• Shelley Oto

The Importance of Having a Spiritual Practice and How It's Helped Me Cope with the Loss of my Father

Updated: Oct 29, 2018


Photo Credit: Jenny Kita

I was 22 when I began my spiritual journey.  I read books such as The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. I was invited to attend my first Yoga class in 2007 with Bryan Kest in Santa Monica, Ca. This is where I discovered how impactful Yoga was in helping manage my anxiety and work through one of my first heartbreaks.  Over time, Yoga became a safe haven and quiet space to sit with my thoughts and manage life’s challenges. The rewards of my practice transformed even further as my practice progressed with my most creative ideas, realizations and overlooked thoughts came forward. My moving meditation emptied my mind and made room for my unconscious or subconscious ideas to be seen and acknowledged. 


I practice yoga 5-7 days a week with a heightened focus on my breathing throughout each day.  My commitments to friends, family and work are scheduled around my practice schedule versus the other way around. The quality of my breath and how my body feels throughout the day act as a guide to inform me on how I’m feeling and/or that I need to make adjustments to my life and schedule.


My Yoga practice coupled with the insightful teachings of thought leaders such as #EckhartTolle, #BreneBrown, Wayne Dyer, Michael Beckwith, #ElizabethGilbert, Deepak Chopra and #Oprah inspire me. They’ve provided valuable information that has added texture to how I understand and deal with my life situations and granted me the courage to make hard decisions along the way.  I listen to a variety of inspiring podcasts religiously with "Super Soul Sunday" being one of them. I fill my mind and free time with information and positive people who love, support and challenge me to be better. Looking back, I realize how important it is to have a solid spiritual practice when coping with life’s unexpected and expected challenges.


Family portrait - As a youngin' rockin' pigtails well before they well before Brittany Spears ever did

I woke up to a call from my sister, who struggled to share that my dad wasn’t going to make it. Pause. I couldn’t absorb the information my sister was saying.  Have you ever experienced hearing news so unbearable your mind can’t wrap itself around it, so instead it unforgivingly resists the information and it transforms itself into a painful bodily reaction? This happened to me. I couldn’t accept what my sister was saying and I was immediately brought to my knees and I couldn’t stop screaming. The news was agonizing. Every second that passed I felt myself reaching for something that could lift the weight.  Am I dreaming?  I’d pinch myself.  I’m going to wake up any second. Pinch myself again.  I couldn’t stop sweating, I was panting, my temples throbbed and I felt like something was physically being ripped out of my chest over and over again.


A series of proliferating thoughts pierced my heart and mind. I was physically and emotionally helpless for the first time in my life. Absolutely fucking helpless, at a time in my life where I felt I needed to be the most not helpless, the fixer, the solution finder, the woman with an answer that could reverse this.  This has been a role I’ve occupied with most of the relationships in my life, why couldn’t I be this NOW, when it really mattered?


“I don’t have a tool kit for this!”

“I need to see my dad right now!”

“NO, I need my dad!”

“What am I going to do without my dad?”

“This can’t be real.”

“What will my mom do?”

“Did I tell dad I loved him when I saw him last?”

“OMG, what are we going to do?”

“My dad never saw me walk down the aisle.”

“My dad can’t die without me there!”

“How is my mom doing?”

“Do the girls know?” "My dad is MY guy, NO!"

“I should be there with my family!”

“Why am I in South Africa? Is this my fault? Did I worry him too much?"


In my lifetime, I will NEVER forget the anguish, shock and fear I felt.  Since my first encounter with death, the thought of losing a parent has been a terrifying nightmare that sat in the back in my mind that I’d never dare mention out loud in fear I’d make it come true. The mere thought of something happening to my parents would instantly make my heart heavy and eyes tear.   


I felt alone.  I emotionally reached out to my friends, not knowing what else to do.  I remember talking to one of my friends desperately exasperated and shouting, “I don’t have a tool kit for this!  What am I going to do without my dad!”


The 10 hours leading up to my departure was excruciating.  At first, I FaceTimed my dad, who listened to me with an earbud in his ear. I didn’t care if he could hear me or not, I was desperate to feel connected to him.  He was unmoving, still and looked peaceful.  I was pleading, crying and after some time I eventually I calmed down to talk to him.  This went on for hours. I peered down at my watch and I had 6 hours to spare before my flight departed.  If the tables were turned, my dad wouldn’t wait six hours for his flight, he’d find a faster way home.  It was then that I asked my dad to wait for me.  He didn’t respond, but I knew he heard me and that he would.  In the history of my #relationship to father, my dad has never let me down.  He would do anything for me… even this.  At that moment, I frantically packed my bag and in route to the airport within 30 minutes.  I was determined to find a faster route home.  I was open to anything, a charter, an unlisted flight…anything.  


I arrived at the #airport emotional and desperate to get home before my dad passed.  I approached several counters who all told me the same thing, which was that I already had a ticket on the fastest flight home and that I should wait for that flight to arrive. 


My parents as young loves

I felt defeated and the feelings of helplessness became heavier. I was left to sit and wait for my flight, which was now in three hours.  My friend Brian was thankfully in town and accompanied me to the airport.  He helped the best he could to support and communicate things to the airport staff that I couldn’t muster. 


During what felt like a lifetime, I was two hours closer to 6:15pm.  It was now 5:15pm and my sister called me on #WhatsApp.  Every text and call made my heart jump.  Was my dad still alive? My sister shared that my dad was still holding on. 


“Of course he is,” I thought. “He’s going to wait for me. He’d do anything for me. He knows what this will do to me if he passes before I can see him. He wants me there.” 

Fifteen minutes passed.  I received another call from my sister.  “Dad has a fever Shel.”  My heart fell to my knees. My hope collapsed. The pain in my chest grew so intense that I felt like dying would be a better option that having to say goodbye to the most important man in my life. 


It was 6:00pm, everyone boarded except for me.  I recall quickly glancing at my gate number, my watch and then my cell phone; clearly not ready to say goodbye.  The gate attendant ushered me to board.  I quickly stepped to the side.  How do I say good-bye to a person who has dedicated every waking moment of their life to being there? To loving me and showing what it means to be a good man and father?  I apprehensively called my sister, who put the earbud in my dad’s ear and I said my goodbye. I didn’t want him to suffer and I told him it was okay to move on. My goodbye happened in a hazy blur.  I hung up the phone feeling speechless. 


I boarded the flight, for the first time realizing that I’d have to endure a 26-hour flight in this state. I mentally scanned the tool kit I’ve used for so many of my life’s challenges, and realized there was nothing that could alleviate this pain. I was paralyzed by this new reality. 

I sat on the plane thinking about my dad and all the things that made him special.  I was thinking about my mom and how much I wanted to hug her.  I yearned to be closer to my sister and brother, in-laws and nieces and nephew. I wanted to be home, but had anxious thoughts pulsating through my brain.


What will this be like?

Do I have the strength to show up in the way I need to?  

I’m scared.

I miss him already.

What will I do without my dad?

My dad never got to walk me down the aisle.

This can’t be real.


Once I landed, like a domino effect, health scares arose affecting people close to me and I was beside myself.  It’s crazy how quickly priorities and perspective can change in an instant.  The ONLY thing I could focus on was making sure the health of those I cared about was going to be okay.   


Now, fast forward 2.5 months. I look back at this moment in time and realize how much my spiritual practice has helped me to shift my energy, #perspective, thoughts, #life focus and tools to better manage my #emotions and #actions surrounding this experience.

At first, I didn’t think I possessed the tool belt needed to manage the pain of this huge loss, but I’m finding that I’m stronger than I thought. Accumulated over time, the lessons I’ve acquired over the years have served as a guide to help me cope and make healthy decisions to support the people I care about around me. 



I allow myself to cry, journal often, #meditate, and sustain a consistent #yoga practice.  I’ve continued my sessions with my life coach and maintain a focused energy on my daily intentions, being outdoors and investing #energy into things that keep me creative and joyful.  On a daily basis, I use my moving #meditation as time to create space. I’ve found that when space is created, it lets new ideas, inspiration, solutions and my highest truth to come forward. Quality time with my family has been incredibly comforting and healing; as well as the time with friends and extended family. 


I’ve tried to not overly inundate myself with tasks and distractions to allow myself space to feel this new reality.  Thus far, my spiritual practice has provided me the insight to know the best and healthiest next step as it arises.  I’m slowly acquiring another level of acceptance related to a topic I couldn’t fathom just three months earlier.


I’m experiencing exactly how healing and comforting love is. The check-ins, text messages, visits from friends, hugs, thoughtful cards, flowers and the people who really showed up will never be forgotten. There are some other things that really turned out to matter to me.  I will never forget those who were in attendance for my dad’s service.  I remember being distracted talking to guests consecutively for around forty-five minutes, and then briefly glanced at the entrance to feel my heart flutter at the mere sight at the number of guests in line waiting to enter and find a seat.  This comforting vision and the way this made me feel will be etched in my mind for the rest of my life.  I was reminded of how much love exists in and around my family and this has served as a source of strength through this process.

My perspective has shifted, changed and evolved since the day my dad has passed.  It’s opened my eyes to newness, enhanced my appreciation for #friendships and #family, evolved my priorities, strengthened my focus and has made me realize the truth of who I am and more so who my father was.


My spiritual practice is my #grounding #foundation.  When I feel challenged, I refer to my #spiritual tool belt and the things that help me cope.  My practice has helped create space to think about and better understand who my dad was, what he wanted in his life and for ours, and this has given me some peace.  I don’t expect this next year and the years to follow to be easy.  My #mom leaves for the Bay Area today and I anticipate this transition to be

Love note from dad

challenging, but in the #spirit of my dad whose focus has always been to “Show Up” for others and life itself,  I’ll keep moving forward.  #Living my life, writing, traveling and doing what brings me the most joy is what my dad has always wanted for me.  My dad used to write me the sweetest messages expressing his support and how proud he was.  He loved reading my posts and sharing my videos with anyone who would watch it.  I’ve been reminded over and over again that having a spiritual practice is essential in living my best life, a healthy life, the life my dad would have wanted for me.  As it turns out, I realize my spiritual practice is acting as a life jacket to help me survive the loss of my my dad.  Nothing will ever make the passing of my #dad okay, but living the life he wanted for me to the 1000th degree, showing up for close friends/family and helping to maintain the close bond of the family he and my mom created is honoring his #legacy in the best way I know how. 


#lifecoach #family #leanin #chooselove #resist #metoo #loveandacceptance #2018 #grateful #pawsny #love #restinpeace #myangel #rip #sundsvall #outdoorlife #thankful #traditions #memorieshappy #squad #familyfirst #daddydaughter #unconditionallove #familyportrait #familypictures #familyphotos #fatherdaughter #fathers #foreverlove #proudfather #friends #living

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