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What's In the Box?

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

Death, whether it was an anticipated event due to age or illness or whether it came as an unexpected event that caused cataclysmic chaos; death invites those that are in its realm to STOP.

If you have experienced a death, you know what I mean. Life stops for the surviving loved ones. Schedules and events are cancelled, work halts, calendars and lists are ignored. Life Stops.

Shock takes up space. Disbelief is expressed. Sobs are muffled through hands pressed over the face. Embraces are felt, smacks are heard on the backs of embracing men, women grasp hands, reluctant to let go. Children shrink from the unfamiliarity displayed from the adults. Fear and terror are seen in the eyes. Despair is evident; a blank stare.

Eventually essential activity creates a conundrum. We need to live life but the desire to remain in the numbness is great. Preparation for a funeral or memorial service creates a flurry of activity. People visit, condolences are shared and family surrounds us. We go through the motions of living but the numbness is what exists. Within a short time, the “details of stuff” invades. Wills, estates and legal matters need attention and cannot be ignored. We keep pushing. We keep living in spite of the numbness.

And then it happens…………..The Great Alone.

Alone physically. Alone emotionally. Alone with ourselves and our thoughts.

In yoga, there is a limb of study called Svadhyaya. This is Self-Study. This study invites us to know our true identity and “understanding the boxes we are wrapped in”. Living with grief in our lives can be so confusing and challenging. It helps if we practice svadhyaya. The great alone invites self-study. It is the perfect environment to unpack the boxes that we are wrapped in.

Our grief knowledge has been shaped throughout our lives. Our family, religious groups, race, ethnic groups and geographical regions all have traditions and expressions of grief. These traditions, expressions and “rules” are the boxes we live in. They make up our foundation from which we draw on and know how to “behave” and grieve. We learn what is acceptable and unacceptable. Our mourning practices come from the boxes we are in when we experience grief.

Svadhyaya invites us to look at these boxes which we draw from when we live our grief. What we are experiencing could very well be quite different than the box we expected to be in. Our past experiences and what we witnessed in the past may not seem to fit what we are experiencing for ourselves in the present moment. We find ourselves with another conundrum, expressing what we feel versus expressing what we are conditioned to feel (the box). We question and try to process the grief we are experiencing with the grief we thought we would experience.

While we question our grief boxes and foundations, svadhyaya invites us to look with compassion and kindness. Be gentle with ourselves when we discover a box that doesn’t really feel natural and authentic. Remind ourselves that grief is personal. Take the time to ponder and dig a little deeper. We ask ourselves a few questions; Was there a trigger for what I am feeling? Am I trying to ignore the unpleasant aspect? What am I feeling in my body right now? Am I judging myself? Is this the first time I’ve felt like this or is this a re-occurring feeling? Can I allow myself to experience my grief in my own authentic way? If this doesn’t fit the box, am I OK with that?

As an example, Erika Robuck describes her character’s interpretation of grief as follows, “I knew the pain of living without. I often thought grief was like madness- the lack of control, the overwhelming waves of emotion with unexpected triggers, breathlessness, night sweats, nightmares, and the feeling of utter aloneness, like that of standing on a ledge in a violent wind.” (p19. Call Me Zelda, New American Library of Penguin Group, May 2013). While this quote quite accurately describes grief for many people, it isn’t accurate for others. If this quote is the normal perception of grief (the box) what happens when a person doesn’t experience grief in this way?

I have met women for whom their grief was quiet, calm and contemplative. They didn’t experience breathless nights laden with nightmares. They didn’t have bouts of feeling utter aloneness. As a matter of fact, if I wouldn’t have known better, I would have never known their loved one died. These women knew their family and peers expected them to be more distraught. The public expected them to “fall apart” and “lose control”, the public waited. The public “box” was different than what they were witnessing. These women couldn’t exhibit their grief in the box that they lived and grew up in. They couldn’t manufacture what wasn’t there. These women examined and pondered and drew inward. They compassionately looked at their upbringing and culture. These women disregarded what didn’t work for them and expressed their grief in an authentic way that felt genuine for them.

Obviously, the scenario that Erika Robuck described in her book could very well be the genuine way a person feels, but doesn’t feel they have the liberty to step outside the box and express it. Instead, they may find themselves stuck in a box that is held tightly by a religious group or family tradition. The variations of scenarios for grief are as varied as the human race. Svadhyaya-Self Study is a way of becoming authentic with our grief. By being authentic we become an observer in the Great Alone, we become a learner and a student of ourselves as we live with Grief in Life.


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