Everything changes. It’s one of the fewest certainties we know for sure.
The nurse ushered me into the pre-surgical area to change and asked me if I was nervous. After three hip surgeries, I realized I was. Even though they had broken bone in order to do repairs on my hips, this time, we were addressing my neck. And I was becoming more and more aware that I was becoming less and less able to find a way to feel relaxed about this part of the “home” inside of my body.
As a yoga teacher, I know how to instruct students how to soften and lengthen the back of their necks. But I realized I no longer knew how to accomplish these same actions for myself.
I was becoming accustomed to making it a habit of protecting myself due to injury.
I didn’t like how this could potentially bleed into my psychology.
Everything in the body takes on a posture. The practice of yoga begins with the postures. I have let go of most of them. But the neck is what bridges our heads and our hearts. It is what helps determines the stance we take at any given moment.
Afraid. Compassionate. Defensive. Kind. Protective. Loving. Panicked. Tender. Fierce. Steadfast. Stoic. Apprehensive. Intimidating. Gracious. Inviting.
I sort of feel the way my grandmother looked to me when I had to identify her body. The way her body looked to me. So UNLIKE her. So stiff. That is how I feel inside myself now.
I lived in California for 11 years when I was in my early twenties. We visited each other frequently. I remember during one of the times she visited me, we spoke at length about death. Yoga was not even on my radar then, but I was most definitely a yogin in every way. I remember asking my grandmother if she had pain in her body every day. She didn’t even hesitate. She said no. I was shocked. I am shocked thinking back on this now because I had no obvious injuries then, but I was a body constantly, continually in pain. It was as if I was at war with the vessel I had been given. And when she said that, and she had at least 50 years on me, I was amazed that nearly 80 years into her existence, she could so easily claim that she had “no pain.”
I had absolutely no idea what that was like.
She told me that her greatest wish around her death was to die peacefully in her sleep.
That did not come to pass.
Her death was an extremely traumatic one. It was extreme and dramatic and violent and by no means, peaceful.
It was traumatic. Most definitely, in the ways it lived and continues to live inside of my own body. At first, because I had to process the trauma almost entirely on my own. And there is no guidebook for how to move through this stuff.
But the oddest things can also be the sweetest.
Before my grandmother died, she was about to leave for Florida two days later. Somehow, I ended up with her suitcase. It was in the back seat of my car for about a year before I could bring myself to open it. When I finally did, I simply laughed and cried and cried and laughed. It had only two articles of clothing in it, but was mostly filled with dozens and dozens of SWEET’N LOW packets, Oatmeal, a hammer and a wrench, countless pairs of socks I had bought for her, sneakers I bought for her, an egg slicer, a jar of pepper, and a few curlers for her hair.
I kept that suitcase in my car for 5 years.
I write this now and the back of my neck is getting softer. Why? Because those were the things she took with her. Dozens of SWEET’N LOW packets. And when I opened the suitcase, it made me laugh.
Yesterday, when my friend was taking me to the hospital, she told me she was feeling anxious. And I immediately thought of my grandmother. I thought of what she used to say to a friend of mine when she was still alive and my friend was anxious. It wasn’t that she was insensitive to anxiety, it was that she had lived through the Great Depression, that she had been continually managing her own depression, survived the loss of both of her parents, one of whom was mentally ill, survived the loss of her beloved husband and her beloved sister who was her dearest friend and confidante. Survived things many of us would not even begin to comprehend.
I remembered what she said to my friend when my friend would begin her spins of “what ifs...” What if this happens... what if that happens... and ultimately, what if so and so dies... ?
My grandmother used to fire back... “And what if the sun comes out?”
My grandmother was not a funny woman, objectively. But to me, she was HILARIOUS. Absolutely hilarious. Her sheer and utter honesty which landed so sweetly in my tummy would make me roll over with heart-stopping, sweaty uproarious laughter.
But maybe that was because I simply loved her. Loved her simply and completely. The “just to know you’re in the world makes my world entirely better, kind of love.”
And now, just to know you lived, makes my world entirely better.
Just to have loved you makes my world entirely better.
Yesterday, when I left for the hospital. After I took all of my jewelry off. I put one piece of jewelry back on. The diamond my grandmother had given me. It was my great grandmother’s earring. And then it became my grandmother’s engagement ring. And when I was 20 years-old, she gave it to me as a gift. About ten years later, I had it reset into a ring. I wore it to the hospital.
Just to have your love makes my world entirely better.
Healing happens. Even if fear or pain holds you back. Healing is always possible. This neck will reveal what is next, no matter what lies ahead.
And breath by breath, I can choose whatever stance I wish to take.
In hope, in humor and in blessing.