Navigating Grief, Together
You may have seen Milly Taylor teaching yoga around Auckland, working hard away at a cafe or everything in between. What you may not know about Milly is her nuanced and insightful relationship with grief. We were lucky enough to gain some insight. Enjoy x
Big question, but what has your journey with grief been like?
About six years ago my beautiful Mama started acting strange… I was living over in Canada at the time but noticed some odd behaviour from our catch ups over the phone. I called up my Dad to ask “what’s up with Mum?” to learn that she’d been on antidepressants for about the past 10 years, that she may now have bi-polar, but that “no one's really sure”. By the time my Dad came and visited me about three months later Mum had been given a diagnosis of “possible” early-onset dementia. “Possible” swiftly turned to probable and then to definite frontotemporal dementia.
I spent the next few months going between confusion, pain, avoidance and denial. I would often google her diagnosis to try and better gauge the situation. I would scroll down the page for a few minutes, see “life expectancy”, quickly exit and distract myself. The thought of Mum not being in my future is excruciatingly painful, so honestly, I’ve only very recently allowed myself to actually grieve.
A bit over a year ago I went on my first vipassana meditation course. Vipassana is a 10 day silent meditation “retreat” where you literally meditate for 10 hours a day, scanning your body from head to toe, toe to head. On the fourth day we started to properly practise vipassana. Close to the end of the sit my whole body was in the most pain I have ever experienced in my life. It felt like I was being burnt, stabbed and beaten all at once. In that moment I realised that this was the pain I had been storing up for the past five years, not allowing myself to feel my anger, my loss, my sorrow. The bell sounded, tears flooded and the painful sensations washed out of me.
Whilst it hasn’t been a linear journey since, the intense relief I felt in that moment solidified my trust that no matter how frightening it may be, you have to feel the pain if you want a chance at a joyful life.
What have you learned about yourself and those around us on this journey?
This process has taught me more about the world than I ever bargained for. And while I’m super aware and cautious of not falling back into the trap of toxic positivity, I am so beyond grateful for what this experience has opened my eyes and heart to. I always thought I was a reasonably non-judgemental person but this experience continues to kick me up my ass. I have a new found patience and respect for human beings. No matter how badly they wrong you, no matter how far from “good” you believe them to be, everybody has a story of why they are the way they are, it just takes a bit of time to understand.
Why do you think it is important for us to give together as a community, and remove some of the shame associated with it?
For so many reasons I believe that we need to rid the shame and stigma that surrounds grief. One of those reasons is linked more specifically to dementia. For a lot of the initial years of Mum’s dementia we had to keep it a secret, she was still highly functioning for the most part, teaching part time at the local primary school, so it was important to shield her reputation. My grief was kind of bogged down by my embarrassment. Frontotemporal dementia meant that Mum lost her filter pretty early on, she would say anything she thought about anyone, especially at the supermarket.
Once I was able to share what was going on with more people it allowed me to soften into the situation. In a way, being honest about it also felt like it re-dignified Mum. I really strongly believe that every person, no matter where on the spectrum of “regular functioning” (*bs) they sit, has an important role in our society (and this is not just my opinion). Unfortunately, as we live in a colonial culture that is so focussed on profit and afraid of difference, Mum had to stop doing most of what gave her life meaning. Witnessing Mum’s evolution in and of itself has been of great meaning but I wonder how much more the world would benefit from more integration of difference.
What is your advice to anyone who is facing some amount of unconventional grief?
The hardest part about loss is that life will go on but unprocessed grief can hold you in the past. It can pull you down into some extremely dark spaces that are hard to come out of alone. My advice is to find a community that you can share your experience with. It may be easier said than done in this current world but I bet there is someone feeling the same much closer to you than you think. Stay curious, go gently and be