My mother died 10 years ago on March 2, 1998.
Her death devastated me more than any other experience and probably always will. At the same time, the experience influences my life on a daily basis, providing guidance I find both wise and profound. For me, losing my mother was like losing my right arm. You eventually learn how to live without it, but it entirely changes how you live your life. The great loss of my mother, for a time, made me feel handicapped and different.
My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease at age 54, after a rough five years of rapid degradation of the brain that we think began well before age 49. Anyone who knows someone with Alzheimer’s can tell you what a cruel disease this is. I still can’t shake memories of mom forgetting my name. But, I also can’t forget how joyful she was when her two-year-old grandson came around to play ball (or how joyful I was when her two-year-old grandson came around to play ball). It was amazing in those four years how the smallest of things brought joy: a smile, eating ice cream, a hug. Even after my mom passed, I continue to appreciate everyday occasions. How lucky I am to taste a great cup of Peet’s coffee, enjoy conversing and laughing with a friend, or experience the simple beauty of leaves blowing in the wind.
I think it takes everyone years to really fully recover from loss. Each of us handles it differently. In my case, I ruined an amazing relationship, became more introverted and dived into my work. I tried to move faster than life itself becoming a Hospice volunteer, taking up ballet, and photography, doing anything that would keep me awake to life’s precious gifts. I intended this whirlwind of activity to keep life’s pressures, routines, and expectations at bay, believing that these stresses might make me forget mom. Years later, I’ve come to realize my actions revealed my determination to make my life different. I did not want my life to be the same as it was before. I knew that I had awakened at some level and was adamant to maintain the heightened sense of appreciation for life brought about by my mom’s death.
While my life may have looked together from the outside, my body wasn’t hiding any of the trauma that I was working so hard to control. I was at an all-time low when I took a friend’s advice and tried yoga. Yoga is best known for helping people gain strength, flexibility, and balance and healing injury and illness, but for me, it restored the bond I had with my mom. There it was in 26 poses and two breathing exercises: a path that keeps me present and free of anxiety and expectation to connect on a deeper level for 90 minutes. Like mom all those years, yoga teaches you to be in the moment, to be aware of the moment you are in. Taking yoga renewed that powerful relationship of living in the here and now that I had felt in those last few years with mom.
Our lives can be so tightly scheduled with projects that without knowing it, we base our sense of self-worth on our ability to juggle even more. Slip into a yoga class, however, and watch how locking out the knee focuses the mind to concentrate only on what matters most in the moment – to lock out the knee. That feeling of presence is so powerful that it begins to dismantle completely any competing force that would otherwise deny you the opportunity to feel at one WITH yourself and to feel good IN yourself and at peace with everything around you. In this distracting world, there is great comfort in engaging the mind in only one thought or activity. I found the benefits of a present mind with mom. I found the benefits of a present mind with yoga. Once discovered, it’s a concept that lingers well after a yoga class.
I am amazed when I hear stories of people overcoming tragedy. I have learned, though, the most traumatic circumstances can be a springboard to greater awareness and sometimes to greater gratitude and joy. I feel the same way with yoga. You become something greater than you would have become without it. I miss my mom so much but, her death imparted to me a sense of appreciation that I simply did not have while she was alive. I attribute my discovery of yoga to her. And, when, I get to share the sweet taste of water after a hot yoga class with others who feel that same sense of appreciation, I feel touched by her wisdom. After 10 years, I can still get that same feeling of joy watching all of you exchange smiles and warm gestures as I did watching mom play ball with her grandson. I am grateful. Thanks, Mom.