“To notice the little things, appreciate what you have, and never stop dreaming.” These were the words I spoke at my father’s funeral, three days before Thanksgiving.
When you lose a loved one during the holidays, there’s a challenge to stay positive. On the morning of November 20, 2015, I received a call from my mother living in New York.
It was strange of her to call me so early. I was living across the country in Los Angeles.
“You’re father died” she sighed. As a yelp leaped from my mouth, my head wouldn’t stop spinning. I was drawn passive, and emotions from sadness to fury stormed into an upheaval of denial. This was unreality.
My wife, Ana, rushed to my assistance. She guided a helpless shell of a body to pack a suitcase. One foot in the door of the car and next thing you know, we were stuck on the 405 in traffic. I could see the sun slowly rising from behind the mountains in the distance. When we arrived at the airport, I would continue this out of body experience all the way until I was up in the air.
“What could I have done differently?” I wondered as I thought back to all those lost moments while living apart from my family. Either way, it didn’t matter. I had an uncontrollable urge of restlessness to get out of what was happening.
Thirteen hours later, I arrived back at my parent’s home and was greeted by my two sisters, mom, and friends. The hugs and tears couldn’t stop coming.
This next chapter of my life, I knew, was here. And I would have the choice to be in it or out of it. Time became visions of reflection on my life. Where was I going? Had I chosen the right path? I felt responsible now to be the one to take care of my family. I was in no position to grieve, yet in every position to allow it.
I would wake up some days in the morning and go right back to sleep. I noticed the patterns of emotional outbursts, and how they would come and go. These sudden attacks, like the memories, became daunting. Sights of my dad would flutter through my head. The trend became a constant burden of what I should have done. Feelings solved another one’s void by taking its place. One after the other. Until they were lost into an abyss of nothing.
Change had to take place.
Through the coming months, I would go out on my own and explore. Find a place to wander and get lost. It was in this time of pure non-chatter that I look back now and realize that this freed my mind. I remember a conversation with a friend, where I told her that I could not think. There was nothing in my head.
I got back into the rhythm of exercise and reading. I continued to indulge myself in yoga, meditation, and spiritual teachings. One instructor made a comment while I was sitting in the back of the room. “Whatever you are trying to become, or the belief you have, let it go. Emptiness is the way of liberation”.
Experiencing this passage gave me the self-awareness that I was chasing a path. I wanted to remove the pain, find myself, and get away from the previous doubt. But in the struggle to move on, I could not move at all.
I needed to accept that reality was where I was. I did this by enjoying every moment of life, the good and the bad. I went camping alone, remained in physical postures of yoga for longer stretches than what I thought I could do, and experimented saying “no”. Through these actions, I felt transformed.
For those who are experiencing a time similar to mine, here are lessons I would like to share:
- Embrace, rather than fight, your emotions
- Change your environment
- Travel, get lost, and wander in nature
- Allow tears, snot, cries, burps, and everything else to come out (maybe try this in a safe place, first).
- Experiment new exercises, like power posing, yoga nidra, breath work, etc. that will get your body up in action
- Become part of a group that provides daily, positive reminders
- Write out how much you love who has passed, yourself, friends and family, and this life
About Stephen Wawryk
Stephen Wawryk is a New Yorker, turned yogi, living in Los Angeles. He survived a 40 mph car crash when he leaped in front of it in order to save his mini dachshund, Polka Dot. In addition to adventuring around with his loving wife, he keeps a schedule full of travel, yoga, hiking, writing, biking, coffee, tea, and spending time with friends and family. You can find Stephen on Instagram at, @luna_maha, facebook.com/stephen.wawryk, or a stephenwawryk.com. He has recently released his new book, UNKNOWN, a delightful mindfulness picture book, about living in the brand new. Find it here:
Luna Maha - https://lunamaha.com/shop/
Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/dp/