Death is one of life’s few certainties. The grief that arises in those left behind can prove profoundly debilitating – according to one Psychiatric Times article, 40% of those mourning meet the criteria for major depression one month after the passing of their loved one.
While facing this is something we will all be confronted with, at some point, reactions are entirely individual. Some of us try to cope via embracing things like physical challenges; some seek solace through the distraction of overwork or at the bottom of a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
When the mother of Aliya Daniels died, she knew she wanted to orient herself towards something truly healing, rather than emergency, temporary fixes. Beyond that, though, she was lost. 'Grief is often pathologised. You're assigned a time period to go through it “healthily” and it's depicted a certain way,' she tells WH. 'But we all know that we experience emotions on a physical, mental and energetic level, which look different for everyone and can occur anytime. Yet, we lack safe spaces to just be completely ourselves [in our grief] with no stigma or judgement.'
It’s this realisation that led her and her two sisters to found GOOD GRIEF, a new kind of support community for 18-35 year olds who are grieving. They offer a six week intensive programme, which involves open discussion, breathing techniques, guided meditations, mindfulness coaching and energy work as fundamental coping tools to take you into the grief journey.
Here, in her own words, is her story.
A few weeks ago, I learned the term post-traumatic growth while reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, whose husband suddenly died at the age of 48. Post-traumatic growth is a theory that refers to the way humans grow, develop positively and find meaning after experiencing challenges in their life. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it’s a process I’ve been working through for two years now.
My growth since the death of my Mum in 2018 hasn’t followed the traditional, linear process from mourning to moving on. Mine has been guided by breathwork, meditation, movement and mindfulness practices – practices that I now believe are absolutely crucial to those dealing with grief.
When my Mum was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I was in university far away from home and the news hit hard. I began struggling with my mental health and due to a combination of stigma, friends who couldn’t relate and my own fear and shame, I had no one to talk to and no mechanisms to cope with my pain. My confusion and lack of support only translated to more anxiety, depression and difficulty focusing at school.
Both of my parents (though divorced at the time of my Mum’s cancer) were yoga teachers, meaning the language of spirituality and holistic healing were ingrained into my upbringing. Nonetheless, I resisted them as a teenager, telling my friends my parents were hippies and choosing a career path that had nothing to do with wellness.
When I opted to do my yoga teacher training the year after my Mum was diagnosed, it was because I was stuck at home in Toronto while waiting for my UK visa – and my Mum gently suggested it as a way to pass my time. What I didn’t expect was for the practice to become a medicine for me, giving me a practice to find connection, support and the mechanisms to cope with my mental health challenges. It was the first step on my personal healing journey.
In 2016, when my Mum’s cancer grew to Stage IV and spread from her breasts to her lymph nodes, liver and bones, I left my job and life in London to move back to Toronto and take care of her. My two sisters did the same. For two years, we became her caretakers as she tried countless allopathic (modern medicine) and alternative treatments. Amongst many other things, like how to read CT scan images, the names of every Chemotherapy drug and the anti-cancer properties of garden herbs, I learned during her illness how important it was to take care of myself as a prerequisite for taking care of others.
At the time, I no longer prioritised yoga, instead, devoting all my time and energy to my Mum and her treatment. It didn’t take long for me to burn out and become resentful and anxious as I let go of doing things that made me feel happy and healthy. It became clear to me that I needed to make a change. I began practicing mindfulness, which helped me understand the value of being completely present in everything you do (instead of getting stuck in the thoughts running through our minds). This eventually led me to start my own business, Move and Mindful, at first teaching corporate mindfulness classes, and now breathwork and meditation, a career shift I never could have anticipated.
It was a blessing. As a practicing yoga and mindfulness teacher, I was able to seek out the support I needed following my Mum’s death in wellness. I turned to breathwork, a more dynamic type of meditation that uses a specific breathing technique to facilitate an altered state of consciousness where profound emotional healing and physical release can take place. Breathwork gave me a technique to feel and understand all of the heavy emotions associated with grief, like deep sadness, guilt, anxiety and numbness.
For months after my Mum died, I suffered from traumatic nightmares and trouble sleeping centred on the trauma of watching her die. In one breathwork session, I faced the recurring visualisations of my nightmares head-on and, with the support of my teacher, was able to release the pain, and through tears, transform them into memories that no longer cause me distress.
My two sisters also found support in holistic practices, finding, like me, that the approach made them feel human, knowing all emotions were welcome and normal, and simultaneously learning practical techniques, like meditations, journaling and movement styles to cope individually.
In our own healing processes, it became clear to all of us that grief doesn’t happen in isolation, rather, it happens alongside and impacts all the normal stresses of everyday life, too. And in the face of all those individual added pressures, it became clear that there is no right way to go through it.
Following our Mum’s death, my sisters’ and my hearts broke, but an idea was set into motion: we wanted to change the silence around illness, death and grief and connect with others who had gone through similar life challenges. We’ve recently launched GOOD GRIEF, a grief support community centred around holistic self-healing.
What I have learned in the past few years, through my own healing process and as a guide for people going through many different emotional experiences, is that what people require most in their healing (just like I did) is a space to feel whatever they are feeling and be met with compassion, while simultaneously having the ability to experience their own self-healing, self-care and self-love.
Through my Mum’s death, I have been exposed to my greatest fears and insecurities but have become equipped with the tools that help me live more fully. It’s no silver lining because it doesn’t compare to how much I miss her, but facing the uncertainty of life without my greatest support, my Mum, has given me the opportunity to rewrite my path and find my purpose. This has been my post-traumatic growth.
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