Nine years ago, in May 2014, I lost my mom. In May 2023, three days prior to the anniversary of my mother’s death, my father passed away suddenly. Two days after his death, while we were still completing his last rites, my father-in-law died. May is the month when my family and I have suffered a tsunami of losses.
My mother was 66 and on her way to vacation with my dad. Kashmir, referred to as “paradise on earth” by many, was their destination. My mom felt nauseous; my father called for the ambulance. And even before I had landed in New Delhi, my mother passed away. My brother picked up me and my husband at the airport. After a 15-hour flight, I wanted to see my mom’s body before I saw Dad. My grief was about me.
I saw Mom’s body in the morgue wrapped in a lavender sheet. There was a dent in the space between her eyebrows, the home of the third eye. What was she trying to communicate? How could you do this to me? Why didn’t you wait for me? I wailed. I was shattered, angry, and inconsolable. I wanted to blame someone, anyone. I looked for answers but didn’t have the right questions.
Anger: A Form of Grief
No one asked me, but I remember assuming the role of the gatekeeper for my mom’s home and memories. I went into “guardian mode” with my father. Every word from others felt like sandpaper over my raw loss. “Did you take a picture before cremating her?” an aunt asked. I swear I could have clawed her tongue out. I remember having meltdowns when the bathroom wasn’t clean per my standards. Grief shows up in different ways, and I was stuck in the anger phase of grief for months.
I rarely and barely drink. But after losing Mom, I drank wine to numb my pain. I worked out to the point of injury. I did yoga because my bendiness on the mat allowed me to feel in control of something in life. I was filled with expectations and kept a mental note of who showed up for my family (and who didn't). I became a person I didn’t recognize. In reflection, I realize that, in my grief, I was distant from my authentic self.
In reflection, I realize that, in my grief, I was distant from my authentic self.
I couldn’t see beyond my own pain even though the rest of my family was hurting. My emotions were neither contained nor grounded because yoga was just a physical workout for me, not a spiritual practice. My ego was driving my actions.
A Changed Relationship to Grief, Nine Years Later
In May 2023, my husband and I got a phone call that both my dad and father-in-law were in the hospital in India. My husband and I had just seen them in April. They were both in their 70s, but there was nothing alarming about their health. Within a week, their conditions each worsened. My dad’s doctor told us he had less than a few days to live. My father-in-law, seemingly, was safe in the ICU and was responding to medicines.
As we sat in the airport lounge at JFK, I turned to my husband and said, “This can’t be happening to me for the second time. I need to be able to say goodbye to Papa. God, universe, Mom … whoever is in charge here … please be listening.” There was humility in my heart.
Unlike in 2014, instead of a glass of pinot grigio, I sat with a cappuccino (my dad’s favorite airport beverage) because I was exhausted. (I am not judging people’s survival mechanisms, but rather acknowledging the transformation in me.) Instead of being angry at uncertainty, I accepted the imminent change: I was about to become an orphan, and India would become a foreign country in an instant. Even though it was cruel, I wasn’t the only one suffering. My father shared a beautiful relationship with my husband and every member of my brother’s family. I needed to focus on what my father wanted in his last few days in this realm.
As we landed in Mumbai, my husband and I went to see my mother-in-law. She was in denial about her husband’s health and my father’s inevitable end. I told her that she should take up the space that she needs. After over 20 hours in flight and a few hours in Mumbai, my husband and I took a cab to Pune, three and a half hours from Mumbai.
In the ICU in Pune, my dad welcomed us with a smile. But he was also slightly incoherent. "ICU psychosis," the doctor said. I shared my gratitude to whomever had kept him alive. Instead of reacting to my fears of losing Dad, I focused on what he needed. He wanted to be home surrounded by his family, not in a hospital. I held his hand in the ambulance. I had bought us matching bracelets with the evil eye, for protection. I noticed Papa touched it every time he felt scared.
During the five days that the universe gifted us with him in his home, I stayed up at night and talked to him. I comforted and fed him. I gave him a marma massage when he felt pain. He asked how I didn’t get tired; I smiled and replied, “I get my superpowers from you.” Not once did I make him feel guilty about dying on us. Not once did I tell him that with his death, a part of me would die forever. I have always been a daddy’s girl. It wasn't about me.
In Mumbai, when my mother-in-law had meltdowns, I didn’t react. I didn't make false promises that nothing could go wrong. "We will get through it" is what I maintained. I made room for her angst and didn’t compare our suffering. But I didn’t undermine my pain, which made it easier for me as I eventually shuttled between my dad’s home in Pune and father-in-law’s ICU in Mumbai.
How Yoga and Ayurveda Offer Strength Amid Grief
People asked how I was so calm despite the horror movie which was my life just a number of weeks prior to writing this. Today, my core is grounded (both on and off the yoga mat), which makes all the difference. My grieving and coping mechanisms were very different in May 2023 compared to May 2014. Sure, one could argue that I was a decade younger when I lost Mom. But I think it’s because yoga and Ayurveda have become my guiding principles this past decade. They have shifted my perspective on grief, loss, and the power of community.
I have always been a very strong person, but my strength was a little misguided in the summer of 2014. Yoga and Ayurveda can act as mirrors to your soul: The more you get to know yourself, the more you understand what your authentic self needs. The less I listened to noise outside and attuned to the calm within me, the more deeply I was able to connect with others.
In May 2023, I wasn’t operating from a place of reactivity. Without fail, I practiced my pranayama and meditation. On some days, I did yoga asanas to heal from the grief. I ate mindfully and only when I was hungry. This time, I wasn’t flailing for support when the crisis hit. My tribe of friends and cousins were ready to hop on a plane or chat with me at 2 am or go to their respective places of worship and say a prayer for my families. I was surrounded by love and support, a life I had intentionally chosen to build.
I didn't make the losses about me, but I did build boundaries to protect myself. I avoided insincere phone calls or messages because they were destabilizing for me. I still feel the pain from the losses, but my worldview isn’t limited to only my grief and loss. Because I am not sacrificing my needs or sorrow, I am able to show up for both my husband’s family as well as my brother’s family. My heart is grateful that I had the chance to visit my father and father-in-law multiple times in the last year. Focusing on gratitude and cultivating a positive attitude changed the way I process grief.
Grief is a journey, and it’s different for everyone. But I have realized that unless you get to know the real you, healing remains tainted and incomplete. How can you help others if you don't know what you need?
In working with grief holistically, I have learned that you don’t get over it; you get through it.
Learn more about the practice of grief yoga.