Peeling the Layers of Grief
Peeling the Layers of Grief
Last Sunday, May 5th, I awoke to voices cheering outside my window and looked out to see thousands of bikers lined up on Church Street, waiting for the Five Borough Bike Tour to begin. Approximately 32,000 riders.
I had to smile. May 5th was also the two-year anniversary of my partner, Ralph’s death, and I had been thinking of him when I went to bed the night before. It was so serendipitous–every first Sunday in May, Ralph and I would wake up to hear that sound, and look at each other and laugh. We forgot about it every year and were surprised each time. We would jump up and go out on the fire escape to look at the sea of bikers.
I’m not someone who generally remembers dates–no matter how tragic or significant. But May 5th is stuck in my mind, and as it approached this year, I found that my body seemed aware of it, as well.
I always say that I was grateful for being able to process my grief in a healthy way after Ralph’s death. But I’d had some interesting experiences in the past month that made me realize that perhaps I had been peeling away yet another layer of grief.
In energy medicine, we often talk about peeling layers of grief like an onion.
I prefer to picture a lotus flower, or even better, a ranunculous!
Whether an onion or a flower, the point is that processing our emotions usually comes in layers. We tend to think that emotions just come and go. But the reality is that unprocessed emotions can lie buried in our cells for decades, blocking vital energy and, if not dealt with, may lead to suffering and disease.
One of the unexpected side-effects of my own grieving process was weight gain. I had never gained a significant amount of weight before–I always had a fast Vata metabolism that kept me in near-constant motion, burning calories without even trying. When I started to gain weight after Ralph died, I joked that he had left his Kapha energy behind.
Kaphas are solid and steady, but don’t like to move very much and often struggle with weight. They are also incredibly grounded (earth and water are the elements associated with Kapha dosha).
Ralph used to beg me to sit still and I would beg him to get moving! Anyway, I was only half-joking about his Kapha energy being left behind, but I also believed that there was a good reason for this change in my body. It slowed me down. It grounded me, and I started sleeping deeply like a Kapha.
It was helping me heal and I eventually let go of thinking about the weight gain.
Back in January, I decided to try an Ayurvedic cleanse and was amazed at the emotional clearing that occurred. I shed a lot of tears that week. The Ayurvedic herbs help to bring your body back in balance and seem to know just where the balancing needs to occur. I lost a few pounds but still felt like I was in someone else’s body.
I repeated the cleanse several weeks later and again, experienced old emotional stuff rising to the surface.
Then in April, while attending a workshop with my energy healing teacher, Deborah King (on the energetic connection to weight gain/loss, of all things), I had an interesting experience the day before I returned home.
I was having a treatment called Chi Nei Tsang, a Chinese form of abdominal massage that helps to clear blocked energy in the body–releasing stuck emotions, stress, etc.–and facilitating healing of the body, mind, and spirit. When the therapist began, she told me to feel free to ask any questions. Without thinking, I blurted out “Where is the spot for grief?” I wasn’t consciously thinking about grief, but the words just spilled out. She looked at me in surprise and said, “I’m on it right now!” It was the first area that she felt drawn to work on and release.
When I left the treatment it was as if a wave of depression had fallen over me. I felt strangely sad and wanted to withdraw from my friends. Not emotions that I experience very often. They hung around until the next morning when I woke up, feeling myself again.
A week later, I caught a particularly nasty upper respiratory virus. Interesting, but no surprise to me, as the lungs are the repository for grief. Another layer was peeling away.
And then came the day about a week ago when I put on the only pair of jeans that fit me anymore and they were so loose that I wondered if it was possible for jeans to stretch out in the laundry! It was as if the weight stayed on my body as long as I needed it to and then it just fell away.
Sunday, I was taken aback at the sadness I felt when I began my day. The truth is that I usually feel more joy than sadness when I think about Ralph.
I instinctively knew that I needed to get out of my apartment and get some fresh air. I walked to the park at the end of my street and was leaning against a tree when my phone rang. I answered it and heard a little voice on the other end say “Aunt Barbara,” more like Bwa-bwa, “can you come over to our house?”
I recognized the voice as Mabel, my friend Stacey’s almost three-year-old. Unbeknownst to Stacey, Mabel had taken her phone and called me.
And as if that wasn’t enough to brighten my day, I discovered that they were in the same park, just yards from where I was standing. A hug from my friend and her little angel was like medicine for my soul and changed the entire course of my day.
I have always been acutely aware of messages my body sends me. Not in a hypochondriac kind of way, but more like a subtle nudging to pay attention.
When I began the study of energy medicine, I learned just how important these messages are. But even with this awareness, I know that sometimes I can’t make the connection between what is coming to the surface and what the original trauma or pain was.
The fact is, I don’t need to know. In processing layers of grief, I know that Ralph’s death was not the only source of grief in my life. It was a big one, and certainly a focus for many months. But there have been others that I stuffed down and didn’t process.
My body is gifting me now (perhaps because I’ve done the work) by peeling more layers. I feel lighter, and my heart feels more open than ever.
The Vata and the Kapha duo
You might be grieving the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, or a home. So many things other than actual death can cause us pain. I can’t stress enough the importance of self-awareness and nurturing to peel away those layers of grief.
It takes time. Be patient. This is what helped (and is still helping) me to heal. Seems like it’s my go-to list for just about everything these days.
This is my go-to list for just about everything these days
- Reaching out to others and learning how to receive
- Being in nature
- Bodywork such as massage, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy or reflexology
One of the healthiest things I believe you can do after the death of a loved one is to keep that connection alive. Our culture often discourages this, but I know that in my own case, staying connected with Ralph’s spirit helped me quickly move beyond the pain.
I’m not talking about not being able to let go and move forward with your life. There’s a world of difference.
I recently had a conversation with my dear friend and fellow energy healer, Sami Longo-Disse of the Samadhi Research Institute, who knows a lot about grief. In addition to experiencing loss of her own, Sami spent many years as a funeral director and teaches grief recovery. I’d like to share with you Sami’s wise words about keeping the connection with our loved ones alive.