August 9, 2012

Good Grief. ~ Nikita Akilapa

Death is not simply an end, it is also a beginning.

Here are some things that I like: flowers, sunshine, riding my bike, yoga, laughing, dancing, travelling, decent milk substitutes.

Here are some things that I don’t like: lies, bad food, paper cuts, getting sick, fine rain that makes my hair frizz, capers.

And the one and only thing that I have ever hated: my brother dying, unexpectedly, all on his own, thousands of miles away with none of us there to hold his hand as he drew his last breath.

I am generally a lucky person. I am accustom to things going my way. The universe and me, we have an understanding. If I am good and I give-give-give and love-love-love sincerely, then I am allowed to have back the things that I need.

The universe provides, so long as we stay on the same reciprocal wavelength. So when my sister called me choking on her own tears and heart ache, I found myself wondering what exactly I had done to upset the universe.

Just 13 months older than me, Remi, my brother, had always been my partner in crime. We were practically twins, dressed in identical outfits, carted about in a double buggy and squeezed into the same cot. When we were big enough we were promoted to our bunk beds in the little room at the front of the house, where we plotted our world take-over day after day, year after year.

We sketched the plans for the underground eco-house we would build and live in when we grew up. We brainstormed the most effective ways to get to Disneyland without our parents—including floating there on a sofa attached to a million balloons, digging an underground tunnel, befriending dolphins to swim us there and catapulting ourselves across the ocean from our back garden.

We attempted to create a robot to do our chores for us by using the circuit boards from a number of my mum’s household appliances. We executed a series of intensely important experiments—such as “what happens when you feed water to a vacuum cleaner” and “what melts quicker in the microwave.” In other words, we shared a “normal” childhood.

When we went to high school and I discovered boys and teenage mischief, he discovered the computer club and a passion for math.

He got hassled by the other kids for being a little geeky, and I was always so in awe of how little he cared. He never changed or compromised himself to make anyone else happy, unlike me, who tried so hard to fit in with everyone else.

When he was 13, Remi had a seizure—out of nowhere.

He was diagnosed with epilepsy.

While all the other kids were taking on life with a care free attitude, Remi had to be conscious of his epilepsy every single day. He had to take medication every day to keep the seizures at bay and he had to be extra careful with what he did so to avoid bringing them on.

Throughout our teens and into adulthood, he couldn’t learn to drive, couldn’t let go and get drunk at parties, had to make sure he had exactly the right amount of sleep and had to be careful how many hours of computer games he played. This was the worse, because he loved gaming so much.

But I never heard him complain. Never once. He never let it hold him back. He accepted his reality and loved life.

Despite his epilepsy, Remi went on to write code for computer games. When I was 28 and he was 29, he was offered a job in Canada for three years. We were all a little worried, but he assured us he would be fine, we would see him twice a year, we could access him any time we wanted online and he was always at the other end of the phone. And off he went

After three years in Charlottestown, PEI, he decided it was time to come home.

But just as he was making plans to head back to England, he was offered a job working for the game developer that consumed our childhood, Street Fighter. The computer game of our youth.

The year Street Fighter came out, we played so much I had blisters on my thumbs. Remi would only answer to the name M. Bison and I was seeing yoga flames in my sleep. It was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“Before I die, I have to be able to say I worked for them, I have to do it.”

Yeah, I got that. But it meant he had to move to New Zealand for a year—even farther away than Canada.

He’d been there for a week when we got the phone call on Sunday, September 25th 2011 to say that he had been found dead in a hotel in Aukland.

He’d been out with some work friends, left his keys in the office and couldn’t get into his apartment to take his medication. He crashed at a hotel for the evening, where he had a major seizure and died. Just like that. He was 32.

I don’t think there are words to explain how hard this has been. But it gets easier, it really does.

I miss my brother everyday, but I am enjoying having him around me in a way that he never was before. Now that he has returned to the source, I feel his energy in everything.

And looking back, there are some things that I know now, that I wish I had understood when the nightmare began. So I want to share them with you, in case you’re in the grief cycle now, or for when you in the future:

1. Your grief is unique to you. Don’t compare yourself to your siblings, your parents, your friends—you will not feel exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. You are no less caring because it takes a while for it all to hit you. Do not expect that you “should be over the worst of it” just because someone else proclaims they are.

Our heads and hearts all work at different speeds and at different depths. Just feel what you feel and know that it is your personal journey of healing. You don’t know how long it’s going to be, or what the road map looks like. But trust that there is an end and the view gets better, clearer along the way.

2. You can’t run away from how you feel. You must confront it. I know it’s scary because it hurts so much, but no matter where you hide it, it’s not going to just disappear. It will always be waiting for you, until you exorcise it. Just remember that whatever scares you, if you welcome it in, sit with it and wrap your arms around it, there will be nothing left to be afraid of.

You’re in control. Grief is a dark murky river, but there are no boats or bridges. You can’t cheat. The only way to get to the other side of the river is to get naked and swim through it.

3. But, with that said, it’s okay to take time out from real life if you feel you need it. If you’re juggling your grief with work, family responsibilities and goodness knows what else, you may not feel like you can find the space to really digest what is happening.

I disappeared to an ashram in India for a couple of months to empty my head of all the inconsequential sh*t I was using to avoid dealing with my grief. When I came home I found that I was more able to accept and process Remi’s death.

4. Trust your instincts. People say that you shouldn’t make big life decisions while you’re grieving, but your heart knows what it wants. With Remi’s unexpected death came an acute awareness that life is too short to waste time doing things I don’t believe in. Through the sadness and confusion, I had clarity. I split with my long term boyfriend, quit my stressful media job and got rid of my expensive condo.

Hell bent on following my dream of teaching yoga full time, I packed a small bag, left London and went to work on a yoga retreat in Portugal. I was scared to be out of my comfort zone, but I was obeying my heart, and it all felt exactly right. Despite feeling like a leaf in the wind, I had the emotional space I needed to focus on healing my heart, and it marked the beginning of an important chapter of my life. I haven’t looked back since.

5. Grief starts a fire inside you: burning coals of realization, passion and urgency. Try to channel this fire to achieve something amazing. Make it count. My grief gave me the motivation, focus, courage and absolute determination I needed to chase my dreams.

I think of this fire and how it has helped to change my life so dramatically for the better, and I can’t help but wonder if this is where the phrase “good grief” comes from.


Nikita Akilapa is a yogic pirate with itchy feet and a travel bug that have introduced her to a catalogue of adventures all over the world. She is currently embarking on the biggest adventure of all, with love in her heart and a baby in her tummy—the countdown to mama-hood has begun. During the winter, she runs Prana Rooms from North London, offering private Ashtanga Yoga classes, Yoga Therapy sessions and Ayurvedic massage. During the summer months, Prana Rooms relocates to the mountains of northern Italy, offering week-long retreats. All year round, Nikita can be found counting her blessings at www.facebook.com/pranarooms



Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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