Normally my blog posts are written to be funny or uplifting. I blog about hiking, about yoga, and about my adventures. This has been a difficult week though, so I feel compelled to let go of some feelings. On Thursday, I learned that a college classmate had passed away. We weren’t really friends, but when someone dies at the age of 52, it makes you start to think about things. I am the class rep for my graduating class, so I notified Alumni Relations and spread the word on Facebook. It really affected me more than I thought it would, so I headed to the Refuge in the afternoon and spent a couple of hours driving through and taking pictures before going to the yoga studio to teach my classes. Honestly, though, it was so hot that I really didn’t enjoy it or get any comfort from being there.
Yesterday, I was reading the paper and came across an obituary that I thought was one of our students. There were a couple of facts that didn’t fit and there was no picture, so I dismissed it as being someone else. This morning’s paper had the same obituary with a picture and there was no mistake now. I knew it was our student Kim, but I still refused to believe it. I logged into Facebook and compared the picture in the paper to her profile picture. Exactly the same. I used a magnifying glass to examine the picture in the paper. Definitely her. But maybe I was wrong. I just didn’t want to accept what my eyes were seeing. Deep down, I knew it was true. I was stunned. Yes, she had been sick, but I thought she was better. And now she was gone. I stayed composed for about an hour and then my husband came into the room. He immediately asked what was wrong and I responded with tears in my eyes that one of our students had passed away. Acknowledging that it was true allowed me to snap out of my stupor and start to take action.
So let me digress a couple of years and start this at the beginning. Two years ago, Kim enrolled in Yoga 101, which is our beginner’s course. She told me on the phone that she was a Cancer Warrior and was still very weak, but her doctors thought yoga would help her recover. When she arrived in the first class, I could tell that she was struggling. She was small and frail, and her smile was weak, but she was going to give it her best shot. She was still going through chemotherapy and I know that wasn’t a picnic. Some classes, she could barely get up off the mat, but she always showed up and always gave it her best. Halfway through, she injured her foot outside of the studio and had to drop out of the class. I figured that was the end. She wouldn’t come back. I see it all the time. I was so wrong!
After her foot healed, Kim enrolled in Yoga 101 again and completed the course. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes it wasn’t pretty, but she always showed up and she always gave 100%. I can’t even recall how many times over the last two years that I told her to do her best and don’t worry about the rest. After graduating from Yoga 101, Kim’s attendance was sporadic. She would come every week for several months and then disappear for several months. It all depended on how she felt. When she came to class, I would get the biggest smile as I saw her approach the door. Then there would be the hug and the question. “How are you doing today?”. Always a reminder to rest when needed and another hug at the end of class.
Last month, we had a contest where we asked students to give us honest reviews on Facebook. Everybody who did a review would be entered into a drawing for a free month of unlimited yoga. Kim wrote the most beautiful testimonial about her yoga journey and what our kula meant to her. Four days later, she came to what would be her final class. She bought a five class pass and informed me that when that ran out, she would be using the free month that she would win in the contest. “It could happen”, I replied. As usual, she did her best, rested when she needed to, and gave me a hug at the end of class. Little did I know that it would be the last hug she ever gave me.
As I sit here a little less than a month later, I am reflecting on the woman that Kim was. I only knew her in the context of the yoga studio and only in poor health, but I think I got a pretty good idea about her character. She was quiet, kind, and gentle. She always gave a smile, even if she really didn’t feel like it. She acknowledged her struggle on the mat, but she accepted and appreciated my encouragement. I could see that she was getting stronger with every practice and I let her know that. On more than one occasion, she asked “really?” and I assured her that it was true. Some days, she just wanted 60 minutes of Shavasana and I let her know that was okay, but she always did more. She did what her body allowed and didn’t worry about the rest. But she was also strong, brave, and fierce. She was a warrior and she fought hard.
I honestly don’t know what happened. Maybe the cancer came back. Maybe it was something else. I might find out tomorrow when I go to the funeral home. I may never know. Does it really matter? What matters to me is that my student, my friend, is gone at the age of 62. I will never hug her again. I will never see that beautiful smile again. I will never beam with pride as she puts her feet on her mat and does her very best to complete her practice. But I will always keep close to my heart the time that we had together. I will always know that I started her on her yoga journey and helped her to heal, if only in a small way.
After I learned the news this morning, I called our student Arlene. She and Kim had completed Yoga 101 together and they were fond of each other. I wanted to deliver the horrible news personally. Then I headed to class. I told Michelle what had happened and I started to cry. I stated that I probably shouldn’t have come to class, but Michelle encouraged me to dedicate my practice to Kim. A few minutes later, Kelly arrived. Kelly is one of my favorite people and she is a hoot, but she only comes to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was as if God sent her to class to help me through this. She knew Kim as well and was shocked when I told her of Kim’s passing. I knew that she would help me get through class because I always laugh when Kelly is around. Then Beth showed up and I truly knew it would be okay. Beth is another Tuesday regular and she and Kelly often team up against me to create a fun atmosphere.
When I came to class this morning, I was wearing the charm bracelet that Kim gave me a couple of years ago. Shortly after we started our practice, as we moved through Sun Salutations, one of the charms popped off the bracelet onto the floor. It was a heart charm and I knew that Kim was giving me a sign. I made it through class without breaking down (thanks to Michelle, Kelly, and Beth), but I did cry after Shavasana. Then we all hugged it out and I felt better.
Michelle and I started this crazy journey four years ago and we chose Yoga Kula as the name because we wanted to build a yoga family. And that is what we have done. Our students are more than just our students. They are friends, and they are family. When one of them hurts, we hurt. When one is happy, we are happy. When they’re on vacation, we miss them. When they accomplish something, we celebrate with them. And when they leave us, we mourn. I am beyond grateful for being able to share the last two years with Kim, to watch her blossom in her practice, and to watch her practice help her in recovery. I pray that I helped her even a tiny bit as much as she helped me. She taught me to be patient, to encourage, and to let go of preconceived notions about yoga. She, along with the rest of our students, taught me that yoga is truly for every body. I am comforted in the knowledge that she is in heaven and can practice yoga all day long with no limitations.
Yoga is like music. The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life. The light and the soul and the spirit in me acknowledges and appreciates the light and the soul and the spirit in you. Namaste, my beautiful friend, until we meet again.