Laurie Oswalt, Director of Spiritual Care, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital
Recently, I inadvertently received a copy of the December 2013 Prevention magazine in my mailbox. The cover looked good (it had a picture of a cup of steaming hot chocolate), so I began reading. I learned about how to purchase the best hair dryer for the least damage to my locks. I read about the importance of taking certain vitamins that I’d never heard of before.
I was about to put the magazine down, when I reached an article that I couldn’t stop reading.
It was entitled, “My Unexpected Source of Calm.” The caption under the title declared, “Alyssa Dinowitz enjoyed the rush of checking off her never-ending to-do list until a life-changing event forced her to slow down.”
Alyssa wrote that, in her early 40s, everything in her life felt as if it was going according to plan: with a great marriage and two terrific kids, Alyssa taught yoga classes at local gyms and hotels. She was busy, but happy juggling life as a wife, mom, and entrepreneur.
Alyssa declared during this time, “I drew inspiration and strength in my daily life from my mother, who had battled breast cancer four times over the course of 14 years—and won!”
When the cancer recurred in 2009, Alyssa’s mom was 77 years old, and Alyssa had no doubt her mom would do what she had become accustomed to doing: she would beat it again.
But this time was different. Alyssa’s mother began having difficulty breathing, which led to full cardiac arrest, keeping her in the hospital for three weeks. For the next couple of months, her mother was in and out of the hospital. Eventually, Alyssa’s mom entered hospice care. Alyssa gave up teaching to spend every moment with her mom. Within a few months, Alyssa’s mom died.
Two weeks after her mom’s death, Alyssa returned to the hospital to visit with the chemotherapy patients that she and her mom had befriended. Though it was painful, Alyssa kept going back, week after week, taking cookies and at first trying not to cry. Why did she do it? “I think I just wasn’t ready to face my feelings alone.”
Slowly, she states, she was able to open up to them, and herself, which is when her healing really began.
Today, she now teaches community yoga classes for free. Alyssa writes that, these days, yoga is very different from a workout; it’s become her source of spiritual calm, it’s where she heals, it’s where she finds support, and it’s where she recalls special memories with her mom. And yoga is something she enjoys offering to others.
She writes, “There’s no way to face grief except head-on. Cancer is horrible, and death is horrible, but being honest about my feelings allowed me to connect with people going through similar experiences, opening my eyes to the humbling fact that I’m not the only one who’s lost a loved one. I could easily have been stuck in a numbing state of self-pity, but spending time with the patients and families helped keep me grounded.
“My life has changed so much through this painful journey. I didn’t expect my mother to die. But grief, just like other life challenges, causes you to refocus your priorities. After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve come to understand that my time should be spent giving back. In turn, it’s made me a better wife, a better mom, a better yoga teaching, and a better human. And I have my mom to thank for the beautiful lesson.”