My dad died back in 2007. It wasn’t completely unexpected, I knew he was ill, but had thought I’d see him for Christmas that year at least. Instead, it was the start of 3 years of travelling back and forth between the UK and South Africa. Sorting out his estate – there was no will, volunteering within a local charity over there – working with women and children with HIV/Aids, trying to maintain my massage and holistic practice in the UK and funding the work I was doing in SA.
I pushed the grief down. Deep down. There literally wasn’t time or space for it within what needed doing, right in front of me, at each moment in time. My second mother (in her culture, she would be called this, in my own mother’s culture she would be called step-mother) was ill with Aids. She was Zulu, my Dad was Scottish. There was my 8 year old sister to consider on that side of the family, my brother and his new wife on the other side – with their about to be born first child… My own Mom, Scottish, living in South Africa with my brother and sister-in-law – and her grief and sense of loss – she had loved him, married him, travelled across an ocean and left her family behind. Regardless of the divorce, she had still cared, and with his passing, there were new emotions surging… And the finances to sort out, within the passing of my dad. I was a daughter between two cultures, two families, two countries, two different lifestyles – and there literally wasn’t time or space for grief within what was needed to be done.
Or so I felt at that time.
So I pushed it down, pushed it aside… Survived and met the deeper waves of grief with “I’ll deal with that later.” Survival mode is a wonderful thing. In the moment. As a therapist, as what is often called healer, I knew what I was doing, storing it up for later… How it would make it harder to access it, heal it, clear it. How it would layer my emotions, and “stick” in my body. And in the moments where I had time and space, I would try to pull it up, pull it out, let it wash through me… Yet, it was slippery, hiding away where I couldn’t fully feel it. Because there simply wasn’t time or space to feel it. At that moment in time.
At the end of those 3 years I was exhausted. Struggling with depression and trying to refocus. Trying to work out where I “belonged”. Which work to focus on. Which culture, lifestyle, country… And there was this overwhelming grief… My intuition all the way through the work I did in SA kept whispering to me that although I could do some work there, that that wasn’t where I was to commit. That there was something else, something more, and I couldn’t do it from within South Africa. I wanted to. I struggled to acknowledge it. To let go. I was born in Africa, grew up in Africa – and love Africa. But there was – and is – this deep call. This deep whisper… That the work for me to do is not that, there… That, for what I needed to be doing “next”, the UK was where I would be.. I’m still unpacking “The Work” that I am here to do. On planet Earth that is.
In the meantime, there were these waves of grief, surfacing 3 years after my dad’s passing…
Grief is a funny thing. It has it’s own rhythm. It’s own music. It doesn’t make sense. There is no timing or limit on it. It is not always socially acceptable – especially surfacing years later. And the grief of a parent passing – well, for me, it left me feeling adrift and rootless.
In my second mother’s culture, there is an accepted process to grieving. For the first part of the process, the adult family members don’t leave the house, the diet is restricted – no meat for a period of time after the feast to say goodbye. Slowly the grieving family re-emerges, re-engages with the local community. After a year, the joy might start filtering through once again. Laughter happens, and is celebrated. The name of the person who passed away is not mentioned, they are not described as “dead” or “passed away”. Instead, they are described, and said to be “late”.
This led to hilarity within tears, and more hilarity when a friend of my dad’s contacted my own mom to tell her of dad’s passing. She was told in broken English, over the phone this: “The man, he who was your husband, he is late. You must tell your daughter to come please.” They had been divorced for 10 years by this time, and he had always been late. For every single thing in his life…. He was known for it. It was a standing “thing” with him. Her response, to this kind gentleman trying to tell her, and explain that I was needed, was along the lines of “I’m not married anymore, what the hell do you mean? And my husband was always late – what is he late for this time? And why are you phoning me about it? Why does Morag need to come for him being late?” When she phoned me, in England about it, my response was “This is so typical of him – he’s late for everything in life, except for his own death. I was supposed to be seeing him next month!!!” (I was flying home for my brother’s wedding, and had planned to see Dad at the same time.)
Dad would have howled with laughter about all these conversations. It would have appealed to his sense of humour! He always liked to do the unexpected or unanticipated…. And he had no sense of timing. Or a brilliant sense of timing. He simply didn’t live within a sense of a calendar, or 9-5. Instead, he was deeply connected with the world around him. It was time to fish when the sun rose and the wind was still, and it was time to eat when you were hungry, and time to sleep when you were tiered…
Hearing my second mother – who is now late – describe this whole process of how grieving is done felt like a gift. I was trying to understand what it was I needed to do in terms of supporting her, honouring her through the process, within her culture. Things like not using the person’s name because doing so kept their spirit here rather than encouraging it to be free to return to the ancestors, or heaven. Using “late” instead of “dead” because it was kinder, and more respectful of the passed person. There is a wisdom to having a structure to mourn within. I didn’t have that at the time.
Anyway. At the end of those 3 years, I was sitting with grief frozen. Grief frozen within my body.
I had survived, done what was needed. And now it was time to turn to my own healing. My own grieving.
Yet what had happened was that the grief had impacted, got stuck, frozen within me. I could feel it. I could feel how locked up my muscles were with it and around it. But I couldn’t shake it loose. Couldn’t access it. Couldn’t fix it or heal it… And that sense of grief and depression was overshadowing everything within my life. I couldn’t find my joy. Couldn’t access it, or reach for it, or feel it. I felt like I was living within this grey cloud constantly. And it hurt.
I couldn’t feel. Couldn’t feel joy, couldn’t feel grief. I was numb…
I worked with a counsellor. I worked within my own practise. I meditated. I listed gratitudes. I’d survived by listing gratitudes. But these were simply a list – sometimes I felt them, sometimes I noticed and listed them… I tried so hard to work through the grief. And it sat there…
What shook it loose was attending a Laughter Yoga workshop. A friend of mine, Michael Stretch, who I know from Findhorn, wrote to me inviting me to attend. His mom was teaching it, he’d be attending… He didn’t know where I was, or what was going on for me, beyond knowing that I was living in the area where the workshop would be held. And he had a feeling that he should invite me. So he did. And I had this surging “Yes” feeling which roared through me from my belly upwards… Even in the midst of the cloud that I was in. My judgement came in – “Laughter Yoga??? WTH? Really? How, when I can’t even find the Laughter within myself, can I think to go to something like this?”
But I went. And I am so grateful I did. In the midst of the exercises, having been told by our teacher Amanda, that even when you didn’t feel it – it being the laughter – it was ok to fake it within this space. That the physical vibration of the pretend laughter would “shake things loose” and the emotions would follow. They did. I cracked.
That wall, holding back the grief cracked. And the tears began to pour out. And in the midst of the tears, I found hilarity and joy once again. And in the midst of the hilarity and joy, I found grief again.
Held between belly aching laughter and tears – that grief poured through me. And out.
And over the next few days and weeks, I found that the grief would pour through me. The access point to all of that grief wasn’t sitting with the grief. It wasn’t “working through it”. It was engaging with the laughter – consciously, willingly. Feeling into my body and all the emotions within it. “Shaking things loose”. Willingly giving myself permission to feel the joy, the gratitude, the laughter – and layered under that, that cloud of suppressed grief. Literally, shaking with laughter was what shook the grief loose…. In my day to day life, the suppressed grief had been bleeding through and overwhelming me. It created this grey filter over everything… Trying to work through the grief, was like trying to grasp a slippery fish with my bare hands whilst blindfolded. It kept slipping out of my grasp… And it was only when I let go of that focus, and turned instead to simply feeling the vibration of a belly laugh shaking through me that the grief shook loose again.
And here’s where I want to come to with this story….
Sometimes, it is not the shadow, the presenting grief or oppression we need to focus on, in order to to reach for our deepest healing. Sometimes, when we can give ourselves permission to focus on the feeling of it’s opposite, that we create space for the cracks to form, the grief to pout out and through. It is, or it can be, that the feeling – the willingness to feel – which presents the opportunity for healing.
We hide and turn away from “bad” emotions, “negative” emotions, refusing to feel them… They hurt. We don’t want to feel that hurt, heartache, pain. We push it aside to survive perhaps. There isn’t time because perhaps, some action “needs” to be taken for survival in that moment. And instead of releasing and moving through us – or moving through those emotions, those big emotions of pain, grief, heartache, loss, anger perhaps – they get frozen into our bodies and being, overshadowing our joy. We reach for structures and practises which allow us to mourn, to grieve… Some cultures have these. Some families have them. Some are recreating ceremony which allows us to honour grief and loss… Acting as mid-wives to the grieving process.
The willingness to feel into all the emotions is a powerful medicine. Feeling into an ache can allow us to heal it. Grief tightens up our body, closes us down, draws us inward… Away from the celebration of the world around us. And sometimes, through the willingness to feel into a belly ache of a laugh which shakes grief loose – when you or I or another – can stay with that shaken loose outpouring – then we might just find that the ability to feel, experience and express joy on the other side of that outpouring is increased.
So, dearest heart reading this… Perhaps, if you are struggling to find your joy, and working on healing beyond grief, perhaps give yourself permission to feel the physical vibration of a belly laugh – even if it is faked. You might just find that it shakes loose that flood of grief and tears which could take you deeper into feeling your joy… Chasing your grief, chasing the shadow, trying to catch it and fix it and finding it slipping through your fingers instead – turn away from it, and give yourself permission to feel your joy instead. Your grief might surprise you, sneak up on you, and pour through you – washing you clean, in the midst of a deep belly shaking laugh instead….
And please. Know one thing, spoken from my heart to yours:
All your emotions are welcome.
I love, and value, the support I am gifted. I love how it frees me up to support others, plant trees, tickle the soil, nourish the soul – and how this opportunity of gifting and sharing creates networks of support, resilience – and basically, embedding more love.
I love how I can use what I am given, to give to others – and together, we can all shine and create more… Step by step, slowly slowly…
I’m busy working on a Patreon “thing” – learning how to do this, in amongst the chaos of washing dishes and mommying, and everything else. People keep asking me to. And there is so much I want to do – trees to plant, foraging, communities… A little goes a long way. You don’t have to, by any means. But it is always such a delight for me when someone does.
3 responses to “Grief and Gratitude 1”
“All your emotions are welcome.” And give yourself “permission to feel”. That’s the name of a remarkable book by Dr. Marc Brackett who leads the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Thanks for chronicling your journey and sharing your story.
Thank You. 💗
Thank You Kevin