Life After Deaths
By Stella Sands, October, 2019
Remember those kids’ bounce-back inflatable toys—the ones you hit, they go down, then magically pop back up again, unscathed and poised for the next round? In one, Bozo the Clown’s inane smile remains unflappable and unflinching, in spite of blow-after-blow.
Not so, me.
The first hit came when my father died unexpectedly. He’d been my champion, best buddy and teacher of all things: how to throw overhand, how to play gin rummy, how to solve for X and most importantly, how to be gracious and generous— to vote for the other guy even if you and she were the only two running.
The second hit came eight months later when my husband died after a noble and epic fight with cancer. Having fled Iraq in his twenties, Sass lived in Iran for several years, then finally made his way to the US, where he saw an ocean and tasted cereal for the first time—both of which became lifelong loves. That’s why we came to the East End some thirty years ago and why, when he was asked what one food he would bring if stranded on a deserted island, it was a no-brainer. Corn Flakes.
The third came some four months later when my mother died. Here we have a more complex and labyrinthian story, the details of which I’m still trying to work out, but it was a devastating blow nevertheless.
The fourth hit? That was the knock-out punch. I was down for the count… and then some.
My daughter, Jess, and I found my only sister and best friend, Andy, dead in her bed. Although the autopsy said it was an overdose, we knew it wasn’t. She’d just chosen a golden retriever puppy from a litter of seven to be her very own. Cooper was the one with the green bow—the playful, goofy one—and we couldn’t wait to pick her up the following Tuesday.
The following Tuesday, however, never came for Andy.
After each hit, I had managed to stand back up, albeit slower and less steadily, but upright nonetheless—though definitely without the idiotic grin. I was strong! Tough! Resilient! I could handle it. And I did—until I couldn’t.
Dark days descended, make that dark years, and I was smothered under heavy clouds of doom. I had no interest in going anywhere or doing anything. I stayed alone, took uppers, prescribed, went back to talk therapy and started EMDR, therapy for PTSD, my diagnosis. Everything helped. A little.
And then I tried yoga.
My first ever yoga class was at Yoga Shanti. Someone I barely knew suggested I might like it. Fat chance, I thought, since I had just told my therapist, “There’s not one thing in the entire world that I want to do: NOT garden, swim, socialize, bike, bake, shop, kayak, run, hike, sing, dance….” You get the idea.
That first day, I took a beginner class. Of course, I didn’t know a Warrior One from a Down Dog, but there I was, giving it a go. The instructor was soft-spoken, kind and encouraging. I found myself inhaling and exhaling along with everyone else. I stuck my tongue out and sighed Haaaaaah—along with everyone else. I bowed my head in gratitude and dedicated my practice—along with everyone else. I felt a glint of possibility, a glimmer of hope. I figured I could do this again, which I did.
Then again. And again. And again.
For the first year, I sobbed during every savasana.
During the second year, several yogis asked if I’d like to go for coffee.
At the end of the third year, I braved a retreat.
During the next three years, I traveled to India and Montana (two equally exotic places) for yoga immersion, took yoga teacher training and fell in love.
Of course, the hits keep coming—not even love can keep them away. But now, when I find myself face down on the floor, I’m able to pick myself right back up—stronger, wiser and grateful. Yes, grateful. Grateful that I have the opportunity to do it again and again.
Yoga, that is.
And here are just a few things I’ve learned along the way:
Everyone has taken a spill in Tree Pose, and it’s okay. In fact, if we believe what we’ve been told, it shows progress. Thank you, Rodney. Make that tree pose a metaphor for life.
From time to time, everyone breathes in when it’s suggested they breathe out and vice versa.
Not everyone folds the blankets and puts them in the cubby the “right” way. And that’s not okay.
Knees, chest, chin was designed for inch worms.
Natarajasana—Dancer Pose—offers a glimpse into the sublime.
Everyone has a show-stopping yoga party trick—landing on your nose in Crow Pose counts. Regardless of what it is, it will be wildly applauded. Guaranteed.
And most importantly, we are all good enough. Thank you, Colleen.