One year ago today, my dear Grandmother, Iris, passed away. She was 92 years old. Over the last five years, with my mindfulness practice deepening, I was able to truly appreciate Grandma and value each moment I got to spend with her whenever my travels took me back to Melbourne. She became a dear friend. My favourite memories are our coffee dates, going for short walks or to her local library where everyone knew her, watching murder mystery shows together, and enjoying our favourite treat - licorice!
I remember the morning of my flight from Toronto to Melbourne like it was yesterday. I received a call out of the blue from my mum back in Australia. She said, “It’s bad, sweetheart. Grandma had a severe stroke. She’s unconscious in the hospital and the doctors say she is not going to wake up.” Naturally, I instinctively felt helpless with so much grief.
Thanks to the mindfulness practice, over the course of the arduous 18-hour journey on the plane, the first half of the flight was calming myself down with breathing. As breathed deeply, I breathed with Grandma and talked to her, letting her know that it was okay if she needed to leave before I arrived in Melbourne.
When Hang and I arrived in Melbourne, Grandma was still unconscious in the hospital but breathing on her own. We spent the morning with her, holding her hands, massaging her feet and talking to her. We left in the afternoon. The next morning, my Grandmother quietly passed away with my aunt by her side.
I’m so grateful for my mindfulness practice for helping me through this challenging time. I learned so much about grief and how to take care of it and be there for my loved ones. My compassion and understanding for others has grown as I learned to take care of my own grief and sadness.
As a reflection of taking care of my sadness and grief over the last 12 months, I’d like to share four things I have learned along the way.
1. Letting Go is a Lifetime Practice
I remember hearing “Letting go is a lifetime practice” from my partner, Hang, when she lost her sister to brain cancer in 2017. It comforted me to know that I didn’t ever need to be able to fully let go of Grandma or my sadness of missing her. There will always be moments when I think of her and miss her., and that is always okay.
2. It’s Okay to Cry and to Feel Sadness as a Grieving Process
In the weeks following Grandma’s passing, I would remind myself of this, and give myself permission to cry and feel sad, to need a quiet day at home, to listen to my needs. For that first month, I cried every time I stepped onto my yoga mat. Most often I cried in savasana but the tears also came in the middle of Warrior 2 pose, or as soon as I sat down for meditation. And now, one year later, I still give myself this permission to cry or feel sad. Some days and weeks, I think of Grandma a lot, and when the tears come, I let them come. I breathe with my sadness to embrace it and calm it. I know that it’s okay to feel sad and cry, it’s part of the healing process, and part of being human.
3. Time Doesn’t Heal, Breathing Heals
I heard this a few months ago in an interview with one of my favourite monastic teachers from Plum Village, Sister Dang Nghiem. At the time I was feeling sadness and missing my Grandmother and wondering why it wasn’t getting easier with time. Sister Dang Nghiem reminded me that time doesn’t heal, but coming back to my breath when feeling sad heals. This teaching has really helped me the most. When I feel sad about Grandma, I place my hands on my belly or my heart and breathe deeply to give myself lots of love and understanding, and calm my strong emotions.
4. We Can Continue to Live Joyfully for Our Loved Ones
Losing a loved one is always a reminder for me that life is short. Part of my mindfulness practice is to read The Five Remembrances and one of them is, “I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.” This remembrance is not to worry about dying one day, but a reminder that we are alive now and we should enjoy our aliveness each day. A reminder to enjoy the preciousness of spending time with our loved ones. My Grandmother continues in me each day. When I walk, she is also walking with me. When I breathe, she is breathing with me. Sometimes I invite Grandma to join me when I practice walking meditation or eat her favourite licorice, “Grandma, come and enjoy this licorice with me”. I see myself as her continuation and feel proud that I can continue her love and enjoyment of life.
Dearest Grandma, thank you for being such a precious and wonderful grandmother. I love you and I’m proud to be your granddaughter. I know you are in me, and it makes me very happy. With all my love, Sarah.