Today, I put on the dress I wore to mama’s memorial service for the first time since the day I tried it on nearly four years ago.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. My hands just reached for it as I was perusing my closet for a dress to wear. As I zipped it up, I was brought back to the day I put it on.
After 3 (4? 5? 6?) days of staying in pajamas and not leaving the house following the night my mom died, we had somehow planned the memorial service down to the day, time, and order of service. I had decided that I would speak. My body felt broken, it was hard to stand, and I was barely going more than a couple of hours without sobbing, but the day where I would face the community was happening.
My Aunt Deb knew this, and suggested that we go buy something for me to wear to the service. It felt absurd, as absurd as the night I sat on the floor in my bedroom in Chicago with clothes all around me and rhetorically asked my boyfriend how I was supposed to pack to see my mother die.
It felt absurd, going shopping for the service, but it was the nudge I needed to begin the practice of facing the world with grief, and besides that I didn’t have anything that felt right to wear.
She drove me to a consignment shop I knew well-I don’t remember if we talked or not on the way there. I ran my fingers through clothes without really seeing them, trying to tune out the small talk of the people around me, and Aunt Deb picked some options. I tried some things on and chose a dress that looked okay. I don’t remember the process of choosing-what I remember is how my knees buckled after the choice was made. That first knee buckling of my grieving body struggling to hold the weight of my broken heart.
Deb had me sit down on the bench while she paid and then came back to sit with me. I breathed deep while my legs shook. Eventually they stopped, I stood up and we left. “This is just how it is”, she validated. “You’re going along and then all of a sudden you can’t.”
The day of the service is a blur-I know there was shaking yet again along with tears as I stood up to speak in front of the many, many people who loved my mom. I breathed through it and eventually gathered myself up enough to keep going.
So much of what I do with my clients is symbolized in what Deb did with me that day. I offer an option for movement, something to try out. They do it while I witness or move through it with them, sometimes in words and very often in my body alone. When they break down, I am both open to it and stable for the process, knowing as I do that the pain they feel is deep and will feel less overwhelming when given the time and space to be as it is. I normalize what they’re going through, and each session is like that time in the store before the car ride home.
Bit by bit, my clients get the experience in their bodies of physically moving through their grief. Bit by bit, they build the resilience and the knowing that they can break down and not be broken. Bit by bit, they figure out who they are without their people. They feel energized and vital. They learn how to hold the complexities of holding grief along with joy, fear, love, and anger. Very often older grief and pain gets healed and released in the process of being present with this one. I don’t rush the process. I trust that what needs to get moved through in our time together will. I know that the power of embodied work means that they will be able to access the experiences we moved through together.
Today when I put on the dress, I thought about all of this, but I didn’t shake or cry. I accepted that what might have felt like a big deal even a year ago was now another symbol that had lost some of its weight.
I know and trust that whatever feels impossible for you right now will shift when you give yourself the time and space to feel and move your grief.