“It’s embarrassing,” I told Danielle. I was sitting in a parking lot in Albuquerque, my Someone inside the laundromat so I could have a couple of lone hours in our camper to talk to someone outside of ourselves. “This is the embarrassing part of grief. The kind that’s still there. It’s embarrassing that I am still so sad,” I said.
I am still sleeping with that stupid dog’s smelly blanket in my bed. I am still jangling her collar on harder days. I am full to the brim with tears, and the wrong swing of my head erupts my eyes with them. There’s a big brown dead dog sized pressure in my throat. And now, I am angry, too. This isn’t the cute and cuddly sort of sad that has me wrapping myself hungrily in my Someone’s arms. It’s not the kind with Ben & Jerry’s new vegan ice cream in my lap watching Old Yeller or Megan Leavey. This is the brutal part where the amount of shit on his side of the bed is suddenly unmanageable and taking over all of the space in the entire camper and MY ENTIRE LIFE. It’s the kind of grieving that strikes a match on a gasoline trail toward my Someone. A trail I leaked myself. It’s the kind of grieving that is eating its own tail becoming angrier that I am still so angry.
“It’s been three months!” I said.
“It’s only been three months,” Danielle said.
It’s only been three months.
“After seven years,” she added.
I felt my anger subside. Tears again. This old hat.
Two weeks before, I was on the winning side of my losing cycle. I had answers. They looked like this:
- doing yoga.
- petting my dog.
- drinking water.
- no thinking.
Armed with these forces, I was prepared to finally let go. I was going to stop my crying. I was going to be happy. I was going to forget my dead dog. I was going to take a yoga class.
I found one in Alamagordo, New Mexico. This is a town of in betweens, a dusty monologue between the exclamation of high rolling mountains on one side and White Sands National Monument on the other– where the dunes are a perpetual hot winter snowscape. And in the middle of the town, we found a perfect Walmart parking lot spot where our front door opened to a makeshift backyard, just over the fence from a yoga studio.
Hannah was warm and welcoming and curious and calm. In a small room of strangers, she instructed us to breathe. She instructed us to find space somewhere. She instructed us to think of a place we need space, and to breathe space there. I placed Butter in my mind. And then, I told her goodbye. Go on, get out of here, I willed her, I don’t need you anymore. My best attempts at White Fanging her weren’t working, but I was persistent through the practice. I was going to let this dog go.
By the time we hit shivasana an hour later, that damn dog was panting in the front of my mind. And it was in shivasana, also known as corpse pose, that it occurred to me for the first time: it’s only been three months. Hannah reminded us to breathe again– to evaluate the place we needed space, and to accept the space.
“Spend time every day breathing space in. Be intentional,” Hannah coaxed.
Every day. Every. Day.
Maybe in living with grief, just like living with people, it would get easier to co-exist if I just acknowledged it was there. At the very least, it would make it less awkward. Less shuffling and pretending and more eye contact.
I began breathing life into my grief instead of around it. I let myself be sad. I started crying onto my mat. I didn’t flinch. And then I felt something move in me that hadn’t been there before. I felt the claws of this grief roommate untangle and uproot. It felt less stagnant. It seemed to be transforming from a heavy oak bureau in the middle of my chest to a floating ball of mud. More messy, but less mysterious.
What was I thinking? I didn’t want to be separated from Butter. I wanted to be closer. And I can’t be closer to her if every time I think of her I cry. I can’t breathe life– I can hardly breathe at all– into our relationship if I’m always pushing it down or crying out the window quietly while we drive through a dark New Mexico sky. It’ll rot my insides. And she didn’t rot me at all. Why would I have her do that to me now? Why would I make her the villain?
It happens the same time every night. And it was time to engage with it. The grief. Otherwise the sadness leaks into dreams which leak into mornings which soon will take over not just my days, but weeks. Then years. Then my life. I began rolling up my mat. There is no end in sight. No goal. Just breathing. Just trying not to rot.
But the first step is to not be ashamed that I am so fucking sad.
“Mallory? Can I show you something real quick?” Hannah said, “I think you are maybe hyper-extending your Downward Dog.”
You don’t know the half of it, lady.
It’s working, but it’s also not working. Which makes me think that I am recovering at exactly the speed that I am recovering. That’s the thing about grieving. You can’t hurry it.
But I am also learning that while I can’t stop grieving, I can say that I’m sorry to my Someone after I lash out. And now, sometimes, I can even keep from lashing out. I can call my friend and tell her “I am so sad” and not have to add “still.” I can even, on some nights, talk to the night sky and almost catch the feeling of that missing big brown dog nearby. The floating mud ball of grief keeps rotating and splattering around, but it might be getting smaller to make space for her. She was never one to keep her paws clean, anyway. So I think she feels welcome here.