To My Yoga Instructor, Thank You for Letting Me Grieve in Class Today
Yesterday evening I received the call I’ve been dreading for the past month.
“Are you sitting down?” my mom asked. “Yes, what is it, Mom?” I replied. “They’ve found Spencer’s remains.”
Ten hours and a rocky night’s sleep later, I find myself in yoga class, and I’m crying my eyes out. It came out of nowhere. Tears all over my mat. Swollen eyes. I find it hard to make eye contact with anyone. Oh my God, mountain pose.
“I want you to breathe for the experiences of others in class today.” The instructor, Claire, spots me. The woman on the mat facing me respectfully shares a tear. She sees my pain. Each downward dog is a chance to wipe my face.
Five weeks ago my brother went missing in the remote mountains of southern Oregon, not far from where the border meets California and Nevada. His camper was found stuck in a ditch and burned to the ground. Spencer was missing along with Angel, one of his two yellow labs. Frantic family efforts followed, as did a seven-county search-and-rescue operation. No sign of Spencer.
Did he die by suicide? Was there an accident? Did he stage his own disappearance, succumbing to paranoid delusions that everyone was after him? His calls and emails the previous week were irrational, erratic and hurtful.
The weeks following his disappearance were agonizing, a journey to make peace with not knowing. The complexities of his mental illness and distress made it even more complex. By the time my mom called last night, I thought I was prepared for whatever may come. Wrong. It sucker-punched me.
My big brother was the most pure-hearted person I know. Thinking of him brings to mind the movie, “A River Runs Through It,” and he gets to be the Brad Pitt character: beautiful, wild and most at peace in nature. In my favorite images of him, he’s playing with his dogs in the Russian River in Sonoma County. Or we’re biking together in Cambodia, where we visited the temples of Angor Wat together.
To increase the odds of finding Spencer, I posted articles about “a missing man” on Facebook. At a retreat I attended, the group encircled me and said a prayer for Spencer as I let the tears stream down my face. (I’m really not a crier!) The experience of sharing grief publicly and receiving support — truly receiving it — is new for me and not in my normal character.
Yet there’s something beautiful about it, something that makes me feel more human. At some point in yoga this morning, I decided to drop my man-up mindset and just receive the kindness and compassion sent my way. To own my tears. It wasn’t about me any more. It was something bigger.
For that, I say thanks.
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