The Agony and Gift of Grief

It was a cold, dark, February Sunday evening.  I was seventeen and my younger sister was fifteen.   My father had already gone to bed and my mother was snoozing in front of the television in the recreation room downstairs.   There was a knock at the front door.  I answered the door and saw two, uniformed policemen standing under the porch light with grim faces.  “Please get your parents.”   I went to awaken my father; my sister went downstairs to get my mother.  

As we all returned to the front door, one of the policemen said to my parents: “We are sorry to inform you, your son has been in a fatal accident.”

This one sentence both shattered my world and set me on my spiritual path and gave me my life purpose. 

After giving my father the necessary information, they left and we were left sitting in the dark in our living room, unable to speak or cry or do anything but stare into the darkness. 

We all staggered through the funeral, numb and hardly able to do anything but go through the motions.  My beloved, gentle, nineteen year old brother was gone.  Driving to his girlfriend’s house for an engagement dinner, his precious, old jalopy of a car went out of control and hit another car.  He was held by strangers in a ditch while he passed away.

As often does when tragedy strikes, unexpected forces came to offer support and show a path of healing.  My mother had begun practicing yoga just six months earlier and had found her way to a community where she was being embraced by love and deep wisdom teachings about the infinite nature of the life force and the realms of spirit beyond our world.   I truly believe that had it not been for this timely connection, my mother would have been unable to cope with the devastating grief of losing her first-born child and favorite son. 

She began taking my sister and I to the yoga gatherings and even though we both thought they were totally and completely bonkers and weird, my grieving heart was also drinking deeply of the comforting kindness and compassion.  Unbeknownst to me, my soul was awakening.  Shattered first by the trauma of my brother’s sudden death, I then began desperately searching for a way to stop the pain and find some meaning or way of perceiving life that had careened so drastically out of control in one single moment.

My parent’s already fragile marriage broke down as my mother engaged more and more in her newfound community. They separated, I went off to college to study social work and tried desperately to be the family therapist with disastrous results.

My sister quit school and began working at sixteen years old.  She ended up at home with our father; trying to fill my mother’s shoes and ending up with an ulcer that finally convinced her and my dad to allow her create a home of her own.

 After a few horrible, nasty years of conflict and separation, an amazing thing happened.   My parents began reconciling.  The very first effort was on behalf of my University graduation.  It took extraordinary courage on my parents part to endure the two hour car ride to my graduation ceremony and I will always be so grateful that they were willing to dig deep to find our family love and connection for this important milestone, the first time our family had been all together in five years.  Next came my sister’s very happy wedding and shortly after the arrival of her first child.   

What we all realized, without ever really talking about it, was that we needed and wanted to hold our family together even though there was plenty of difficulty in all of our dynamics with each other.  The loss of my brother became the inspiration and catalyst for many, many reconciliations and concerted efforts to show up for family joy, even when all of us had been ready to throw in the towel multiple times.

 My mother and I both journeyed deep into the world of yoga, meditation, spiritual growth and learning how to consciously heal the wounds of life.  We did hours and hours of powerful practices to face and feel the grief of loss and I became a teacher of emotional healing and empowerment and guiding people onto their own path of psycho-spiritual healing and awakening.

  Two of the most extraordinary resources that served my healing, not only of the death of my brother, but all the other hidden traumas of the past, were a book by Stephen Levine and a powerful teaching from my yoga master. 

The book is called Healing In To Life and Death.

 It had been seventeen years since my brother had died and I was now living at the yoga center that had been the sanctuary of salvation for my mother and I when my seventeen-year-old brother vanished from our lives.   I thought I had done my grieving but apparently not all of it.   I had met a beautiful man who reminded me so much of my gentle, sweet brother and had fallen quite in love with him, however we were practicing celibacy at our yoga center, so it was not an option to pursue this path.   I shared with a spiritual sister how my heart ached to know the love that I had had with my brother again.  She gave me Stephen Levine’s book and I found my way to a particular chapter about a father who had lost his infant daughter.   He had found his way to Stephen Levine’s grief workshop and was guided in a mediation to follow the arch of grief to where ever he imagined his tiny daughter’s heart was.  As the father wept in his agony of loss, he found an unexpected cord of light that linked him to his daughter’s spirit.  She was alive and well and conveyed a message to her father: “I am here Daddy, I have never left you.  I am here. “   

The dam of submerged pain burst and I found myself plunged into the well of grief in my own heart.  I hadn’t realized that I had not felt safe enough to feel it fully, yet the connection with my yoga brother reminding me of my own brother and the guided meditation of following the arch of grief to the connection with the one lost, did its magic.  I found that I was indeed still connected to my brother and I could feel his presence at the other end of the golden thread, quietly there, alive and well just beyond the veil of this world and the next.   All the teachings that I had been practicing and believing but not necessarily experiencing became instantly alive.  I KNEW that life truly was eternal and that it is utterly possible to connect with our loved ones in the world beyond ours.  This was the gift that my brother had intended for our whole family and me in his early departure from our lives. 

The second gift came in the form of a teaching that became the foundation for my professional life for the past forty years. 

I had the great privilege of being in the presence of an awakened yoga master only seven years after the life shattering loss that has set me on my searching path at fifteen years old.

  The message we received was this:  “Every single experience in life is integratable.    We are made of intelligent life force and when we create a supportive container of witnessing, breathing and being with the inner experience as it is occurring, the wisdom of our life force is designed to bring that experience to resolution.  When our triggered sensations, feelings and thoughts are resolved, we make a quantum shift into a state of wholeness, peace, wisdom and well being.”

As we learn to “ride the wave” of our inner experiences we are not only guided to healing and resolution but shifted into our unity consciousness.  From this state of being we are capable of living conscious, empowered, loving lives of truth and joy.

I resonated so strongly with this message that I was inspired to co create a breath based practice that I now call Touch of Grace, and have facilitated hundreds of people in being able to resolve their grief, integrate their traumas and lead beautiful, fulfilling lives. 

And so I am now able to say to my beloved brother:  “Thank you for the gift of your life and your death.”   You were truly my first spiritual teacher and my entire life and life purpose have been shaped and guided by the profound power of grief and awakening that it brings.  When we allow grief to break our hearts open and then learn to trust in the innate power we hold to resolve and heal the impossible pain of loss, we are able to also receive the treasure of connection that never ever dies and lasts through eternity.

– for Dougie

Donna Grace MacLeod,,


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