Thank you Marcia for sharing this very personal story with us – Monika x
Writer’s block. If you’ve ever sat down to a blank page, intent on expressing the thoughts running through your brain and not been able to complete a first sentence, you have likely experienced some version of your own writer’s block.
My block began in late April/early May. I was in the midst of great transition that included a temporary move that would six weeks later lead to a permanent move, the loss of a dear friend of our family, and the end of a major group client contract. I was also waiting to learn if I would spend part of the summer working with acting apprentices in upstate New York, and to top it off, I wasn’t yet ready to write about the work I had spent the 18 months prior developing. I didn’t see not writing as a block, I just had too much going on to find my voice.
The next six weeks flew by with packing my place and the move (part one), a longer commute to classes, a vocal/physical experiment at NYU, the move (part two), unpacking, and two weeks later, off to that adventure with acting apprentices at Vassar College in NY. I would begin to write when I got back to Denver. On July 21 I had plenty to write about. My work was proven and had advanced, I was inspired and so excited to share it all.
With flight delays, I arrived in Denver early the morning of Monday, July 22, unpacked, taught my first class, and booked a flight for Thursday morning. My Dad had begun Hospice Care. I was going to Ohio to spend some time with him and say goodbye before things got worse. I would return home Sunday and I would write.
There is No Preparing for Grief
We lost my Dad at 12:30 am on July 28. My Dad was 91 and had end stage Parkinson’s Disease. I thought I was prepared. He was not the first person I loved to die and he certainly lived an amazing and long life. I was not prepared.
I returned to Denver that Thursday. An example of the first week would be it taking three tries before I could navigate my Whole Foods and actually leave with groceries. I never knew when I would start sobbing, I just began to understand that it would happen at some point each day. My brother or one of my sisters checked in via phone and text regularly. They understood and to them I could simply say, “I just want Dad.” The only time I was okay was when I taught.
So I taught and cried and cried and taught and I kept up with my own practice (as I had every day of the 20 at Vassar and the eight in Ohio). And every week or so, I sat at my laptop to try to write about what I was experiencing, but no words would come. I was furious that I couldn’t do something to move myself forward.
Sundays were the worst to tolerate. On Sundays I felt that marking of time. My Dad had been gone a week, then two, three, and finally four. The Saturday leading into the fourth Sunday I had a really good day. I even went out for the first time since leaving Vassar. I sat and had dinner and drinks with a friend. We talked and laughed until after 1 am. I opened my phone when I got home and learned Julian Littleford had died earlier in the day.
The Other Shoe Drops
That fourth Sunday, the day after we lost Julian, I sobbed via Skype over his loss to my mother, who of course had four weeks prior lost her husband of 53 years and 10 months. She spent hours listening to me cry and tell stories of Julian. Once spent, I sat down to try to write something, some tribute to these two men who on the surface had very little in common – a 91 year old retired accountant from Ohio who was a WWII veteran and raised seven children, and a 53 year old professional dancer, and a teacher from the UK who was still raising his two children. They actually had a great deal in common, they were each crazy in love with their wives, great dads, and had a kindness and generosity that can’t be taught. And I could not write a word. After two weeks, I stopped trying.
I kept teaching of course, and I believe I was teaching well, maybe better than ever, and I focused even harder on my own practice. As I did each, it was becoming clear that Pilates was teaching me about grief and my body how to process it.
[I know, 700+ words to get to Pilates and I’m not even close to the writer’s block part yet, but we’re still uncertain I’ll ever share this with anyone.]
My grief got slipperier. I was actually having strings of good days. I was surprised when I ran into a friend and when he innocently asked how my Dad was doing, I was able to share the news without emotion. But just as I was surprised by a good day, I was equally caught off guard by bursts of emotion. And I was noticing some less than rational reactions to things. Things that weren’t normally a big deal made me furious or felt unmanageable. If I think about it now, I realise I felt betrayed by the world. Frankly, I just wanted my Dad.
Just Focus on the Work
Pilates and my understanding of my body and the connection between mind and body were what I could count on and understand the first four months. Because I was able to let go and practice daily, I was checking in with my body and allowing myself to reconnect with something that has been part of my daily life for over a decade. I was spending at least an hour daily in a place that hadn’t changed and was safe and supportive to me. I was inside my own body, just finding work and exploring what it felt like on that particular day. And I was noticing during those hours that most of the rest of the time I didn’t feel like me. The mind body connection of Pilates was explaining what I couldn’t work out in other ways. And as those connections shed light on the pattern of grief, I was able to understand when something insignificant made me feel like a total lunatic that it was just grief. I could actually say to myself at various moments, “This isn’t real, it’s just the grief.” Somehow, my body understood the difference and each time I was hit with fear or anger or intense disappointment, it told me I was grieving, that I was allowed to grieve.
I was still angry I couldn’t write and downright furious I couldn’t seem to figure out some necessary business restructuring. Everything felt just out of reach, like a word you use daily and suddenly can’t remember how to spell or a name on the tip of your tongue. The harder I tried to figure things out, the more elusive the answers. My friends asked me to “be kind” to myself. They couldn’t understand that I desperately needed a beginning somewhere to take my focus from this enormous ending.
Exactly two months after my Dad died, I spent their anniversary weekend with my Mom. We brought flowers to plant at his grave. Mums. I got out of the car and held my Mother’s hand. I thought I was there to support her. Within seconds, I fell completely apart. She held me as I sobbed uncontrollably. It had been two months since someone who loved my Dad held me while I cried and for the first time since his funeral, I actually felt comforted.
Finding My Voice
In the middle of October I suddenly knew where I needed to shift my business focus and even came up with a plan to support the work I do with young artists. And my younger sister agreed to let me teach her virtually. Getting the chance to share Pilates with her is a tremendous gift. On her birthday in December, I sat down to begin writing the third Piper the Petite Pilates Princess story. The words came.
During that entire period of feeling blocked, I was very afraid I would never be able to write another word, that I simply would not be able to find my (creative) voice again. But going through that process (and this continued process of grief), I now understand that while I was able to physically function at a high level, part of my brain was somewhat paralysed trying to adjust to it’s new reality. I’m certain that the physical connections I focus on when practicing Pilates helped me process what I couldn’t cognitively.
Pilates has taught me so many things. This time I think my lesson is in recognising that emotional trauma can be almost as debilitating as a physical injury and we have to allow ourselves to learn how to function in our new version of normal. And also that my method of being “kind” to myself requires the safety and exploration of this thing we practice and teach – Pilates.
Every Pilates teacher has watched at least one client heal from some sort of broken heart by way of just showing up and doing the work. We have all watched from the outside, just focusing on teaching the physical and keeping the client in the work, and allowed the work itself – the body, to work it’s magic. It seems I simply had to allow my body to work some magic to allow my heart to start to heal in order to feel safe enough to find my voice again.
It has been five months since my very old, very wonderful Dad left a body that had stopped being a nice place to live. If you have lost one (or perhaps both) of your parents, you likely are ahead of me in the grieving process. I’m guessing you would tell me that my brother and sisters and I are now part of a fraternity of sorts, that no matter what, nothing prepares us for loss, and that we will never stop missing him. If you aren’t part of our fraternity, I urge you take every chance to tell your parents how much you love them and ask them to tell you what you need to hear, but don’t waste any precious time trying to prepare, no matter what, you won’t be prepared.
In less than two weeks, I’ll celebrate my birthday. Still hard to imagine that my Dad won’t be on the extension singing with my Mom, as he has been every birthday since I left for college. I still miss him every single day, but (thank God) there is Pilates, and now, there are words again too.