I took a trip to Minnesota recently that came with a lot of unexpected detours. I went to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday and as the second stop on the Jwanouskos Ramos Wedding Celebration Tour.
We had an amazing time seeing the beautiful lakes and forest areas. So green compared to California! However, the time was sadly overshadowed by my grandmother's decline in health.
She was a strong woman with a huge heart — one that unfortunately was born with a defect. Her breathing became more and more difficult during the time we arrived such that she was admitted to the hospital the day after we flew in.
She knew. We all knew what was next. Though I tried to avoid the conversations and the subtle shifts, she was dying. In my head, her death was something that would happen way far off. Not when I was there. As time went on, it was clear she wasn't leaving the hospital. So the best we could do is make her comfortable.
Maybe it's the wrong segue, but I depended on my practices during this time. I have her and my weary family members lomi lomi massage. As the pain medications wore off, I sang her Ka Lei Aloha I Na Kupuna – a Hawaiian chant and lullaby that Brent and I sang for the new expectant mothers preparing for birth. It is a song about being surrounded by the love of the ancestors and understanding that you too are part of that love. I talked to her about my tai chi practice and the book on Russian breathing systems I was reading. I read her my poetry. I talked to her about the business Brent and I hope to create. I talked to her about my step daughter — who she told me to give the beanie babies in her basement. And I practiced yoga in the early hours of the morning to the rhythm of her strong yet forced breathing. I even was able to bind in Marichasana D on my tight side. I think it was even the day or day before she transitioned on.
My Grandma taught me so much about pain, death, and family during this time. I tried my best as a visitor from California to be there and be grounded, be compassionate for my family. And it was hard to do that. It was hard to see them come apart at the scenes and feel like though you wanted to, you couldn't. As if something kept you from it.
I was named after my Grandma and she was one of the strongest ladies I knew, who got things done. She didn't fuss or make a big deal about it. She was a nurse and she was used to long hard hours and endless self sacrifice. At the same time, she was fun and laughed a lot while she called you on your shit. Up until the last days she was talking, she was cracking jokes and speaking her mind.
She transitioned on surrounded by her family and so much love. I knew by the end of the week I was in the exact spot I needed to be and I was giving what I was meant to give.
In the days that followed, I didn't know what to do or how to help. So I began my day with yoga and tai chi. I figured that maybe if I could keep steady, my family could keep steady.
My family on my mom's side is a range personalities and A LOT of feminine energy. For some reason, people look at me and they go, "well of course Barbara does this crazy artistic thing that we couldn't think of or do." And I just am so adamant that the answer to that is, "yes! You can do it. You are capable of more that how you see yourself!" I probably get to be a little airy fairy for people if I start talking about it, so I try to just hold my tongue and not say anything unless people ask me.
But then the strangest thing happened… People started asking me about meditation, tai chi, yoga, eating vegetarian, art, music, storytelling, social justice, keeping in shape, martial arts and breathing. What? Me?
"I just do what I do."
So I started connecting more with my cousins, aunts, and uncles and on Instagram and Facebook, I'd post snippets of my practice. Mostly because without regular access to my teachers, I wanted to see and understand for myself what I needed to work on.
I even watched a yoga practice session with my brother who lightly chided me for moving too fast. He said to take my time with it.
"Yeah, see, when I was practicing, I loved up dog, you should take your time with it more. You're missing out on that stretch."
My cousin would ask me advice about breathing in yoga and how to get started at home because she wasn't ready to start going to a class. Another two cousins and I bonded over plants and essential oils. She is growing the Oxheart tomatoes that come from my Italian great grandfather (my Grandma Barbara's dad), who loved these tomatoes for sauce and just everything. In fact, my Grandma still has two living older sisters (96 & 106) and she said that the secret to her longevity was to eat tomatoes and have a little brandy every so often.
Here I'd been so secret about these holistic and artistic practices, considering myself to be the family anomaly and just like most things, I was looking myopically. My family was so supportive of me. Not who I tried to be or wanted to become, just everything I was at that moment, they saw as valuable and worth emulating. For that I am eternally grateful.
Part of me wonders about the synchronicity of this experience and wonders what my Grandma may have been trying to say. While I haven't always called or been able to visit, I never doubted for a second that she loved me deeply and truly saw me for who I am.
A couple hours after she passed, I was sitting in the family lounge with my relatives enjoying the memory of her and what she gave us. I was going through my email trying to find something about her ancestry to give to my cousins and I came across a lot of forwards of prayers and wishes and beautiful pictures from her. Then, I came on a direct message from her to me. She saw an email I sent about my upcoming play production and was sending me some money and wishing me luck. Matter of fact, supportive, and loving. I read it and it was a confirmation of everything I already knew.
So, "my practice" has taken a turn because I can longer see it as just for me and a source for my comfort solely. I see my family, my friends watching me and taking something from the one thing I do think I'm okay at — continuing to show up. This has made all the difference to me and propels me forward in dark times so that I can see those faces saying to me that they saw what I did and tried it for themselves.
Thank you and thank you to my beautiful Grandma for showing me how to continue day after day through the hardship with only love to guide you.