On June 7, 2021, my life changed forever when the devastating disease of mental illness took my son’s life. My dear son was just 21 years old. Tommy, as we called him, was a typical 21-year-old. In his second year of college, he was a competitive mountain biker and loved nature. He was a perfectionist and a competitor who was always determined to do his best. He was everyone’s friend. He was also an old soul who always seemed older than his age in wisdom and deeply kind at heart. Being his typical playful self on the last day of his life, he carried his dad on his back as they returned from a morning hike. Minutes later, he took his life by jumping from a second-story bedroom window. I was across the country at the time and did not witness the shocking event that Tom’s father will always have to carry. Twelve months have passed, and my grief takes a new form every day.
I could tell you more about my beautiful son and how both he and our family fought to heal this devastating illness for two years, but instead, I want to share with you my healing process in hopes that this will reach others who share the same heartache. Although there are many ways to deal with grief, for me, my earnest dedication to my yoga practice has softened my pain. I have lived the life of a yogi for over 20 years, and I can tell you without any hesitation that we can find hope and healing through a daily commitment.
Yoga has taught me to stop looking outward for support and guidance and instead to go deeply inward through mindfulness and meditation. By looking inward, we can shift our awareness and perception. Every time we come to our yogic seat, it is an opportunity to transcend and release stored emotions and negative memory. Whether we are in a place of darkness or light, every time we come to our mats, we peel away the layers of suffering and begin over and over again.
Through yoga, we learn that nothing is permanent; the death of our body is inevitable, but our spirit and energy live on. Yoga has taught me to embrace the dualities of joy and suffering. `It has taught me to connect with the cycle of life and know that my son’s soul still lives – just in a different form. ( On the day of his death, Tom’s dad said he could feel his soul) Swami Rama, in his book, Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, states, “There is nothing that loses its existence. Existence is never lost, changed, or subject to destruction. That which changes is the form. After one becomes aware of the center of Consciousness, Atman, he understands that at the core of his being, he is unchangeable and indestructible.”
Yoga training has taught me to stop clinging to life and to face everything from a place of love. It has taught me to be less reactive in all circumstances and to be a witness to life instead of holding onto every moment with a tight grasp. It has taught me that my true nature is not suffering and pain but rather joy, peace, laughter, and love. It has taught me the discipline to get up and keep going even when life is falling apart. It has given me tools such as deep breathing to rescue me in times of deep despair. (try Rise of the Phoenix)
Finding rituals of remembrance has helped the healing process. Above, Tommy’s words of wisdom are written on the stones and scattered in my garden. Below, our family wrote the following poem together describing Tom’s beautiful character.
When I look up to the clouds, I see Tommy peacefully resting in every stage of life, from the womb to old age. Although he is no longer here in body we will forever hold his spirit and wisdom in our hearts. We love you, Tommy…
He ran with the rivers; he rode with the wind, and he was always OK with dirt on his skin.
He felt your pain; he had the same goal; he would always seek to comfort your soul.
He talked to the moose; he held the chipmunks; he did not mind the odor of a stinky old skunk.
He would ride his bike here, he would ride his bike there, and in the end, he would ride to persevere.
He played with the dogs; he played with the cats, and he would never fear a silly little bat.
He would listen to others; he would listen to you, and he was always happy to hear all points of view.
He laughed at this; he laughed at that; his laughter was always with him as a mere rug rat.
The mountains were his home, the outdoors his place; it was nature that gave him great solace and space.
He loved his mom; he loved his dad, he loved his brother and the world with all that he had.
He trekked up hills, he often just roamed, but now his commission is to CARRY US HOME……