Working in cancer means I stand by people who have lost. Lost their identity, their hair, their eyebrows, their eyelashes, their breasts, their uteruses, their ovaries, their prostates, other abdominal organs…Lost their sense of security, financial stability, marriages, libido, ability to enjoy sex, friends, their jobs.
I don’t think I could do this work well if I, myself, didn’t lose. And lose I do.
In just one year, I have lost two pregnancies. Almost exactly one year apart. The first was a son. I was well into the pregnancy. His name was Solomon. He had a baby registry, and an application in with Montessori. I saw him in my arms, I heard his baby laugh.
The second miscarriage happened earlier, at almost 10 weeks. Her father told me she was a girl. She may have been. I had thought to name her Kulsoom. She had nothing of this world yet, but I loved her too.
Grief is a strange thing, it happens in circles and in cycles. We don’t know the pain is still there and then it is.
It is an organic thing, a beast of it’s own pace. Like a Chinese New Year’s Dragon, it snakes around the corners of one’s mind. We forget it is there, then all of a sudden, with a note from a song, a certain smell, or just nothing at all, it’s bearing down on us, a thousand eyes, tongue flapping, the color of blood and promise.
For this reason, I think a physical ceremony (ies) is so important. Ceremony helps to anchor grief, give it a space and a structure, so something so alive can be something you dance with rather than are overtaken by.
Solomon was old enough that I was able to have a funeral. I had his body cremated, I purchased a heavy brass urn that fits in the center of my palm. I signed a death certificate. I have his ashes. I intend to take them to Mauritius and lay them on grave of my grandfather. I have not yet. I am not ready.
Kulsoom’s heart stopped beating almost 9 weeks ago. I have been at a loss since of how to grieve her. How do you grieve someone so small, someone you cannot bury or burn? Until a couple of days ago, I just sat, in a shallow pool of pain, dull, shocked, ashamed and…hiding.
The other day, I stumbled onto a yin yoga class. Yin yoga is a series of floor postures that a toddler would do with ease, focused on opening the pelvic area. The postures are held for 4-5 minutes and the goal is to breathe through the “healthy discomfort” that you feel, and allow for an “energy shift” there, at the root of your natural self.
I had no intent of doing yin yoga, I am not yogi or athlete of any kind. I thought I was showing up for something else. But there I was, and so I joined the class. And very soon, just laying on the ground, in a hip opening posture, I found myself weeping.
Not gracefully, or quietly, in a yoga-like fashion. Shoulders shaking, weird whimpering noises, weeping. The teacher literally brought me a roll of toilet paper. As everyone else went about doing these simple, basic postures, with decorum, I snotted and hiccupped and cried through the whole thing.
Thankfully, no one stared. And I stayed.
As the class went on, I noticed something happening, a “C” shaped hole opened, in the center of my chest, and all this pain that seemed to be stored in my pelvic area, felt like it was literally pouring out, from there to my mouth.
When I say I could feel it, I mean I could feel it. From my ischium, lapping over my right iliac crest, down to my pubis, pirouetting over my belly button, skimming the base of my 11th intercostal space, toe tapping over my xiphoid, ringing my trachea, filling the back of my throat and slipping out over my tongue into the space around me. A Chinese dragon.
This thing had movement, a beating heart, and was as much a part of life as it was a part of death. It was in and of me, but also not mine at all. And because it is animate, it needed a space to come through. This thing was grief.
I am not enlightened enough to understand grief and loss in it’s entirety. But I have begun to make yin yoga a part of my grieving process and am hoping that as I give grief a concrete way to dance with me, I will not only lay my babies to rest but move through my losses rather than storing them.
I don’t think one can live and not lose. Finding a way to live with loss means finding a way to accept, to dance, to flow, to bend….not to break. And maybe, as we do this, we learn to welcome our tears, our grief, our pain because it means that we are alive, we are connected, we loved….and so we are.