Letting Grief Grow and Go

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

By Sara Vander Velde 2021

I have always been a creative individual. By creative I mean I see color and inspiration in everything I see and hear, touch and smell. One of the most important things to foster this creativity is to find other creatives that encourage this way of thinking. That friend for me is Taj. Taj came into my life in my teens. This was a time that I thought in order to be successful and go to college, I must excel in academics and sports. Taj challenged this norm. She was a brilliant scholar and thespian who decided to drop out of school and move out of the country.

This had a profound affect on me. I would often go to her grandmother’s home while Taj was off on her adventures. This woman spoke life to me. She had plants all over her home. She had paintings adorning her walls. Great music was always playing in the background. She made me believe in childlike wonder being possible in adulthood. She never conformed to society’s norm of a well-behaved woman. I loved the way she was.

Two years ago, Taj called to tell me she was moving home for a season as her grandmother was fighting cancer. This halted a budding sommelier career as well as a film project. It seemed so unfair to me that at a prolific point in my friend’s creative career, such a devastating blow would halt it. I watched these two powerful women fight this monster called cancer. I watched them do it with gory humor, laughing death in the face. Laughing through losing hair and health.

This to me was creativity at its finest. Learning to find creative ways to exist with one foot on earth, and another over death’s door. Dr. Eric Bui, a doctor at Harvard- affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital says: "Grief is a natural response to loss, but it is something that [people] are not prepared for, and they often struggle to understand how it can affect their lives." (Harvard’s Men’s Health Watch, 2018). Neither woman could have anticipated the battles that would be fought to not let grief overwhelm and consume.

At the beginning of 2021, T’s grandmother began to become very sick. We gathered our friends together to do a celebration of life with her while she was still alive! Due to COVID restrictions, most of us could not visit her in the past year. It was a day to remember and ended up being the last time I would see Gramma alive. We decided to make art that represented her. We bought biodegradable confetti. We gathered the troops for fun and farewell.

We rallied on her lawn and gave her lots of hugs and love. We played rowdy music. I will never forget grandma raising her hand and tapping her toes, the best dance she could muster to Luodon Wainwright’s song “Dead Skunk”. Meanwhile we danced a dance she could no longer dance. And we smiled tears of joy and sadness.

I planned to go to her house to do painting together the following week. But death has a way of doing as she wishes. February 19, 2021, she transitioned to a new dimension. The same friends that had gathered on her lawn a few weeks before, now gathered with T to mourn together. “The death of someone you love can shake the foundation of your existence and affect both mind and body. During a period of grief, you can become preoccupied with thoughts, memories, and images of your friend or loved one, have difficulty accepting the finality of the loss, and experience waves of sadness and yearning (Harvard’s Men’s Health Watch, 2018)." T had been her grandmothers primary caregiver. They had been each others dearest companions. And I realized that Taj had been grieving the loss for two years. I decided to head to her home three days later to do some grief share yoga. This is a restorative form of movement that allows the body to be at rest while allowing the physical weight of grief to be released.

Karla Helbert (2016), states “the practice of yoga addresses self-care, helps to integrate the experience of loss and supports feelings of connection and relationship with loved ones who have died.” In those precious moments, we gave permission to our body to rest and let go. With each breath we let go of sadness and inhaled rest. We gave permission to Taj's body to rest. And to know it was a job well done.

Marilyn Mendoza (2018) explains that: “Grief and stress are stored in our bodies. Movement helps us loosen the emotional and physical tightness in our bodies caused by grief. It is also a way to find peace and stability during a time when this is missing from our lives.” It was one of the most powerful experiences of our lives. It was a creative space for rest. No performance existed. No stage required. No audience needed or wanted.


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