Practical Spirituality: A Lesson in Dealing with Grief

Last week my friend’s son Andrew was killed on the freeway. He got out of his car to rescue an animal. Was it a rabbit? A dog? Why did he do that? He worked at the zoo; animals were his children.
A policeman banged on his parents’ door at 3 am, shining a flashlight on his own badge,

“Are you the parents of Andrew…?”

“I’m sorry ma’am but you’ll have to call this number.”
Andrew’s mother and I grew up together, a few streets apart, wore bikinis, drove our Camaros — had weddings, our own children, shared in our parents’ passing. And now, the unspeakable.
What can I do? How can I process this grief? Unlike in Eat, Pray, Love, most of us don’t have the means to go on a spiritual quest to Italy, India, Bali. When slammed with a huge life crisis, we need to “pause, center, shift”–words of wisdom from a great teacher of mine–or in other words, try to turn within and connect with our spiritual core.
I volunteer at a hospice, Sarah House of Santa Barbara; when a resident dies, we often set up little shrines with pictures and flowers to mark the passing of a life. Sometimes we need our own personal rituals and rites. By gathering a few things — small stones I collect, rose petals, a crystal and a candle, a sentence on a scrap of paper – for Andrew, I might shift, ever so slightly, and move for a tiny moment like a feather, into a womb of peace. And so I do.
There will be yoga tomorrow, to try to maintain the stillness I feel today. I will likely visit this wonderful yoga studio near my home, “Yoga Soup.” It’s an Ashramic space, with red leather couches and books! There, all of us, in the widest age range imaginable, breathe in unison, measured in arcs of arms, peaceful moments, throaty chants. The yoga practice, prayer and meditations help us melt into our own transformational spaces, those little webs of peaceful and safe moments that hold us and feed manna to the soul. I feel lucky — and grateful — to have found a way to reach within and light a candle in my heart’s own private chapel. It’s like having a little spiritual warmth that I can kindle at will.
I will take this warmth with me into the few days ahead, to the gathering of mourners, family, friends, classmates, lives all touched by Andrew, to the communal circle where we will memorialize his life.
I will bring something, maybe wine, some mementos. There will be a block party, after the funeral. All the neighbors are opening their houses to create a communal gathering. His favorite Mexican restaurant is providing the food. Grief and memories need to be shared and will be at this celebration of his life. Everyone will be together, and Andrew will have brought us here.
That gash in the heart won’t lessen yet; the rip in the soul needs time to stitch whole. Grief will be there every morning, although each day will pull us a little further from the shoals of sorrow.