I was blessed by the yoga gods to spend this past weekend participating in a retreat in a lovely little spot in Sonoma, called Westerbeke Ranch, for the third year in a row. Since this has become somewhat of an annual trek for me, it felt a bit like returning to summer camp as a child, when you see those friends that you haven’t seen since last summer. I roomed with the same woman with whom I’ve shared a cabin for each of those three retreats, a sweet spirit named Lisha whom I met when our yoga instructor Greg first paired us up in 2012.
Those of you who have been following my “musings on middle-age” know that my father died less than a month ago. I had signed up to participate in this retreat last year, but the timing felt odd. The Jewish part of me that always feels a tad guilty felt unfaithful hiving off to Sonoma so soon after his death — shouldn’t I be at home sitting shiva? The more spiritual side of me that gives me permission to focus on my own well-being felt that this weekend was just the balm needed for my wounded soul.
So I packed up my yoga mat and headed to wine country in much more introspective mood than I usually would have been when put in a social situation. I knew I would be seeing people that I take yoga with every Saturday, none of which, with the exception of my teacher, knew that my dad had just died. And I would be seeing people who I hadn’t seen since last year’s retreat, who would inevitably ask, “How have you been?” “How was your year?”
Despite the fact that I am writing a very public blog, I consider myself a fairly private person. It just doesn’t seem appropriate to me to share my grief with people I don’t know well, nor to answer a well-meaning inquiry about my well-being with such a dark response. But I am also not one to keep everything bottled up inside of me, for I know all too well that trying to plant your emotions in the darkness of your soul only results in a blossoming of physical and psychological ailments.
So I had no idea which path I would take when it came to sharing how I was feeling and what I had just lost. Eventually, I decided not to decide, and just to let it come out, or not, when the moment arrived, a very “yogic” approach. When my room-mate finally did ask how my year had been the second night of the retreat, I told her. And after a dinner conversation which I did not start, but which serendipitously centered around cremation vs. burial, I told a couple of friends with whom I have been sharing Saturday yoga classes for many years. Their responses were inevitably kind and nurturing, a hug, a condolence, a sharing of their own losses and concerns for their aging parents.
Grief is so unpredictable. One moment you are fine, and the next a wave of remembrance, loss, and regret washes over you and threatens to drag you under. I’ve been holding it together since the day I got that fateful call, because I felt that I had to. My mother needed me, there was a funeral to plan, I had a eulogy to give. And the truth is, I have been grieving the loss of my Dad for many years, because the funny, loving, smart father that I knew was mostly lost to me for a long time due to his illnesses. My room-mate this weekend commented on how calm I was and that the way I talked about his death made it seem like something that happened long ago, not just recently.
I think that every culture, and every person within that culture has their own idea of what it means to mourn, and how one will react to the loss of a loved one, especially a parent. Since my father was sick for so long, I had time to think about his death a great deal, and I thought I had an idea of how I would mourn when that happened, but like so many things in life, mourning is unpredictable and can not be planned. Perhaps the most comforting piece of advice that was shared with me came from Rabbi Brian, who performed Derek and my wedding. He wrote, “Mourning is idiosyncratic. There is no set path. There are stages, but they do not come cleanly or neatly or in order.’
And so I chose to do my mourning in my own idiosyncratic manner, or perhaps it choses me. Maybe the loss does not show on my face, or in my words or actions, but I feel it deep down inside me, in the same place that I carry the love and wonderful memories that I will always have for and of my Dad, despite the slow loss of him in his final years. It’s good grief, and it’s my grief, and there is no set path, so I will just continue to walk down it, faithful that the love and support of the good people in my life will help me find my way.