Maribeth Doerr

a beacon of light

THEN, THEN, THEN . . .

IMG_0141In September 2013, I began yoga teacher training.  I was 54 years old and still finding my way back to health after my lengthy illness and losing 55 pounds, much of it muscle.  I didn’t have much strength left and my stamina wasn’t good but I just knew the time was right.  I spoke with the trainer and she had every confidence I could do it.  Actually, Kim had more confidence in me than I did!

In May 2014, we had our last training and I taught my group class – 10 days before my 55th birthday.  As I look back on those months of study, practice, hair-pulling moments, fears, doubts, giggles, and OMG-what-the-hell-have-Igotten-into moments, I’m kind of in awe that I finished.  LOL.  Okay, I admit it; I’m surprised that I finished.  I had lots of moments of wanting to quit.  And honestly, I’m still not totally finished.  I need to video myself teaching a class and then critique it.  I keep finding reasons not to do this last step.  Why?

I was ambivalent with the training for the first 3 months before I totally embraced it and fell in love with the process.  It was a HUGE commitment of time and energy.  At that point, I was probably walking around with my chest puffed out that I was 54 and in yoga teacher training.  Then . . . yeah, then (get ready for a lot of thens), I got sick right after Christmas along with almost everyone I know and it seemed to take forever to get my energy back.  THEN I got food poisoning and missed an entire training weekend.  THEN my back went out a month later and I couldn’t practice much.  THEN my group was assigned Bhekasana, frog pose, to create a class around.  Bhekasana is a heavy-duty backbend that I couldn’t do with messed up back!  THEN I went to Tucson for a Baby Loss Doula training and got sick (food poisoning again?).   THEN my nephew died two days after I got home from Tucson and I was grieving all over again!

Sick of the THENs yet?  Well I got sick of them.  Oh yes indeed!  Time to remember I’m a pick-myself-up-by the bootstraps kind of girl.  Through all of the THENs, I discovered that if I simply sit on my yoga mat, I was meeting myself where I was at that moment.  Sitting there for a few minutes would show me subtle nuances of change.  Maybe my back felt slightly better than the day before.  Maybe my gut was rumbling a little less than the day before.  Maybe my mind was a little less scattered than the day before . . . if I hadn’t spent those moments on my mat everyday, I would have never noticed those subtle nuances.  Sometimes I wasn’t a little better than the day before and that gave me a moment to be kind to myself.  I learned the gift of gentle yoga practice, of truly listening to my body.  I also learned how to listen to my heart . . .

The day after my nephew died,  I hit my mat for practice and found I couldn’t stand to hear a teacher’s voice.  It was too much stimulation.  I also didn’t have the bandwidth to intuitively move through sun salutations (I had zero focus except for thinking of my nephew) and that made me feel stupid and frustrated.  So I rested on my mat in vajrasana, hugged myself tightly and then practiced opening up my arms to open my heart.  It felt vulnerable and I closed my eyes which felt like a little kid who thinks when you close your eyes nobody can see you.  I asked myself, “What do I most need right here in this moment?”  It was self-love.  I was feeling guilty for ways I thought I’d failed my nephew.  So, I wrapped my arms around myself again and reminded myself that I was wrapping myself in love, not closing myself up.  I sat with that and thought about Sean.  I couldn’t unwrap again and hold my arms out again but I did feel better.

The next day, I still couldn’t intuitively move through sun saluations but I found a picture with each pose in black on a white page.  No sound, very plain visual.  That was enough stimulation.  I moved through them VERY slowly and totally focused on my breath, eyes closed.  After the first round, I felt like I was floating, a dance with grief.  When my heart rate started to climb, I stopped.  I just couldn’t stand that stimulation, so I sat back down on my mat and tried the heart open visualization again.  Same result.  Even crunching food was too much stimulation.

I continued to meet myself on my mat in this way, changing things up and trying restorative poses instead of sun salutations.  This worked so well because as my joints and muscles let go in the poses, so did my jumbled grieving thoughts.  As my muscles relaxed, so did my heart.

At the next teacher training weekend, I shared all of this with my classmates.  With their love and energy, I was able to do the practices that weekend and not feel overstimulated.  I gently resumed my home practice and then amped it up a lot to work on my group’s class we needed to teach in May.  My body embraced the practice and what do you know . . . I could do Bhekasana!

I graduated and now . . . it’s time to complete my student teaching, video it, and send it all in.  What a ride to get to this point!  All the reading, studying, practicing, classes and THENs of the last 9 months!  I miss the training weekends and the focus I had.  I need a big nudge to get my student teaching done (please give me one dear readers!).

I never planned to teach basic yoga classes when I finished because I want to create and teach yoga for grief but now . . . well, now that I have taught regular yoga, I find that I love it so why not?  I’m not designed to teach advanced yoga to 20-somethings with tiny bendy bodies.  But I have a passion to share yoga with older folks who want some gentle movement in their lives.  I’m not a stereotypical yoga teacher and I’ve found lots of folks who find me comfortable like an old stretched out pair of jeans.  :D  Yeah, that’s me.  A bit faded around the edges but still your go-to jeans.

And THEN there is that amazing realization that you’re never really too old to do something you truly want to do.  You’ll find a way – YOUR way.  Then doesn’t have to be an excuse.  It can be an embrace.

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My Biggest Fear

I’ve been scarce here. Honestly I’ve felt like there’s an elephant in the room I needed to address, and I really didn’t want to do it. Now it’s time to acknowledge it here because I really am okay; shaken, but okay.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’ve experienced a great deal of loss. My biggest fear isn’t my death; it’s more loss. It’s being left here alone without any of my loved ones. It’s a fear that takes my breath away at times when one of my guys is late coming home or doesn’t answer a text.

On March 31, “it” happened again. My 36 year old nephew didn’t answer my texts. He was found dead in his bathroom by his roommate. According to most of the world’s Big Book of Grief Rules, losing a nephew doesn’t mean much.  But this wasn’t any ordinary nephew I saw once in a while or sent a birthday card with $20 and forgot about him the rest of the year.  No, this child was like one of my own, like my little brother, and I miss him terribly.

Sean’s parents divorced when he was 3, and my brother got custody. He spent many summers with us when he was growing up and lived with us for a few years as an adult. I was just 18 when he was born and since he had a mom, a stepmom, and a very involved grandma who was more like his mother than anyone, I was the big sister who listened and understood his angst. His was not an easy life, but there was always laughter when he was with us (and quite a few tears, mostly from laughing!). We were more like siblings especially after my brothers died. He was an only child, I had become an only child, and we were united in dealing with my parents. We could be as honest and weird with each other as we needed – no judgments – we “got” each other in a way that nobody else ever did.  We were in frequent contact; Sean’s death is significant in my life. My own sons thought of him as their older brother and to know we’ll never have those wildly silly experiences with him again is incredibly heartbreaking for all of us.

In the two months ince Sean died, I’ve realized something (again) that I’ve always known.  I would – and I do – survive losing my loved ones.  I would survive more loss.  I AM surviving more loss.  It’s unthinkable that I would survive losing my husband and two surviving sons but I would.  I certainly don’t want to!!  But if I had to, I could.

How?  I’d do it the way I always do – be with others who understand, be with myself in whatever state I’m in, and find a way to reinvest in life. Currently I’m a pastoral care assistant at a church which provides me with a much needed perspective shift when I feel a pity party coming on. For me, helping others helps me find a reason to get up in the morning.  Being with people who don’t do the platitude dance certainly helps too.

I pray I don’t have to go through this again.  But truthfully, I’m going through it every day because grief doesn’t really end.  I choose to remember the good memories though.  I choose to find joy and beauty everyday.  On those days that are incredibly hard, I acknowledge that and look that elephant in the room straight in the eye.  I give myself permission to grieve.  Then I pull myself up by the bootstraps and remember how blessed I am to love and be loved.

Sean, you were so loved, and always will be.  Thank you for being you.

Sean Michael Wilder
July 31, 1979 – March 31, 2014
We will forever feel your presence and love you always.

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My own brand of beauty

Bi2Right after Christmas, my local Barnes & Noble ditches the Christmas stuff and puts up a big display of diet books.  I know most stores and magazines do this since so many people start off the New Year wanting to lose weight.  The irony is this display always sits next to the Valentine’s display (you do want to lose all that weight to look sexy by Valentine’s right?) and includes lots of their Godiva chocolate gift boxes.  Starve yourself with diets but be sure to buy the chocolate to soothe yourself when you throw the worthless diet book away.

Now that it’s March, the display has moved to another part of the store (but still close to the front) and the sign reads “Diet and Nutrition” but there is NO book in the display that concerns itself with nutrition.  Not. One.

Why is our society so bent on eating everything it wants and then trying insane diets to lose weight?  I’m not pointing fingers.  Until I lost 55 pounds in my chronic illness of 2012, I was a yo-yo dieter.  I was thin in my teens until 35.  Then yo-yo’d for 15+ years.  I can trace my body image issues back to two major things.  The one I want to address today is  my mom’s persistent criticisms of my appearance.

My mother seemed to find fault with my appearance for most of my life.  She used to take great delight in telling me that my old aunties came to the house when I was a baby just to see my gigantic thighs.  The first bra she bought me was a padded one because, surely, I must be disappointed in my size.  I didn’t know what cellulite was until she pointed it out on my butt and thighs when I was 16 (I was 5’5″ and 110 pounds so how much cellulite could have been there???).  My dad nicknamed me Grace (because he found me clumsy) and my mom said I was as dainty as an elephant.  The adjective I heard the most often was PLAIN.  I was just simply plain.  Your average Mary, the band geek.

It’s true I was a late bloomer.  My husband wouldn’t have looked twice at me in high school but by 24, he noticed.  He says it was my confidence that attracted him more than anything.  I was supporting myself through some difficult experiences and that awareness that comes from knowing you’re strong enough to survive, take care of yourself and make it in this world was an energy he picked up on.  My mom used to tell me I better “keep myself up” or my husband would dump me.  It’s been 28 years and we’re still together.

Mom didn’t know everything.  Sometimes I think she knew absolutely nothing about me.  I know lots of daughters feel that way about their mothers.  And truly, how much do we really know about them?  What made her criticize her only (and beloved) daughter so much?  I KNOW she loved me.  I could put on my psychologist hat and give you a litany of reasons why she did this.  The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what her reasons were.  What matters is how I view myself.

I struggled to let go of the crappy stories she filled my brain with, and I finally realized, ironically in the middle of a yoga class, that those gigantic legs are the two parts of my body that have NEVER let me down.  They are amazing with what they put up with!  And guess what?  I AM beautiful.  Perhaps not in the way my mom (or Hollywood) would define beauty, but really, as I said before,  it’s not her (their) story that matters.  It’s MY stories that matter for ME and I can rewrite the bullshit ones.

badassSo a big BOO HOO to those of us who had mothers that criticized.  Want revenge?  Be you, in all your glory, in your own unique brand of beauty.  To hell with magazines that advertise the latest diet craze on their photoshopped covers next to headlines about cookie recipes.  Walk right on by the Barnes & Noble diet book displays and the glam magazines.  Celebrate YOUR curves or your angles or your lines – whatever you’ve got.  Let’s dump the comparison monster and stop judging people for how they look, especially ourselves!

Yeah, I’ve got my own brand of beauty.  And so do you.  It’s called uniqueness.  We’re all unique.  Vive la difference!  My brand celebrates my weirdness; my ability to be big and small, quiet and loud, radiant and dark, all at the same time.  Plain?  Only when I want to be ;)

So go write your own stories.  Show the world your own unique brand of beauty.

 

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WriteGrief has launched and other less interesting tidbits

Can you believe January is nearly over already?!  It’s raining as I write this, I hear a plunk plunk plunk as it leaks through the ceiling into my office.  But it’s delicious moisture that my area needs so badly to avoid a more serious drought this Summer.  It’s also the new moon and so I’m happy to share something new with you . . .

WriteGrief has launched following WriteGrief for the holidays.  If you enjoy writing or exploring your innermost self and you’re grieving, you’ll find WriteGrief helpful (although, it’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, and I know some of you will call me names with some of these prompts :)  It’s okay; I won’t get offended!).  Even if you don’t enjoy writing, these prompts can work for you because you don’t have to be a writer to do them.  In fact, it works  best when you’re NOT fussy about editing and spelling and grammar and all the rules I’ve just abused this sentence.  Letting go and digging deep without regard to grammar or any other rules can make a cloudy merky grief filled mind find clarity as you see your words in black and white.  It’s been a lifesaver for me, and I hope it will be for you as well.

So without further ado, here are the details for WriteGrief over on my Permission to Grieve site:  http://www.permissiontogrieve.com/?page_id=92  I am SO excited about finally offering this to you.

What else am I up to?  I am a yoga teacher in training!  Can you believe it – and at my age??  Some days I think I’m totally nuts.  It is my dream, though, to teach yoga to grieving folks and those struggling with whatever it is they’re struggling with.  Grief has such physical symptoms that we don’t realize; we tend to furl up into ourselves hiding our hearts from further pain.  Yoga and movement can help us unfurl, unstress, and connect with your hearts again.  It’s a gentle opening and that is so very healing.  We can learn to breathe with our entire lungs again instead of taking sips of air with the very tops of our lungs.  As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about this and I can’t wait to bring it to you.

Last but not least, a beautiful share from David Gilmour as he sings Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 . . . Enjoy

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An Invitation to Celebrate

Life is full of surprises. Sometimes those surprises bring us to our knees, and we wonder how we’ll ever recover. Later on, (whether it’s weeks or many years later) you’ll probably find yourself shaking your head at the memories, proud that you survived. Somewhere along the way, you rediscovered the natural resilience you were born with and found a way; it’s what we all do eventually.

Today, I invite you think about what something difficult in your life and how you’ve learned from it, or found something positive in it, or how you’ve DONE something positive because of it. And I invite you to celebrate it, today, in the midst of the holidays/holidaze/hellidays.

Why today? In 1982, my beautiful son, Mark Adam Pruett, was born. He died 5 1/2 days later. I CELEBRATE his life every December 11, and I invite all of you to celebrate with me by remembering something difficult in your life that you turned into something positive in some way. It’s 6 degrees F as I write this, and thinking of Mark and his great big life makes me feel warm and radiant. Mark has been my greatest gift. I am so grateful I got to be him mom. He taught me more about life and myself in 5 1/2 days than anyone else ever could. I am a better person and definitely a better mother than I otherwise would have been. I grieve his death but I CELEBRATE his life. His loss was a gut wrenching experience that began a chain of more loss in my life. I didn’t think I would survive; I almost didn’t . . . but I did. I rediscovered my natural resilience and I moved forward while always keeping him in my heart; I chose AND and I continue to do so every day, even when it’s painful.

So, what’s your story? I’d love to hear your reversals, rediscoveries, and reinventions. Here’s a toast to Mark Adam; I hope you’ll please celebrate with me today.

Mark Adam Pruett 1st Picture - December 11, 1982

Mark Adam Pruett
1st Picture – December 11, 1982

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