Sunday, 2 May 2010

Before and After: love & loss.

Every event in our lives has a before and after. Before I moved here, after I left that job...our lives revolve around these immovable points in time. Some of these events are planned for, worked towards, counted down to – moving house, getting married, having a baby – so that the transition is gradual and, life-changing as it may be, the day when it finally happens, the huge event feels strangely normal. The day I got the keys to my flat, my parents left me alone in my own home late in the evening after hours of unpacking and heaving furniture around, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed with the enormity of buying my own home – I just felt tired and ready to go to bed. We somehow regain our equilibrium after these planned events because the build-up to them has forced a period of transition deep into our psyche. But other events come out of the blue, take us by surprise, maybe knock us off balance - and still they come to define periods of our lives none the less.

Yesterday felt like the day before, I could sense, I thought, that something was about to happen. I went for a walk, I picked up some books at the library, I bought some flowers – but all the while my senses were hyper-tuned. My peripheral vision was throwing messages into my brain faster than it could process them, I felt my abdomen rise and fall with every breath I was taking. But it was a quiet day, there was no real sense of foreboding, just a feeling of hyper-awareness and mindfulness in my ever move. I spent the day reading, I cooked, I watched some television. I had a phone call, my Mum, calling to tell me that my Nan was being taken to hospital. In an ambulance. She said that she would let me know what happened when they got there, but not to worry if I didn’t hear anything because we all know how slowly things happen in hospitals, particularly on a Saturday night. I knew.
Today I came home from the shala via the garage where I’d picked up a pastry & a cappuccino. I’d had a good practice, touched my fingertips for the first time in supta kurmasana, I felt rested and contented after a long savasana. And I had thought about the inevitability of things during my practice. At nearly 32, I thought, I suppose I’m lucky to have a grandparent still alive, and that can’t last forever. It is the inevitable things that sometimes we can’t imagine being able to face, even though we know that we have to: and soon.

I sat down with my coffee and saw two missed calls on my house phone from my mum. No answer-phone message, no text message. I knew. I drank my coffee, ate the pastry, read for a while, wondering if it was selfish to put off knowing what you already know. And then I called my mum. The hospital had called at around 3.30am and told them to come; but they didn’t get there in time. The doctor had called my auntie at 4 asking all sorts of questions: could she walk around, what was her living situation, what was her level of normal? It turns out that he wouldn’t normally use any form of intervention on a patient of her age, but having heard that she still lived at home, could move around (albeit slowly, and with a stick), she knew who we all were and was free from any serious illness, he tried to help get more oxygen into her body to stop her heart from having to work so hard. But while he was waiting for the heart specialist to come, she had a heart attack.
My Nan lived to almost 97 - it would have been her birthday in July. She lived to see her two children grow up and marry, and to give her five grandchildren who she saw into adulthood, and two beautiful great grand-daughters who brought her immense joy in the past few years – she literally came alive when she was around them. But she lived as a widow for 42 years, and she expressed her wish recently to be buried with the grandad I never met – although she lived more of her life without her husband than with him, she wanted to end it with him. This did get me thinking a little about my life, and the shape that it’s taking. It doesn’t surprise me that every bereavement causes us to re-evaluate: so often we live as if we are invincible, but as soon as we’re reminded that of course we are not, things start to come more sharply into focus. 
In a way it’s hard to be sad at losing somebody when you know that they don’t want to be here anymore, but of course it is. I have such wonderful memories of her, even up to the past few months when she would have us all in stitches at family parties with the faces she would pull and her special nack for spoiling a birthday photo. When I lost my maternal grandmother I went into quite a deep depression and entered a very difficult period in my life; I can only hope that I know enough now that the same doesn’t happen again. That’s not to say that I won’t miss her and be grieving, I just hope that I can have enough faith in the path I am on to know that this is all part of the journey of life, and although these big changes define periods in our lives, they don’t have to define us


  1. Big (((HUGS))) going out to you and your family, Mel. x

  2. Hi, I am going through something very similar, hope the grieving is quick and that you remember the good moments, sending you a hug, Claudia

  3. This is the most beautiful personal reflection on the loss of someone close I think I have ever read. Thank you for sharing it, and may your path be your strength to grieve appropriately. Namaste.

  4. Thank you all for your kind words. Claudia, my thoughts are with you and (as I just wrote on your blog) I'm glad to hear that practice is helping you too. I felt more peace in my headstand this morning than I have ever felt there, and was amazed that my body coped with my full practice after about 4 hours sleep. I was expecting something terrible (or something wonderful!) to happen this morning but it was quite a normal practice - I was in the main beam of bright sunshine coming in through the window & took this as some comfort. I love what the primary series can teach us about our bodies, that no matter what mental tricks we are playing on ourselves we can come back to a place of equanimity through this practice.
    Also nice to hear from you Rebecca & to be introduced to a new blog!

  5. Sorry for your loss, glad you are practicing. Hugs, Helen

  6. Beautiful post, good to see you this morning... ((HUG)).

  7. Hi Helen, thank you & yes, odd that this is the first time I have ever been to the shala on 3 consecutive days outside of a retreat. Or maybe not so odd!
    Thank you too Susan, and sorry for my slightly mad rant this morning that probably made you wish you hadn't said anything :) Maybe the fact I can say this stuff out loud (about my funeral dread) is better than locking it up & going quietly mad about it, who knows.
    I never really understood before when people said that they practised through difficult times, always assumed I would hide from my mat, but I'm happy to have discovered the benefit in keeping going, even though this morning was a massive mind game to not quit halfway through standing.