Erin here! Many of you may be wondering why you haven’t heard from Schanen and I as of recent. Over the past 6 months we’ve both have lost our beloved pups aka our best friends and have been dealing overwhelming grief. Losing a loved one is like losing a part of yourself. It has left us feeling vulnerable and most comfortable in solitude. However, this coping mechanism isn’t the most beneficial way to heal and progress forward. Schanen and I are both still coming to terms with our loss, but we want to offer you some insight on what helped us get through the hardest, “crawl in a hole & hide” moments.
So listen up friends, we are here for you!
(If you'd rather read about this episode, keep scrolling.)
My first experience with grief was in high school; losing my grandparents was the first time I felt a true loss. Even though it was extremely difficult for me to say goodbye, I didn't quite understand gut-wrenching heartache till I lost my father (at age 29) and then 3 years later, my dog and best friend, Jasper. The loss of my father hit me like a Mack truck. I was in so much pain, mentally and physically, that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to eat or even smile again. I took Xanax for the first couple of weeks just to get through the days.
Grief has a way creeping into the body and forming actual physical pain, just like tension from work or breakups, but for me the pain was much more incapacitating than any stressor I had previously dealt with. A lot of people feel stress in their hips, neck, shoulders, chest, stomach & psoas. It moved through me, starting in my head, moving downward until my entire body was in a state of shock.
It started in my jaw, that little groove under my ear at the top of my jaw line. It’s almost as if I was swallowing my tears, or holding them back and this ball of tension collects. Then it moved down the front sides of my neck into my shoulder joints. At this point my middle back began to seize up, the pain was traveling downward like an avalanche, taking every muscle and ligament with it. Then the front of my body seized, it felt like my chest was caving in. It hurts to take deep breaths.
I hit absolute rock bottom, the spasm burned in rage, pulling my neck and head forward with my head frozen and a rounded humpback. Every time I took a step or even breathed, I felt an electric shock radiate from my head through my spine down my legs and out my feet. It was the worst physical pain I have ever felt, worse than any broken bone or health issue I had faced before. I felt so fragile and stiff, like someone could physically snap me in half.
The same pattern of pain occurred weeks after Jasper's death, starting from my head and working downward. This time it only affected the upper half of my body but I was still immobilized for almost a week on couch.
When our body sends signals like this we have to listen, or it will only compound on itself. In both scenarios, I jumped back into life, grad school, work, rehearsals, ignoring the pinch and suppressing the sadness. But look where it landed me both times… If I wouldn't take the time to slow down, my body surely was going to. Maybe, if I had taken more time to myself, to meditate, cry, go to yoga, and ease back into my packed schedule, I wouldn't have had to go through so much agony?
I do believe grief is the hardest part of life humankind has to face. The physical stomach ache and heartache is something you’ve never felt until you’ve gone through loss. I remember not being able to eat without feeling sick for at least a month or two after my dad died. I thought “Will this feeling ever go away?” It feels like it will never pass. I’m three years in with this struggle and realize it never really does go away, just hits you harder some days more than others. It’s not constant like it is in the beginning.
Now I am obviously not an expert on the best ways to cope with grief, but I wanted to share with you all some ways that helped me in my darkest hours:
CRY! Let it out, do not hold that shit in
The days you are tired and need to sleep, SLEEP. Your body is emotionally exhausted and it’s ok to check out. During sleeping hours our parasympathetic nervous kicks in and works it's healing magic.
TALK ABOUT IT with friends and family. Years later I finally opened up to my boyfriend, Ali'i, about having to see my dad’s dying body and how I held him as he passed. How his face was swollen and how that image makes me sick, to this day. He cried with me when I finally shared that traumatic moment with him, and you know what? I let go of all this bitterness and resentment that I was holding onto. It helped knowing that he understood a little better of what I was going through. But life continues; I felt all of those feelings flooding back when I had to put Jasper down. I held him and watched the life slip from his eyes. I’ve tried to suppress those images, but they come back in your dreams and psyche, so it's better just to deal with them face on. What has helped me is brain training. Every time that morbid image surfaces I replace it with a jolly, healthy face. That is how my dad & Jasper would want to be remembered anyways.
Grief totally gave me an IDENTITY CRISIS. Who am I? A daughter without a father? The person I counted on to make me laugh and put life into perspective was no longer available for bear hugs and unrestrained laughter. Who I am I without Jasper? The free loving, dog mom who would rather frolic on the beach with her pup than hang out with humans. Losing Jasper is still very fresh and I am still working through this grief. But I am feeling myself climb out of the dark hole, to discover someone stronger and someone more fit to help others. So maybe I am finding a new identity, but that's OK.
YOGA has been HUGE in dealing with stress and grief. Foremost because it forces you to take deep breaths, deep breaths into the tightened and enclosed heart. Bringing back a glimpse of joy and light, one breath at a time. Vinyasa flow also moves blockages through the body, bring blood flow and oxygen to areas of the body that are holding or locked. It's always important to move the prana (energy), flowing through and out in a cycle, rejuvenating the body with fresh blood and oxygen. If we hold onto stagnant, old energy that no longer serves us, that’s where pain, inflammation and disease breed. It’s important to recognize those holding patterns so we can release it. Yoga has been a life changing tool that has gotten me through some of the biggest stressors of my life.
- HONOLULU: Open Space Yoga http://yogaopenspace.com/
- Aloha Yoga Kula https://www.alohayogakula.com/
- WORCESTER:Hot Power Yoga http://hotpoweryogacenter.com
GET RID OF THE GUILT: the "what if" and replaying will KILL the spirit! I can’t tell you how many times I thought; I wish I would’ve cooked more for my dad, made him pre-made meals, forced him off dairy, not cussed at him, spent more time with him. I think that's why I tried so hard with jasper, I didn't want to have any regrets. But then his leg puffed up out of nowhere and he was in a pain that i, nor the vet's could revolve. I felt guilty for bringing him into the ocean that week, or making him use his wheelchair. Did I push him too much? This is something i am still working through with both my dad and jasper. But at the end of the day I need to recognize that they both knew how much I loved them and that they were my world.
DON'T USE ALCOHOL AS A CRUTCH. Drinking feels good while you’re doing it but scientifically is a depressant and makes everything worse the next day including your physical and mental state. It's ok to get through those first painful weeks or months with a drink here and there to let go, but don’t use it as a crutch, there are much healthier choices.
BOOST THE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY: even though we innately want stuff our faces with junk food and cry, try to resist. We are already combatting extra inflammation from the added stress of grief, we must try to stay reticent of what we are eating. And at least take our vitamins and eat healthy. If our mind doesn’t feel like it can handle, at least give your body the best fighting chance.
RUNNING really helped me with both my dad and Jasper. I would run until i would start to let go of some of the sadness, often times crying, laughing, choking, spitting, just letting it out. I would listen to music both my dad and i loved, like The Doors and just run hard.
SEEING A MEDIUM I had never really understood what a medium did before my loss, but seeing a medium was like having an actual conversation with my dad. It was hands down the best tool to give me some resolve. I laughed, cried and came to the conclusion that he is definitely still here and with me, just in another form. She even used the same vocabulary and nicknames, it was without a doubt my dad. And he was HAPPY. So how could i be so so sad, that's not what he wants.
- Psychic Medium (DENVER):Jan Katayama https://jankatayama.com/
MEDITATION has always been challenging for me. I could never shut my brain off, the silence almost made my thoughts louder and frustrated me. Yoga Nidra meditation, a guided meditation in savasana that walks you through a body scan and peaceful imagery was the best thing to help me sleep. I listened to the guided meditation and it always brought me through a very healing, revolutionary journey.
Yoga Nidra Links (Listen!):
CHIROPRACTOR: When body aligns, so will the mind and spirit. The chiropractor was the only way I was able to get out of the stuck physical state I mentioned earlier. They helped me tremendously in getting my posture back, allowing me to open my chest and heart.
- HONOLULU: Dr. Jesse Cracknell http://www.dhchi.com/
- Dr. Eric Vroom & Felix Wolf (acupuncturist) https://www.unitywellness.net/#unity-wellness
- WORCESTER: Dr. Anthony Rainka http://rainkachiropractic.com/
- DENVER: Alan Han (chinese medicine) http://hanshealingarts.com/about-us/
Thank you all for reading about my journey. You are not alone in your grief. Sometimes you have to be the one to reach out for help; many times our friends or family don't know what to say or do, it's ok to ask for help. And believe me they want to.
Sending love and aloha,