grief seriesShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia

The Other Side of Grief is a series about the life-changing power of loss. These powerful first-person stories explore the many reasons and ways we experience grief and navigate a new normal.

My friends now know that if a small smooth stone drops to the floor in a fitting room, it’s because I put a crystal in my bra.

Yes, those crystals, purported to have healing powers. My best friend, a skeptical academic, reminds me that there’s no scientific evidence that they do… well, anything.

But I don’t care, because they’re one of the weird things that brought me some comfort in my intense grief after losing my mom to ovarian cancer after a 20-month battle.

Even if a death is expected, as hers was, nothing really prepares you for the deep pain and haze that comes from losing someone that you love so fiercely.

An avid runner and run coach, I tied up my trusty New Balances the day after she died, hoping that my go-to fix would bring me at least some relief.

Instead, I ran-walked through sobs, forgetting that my typical path in my hometown would take me past the very funeral home where we would be several days later.

Even 26.2 miles wasn’t enough to bring peace to my heart, though I tried when I ran the NYC Marathon four months after losing my mom.

Over the course of that treacherous first year, I was desperate to try anything that would patch the gaping hole in my heart.

I found myself doing things that put me way out of my comfort zone, like Daybreaker morning dance parties, hoping this was the weird thing would be the magic bullet.

My typical stress and anxiety busters lost all potency when it came to healing such a deep level of pain. I was willing to try anything to fix or dull the hurt, or at least take me away from it for a bit.

Forest bathing in the middle of New York City

Just days after returning to work after losing my mom, a coworker asked if I wanted to try forest bathing, a practice that melds mindfulness with nature.

Though I’m sure the Japanese intended the practice to be somewhere quiet and deserted, I live in NYC. So that’s where we immersed ourselves in nature.

An instructor led us through an hour of the practice around the perimeter of Central Park. We sniffed the leaves of the trees, sat and meditated, “walked mindfully” while dodging tourists, and gazed out at the pond.

Though I cracked to my friend on our slow walk through the park that it looked like we were high, I had A Moment staring at the sun.

The sun was one of my connections to my mom, since she sang “You Are My Sunshine” to me as a baby. It remains a connection to her now, and bright white beams of light seemed to pierce the darkness in my heart as I visited her that day.

In Central Park, I dabbed the tears quietly flowing under my sunglasses as the guide was probably extolling the virtues of staring at the water. But I wouldn’t know, because mindfulness was all but impossible at the moment. I was focusing on hiding my tears and thinking about how much I missed my mom.

Share on Pinterest
The author, Theodora, on vacation with her mom, Carol. Image by Theodora Blanchfield.

Looking for the secret to healing grief in crystals

Three weeks after my mom died, I fled New York in hopes of going somewhere — anywhere — more healing than my own fast-paced city.

It was full of too many memories of both outings with my mom when she was healthy, and the places I’d been when I’d heard bad news about her condition.

That’s how I found myself visiting friends in the weird-wellness mecca of Los Angeles.

My friend brought me to a wellness store called House of Intuition to show me the Honor Your Ancestors candle, meant to make me feel more connected to my mom’s spirit. The white walls of the expansive sunny store read “Your Intuition Led You Here,” and my intuition led me to the healing crystals.

A $3 tumbled amethyst to soothe the anxiety and recurring nightmares that kept me up at night? Hey, it was certainly cheaper than the wine I was drinking for the same reason.

On my next trip to LA, my favorite meditation studio there offered a crystal healing meditation class, and I was sure that it would be the magical experience to suddenly cure my intense depression.

I wasn’t sure if it was BYO crystal or not, but I brought my own just to be safe.

On my first visit to this studio, I felt an intense connection with my mom and was hoping for more of the same, but with crystals. Sitting on a meditation cushion in the sun that first time, I began to cry first quietly, then louder, as the instructor prompted us to imagine the sunlight touching us as the same rays touching those in heaven.

It was the first time I’d felt so connected to my mom in that raw first month after her death.

We drew crystal tarot cards — I drew red jasper, rose quartz, and spirit quartz — and the instructor came around and placed one of those crystals on our foreheads.

During the visualization, I saw an intense blue light for a few moments, which allegedly means my throat chakra was healing. Other than that, it was an expensive nap, as I immediately nodded off after that.

While I don’t know what I “believe” about healing crystals, I still find myself drawn to shops hawking them and, yes, putting them in my bra to have them close to my heart. Even the idea of comfort is soothing enough to me.

Will dance sober to heal grief

It usually takes several adult beverages to get me to dance. Yet, exactly one month to the day after losing my mom, I found myself in a long line at 6 a.m. to get onto a boat stuffed to the gills with people who were completely sober, but there to party.

I’d felt so alone, so stuck in my own head and bursting with emotions, that surrounding myself with a large group to get out of my head and into my body seemed the logical answer.

Social anxiety and a lack of liquid courage pinned me to the walls as I attempted to warm up to the scene. But my best friend, a lifelong dancer, started doing her thing in the middle of the dance floor, and who was I to stand by and watch?

Two hours later, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face from giving myself over to the music and the moment of dancing in the rain like I had no cares in the world. And for those few hours, I didn’t.

But as soon as I hugged my friend goodbye at the train, the emotions I’d so successfully escaped brought me to my knees in tears.

Sound baths and expensive naps

After finding myself hospitalized for severe depression, I doubled down on trying anything that held healing potential.

Sound baths simultaneously scared me and left me dubious. Just lying there and listening to gongs for an hour? Really?

But sure enough, I found myself paying $50 to lay on a thin yoga mat on a cement floor listening to the reverberations of the massive cymbal, attempting to discern which way the sound was coming from and also what to have for dinner that night.

For me, sound baths turned out to be nothing more than another expensive nap.

Share on Pinterest
Theodora meets a baby goat. Image by Theodora Blanchfield.

Attempting downward dog with baby goats

A friend once described traveling with me as an “endless pursuit of baby animals and wine.” That’s pretty accurate.

So as soon as I heard of the goat yoga trend, I needed to go.

When the goat yoga popup in Brooklyn I’d signed up for was canceled, I still couldn’t be derailed in my quest for goat yoga. In fact, it only fueled my fire more to want to downward dog with baby goats, and I headed three hours upstate to a glamping retreat to get my fill.

I squealed immediately as the sound of their little hooves hit the floor and their tiny bleats filled the room. Who cared how deep I could get into side angle when there were baby farm animals using me for climbing practice in a rustic old farmhouse?

It was hard not to feel alive playing with farm animals new to the world.

While none of these trends healed my grief — spoiler: only time can do that — some of these odd practices brought me comfort, some brought me out of my comfort zone, and the rest were still great temporary distractions.

While I looked for the holy grail that would heal me, the only holy grail was already within me.

There were no crystals, forest baths, or baby goats to make me feel better. I had to look deep within for the answers. But the temporary relief and joy of what I tried certainly didn’t hurt.

Want to read more stories from people navigating a new normal as they encounter unexpected, life-changing, and sometimes taboo moments of grief? Check out the full series here.

Theodora Blanchfield is a Los Angeles-based writer. Her work has appeared in Women's Health, Bustle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, and Mic, among other sites. She blogs about grief, mental health, and using running to handle it all on Preppy Runner.