When I was 19 years old my brother died.
He’d been sick with cancer but none of us saw his death coming. We expected him to make a full recovery.
When he died, it hit me with a crushing force. That summer and the following school year I processed my grief in what felt like a healthy and meaningful way: I cried, I talked to my friends and family, I listened to sad records, spent time hiking and made a lot of art. I didn’t rush through my grief and came to a place where I wasn’t devastated every day.
One day my friends invited me to a Grateful Dead concert. At the show, I took off my shoes and learned how to listen to music with my body. I fell in love with dancing to live music. I was hooked and spent the next several years on Grateful Dead tour, seeing as many shows as I could.
Looking back, dancing hard is what kept my grief from settling into my body. Dancing released my grief energetically.
After Jerry Garcia, the lead guitar player, died it was time for me to move on. I decided to start a family and had three children. Raising them required me to adopt a slower lifestyle. I rooted myself in a friendly town, set up housekeeping, grew a garden, made friends and walked my kids to the neighborhood school every day. I even became the vice president of the P.T.A.
I hardly ever danced.
My grief snuck back up on me. Little by little, my heartache grew. Sometimes I’d think about my brother and soon find myself lying in a puddle of tears on the floor. On a regular basis, I’d overdo it and accidentally injure my back, forcing me to lay in bed with crippling pain. I had became a fitful sleeper and was prone to night terrors.
I’d gradually become a person with a “permanently broken heart.”
It lasted a decade. If my brother could see what a mess I’d become he’d be troubled.
One day I’d had enough and decided to invite a healer into my life.
I was acquainted with a massage therapist and went out on a limb and asked him for help. He gave me my first massage for free. It was brutal. I could feel chunks of grief being pulled out of me. It hurt. A lot. We worked out a trade and I began attending massage therapy on a regular basis. Layer by layer, my grief came out. After about a year of this, I was feeling much better. I’d gotten to the point where I could make it through a whole massage without crying.
Inviting a trusted massage therapist to guide me through physically processing my grief was the perfect way to begin healing.
Now that my heart was feeling lighter and my back felt strong most of the time, I was ready to move on.
Next I started a regular yoga practice. This was a whole different animal. Practicing yoga created a personal transformation between my body and my broken heart. Stretching through the super stuck parts of my grief was excruciating. But yoga provided me with the tool of learning to breathe through the deeply miserable parts of my sorrow. I’d cry during every yoga class, during pigeon pose. But, my nightmares stopped completely and my back always felt good. I could even do a backbend.
After about a year of practicing yoga a few times a week, I was finally feeling better. I could attend a whole class without tears. Yoga helped me gently peel off the broken layers of my heart until one day a healed version of my heart was revealed. My heart felt better than ever and love flowed into my life.
My body houses all of the emotions associated with my life events. As long as I’m living in my body, I will have to process the grief of losing my brother. Actively moving my grief through my body is a gift I give myself everyday.
Moving helps my body feel healthy and I’m able to use it as a tool to be of benefit to myself and others.
Author: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Image: Unsplash/Andre Hunter