My dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer in August 2021. Just two short months later, after intensive chemo and radiation, we lost him to pneumonia in the hospital. I didn’t get to say goodbye, not that it would have been any easier. I lost the strongest roots and grounding force in my life. When I think about all that I have gone through and where I am now, it seems like a lifetime ago, and at the same time – it feels like yesterday. I lost my father too soon, but found myself and have grown tremendously during the grieving process. It took me months just to get back on my yoga mat outside of teaching. The feelings were too raw, I couldn’t handle the intensity (which has been a common occurrence in my emotional life), and just felt so lost. This is my growth journey through his illness, death and the aftermath.
In the past, I used my yoga practice and lifestyle to exercise some level of control in my otherwise chaotic existence. It’s no wonder that I naturally gravitated to Ashtanga Vinyasa – an intense vinyasa sequence that required dedication and consistency. However, this experience hit me like a ton of bricks- it was completely different. Not only did I lose my dad, a huge part of me died too. I couldn’t put myself in any position outside of fetal, and even worse – I felt guilty about it.
This process has been a gigantic lesson in letting go. Letting go of how I think my practice should look, letting go of painfully forcing myself to push thru when I obviously need to rest and recharge. Letting go of toxic relationships and situations because honestly, life is too short and too precious to waste a second on anything out of alignment. It has reminded me to be, no, it has shaken me into the present moment, deeply embodied in my grief, ‘crawling thru the desert at night’ as my Grief Alchemy Shaman Ruby White described.
I was in a dark place after my father’s death, only no one would have known that because I have a tendency of holding it all in…as a teacher and studio owner – I had to keep going, I had to keep calm and carry on, so they say. But it’s only been about 2 months since I started getting back onto my mat for me. It’s been slow, sporadic, and a deep exploration into how I feel in the moment and actually honoring it. Breathing slow, moving slow, getting outside in nature regularly, and constantly asking my dad for guidance.
The way I see it, when faced with loss and grief, it can feel like there is no way out. But if you’re willing to commit to learning how to use yoga to deal with your loss, you’ll find that there is a way to the light at the end of the tunnel. And I don’t necessarily mean the physical asana, which the western mind seems to classify as the whole of yoga. Exploring the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ as described by the sage Patanjali, has encouraged me to relay on Pranayama (breath control), the Niyamas (self cleanliness, dedication, faith, and self study), and Pratyahara (concentration and meditation) most. Especially, when those raw emotions, memories, and images come to mind.
Yoga brings your body and mind into a new state of wellbeing, creating the foundation for a strong, resilient life. My dad ‘s final message to me, in the form of a drawing was – a drawing of me with deep roots into the soil and a flower sprouting from my crown; reminding me to keep growing, keep rooted and always aim high. It reminded me to always be open and lead with love. This reminder is now a tattoo on my left arm, with his initials hidden in the roots. When things get too hard for me to bear, I look at my tattoo and remember my practice, remember my roots, and remember to keep growing. Yoga and meditation have been a critical part of my growth and recovery, they kept me grounded, even when it didn’t look like yoga to anyone else. Simply making plans with loved ones, taking a mental health day, or writing out our thoughts are considered yoga. Grief is as unpredictable as it is universal. There is no right way to practice yoga or to grieve; we are all different and our grieving journeys are unique to each of us.
Yoga is an incredibly adaptable practice that allows us to set our own pace and create our own experience. With this flexibility, even those who believe they don’t have time for yoga can still make room for it in their lives. It’s a lifestyle, it’s how you decide to operate in the world. It’s the conscious decisions you make and the reflection of self every time you step foot on your mat, floor, ground, or literally anywhere you are present. right now. right here.
Our minds and bodies are connected so deeply that physical ailments are often caused by mental stress. Particularly when faced with overwhelming grief, maintaining good physical and mental health is of the utmost importance. I think back to my life 7-9 years ago and am so thankful I am not in the headspace I was then, and I thank my yoga & mindfulness practices for that.They have been proven time and time again to improve mental health, reduce pain and overall help people feel better physically and emotionally. Amen to that.
The death of a loved one can leave our lives in shambles. The pain and grief can be overwhelming. But the process of healing through loss can ultimately bring about growth, self-awareness and strength. Through the immense loss, I found myself; I’m a whole new version of myself ready to live and thrive.
I am not alone in my struggles, but I am alone in my own pain. No matter where you are in your journey through grief, the road can still be lonely. Learning to share what I feel and hold myself accountable to others has helped me grow into a person that is more comfortable with being vulnerable. The depth of emotion felt by one who has lost a parent during early adulthood can seem isolating at times, but carrying those feelings alone creates an ever deepening chasm between yourself and others. I’ll never forget the day my father passed and my childhood best friend highlighting that isolating myself was a no-go. I considered this golden sage advise and was sure to follow. But the months that followed were full beyond belief. I moved, renovated two apartments, traveled, etc….seemingly moving on with my life because I knew my dad would want me to. I had to push through, or even at times ignore my feelings- thinking that will help me heal, but it also tore me apart when things finally settled down. I was left with the feelings, did I mention those are hard for me?
I’ve spent most of my life bouncing back and forth between being too angry or anxious to cry, and being so overwhelmed by sadness that I can’t get out of bed in the morning. I’ve learned to cope with problems alone, to survive loss and find happiness again on a number of occasions. This time, I promised my dad I would remain open, that I would remain compassionate with myself and others; that I would accept reality and lean into the precious present moment.
Through yoga, meditation and other spirituality practices I have begun healing into a whole, empowered woman ready to take on the world. I have discovered parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed. My dad always said, “You don’t lead life, life leads you”. Life is always changing and sometimes it seems to be too fast, too slow or in the wrong direction. We always think we have more time, until we don’t. In a haze of grief and anxiety, my yoga practice became an oasis, it’s become even more than a lifestyle, it is my lifeline. It is the one place I feel safe to fall apart, cry out loud, and let it all go. Through this journey, I found acceptance, confidence, and a newfound sense of calm.
There is nothing I wouldn’t do for another day, another conversation, or one of his incredible hugs. But through my practice, I recognize my dad is always with me, encouraging me to grow, on and off my mat. I love you <3
2 thoughts on “Growing thru Grief”
Beautifully written and very moving. Your Dad was a blessing. Dealing with loss and grieving is a lifelong journey for those of us who have lost a loved one. Not a day passes where I don’t grieve the loss of my son Matt. I’m learning to share a positive moment of my day with him; and cherish my time spent with him. I often feel close to him when out running, walking, or hiking. I’m able to recognize the signs he sends my way. Sometimes they bring tears but they always bring joy.
Forever grateful for your sharing of your practice as well as your life journey.
What a beautiful heartfelt post you wrote. Many things you wrote resonated with me. I rolled out my yoga mat 23 years ago…months after my mom died. I found my grief showing up as panic attacks. I’m one that also needed to put my emotions to the side and move on for my reasons. Coming to a yoga mat gave me tools to deal with my emotions. The breath work gave me a lease on life to continue moving in the world. The asanas helped quiet my mind whether an intense practice or calming practice. I have found my yoga practice has gifted me with what I’ve needed that day. I lost consistency in my practice the past few years but I am trying to find my way back. It gives me a calming and new perspective only second best to being out in nature.Unfortunately my meditation practice is all over the place.
It’s a long road healing from grief and so individual.
I hope every day you find a new sliver of peace.
Thank you for sharing your personal story 🙏
Namaste, Suzanne Fitch