The Two Kinds of Grief

Have you ever experienced a phone call or text that instantly shook you to your core?

On Sunday morning, I woke up to a text telling me that my teacher, my spiritual guru and mentor — the woman who radically changed my life personally and professionally — had passed.

I was (and still am) in total and utter shock.

I had just sat down at my desk to drink my coffee and prepare for my Sunday classes when I opened my phone to look at my unread texts. I stared at my phone. I read and re-read the message from my dear friends Liv and Lucy:

Our P took her last breath at 10:54pst. She had a big smile and the transition was peaceful…

My lessons for Sunday would sit untouched. My coffee would grow cold. I set my phone down and I sobbed uncontrollably.

How can I possibly teach this morning? I asked myself. 

I could barely get through a moment — brushing my teeth or showering — without crying. 

Through sobs and gasps for air, I asked, What would Patricia want me to do?

And I cried. And I listened. And she told me she wanted me to teach. She wanted me to share my gifts with others. She wanted me to share the gift of movement. And so somehow I found the words to navigate my two classes and four hours of facilitating yoga teacher training.

In a lot of ways, the only “glue” that held me together on Sunday was the act of giving to others, was being of service and teaching. 

In the moments I was connected to my gift — something she helped me cultivate, refine and uncover — I felt deeply grateful and connected to her. Her presence allowed me to be present.

But when I found myself in the pauses, I felt exposed, raw and vulnerable. In the moments of silence, when I was by myself, I found myself consumed with grief.

As I closed out our YTT session and sent the yoga teachers in training on their way I found myself in another white space, a pause, and in that moment I collapsed on the floor of the yoga studio where I cried uncontrollably.

My grief was a two-fold grief. It was the grief of gratitude of having known her intimately and working with her and it was the grief of regret, of not getting to say goodbye or one final “I love you” to her.

The Grief of Gratitude

Patricia Moreno is the creator of the mind-body-spirit practice intenSati. Powerful movements paired alongside affirmations made this class like no other. It’s a practice that I’ve been part of for well over a decade and one that has changed my life personally and professionally.

I found intenSati when I was at the crossroads of my life. I struggling to come out and embrace my sexuality, I was deep in an eating disorder that was slowly eating me alive, I was clinically depressed, and I was lost professionally.

Truth be told, the first class I ever took wasn’t even with Patricia (I wouldn’t come to know her until about six months later) and I didn’t take intenSati for any of those life-changing reasons I mentioned above. 

I took my first intenSati class because moving and talking at the same time meant more caloric output and I was on a mission to be thin at any cost. Simple as that.

I didn’t even fall in love with intenSati at my first class. I was super resistant to saying things like, “I am strong. I am enough. I believe I can succeed.” Saying things like that was counter to everything I said to myself on a regular basis. It felt as if I was trying on clothes that didn’t fit.

But at the end of that first hour, I felt different. I felt happier, more uplifted and my head was slightly quieter. At the time I blamed it on the endorphins and caloric burn; I was already use to doing the workout thing and quieting my ED mind so I assumed it was simply that. And so I decided to come back to class. And I came back again. And again, until I was a regular in Betsy’s classes.

Every class I came to offered me the opportunity to press pause on the negative and critical thoughts that would flood my mind. I came to enjoy the high that came from shouting, “I am strong. I am enough. I believe I can succeed.” So much so that I didn’t want the hour to end. I didn’t want to go back to the thoughts that plagued me and controlled my life.

About six months into taking classes, I learned that there was a leader training coming up in NYC and I signed up immediately. I wanted more of this feeling in my life. I wanted to be able to help others navigate their thoughts and change their lives. And I missed teaching. I had previously taught high school English for five years and thought, Maybe this is the path forward. Maybe I’m being called to teach this.

I had only gone up to take one class in NYC with Patricia prior to training and while I had an extensive amount of intenSati classes as a student under my belt, nothing could have prepared me for my leader training weekend. 

I was ready with my musicality and I knew the moves and for being a new “leader”, I performed the moves almost effortlessly. Patricia wasn’t impressed with that. She wanted to know who I was as a leader. She didn’t want to just see me emulating the skills I learned from Betsy.

I remember taking the train home from NYC after a grueling leader training weekend and feeling defeated. Who am I? I asked myself that entire train ride home, and how am I suppose to find myself?

Why this first weekend with Patricia was poignant was that she was always pushing me to go deeper, to uncover something else that she already saw or knew was there. She was always getting me to reach for my next level, much as I’d fight her on it.

Over the years I’d spend with her — driving up on Saturday mornings to take her classes in NYC, working with her, assisting her and eventually leading her intenSati trainings and being in charge of creating leader resources and training materials — she’d continually push me deeper. There were times I’d be frustrated. There were times I’d feel not good enough and I’d ask myself why she didn’t love me like she did this person or that person. But over time, I came to realize her love for me was in her pushing me to grow.

Her practice, her teachings, the time spent with her has radically changed my life personally and professionally and knowing her has enabled me to

  • work through an eating disorder
  • come out and embrace my sexuality
  • find the love of my life
  • become a more loving and present mother
  • begin teaching fitness
  • uncover my purpose in life by leading trainings and teaching teachers
  • examine the hard questions and lean into the answers
  • understand how capable and talented I am

There is not one area of my life she has not touched and for that I am eternally grateful.

The Grief of Regret

It’s in the quiet moments my grief hits me. It’s in the white space I feel the heaviness of my heart. It’s in these times I begin to question everything:

  • What’s really important in my life?
  • Who really matters to me?
  • Where in my life can I lead and love better?
  • What are the lessons here and how do I get through this with wisdom and grace?
  • Who do I love and have I told them recently how much I love them?

That last question stuck with me,

Who do I love and have I told them recently how much I love them?

I knew Patricia had been sick for a while, so sick in fact she wasn’t even present at the last two virtual intenSati leader trainings we did. While I was deeply grateful to be entrusted to lead her trainings, the heaviness of her absence and what it meant lingered like the smell of cigarettes on curtains.

There was a part of me that truly believed she would pull through this illness because if anyone could find the other side of this, it was her. She was not only a teacher of changing your mind and your state of being — she lived it, she embodied it. She had manifested finding the love of her life and having children and had overcome so many obstacles and hurdles, that while I knew her illness was serious, I truly believed that she would transcend this experience.

The other part of me, the part I didn’t want to lean into or acknowledge, understood the totality of her illness. The thought of losing her though was too much to bear and so I did what I always do when I’m confronted with devastation: I hide.

I’ve been brought to my knees many times in my life. I’ve experienced devastation and the pain that goes along with loss from a very young age. In fact, I’ve been though more loss in my thirty-nine years than some people do in their entire life. 

I’m not saying that to say that my pain is worse than your pain or that my pain matters more. Pain is pain and its hits us all different. I’m simply saying pain is not a new feeling to me and still I have not learned how to lean into it. I didn’t know how to embrace it when my baby sister died and I was eight-years-old. I couldn’t lean into it when I lost my brother at twenty-one or my grandfather at twenty-five or any of the other multitude of times I’ve been confronted with loss.

However, what both my yoga has taught me and what Patricia and her teachings through intenSati have taught me, is that pain is our greatest teacher. Pain is what wakes us up to “what is”. And while I empirically know this and I teach this to my own students, when pain strikes — the kind of pain that I know will take my breath away and bring me to my knees — instead of leaning in to feel and process my pain, I run away.

And I suppose, in a lot of ways, that’s what I’m struggling with the most…integrity.

I frequently ask my students in class to get uncomfortable, to be with their discomfort, and rather than avoiding the uncomfortable sensations, to explore them. I will often reflect on the value of life as I close out classes, the gift that it is — hell, this past week alone I talked and themed my classes on impermanence — I invited my students to reach out to someone and tell them that they love them because you never know how long you have…but I didn’t do the same.

I am beyond grateful and blessed to have known Patricia intimately, to train under her, to lead trainings for her, to absorb all her wisdom and teachings. But I’m also angry and frustrated with myself for not doing the things she has taught me and following through on the very things I’m asking my own students to do.

More than that, I regret not texting her to tell her I love her this past week. I regret that I’ll never have the chance to tell her one more time the impact she has made on my life. I regret feeling the impulse to do these things this past week when my intuition was urging me to do so and ignoring those feelings.

The grief of regret stings the most.

As I sit here a day later, I still find myself with a heavy heart. In the white spaces of stillness and silence, I still find myself consumed with grief and crying.

In these moments I remind myself that I can’t stop adversity and pain from striking, but I can lean into it and soften around it.

I remind myself that the purpose of my life is not to “be happy” but rather to stay awake to “what is” — to allow my pain to be my teacher and to listen to the lessons it provides.

I remind myself impermanence is life and that life and death travel the same path, that this moment is truly all we ever have.

I remind myself that I’m doing the best I can, with what I’ve got, from where I am. 

I remind myself I can’t change the past or what I could have or should have done; but I can do better moving forward.

I remind myself that I can move forward, even if I need a moment to sit down, cry and rest for a while.

To my teacher, the woman who changed my life and taught me the most important lessons we learn in the gym are the ones we take with us out into the world — I love you, I miss you and I’m so grateful to have known you.