• Emily Potter

Healing through Grief and Tragedy

Updated: Jun 1, 2019

When I hear a story of loss, tragedy or grief, I stop in my tracks and give that person or moment my full attention. I take a deep breath and try to feel and hear the story that is being told. I pause in reverence because I know all too well what it is like to be in the eye of the hurricane.

I had just graduated from college. I can remember that feeling of being on top of the world so well and my entire life was waiting for me. I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a professional dancer, and the nanny job just outside of the city was ideal. Two days a week I would travel into New York City to chase my dreams. On August 12th 2005 I had my first opportunity for an audition. It was this same day that my entire universe came crashing down.

On this sunny Manhattan morning I got a phone call from my mom back in Idaho. Her voice shaking on the phone, my mom struggled to find the words. My brother Ben was home on leave after a six month military deployment. I knew he was hoping to pilot a small aircraft to our family reunion in Northern Idaho. I desperately wanted to attend the reunion but I had bigger things on my agenda: my Rockette's audition. I couldn't understand why there was so much distress in my moms voice. In broken words, my mom told me that the airplane that Ben was flying had crashed. The passengers on board were my father Bill, and my other brother, Andy. There were no survivors. My mom told me “it's time to come home.” Alone, I crawled onto an airplane that afternoon and flew home to meet my mom and the shattered pieces of my new and scary world. The world of grief and trauma is so vast. It's almost impossible to remember specific moments in those first few months as it's all a blur of mixed memories and emotions. I felt guilt that it wasn't me on the airplane, I felt sadness for the lives my dad and brothers didn't get to live, I felt anger for being abandoned, I felt stuck in a world that I didn't belong in. These types of things don't happen to people like me I kept telling myself. But denial is only a phase in the long, heavy and incredibly dark world of loss and grief. A few months later in an attempt to keep distracted, I stepped into my first yoga class. With a full deep breath, it was the first time I felt I was back in my body since the horrific phone call. I felt my heart beating and it dawned on me that I was still alive. I finished the class and knew that I wanted to become a yoga instructor. The very next week I enrolled in a yoga teacher training program and started my journey of swimming through my sea of grief with yoga as my lifeline. The physical attraction of yoga was enticing, feeding my dancer’s soul, but it was the spiritual qualities of yoga that kept me coming back for more. My time on the mat was sacred and it was a place for me to process, unravel, and make sense of my new, very painful and confusing life. Yoga led me to the world of meditation and with amazing teachers and a supportive community, I used it as a tool to feel closer to my dad and brothers. I could find tiny pockets of peace and feel a deeper knowing that they were somewhere out there still supporting me, loving me and guiding me. Thirteen years later I still have days that feel like the accident was yesterday and days where they feel a thousand miles away. Through my meditation practice I have learned is that the ‘veil is thin’ and with daily intention, I can feel more connected to them. Grieving the loss of my dad and brothers is an ongoing process. Holidays and birthdays seem the hardest because that is when life slows down enough to take that deep breath and remember just how much I miss them. I swallow hard when I see other families, cousins and siblings sharing their lives together. The thought that my kids will never have cousins from their uncles and that they won't ever meet their Grandpa Bill is a loss I'm still processing. We all have a choice what to focus on in life, and I chose to find and focus on how to be grateful and the silver linings. While my world was swirling in chaos, confusion, pain and fear something else was happening simultaneously. Through the cracking open of loss, despair and and grief there was a opportunity of growth that I was forced into. As my heart began to take shape once again, there was a magical re-patterning in my heart to be more compassionate, more acceptant and to recognize and feel empathy to the pain in others. It's has been in this process that true resilience has set in and I think it has revealed who I am and how I show up in the world. I've learned how to 'zoom out' and use a wide angle lens to see the my life and our world and it's a clear difference in the things that should demand my attention that are life enhancing, and things that are life detracting. I have learned there is power in telling your story, a story I was afraid to tell for ten years. I've learned how to build a intentional community of friendships who can meet and support me. I now love supporting and empowering others, and making connections among amazing and incredible people who also have a story to tell. Emily is a holistic nutrition consultant at Spring Integrative Health. Emily is co-leading the half day MUSE wellness retreat in Bozeman on May 11th that focus on wellness, self care rituals, nutrition and meditation and looks forward to sharing some of these key components from what she has learned in her healing journey.

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