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My Dance with Grief

"Dancing transforms everything, demands everything, and judges no one. Those who are free dance, even if they find themselves in a cell or a wheelchair, because dancing is not the mere repetition of certain movements, it’s a conversation with a Being greater and more powerful than everyone and everything." – Paulo Coelho

It was the worst day of my life. I was on the back of a motorbike taxi, zipping in and out of morning traffic on the chaotic streets of Canggu in Bali, when I received a message that would change my life forever.

James passed away. Sorry to deliver this news,” I read on my phone screen through the dusty helmet visor.

I felt my entire body clench up and I shook my head in disbelief. No, this cannot be, I kept telling myself. I was on the way to have new passport photos taken, and when I arrived at my destination, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I sat there, zombified, as the photographer snapped the worst passport photos of me.

Every time I see my passport now, I am reminded of that awful day, 20th of August, 2022. The day my ex-husband, the once love of my life, a man whom I cared for and loved dearly, died of a tragic accident at the tender age of 40.

So my journey with grief began. It was intense, and nobody had prepared me for it. I had lost grandparents and friends before, but none who played such a key role in my life, and none in such a fast and shocking way. I was absolutely destroyed.

When I returned home, I sat in the guest room, sobbing on the phone to James’ sister, Courtenay, to my parents, and to friends who knew and loved James. I felt like my entire universe had imploded, and in that moment, I experienced my first real earthquake, which caused the windows to shudder. I felt like the pain in my broken heart was so visceral and intense that it was the catalyst for that earthquake…

One of the hardest parts of my grief journey was not being able to mourn James the way I needed to. I am married to a beautiful man, with whom we have two gorgeous young children, so I still had to function for them. I felt I couldn’t just grieve and be the wreck I needed to be because, well, where is the rulebook for how to grieve an ex-husband in front of a current husband?

So, after a few days of crying, and many nights of not sleeping, I did my best to bottle the pain up. I pushed it down until it all got too much, and it would explode in episodes of sobbing over the kitchen sink when preparing the family dinner or erupting at my husband when I couldn’t explain my odd behaviour.

This led me to begin my healing journey. I tried crystal healing with a Balinese Priestess, Quantum healing, grief counselling, and speaking to James through a Medium – all of which were extremely helpful. Through quantum healing I was able to understand why I was having such a hard time releasing James. Through speaking with the Medium, I received validation that he was indeed always with me as I thought he was, and I was able to receive some form of closure. Through grief counselling, I was able to understand that I was holding onto guilt with how James and I ended, which I needed to release in order to move on. And with the crystal healing with the Priestess, the heaviness in my heart was lifted in order for me to function and get back to work.

And through work was where I found grief’s most powerful tamer. Now if you know me, you’ll know that I dance for a living. I facilitate ecstatic dances, supporting people to release emotions through movement and music, with the aid of ceremony. It was time for me to taste my own medicine. I held my first session a month after receiving the news, and it turns out this session was pivotal in my healing process. That morning, I held the mic and guided people along in their journeys on the beach in Canggu, and as I danced and moved, I felt release.

I continued this behind closed doors, dancing to James’ favourite music, allowing the tears to stream down my cheeks as I moved through the emotions. I danced at home, I danced at work, and with each dance, I released more of the pain that I was holding onto. I danced with my eyes closed sometimes, imagining I was dancing with him, speaking and laughing with him. I just danced.

Shamans the world over have used dance, music, and rhythm as tools for healing for centuries. They use these elements in ceremony for healing, mourning, and celebratory purposes. Movement and music are essential tools for our wellbeing and allow our bodies and psyches the ability to express without words.

When I dance, I allow what’s in my physical and energy body to be there and to move to the surface: joy, sorrow, anguish, guilt, shame, resistance, boredom, sadness. When these emotions, or ‘energy in motion’, don’t serve me, I can move them to the surface and release them in catharsis. I am also able to hear inner dialogues that don’t serve me, and I speak to my Higher Self, asking for guidance, receiving my answers in the dance itself, or in the days that follow.

Grief is a process and an almighty teacher. A year and a half later, I am able to think of James with love and gratitude rather than pain and sorrow. I hear songs and remember our time together with fondness, cherishing and holding each moment close to my heart. Occasionally, however, I still feel the pain in my heart – I don’t think this will ever go away completely. So I light a candle and incense, turn up the music and dance for what we shared; for the past, the present, the future, and for my healing.

In loving memory of James Matthew Norris.

My love, my husband, and then my friend.

Your smile lit up the entire world.

Thank you for your love, your kindness, and your enormous heart.

You will never be forgotten.

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