I am empty.
Until John, I had been running my own therapeutic yoga business for over a decade out of the custom studio John had built onto our home. I was able to have babies, care for them, and at times pop upstairs to teach a 90min class when he was home and could be on kid duty. It was an honor to be a yoga teacher. You see, yoga is a job about love. Private clients came into my space with all sorts of issues – knee/neck/back pain, unstable joints, headaches, anxiety, depression and more. I would tend to their bodies and souls through physical exercises, stretches, meditation, and massage, all with a large dose of compassion and tenderness. My regular clients would come back week after week, reaching out to share their journey with me. My yoga teacher often used to say “As yoga teachers, we make the world a more peaceful place, one student at a time.” This was true for me. I was making a difference in people’s lives. I was satisfying a deep need in my heart to care for and tend to others.
When John died 6.5 months ago in late May, I shut my yoga business down. I knew that I wouldn’t be very functional for a while, that my children would need all of my energy, and that I couldn’t in any way remain composed through a 90minute class. I set an intention to re-open my yoga business in the fall after the girls went back to school. I assumed that by then I would still have a lot of grieving to do but that I would be more functional and able to be composed long enough to teach a class. So in the middle of September, almost 4 months after John had passed, I decided to take back just 4 of my 10 private clients – the 4 I’d been seeing the longest and who had the most needs. It was only to be a 6hr a week commitment, which seemed gentle and manageable.
Once I began, the words that kept coming up were “I am empty”. I went through the motions, stretched my students out, counseled them, cared for them, and on the surface – did my job. However, I was phoning it in. I realized that the things that had made teaching yoga such a wonderful job in the past were what made it a very hard job to do right now. I used to enjoy drawing on past experiences to connect with the pain of my students, but right now it’s too painful to draw on my life. I loved walking into the studio, bright and full of light for my student, but now I have no light – I am a dark cloud. I realized – how can I be anyone’s spiritual guide when I am broken? Remaining composed for just 6 hours of teaching a week became an emotional drain.
So, I stopped teaching. I set an intention to open to some other sort of career. Perhaps a return to the tech field (I have a CS degree and used to work in software), perhaps something totally different. It doesn’t feel like I’m incapable of working. In fact, I have a lot of energy to put into the right sort of job. I want to be busy. I want to occupy my mind. The key issue with yoga is that it is a job about emotions and about opening the heart center. I realized that I need a job where I am allowed to be depressed and dark as I work, if that’s where I’m at that day. I need a job that isn’t about emotions, because I spend enough time in an emotional space right now. I need a change. I determined that my yoga teaching career was over.
I told my 4 remaining clients. They were disappointed (one of them I’ve literally been seeing every week for 10 yrs). I genuinely love them, so I agreed to see each of them 1x a month so that we could stay connected. Today, I saw 2 of my clients. This is the first time I have taught in over a month, since I made the decision end my teaching career. I thought these few classes would be easy and manageable, but in fact – they weren’t.
As I look back on the last few days, it’s obvious why it was so painful to teach today. Last night I went to a regular widows/widowers group therapy session that I attend. Everyone in the group lost their partner in the last year. The wounds are raw. Everyone is in a lot of pain and has a story that is very difficult to hear. These sessions are confidential and thus I can’t disclose the specifics of what was discussed, but in general we dive into some really dark stuff – regrets, pain over the holidays, judgmental people who have hurt us while grieving, feeling like one will never be happy again, pain over having no one to hold you when you sob, the difficulty of being present as a parent to your traumatized children while you yourself are traumatized, and more. Although it’s hard to go to the group, it’s productive and healthy. I have to process the feelings inside of me, or I won’t move forward. Although I’m sad when I hear the dark tales of others, I’m also comforted to be reminded that I’m not alone. I’m not failing. I’m struggling in the same ways that others are struggling. Although these group sessions are productive, that doesn’t stop me from coming home feeling very dark, quiet, and sad.
After therapy, I arrived home at 8:30pm. My MIL had been caring for the children and Isabella was still awake when I arrived. She was bright and hyper. She had just watched some “Guinness Book of World Records” youtube videos and wanted to chat about all the amazing things she had seen – the woman with the 15 inch waist, the man who had the record for eating a bowl of live worms the fastest, and more. She was bouncy, chatty, and needed attention. It overwhelmed me. All I wanted to do was go somewhere by myself and cry for my dead husband. I was in a deep place of feeling, and I couldn’t pop back up to the surface. I chatted with her for a bit and then (close to 9pm) told her it was time to go to her room. Isabella refused. She’s a normal 9yr old pre-teen – her favorite word is ‘no’. I asked her politely 5x to go upstairs. She resisted, and then I had to get firm and (with my voice quivering with pain) explain to her slowly that I had just been to my grief group, was processing a lot, and really couldn’t chat at that moment. In general, it takes a shocking amount of energy to stay calm and loving when one really wants to just fall on the floor sobbing. I stayed calm, but it took a lot out of me.
The group session had opened a door – a door to my sadness and pain. Often I keep my pain locked up in my tense and frozen body. I have hardened over the last several months as I have had to stay strong for everyone and everything around me – my children, my MIL, the death-related paperwork that is only now coming to a close, household duties, etc. It’s all on me. There is no one else who can be in charge – I’m the one in charge and I’m not allowed to fall apart. Sometimes when I am in the right environment with the right people, I can open up. I opened up in group last night. However, by the time I got Isabella to bed (after asking her over and over and having her flippantly say ‘no’), the door was closed. I was still sad and depressed, but in more of a defeated way, rather than in a useful “I’m feeling the things that I need to feel” way.
I woke up this morning continuing to feel defeated. I got the kids to school, and then came home to teach my 2 classes. Right before teaching, I happened to glance at a shelf where I have a folder of things relating to John’s memorial. There is a notebook there given to me by his boss… they had a service at work and people wrote various things about John in the book. I had not yet opened the book in the 6mo that I’ve had it, because I wasn’t ready. I don’t know why, but in that moment I was drawn to open it for the first time. On the front page was a note from a woman named Caitlin who worked for John. She wrote a list of 6 things she learned from him. Here are a couple of choice items from her list –
#4 – He created a culture on the team in which we would eat lunch together almost every day and swap stories. My favorites were about his mountaineering family summiting everything, his adventures as a bachelor in 90s grunge-era Seattle, and all of the crazy Burning Man projects he partook in. After nearly 6 yrs, I knew enough stories to request specific repeats when new people hadn’t hears them. I learned that I wanted to have great stories to tell, and to find adventure wherever I went. I must have heard the story of how he met Holly at least a half dozen times, and it still strikes me as one of the most romantic and genuine stories I’ve heard.
#6 – He taught me what it looks like to truly adore one’s spouse. Even as I looked to him as a mentor, he would tell me that Holly could teach me so much more. Every story I heard from him was about the latest thing that she did that was “totally bad ass”. I remember being very excited to introduce him to the man who later became my husband, because I had been looking for someone who I could brag about the way he did about Holly.
Yes, I shouldn’t have opened the notebook right before teaching. For some reason, I did, and then, when teaching, I was again forced to phone it in. I went through the motions, my students were pleased, but I was empty.
I am so lost. Sometimes it feels like I tread water in my ocean of grief, using every bit of my energy to fight against the dark undercurrents. Other times it feels like I’m sitting on a raft on this same ocean of sorrow – alone, cold, adrift, without direction, nothing to do but cry for my sweet John. I adored him. I have the best friends I could possibly ask for, but still – I float on this raft alone, allowing my tears to be taken by the waves, gazing off towards the horizon, wondering if I will ever reach the shore, not sure that I will.