobics
Recently I attended a concert and the sponsoring radio station was WMGK, a classic rock station Mark loved. Of course, the concert was at night when grief gremlins emerge.
The WMGK station booth was right by the bathroom. Soon I found myself sitting in a bathroom stall looking up at the unlockable door crying. I was remembering Mark telling me stories about how WMGK helped him on the three-hour rides back and forth to work the year his daughter died.
Which is why I played the station to help him deal with the constant annoyances of the neuro intensive care unit. When the nurses would ask, "Mark can you hear me? Mark can you give me a thumb’s up? Mark can you wiggle your toes?” Every hour they asked these questions as he gradually withdrew, and eventually stopped responding.
The first day he was in hospice I brought a boom box so he could listen to the radio station, not knowing it was the last day he would breathe.
Later after the concert, we drove one of our group home. At one point I realized we were in the University of Penn Hospital neighborhood. I looked up to see the same lit skyscrapers I viewed the night of Mark’s stroke - when I was carrying his phone in my purse, hoping he could still play that annoying Pokémon Go game, or text me “mi amore” one more time.
That night of memories was enough to make me never want to go out again. And although I was not going to become an agoraphobic, I understand why some grieving people do. It is so hard to let those feelings wash over you and not avoid them. It is tempting to stay inside where its safe, as memories lurk in the most unexpected places.
But realizing I am most susceptible at night when I am tired and emotionally used up is very helpful. A night of rest cures me, and I wake up hopeful, able to leave my house again.
More than survive
I realize that I haven’t been doing much more than survive since Mark’s death. I've been so busy. I had to finish my last assignments for my yoga therapy certification and wrap up my Elephant Journal teaching responsibilities. And my work situation changed in a good way – which kept me occupied. I kept doing what needed to be done without a lot of thought to what I was feeling. Or what my lack of clarity was doing to my health and self-care routines.
I look normal – so people think I am better and go back to leaning on me. But instead of taking on more responsibilities, I need to sit with my sadness. The sheer weight of all I have been through in the last three years is enough to bear.
And at times their needy demands make me angry and resentful - taking me away from who I want to be at my core.
To help I have been using virtues as intentions for my yoga practice. Who do I want to be today? What virtue (patience, kindness, compassion) do I want to project to the world for the rest of my day so I don’t take out my frustration on others? These virtues are not just directed toward the world – but to myself as well. More patience with myself in grief. Kinder to myself when I fail. Compassionate to my soul when it aches.
This experience has finally beaten into me that I should live in the moment and not to make plans. I planned to be married -- twice. Now no plans. Let what happens unfold. Surrender to the universe’s will, Donna.
And yet, I still meme, “Why is life teaching lessons I have no interest learning?” I guess because the ones we don't want to learn are the ones we need.
The puzzle was never the point
During meditation distractions I wonder if things happen for a reason. If I hadn’t met Mark and let him nurture the part that was injured during childhood, while undergoing a yoga therapy program requiring introspection, would I have been healed enough to survive his sudden death?
At work we are putting together jigsaw puzzles as a team-building exercise, something I have always enjoyed. In fact I was obsessed with it after my father’s death 30 years ago.
Puzzles provide structure and a clear outcome when life has neither.
It was while working on a puzzle one afternoon that I realized I was trying to rewrite my past with Mark. Trying to make everything fit into neat little outcomes. But life is quite mismatched. And trying to make everything fit might actually be harmful to healing and growth. Those thoughts inspired the #memeaday below:
Yoga Therapy Training Comes to an End
After three years of training weekends, over 30 case studies and countless homework assignments my yoga therapy training with YogaLife Institute came to a close this month.
On our last weekend a teacher asked what we had learned from yoga training over the last year. When it came my turn to share I said:
"People come up to me all the time and ask how I am doing so well after Mark's death. And I tell them I am leaning heavily on my yoga training. That this yoga sh*t really works."
My friends and fellow yoga students laughed and made that the catch phrase for our graduation weekend. Because it's true. All of my yoga training - including the meditation, spiritual teachings, and asana practice itself - have been crucial to my healing. And my awareness that I have more recovering to do. Every last bit of what I learned has been summoned during the last five months. And I know now that this yoga sh*t really works.
When will I write something happy again?
One day while chatting with a writer friend I whined, “When will I write something happy again?”
I did publish my first Elephant Journal column, but it was sad -- again. I feel like Frances in a scene from the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” A brave beautiful Italian woman says, “Frances, are you sad – again?” (Not familiar with this movie? Goeth now to Netflix and watch. Best rom-com travel movie of all time. And it stars Diane Lane. Need I say more?)
In hopes of eventually inspiring happier writing, I am:
As I take these steps I notice moments of real happiness – without the low hum of grief – and my yoga practice creates awareness and gratitude when they happen.
Hopeful that soon the joyful moments outweigh the sad ones.
“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” ~Anne Roiphe
May some of what I learned and experienced this month be helpful in your journey.
Thank you for reading.
“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It is the way it is. The way we cope with it makes the difference.” ~Virginia Satir
It has been almost four months since Mark’s fatal stroke, and I am still grieving. Which is a surprise to me. I thought if I applied the right amount of research, yoga therapy training and blinked three times I would be over this. But grief is not easily eradicated.
And it shows up in unexpected places.
For example, there are times of the day where I can’t stop looking at my phone. An article in Real Simple magazine titled “Unplug and Recharge” suggests taking note of your feelings when you are grasping for your phone - and when I did - I realized I was picking up my phone when I was missing Mark. He used to text and call me all day - so much that it could be overwhelming. But now I miss that – and him.
As a result, I have started to put the phone away in a drawer so I cannot see it – just like my teenage son’s chocolate cookies. Weaning myself from this phone habit is difficult – but seems a necessary part of the grief and acceptance process.
Missing Mark’s good morning texts had been the hardest part of my day until I established a new habit – making daily quote memes. This started sporadically when Mark was in the hospital – but became a routine after his death. The memes reflect how I am feeling, what I am reading/learning and recent pictures. I tag them on Facebook and Instagram with hashtags like #griefrecovery or #writingheals and my social media handle @downdogdiva. Creating them gives me something to focus on each morning – which makes starting the day without Mark a bit easier.
Also I have been writing in my journal daily (as suggested in Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”), which has helped inspire my blogs and articles.
The healing benefits of creative pursuits have been well documented. Stuckey and Nobel note in their paper entitled, “The Connection between Art, Healing and Public Health” that:
“Expressive writing can improve control over pain, depressed mood, and pain severity… Our voices are embodiments of ourselves, whether written or spoken. It is in times of extremity that we long to find words or hear another human voice letting us know we are not alone.”
The paper notes similar benefits from music and art therapy, which explains my re-emerging interest in the piano and crafting.
Pema Chodron’s “The Places that Scare You” (what an appropriate title) has also been helpful. Chodron encourages us to explore the things we fear and to see every experience as part of life. She writes:
“Whenever someone asked a certain Zen master how he was, he would always answer, ‘I’m okay.’ Finally one of his students said, ‘Roshi, how can you always be okay? Don’t you ever have a bad day?’ The Zen master answered, ‘Sure I do. On bad days, I’m okay. On good days, I’m also okay.’”
Chodron calls this phenomena equanimity -- defined as catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping (for cell phones, for example) or negativity. Whatever arises, no matter how bad it feels, can be used to extend our kinship to others who suffer the same feeling. She suggests we all strive to achieve equanimity – although the journey is long. She writes:
“Training in equanimity requires that we leave behind some baggage: the comfort of rejecting whole parts of our experience, for example, and the security of welcoming only what is pleasant. The courage to continue with this unfolding process comes from self-compassion and from giving ourselves plenty of time. If we continue to practice this way over the months and years, we will feel our hearts and minds grow bigger. When people ask me how long this will take, I say, ‘At least until you die.’”
Which may be why the Buddhists call themselves warriors.
The scary yogi emerges
It is comforting to know that finding equanimity is hard. Especially since somewhere along this grieving path my temper has re-emerged. It had previously been buried under sadness and meditation miasma. But now it’s back. And flaring at the stupidest things, like unfolded clothes and dogs pooping in the house because of weeks of rain.
Or the largely unused 7-passenger vehicle I leased to accommodate Mark’s three kids and my two. When I recently received an offer in the mail to trade it in, I fell into a raging sobbing heap. Here I was with this huge SUV for a family life that died with Mark.
Yet I couldn’t let it go. Just like the clothes that still smelled of him or the sushi pillow he gave me to commemorate his “win” at getting me to like sushi. That sushi pillow is hideous – yet it’s not going anywhere.
At a recent session my therapist listened quietly to my angry rants and resulting self-hate. When I finally took a breath she said, “Donna, of course you are angry. Look at what you have been through.”
I love those two words – of course. It is so hard for me to ask for things. Or allow vulnerable feelings. So when friends or my therapist give me the solace of those two words – of course – the inclusivity and empathy inferred softens and saves me. Those feelings help me refrain from welcoming only what is pleasant, and summon the courage to wade into situations that are painful and sad.
The funeral tour continues
Which is helpful as the funeral tour continues. Mark’s death has come with visits by friends far and nearer. Which is wonderful. But I don’t want to relive how Mark died anymore.
So I have taken to bringing friends along as a buffer. To prevent the discussion from sliding into all things death. The time for those conversations was the days surrounding the funeral. Reliving them now undoes the difficult healing already completed.
The grief herd
The impatience and rage I have been experiencing make it hard for me to continue sitting in a grief group of strangers. I can’t seem to make myself listen to their stories – it is just too difficult. I continue to work through my grief by seeing a therapist, but I am now alone in the grief experience.
When my daughter got home from college I picked up Mark’s kids and we all went to lunch at one of the restaurants he liked. It was a pub where kids eat free on Tuesdays – an important selling point for someone supporting three kids on a teacher’s salary.
After the initial awkwardness of being together without Mark – we all got on like nothing had happened. The kids had missed each other and there was an ease about their interaction – maybe because we were the only ones who knew how each other felt. And importantly, no one talked about what had occurred. Turns out I don’t need a grief group of strangers – I have my own grief herd.
And as my daughter wisely reminded me as we drove home – my large SUV is still needed to transport the remaining six members of our family.
The engagement ring Mark gave me (see picture below) was a bit unconventional – but I agreed to it because it was so important to him. It was a mother’s ring with a stone for each of our five children. He saw that ring as a symbol of the family we were creating.
It now symbolizes the connection our love created. The ring still binds us together - even though the person we had in common is gone.
“I Like Me Better When I’m With You”
Like the grief feelings that seem to always be present, certain music is resonating in my mind like a low hum. Many times, I gravitate toward a song without even noticing the words.
For example, I was listening to Sting’s “They Dance Alone” and was about to put it in a yoga class play list when I realized how sad the words are. The song was released in 1987 to protest Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose regime killed thousands of people between 1973 and 1990. I hadn’t realized the history– I just gravitated toward the song’s energy.
And last year I loved the song “I Like Me Better When I’m With You” by Lauv and played it in my yoga and Pilates classes. It made me think how much happier and better a person I was with Mark. But after his death I pulled it from my playlists – it was too hard to hear.
And yet, when that song came on the radio while I was driving all five kids of our in that huge SUV, I realized it wasn’t a sad song after all. I do like me better when I am with him – or what I am because of him. I am not sure that pre-Mark Donna would have faced her fears and pain to bring our kids together after his death.
I used to be afraid of facing painful situations. I would avoid them. But he taught me to put the kids first – something I did not grow up with. And Pema Chodron has given me the awareness, courage and permission to move forward with the uncomfortable. And we have all been blessed as a result.
Another tool I have found helpful as I persevere through the grieving process is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which involves 1) identifying specific issues that are bothering us and 2) tapping on specific points on the body with our fingertips. The points, or meridians (also used in acupuncture), release emotions and energy, helping to alleviate and even resolve the issue. This technique is specifically helpful with grief, anxiety and cravings. (Plenty of sites on-line describe the technique in detail, but I have found Helena Fone’s “EFT for Dummies” very helpful.)
EFT came in handy when I took my two grieving children to Disney’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” I can’t imagine a worse film to see while mourning the loss of a loved one. I spent the whole movie holding tightly to my daughter’s hand and tapping various meridian points. I must have looked like a crazy person.
Remember the good old days when Disney only killed parents in their movies (like in “Bambi” or “The Lion King”)? Turns out that wasn’t enough for Disney – SPOILER ALERT - now their Marvel franchise is killing off half the universe too!
As we watched the movie’s credits - waiting for the usual Marvel sneak preview to be revealed – I couldn’t help but think about Mark. The last time we had waited for credits we had missed Marvel’s second reveal, and he had looked all over the internet for it, eventually sending a video link via text.
He is watching over us
Although Mark is no longer available by phone, he is watching over us. Earlier this month my daughter had a procedure that required anesthesia. Entering the medical facility that morning, I was reminded of the lower back and kidney stone surgeries Mark had months before he died – and the days in the hospital after his fatal stroke.
So my daughter and I were both anxious when we entered the procedure room. And when they put her under, I remembered Mark’s reaction as he woke from both his back and kidney stone surgeries. He insisted we get married. He didn’t want to wait, as we had decided, until the kids were in college. He wanted to be married immediately.
As I waited in the operating room lobby for my daughter, “Flea Market Flip” came on HGTV. I felt comforted. Mark and I had enjoyed watching it every week. And when my daughter woke up from her procedure, she was happy. She said she had talked to Mark while asleep. It felt as though he was there, watching over us.
Later in May, my daughter received a mermaid bath bomb she had purchased from Amazon for her birthday.
How strange, I thought. After Mark died one of his friends said he’d purchased (and had delivered) two bath bombs. One was for me (for Valentine’s Day) and one for his daughter’s birthday – both of which occurred shortly after he died. The bath bombs had rings inside them.
I never told my family this story because it was just one more sad event surrounding Mark’s death. And there had been enough of that.
When I asked my daughter about her purchase, she said,
“It just showed up on my ‘you might like this’ Amazon list” a week or so ago.
I told her the bath bomb story.
“I know it’s crazy, but I think Mark found it for you. He was always finding mermaid-themed things for you.”
Later when she opened the bath bomb, the ring inside had an emerald stone on it – her birthstone. She told me that confirmed that Mark had “sent” her the bath bomb.
He is still out there remembering us – just as we continue to remember him.
Below is a #memeaday I created using a picture of our kids on one of our outings. Although we continue to grieve his loss, Mark’s (and our) love lasts through our children and their connection.
“We live in our description of reality.” ~Gregory Bateson
I really hate it when I say, “I’m fine,” and people's eyes cloud over with a look that says bullsh*t.
But I am fine.
Unlike others who have lost their loves, my daily life hasn’t been impacted. I still have a job and kids (mine only) to take care of. And since we didn’t end up getting married or even live together - most of my life is as it was.
Except for losing the person who taught me how to love. That still happened.
After experiencing repeated friendly disbelief regarding my “fineness” – I got scared. What if I was screwing up this grief thing?
I need to get it right. Because according to studies, if you don’t actively process grief – you could end up in traumatic grief. And according to Deepak Choptra’s book The Healing Self, if you have traumatic grief six months after the death of a loved one – you will likely suffer a serious health issue 13 - 26 months later.
Oh no, not me – I’ve got a lot left to do.
After consulting with my therapist, I reached out to a local hospice center as they provide free grief counselling to anyone whose loved one spent time in hospice (even if it wasn’t their location). Before meeting the grief counselor I sent her an article I had written on grief and informed her of my yoga therapist and reiki training. I also mentioned that I had read:
Because even though I was barely months into the grieving process - I was kicking the sh*t out of grief.
When we met - she let me babble on for a while – lulling me into believing I had it all together. Then she asked the question that slayed me.
“How did he die?”
Those words pulled the veneer off my candy-coated surface and the tears hovering behind my eyelids melted down my face.
I wasn’t fine. And now that she had made me admit it, she could help me figure out how to heal. She asked the following questions:
A week ago, I was incorporating redlined edits given to me by my love only two weeks before his deadly stroke. I mentioned in the story I was writing that I was listening to a Sarah McLachlan song. One of his edits was a suggestion to include the title of the song. Which I couldn’t remember.
So, I foolishly put a Sarah McLachlan playlist on Pandora. Which made everything worse (because I think Sarah McLachlan may be an emotional terrorist).
I didn’t turn off the playlist once I found the song title (Fallen) because I was lulled into the sadness of her music – and it darkened my mood.
Unfortunately, I came upon a passage about my mother (who also died recently) and how she said after my dad died that the hardest thing for her was not to have him scratch her back. The realization that she had no one to provide intimate kindness – just slayed her.
When this happened over 30 years ago – I was so heartless. I thought – get a back scratcher – what’s the big deal? There were so many other things to miss about my dad. Why pick how he scratched your back?
But when I read that paragraph, edited by my lost fiancé, while listening to Sarah McLachlan, I cried. I cried so hard that my dogs rushed over and my son, who was wearing sound cancelling headphones, came and held me.
When you are wallowing, the grief counselor suggests the following:
I have been taking screen shots of the texts between my love and I – as they are like modern love letters. They allow me to connect to him with happy memories – rather than the memories of his hospice stay or death (see below).
As I have been reading through our texts, I am reminded of the play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of an ordinary town and an ordinary couple. By the play’s third act, you have seen the marriage and death of the leading lady, and her visit to her town after death – for one ordinary day. The narrator of the play says, “Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.”
And that is what I see in our texts. Communication between two people in love - unaware that their time together was ending. Ordinary texts about where to eat, when we would see each other next and “Good morning baby cakes." They remind me of the character Emily’s famous line from Our Town,
“Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
And that’s the growth. That is what I have learned - again. That life is to be cherished moment by moment. Hopefully a teaching that won’t be forgotten.
So now, life has taken on an urgency. A dissatisfaction with lazing around in front of the TV. I want to spend more time with my family, friends, yoga and writing compadres and of course, my dogs. Walking outside, trying new wellness practices (like EFT) and exploring far-away places. And most importantly living – because I still can.
That is what this blog will focus on for the rest of the year. Still on health – but with the added challenge of living life to the fullest in healthy grief. With absolutely no Sarah McLachlan.
Hope you will keep reading.
“To bow to the fact of life’s sorrow and betrayals is to accept them; and from this deep gesture we discover that all life is workable. As we learn to bow, we discover that the heart holds more freedom and compassion than we can imagine.” ~Jack Kornfield
March has been a month of tears, self-care and growth. And reflection on the connection of food and love.
For my lost love Mark, food was an expression of love. He adored going to the grocery store or bakery for foods we loved. Black and white cookies for my kids, donuts for his sister’s office, potatoes for me and chocolate covered strawberries for his daughter.
When he realized I loved baked potatoes (I could eat one every day) he would drive to Texas Roadhouse to get them for me (I don’t know what they do to them - but they are frickin’ amazing).
He even got me a potato ornament for our first Christmas together.
He also loved planning meals for his family and friends. He made every meal an expression of his love for them. In the summers when he was off from work – he would make me breakfast every morning from leftovers we had in the house. I appreciated this so much as I never had anyone take the time to make sure I felt loved, nourished and nurtured before I left home each day.
It was also important to him to have just the right toast for my breakfast. One time he went to the Amish Market to get this bread I love named “Exceedingly Good Bread” (it is quite amazing). He couldn’t find it on their long and variant bread counter. Undeterred in his quest, he asked the Amish check out person,
“Do you have any of that Hell of a Good Bread?”
The lady, unfamiliar with swearing, looked shocked and surprised. Mark realized his social error and quickly apologized,
“Oh sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I just can’t remember the name of the bread.”
“Do you mean Exceedingly Good Bread?”
The woman went back to the rolling carts of yet to be wrapped baked goods and picked a warm loaf. I was using it to make eggs and toast within an hour laughing at Mark’s re-telling of the story. As a history teacher – he was an accomplished story teller.
Mark’s fatal stroke happened in the parking lot of that same Amish Market after he rushed out first thing to purchase food for our Super Bowl weekend. I found a tray of wings, meatballs, small hoagie rolls and two loafs of Exceedingly Good Bread in his car when I drove it home (after he was life flighted to University of Penn hospital).
His last act was gathering my family’s favorite foods in anticipation of the big game. I cried eating the food each of the nine nights he spent in the hospital and hospice - until he died. I felt his love in every bite.
I didn’t grow up associating love with food. My mother found cooking a burden. She tended to make the same dishes over and over. And complain about the chore.
And as I have written before (https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/08/65-of-americans-think-spanking-children-is-fine-but-does-it-leave-a-mark/) she physically and verbally abused me – after which I would seek food to feel better. Because there was no sweets or junk food in the house, I would eat peanut butter, or eat butter frosting I made.
Or make excuses to go to neighbors’ houses to raid their junk food closet. Which once discovered – and I was publicly shamed - would make the situation with my mother worse, and she would withhold food. Making its allure more enticing.
It took decades of therapy, and having and changing the pattern for my children, to realize that overeating was hurting me – and shortening my life. So, I started eating healthier and exercising. And lost over 60 pounds – most of which I have kept off.
But my relationship with food remained complicated. Until I met Mark.
When Mark cooked even the simplest dishes tasted delicious. And I think it was because love was an added ingredient
My favorite dish of his was Chicken Marsala. He would go to a local mushroom farm to select the mushrooms, so they were fresh. And he would buy the Marsala wine his dad had loved. Every time he brought the wine home he would share his father’s advice, “For cooking, get the best wine you can afford. If you wouldn’t drink it, why use it for cooking?”
I want to learn how to make Chicken Marsala so I can share Mark’s love with my friends and family on his birthday. To celebrate his life by loving and feeding them in the way that changed me.
Before I met Mark I ate more than my body needed looking for the love I never felt from my mother. Experiencing the love Mark put into the gathering and preparation of food changed this – and I am grateful. And I am trying to connect to him through memories like this, rather than sadness.
I was reminded of Mark last week while at a yoga retreat where the food was pescatarian and delicious. We could feel the caring and love in its preparation.
The experience gave me a chance to feel fully nourished once again (who knew there was such a thing as carrot meatballs and lentil bolognese), to reset my body and notice the positive changes. I feel clearer, am sleeping better and starting to physically heal from the loss of my love.
And it has made me realize that I don’t need to rely on anyone else to do show me love with food. I can show love to myself by seeking out places that make healthy food - and making and preparing it myself. Every food choice is a chance to show love - to myself.
While away, I was also exposed to new healing treatments.
One of the treatments was EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). This approach involves tapping the body in specific areas to help release stored emotions. I will write more about my experience with tapping elsewhere but have found it very helpful to releasing the trauma surrounding Mark’s sudden illness and death. As well as any related feelings of loss, guilt (at living and moving on) and sadness. If the feelings rise I feel them and tap them away. I want to learn more about this technique and maybe even become a practitioner. It could be an amazing complement for my yoga therapy and reiki practice.
While away on retreat I also had some important realizations. My daughter became ill and had to go to the hospital. As I was out of the country and between a freak snow storm and massive amounts of spring breakers hogging up the reservations – I could not get home. So, I had to rely on her friends and mine to take care of her. And then had to lean on a friend on retreat to support me while I waited yet again for doctors to tell me the fate of someone I dearly love. It all resolved, but not without sadness at missing Mark to support us.
But then the light bulb moment. I have other loving support. My friends are on my team. I don’t have to have a man - I have friends that love me. That doesn’t mean I won’t seek love again - but a man won’t be the only loving container I have. My friends can be containers too.
I sat and wrote a list of the members on my team. Not just people I know, but individuals that provide inspiration. Like Sara Bareillis, Meryl Streep and Brene Brown.
Who is on your list? Take a moment to write them down. And take a breath of gratitude for them. And maybe text the ones you know. How long has it been? (Does anyone have Meryl’s cell number – I need to catch up with her. 😊)
And being away reconfirmed how much I love writing. When I don’t have the normal beings around me to love and make me happy, I can find security and happiness in writing. When I was lonely or homesick during the retreat writing turned my mood around better than the sun, a massage or glass of wine. An important revelation. What healthy activities make you happy?
I am ending the month celebrating Easter with my kids and friends in Pittsburgh. My last two Easters were spent with Mark. My favorite memory was of the first Easter when he made lunch for his family and mine. All I remember was the macaroni and cheese he made using his mother’s recipe. All five of our children were silent while eating and experiencing the generations of love in that mac’n’cheese. It was incredible.
This year is different. Something we all need to accept.
We are celebrating by sharing loving memories of Mark and moving forward toward new adventures. Like Zander’s first college tour. Gillian, a Pitt Pathfinder, gave the tour. And we brought along our emotional support dog – Yogi Bear (see below).
Life goes on – and we are working on being healthy, loving and grateful.
Wishing you a weekend full of love and the peace that passes all understanding.
“(Wo)man plans, God laughs.” ~Yiddish saying
A month ago, my biggest concern was getting healthy and losing some pounds.
Today my biggest challenge is surviving the loss of my love (shown here). He died from complications of a massive stroke. It was and is heartbreaking. I will be writing about this experience and my grief journey elsewhere - as this blog is about the pursuit of healthiness - which is very difficult when faced with crisis.
Following the stroke, I ended up with a horrible case of food poisoning So, my first days in the hospital were spent running to the bathroom, drinking Pepto Bismol and eating crackers. Then at night I would try to eat something more substantial - washed down with a couple glasses of wine.
Even with this major crisis - I noticed I didn’t lose any weight. Yet I was consuming less than 1000 calories a day. How could this be?
I quickly recognized the late-night eating as the problem - because I had done some research on the subject and found:
And with all the stress and grief, I found that my most tearful breakdowns were triggered by lack of eating – and no sleep. So even though I was depressed and not the least bit hungry – I started to eat more consistently and stopped eating after 7 pm. Which resulted in less depressed episodes – and full nights of sleep.
I also discovered through this experience that I don’t need to eat that much. Smaller meals (even just peanut butter crackers) are enough to keep me going. This was a revelation – as I always thought I had to eat a lot to be full and satisfied.
So intellectually I learned from this loss experience – but emotionally am sad and grieving. What am I going to do now that I lost my love?
Work on loving myself and the beings around me. Self-care is at the forefront now. And the getting healthy thing – even more important.
To help me refrain from unhealthy behaviors, I created the following list of healthy self-love habits:
The quote below captures this well:
“You have to work at your sense of conviction…Like someone lost in the forest, if you’re not really convinced that there’s a way out, you give up very easily. You run into a thicket here, a steep cliff there, and it just seems way too much. But if you’re convinced there’s got to be a way out, you’ve heard of other people who’ve made their way out, you think, “It’s got to be in here someplace.” You keep looking, looking, looking. And finally you see how the other people made their way out: “Oh. That was the path they took.” ~Thanissaro Bhikkhu
That is what I am hoping to do for the remainder of 2018 with this blog. Explore how to be healthy (and how to grieve while doing it). Follow the footsteps and research of others. Bring everything I can to bear. Medical and psychological research, yoga and spiritual philosophy and intuition. All have a part to play here (see the pile of books I am reading now below - I might also have a self-discovery problem).
And I hope to build a community to support our health and yoga journey. In the article “A Different Weight Loss Experience: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Behavioral, Physical, and Psychosocial Changes Associated with Yoga that Promote Weight Loss (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27594890) the authors share that in addition to the physical and psychological changes associated with yoga, there is a benefit from community. From being with, and sharing, with others who are working on themselves. And much of that work is necessary because of loss and past pain. So there is benefit in sharing those experiences too.
For the last two months, I have been hosting a yoga series for the Down Dog Diva Gets Healthy Facebook group. The number one benefit members cited from our yoga classes was the support and encouragement of others. “When someone overcomes a temptation – the happiness from the group is motivating,” one member said.
Also, there is benefit in being open about the challenge of eating healthy – and sharing this with each other. Feeling safe and comfortable enough to open up with each other is a gift.
The group is going to meet monthly for the rest of 2018 to share research and what we have learned - and to practice yoga. All sessions will be posted only to the Down Dog Diva Gets Healthy Facebook group – and they also will be recorded. In addition, group members can chat with each other within a secure group chat - that only group members can see.
If you want to join our group – please message me. We would love to have your input and energy (and it's free!)
Our next Facebook Live meeting will be March 25th at 9 AM ET. Hope to see you there.
And thank you to all who have been so supportive to our family during this time. When I do my gratitude meditations - my family, friends and fellow seekers like yourselves - come to the top of my gratitude list.
May the peace that passes all understanding touch your hearts and minds, and may we all be happy and free.
It happens to me all the time.
When I share in conversation that I teach yoga, eyes flick up and down my body. I can see the thought forming, “Aren’t yoga people supposed to be thin?”
I have earned a yoga teaching certification and am months away from getting my (3-year) yoga therapy certification. I have survived divorce, career change, college kids, middle-age crisis, and re-entering the dating scene at 51. But my biggest challenge is still ahead of me. And visibly all over me.
Yogi heal thyself.
And maybe along the way, help others too.
That is what I have want to do with this blog.
Before you leave because you were looking for weight loss answers and your brain is saying, “This was a waste of time.” I do have successful weight loss experience to share.
I was overweight all my life. After my son was born, I lost 60 pounds and achieved my statistically proper weight by eating less and exercising more. At least that is what I would like to say happened.
In reality, I lost that weight by starving myself, eating Lean Cuisines and other pre-packaged weight-loss products while exercising (running and biking) my way to a sprained ankle and torn knee meniscus.
But, along the way I changed the way I thought about food and exercise enough - to keep 40 of the pounds off.
For almost 15 years.
Despite achieving my ideal weight, my “perfect” life unraveled forcing me to find an escape. Where some people turn to alcohol or drugs, I turn to food. This is my addiction and, in some ways, the hardest one to fight.
Alcohol and drugs have limited availability and are not easily acquired (at least not in Pennsylvania). Food, however, is much easier to get.
It is everywhere.
It is essential for life. You have to eat. You must go to the grocery store where impulse purchases are designed into the layout of the store.
There is physical evidence of my issue. Alcoholics and drug users can hide their addiction for some time. But if you are addicted to food – it shows. In your face, hips, thighs - everywhere. You are openly displaying that you are undisciplined and out of control
It is shameful. And people notice.
How could they not?
When you see someone after a long time – the first thing said is – have you lost weight? Or worse, someone compliments you on your nail polish avoiding the elephant in the room – which unfortunately is you.
Brene Brown says in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”:
“Most everyone reading this book knows how to eat healthy…yet…we are the most obese…Americans ever…Why? …Because we don’t talk about the things that get in the way of doing what is best for us…We don’t talk about what keeps us eating until we’re sick, busy beyond human scale, desperate to numb and take the edge off, and full of so much anxiety and self-doubt that we can’t act on what we know is best for us.”
She goes on to say:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Can we make that 20 pounds lighter Brene?
So here I am. Digging in. Embracing my darkness. And hopefully, changing my story.
My last 20 pounds have become my nemesis. I call them the “why” pounds. I know how to lose weight and what to eat to lose weight - but the "why I overeat" - still stymie’s me.
And yes – I look OK at this weight. My blood pressure is low. And my annual blood work shows low bad cholesterol, no sign of diabetes and a liver that is ready to take on a frat party.
But still - I wake up mornings after eating poorly feeling dreadful. And ashamed that I let my emotions – my internal stories - defeat me once again.
And I don't want to think about what I am going to wear anymore. I want my entire closet to fit – for once.
Deepak Chopra says:
“To be fulfilled is something food alone can’t do. You must nourish (instead):
Which is what I hope to do. With the tools of mind, body and spirit research, writing, meditation, yoga, exercise and healthy eating. And the help of a community of yoga students and others - which hopefully includes you.
I will write about my journey at least once a month for all of 2018. Which is a triumph as I never used to talk about being overweight. Much less admit to a food addiction.
And along the way I hope to hear your thoughts, suggestions and stories. How have you found healthy ways to deal with food? Let us help each other.
We’ll see where this takes us. Hopefully to a place that is not attached to numbers (pounds or sizes) - but a healthier, more joyful and peaceful state.
I am starting out with the following books to inform my journey:
If you have any suggestions on things to try, or books to read please let me know. You can message me at @downdogdiva on Facebook and Instagram. Or email me at email@example.com.
May this be of benefit.
Happy New Year – and thank you for reading.