Before loss came into my life, I was a tiny, loving, angelic little girl with no cares to furrow my brow. No different than any other child. But as happens to everyone, betrayals, traumas, separations, divorce and death came.
More recently, I had a series of losses starting with the death of my father at the age of 88 in 2016. After him, my soul mate, wise and loving Great Pyrenees, Sym (short for "Tea & Sympathy") crossed the Rainbow Bridge at the ripe old age (for a giant dog) of 11 years. Shortly after, his friend, my buff-colored cat, Milo died. And then on January 1, 2020 right before COVID, a relationship of 7 years ended. We both called it off. It was painful and hard. I cannot say that I handled the breakup well. I was in love. It is very hard to lose a beloved through conflict, even if you know it is for the best.
Nor can I say that through these recent endings, I allowed myself to open the floodgates to grief. I was scared I would be overwhelmed and would never emerge. I needed to work--the pressures of being self-employed. Everything on my shoulders, on me. Characterologically, I am a workhorse. I love to work and am very disciplined. But it also can be an escape from feeling.
It's not like I have a belief that we must "pull ourselves up by the bootstraps" or "just put things behind us." Even as a young woman, this never sat well with me. And certainly, as a trauma-informed shamanic healer and counselor for 16 years, I understand how necessary it can be to feel even the most difficult emotions and to grieve. There is a movement of energy when we cry, rage and scream in the face of betrayal, loss and challenge. This movement is important, lest we live in a fortified cage in body, mind and heart devoid of any light.
Finally, in late 2020, I began to acknowledge the brick wall around my heart. How these more recent unhealed wounds and scars sat heavily upon that sacred chamber. I had on some level, perhaps more unconscious than conscious, replicated an ancestral pattern of putting on a stiff lip and moving on. I even remember how on the day that my partner and I decided to end things, I left him in the house to go on a walk along the nearby river. I started to cry and then, just like that, I shut it down. I never cried after that because the strength of my defenses against grieving had become so great.
I am a very strong person at this point in my life. Yes. But sometimes, strength can be a liability. Rather than being grounding, it can be instead a place to hide from feeling.
Having said this, truthfully, I have never been good at this type of armoring for any length of time. Eventually, my body and heart simply cannot stand it. I am naturally a tender-hearted person.
The first evidence of this emerged in my early 20s. After 5 years of holding in the grief and pain from my parent's divorce when I was 17 and my mother's subsequent devolution into deeper layers of meanness and madness after I left for college, the floodgates opened. I was sitting in an impersonal and cold storage facility in Minneapolis where she had sequestered family heirlooms, antiques, books, paintings, and boxes upon boxes of personal memorabilia, including from my childhood. I opened up the doors to that chamber and began pulling out these memory-laden artifacts. They were imprinted with the illusion of a happy, secure family that was no more. The photo here triggered me into a breakdown. I spent 2 full days in that metal and concrete holding cell, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing while tenderly and fiercely holding scraps of paper, photos, and objects. I was angry and deeply, deeply sad. It was hard, but necessary. But it also paradoxically felt good to fling myself into the drink without reserve. . I didn't have to dissemble any longer that all was well.
Yet that passage of grieving and release did not provide relief from my mother's ongoing harmful behaviors towards herself and me. Throughout my 20s and into my early 30s in graduate school our fraught relationship filled with love, chaos, attachment, fear, hatred, and confusion had a traumatic impact on me day after day. A lifetime of verbal disparagements, severe criticisms, bullying, shaking and dragging, manipulation, sexual innuendos and invasions, emotional cutoffs, and energetic invasions developed into a body of suffering. I began to have severe and chronic pain throughout my body. While doing yoga or running, I kept injuring myself. I was depressed, anxious and often walked around in a fog.
This is what happens when there is a build up of the grief from the loss of trust, affection, positive mirroring, and love. As the brilliant psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk puts it, “the body keeps the score.” Though a person can be highly functional in the world, as I was, the trauma can build up until symptoms become more and more severe. It was the physical pain that led me to discover energy healing--a groundbreaking moment. As I continued to wrestle with my mother who added to her ongoing psychological issues, Munchausens Disorder (when a person fabricates symptoms of illness or self-harms to get attention), the healers I worked with over more than a decade gave me a place to go where I could feel and release.
Then there was the complicated grief after my mother died, as she had decided to use her will to punish me for what she perceived to be my abandonment and abuse of her—the reverse projection that happens with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I remember crying intensely as my then husband and I were driving home from town one day a week after her departure. Luckily, he was the one at the wheel. I wept regularly during the ensuing year as the drama surrounding my mother’s will continued the reach of her vitriol. It was a necessary but difficult life passage that ultimately initiated into a deeper level of compassion for human suffering. Family suffering is a terrible burden.
That was now a long time ago—2001-03, to be exact. After that, the waters of grief subsided and I went on to live my life with greater freedom in mind and spirit. I loved my mother, but in truth, it was liberatory to have her gone. I was also glad that she was free of her own suffering; her life had been very, very hard. Allowing myself to grieve, a modicum of forgiveness eventually emerged.
Then, about a year and a half ago, the same pattern of physical pain that had plagued me for 15 years came back. Old injuries to my back and right leg cropped up again. The body keeps the score; it wasn’t going to let me just carry on without the due process of grieving and healing the latest losses.
I had been aware for a while before then how shut off my heart felt. It felt like a massive concrete wall built up so that I could hold back the deep waters of grief and despair. I had, in fact, stopped crying about anything. No tear rolling down my cheek, no feeling even when I felt pain in the face of my clients’ and students' struggles or the suffering in our world.
Truly, this is no way to live. Nor, as I saw it, was it “walking my talk” as a healer and teacher. When your heart is so barricaded, it impacts your ability to feel joy, tenderness, sweetness, and even love. Life becomes dull.
Knowing how to begin, I began slowly to speak to my heart and soul. I prayed to the Mountain Spirits who are my guides and asked them to help me with this new cycle of grieving. To begin to disarm my heart. It has taken a long while. The wall was so well made, so thick, that it has been like using a small chisel against an almost impenetrable stone barrier.
But cracks have been made in the edifice. Waves of deep sadness have finally begun to come and tears have pressed up against the inside of my eyes. I haven’t wept yet. But that day is coming.
What is also happening is that glimmers of light and love have begun to shine through and my heart chakra now occasionally hums. I have felt the presences of my mother and father, and, surprisingly, not just Sym, my second Great Pyrenees, but also his predecessor, Lily, who died in 2006. They are all lined up and sending me love. We are here. We are here. My mother appears radiant.
These are the fruits of disarming your heart against grief. You can finally allow in light and love, joy and sweetness. You can spend time with your beloveds in the luminosity of their crystalline beingness. Though there is nothing better than being together in the body on this earth-plane and sharing a kiss or a hug, lying in bed and snuggling, watching a movie, or enjoying a good meal together, you begin to realize that a time will come when you will be reunited and perhaps even choose to reincarnate together again to play a new and more joyous game.
Much love and gratitude to you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for the gift of life you gave me, for the travails and lessons, for the love and support. Great love to you, my 4-footed friends, Sym, Lily, Milo, Bea, Griselda, Wee, and Toots. Much love to the 3 men who were my partners and my one husband. Thank you for your companionship and the adventure of intimate relationship. I loved you well and you me.
And thank you to the innocent, pure-hearted little girl that I was. I know you continue to live within me, too.