When Paula had just passed away, I didn’t feel anything.
I had seen this moment coming for quite a while.
We had exchanged our last text messages saying how much we loved each other. My husband and I went for a walk on the beach at the end of that day. The sunset sky turned pink and we both said: “Hello, Paula.”
But the next day I received a video capture of her coffin being carried out of their apartment and into the car that would take it to the funeral home, in the presence of many friends who were bidding their farewell.
I bawled my eyes out.
Suddenly it was so real; she was gone. The thought that her beautiful slender body — probably dressed in one of her ever-stylish outfits — was lying in that light-colored wooden box was absolutely heartbreaking.
It felt so wrong and unfair. Why did she only live to be 43 whilst some assholes get to live till they’re 80, or older!
The feeling was gut-wrenching.
In the following days there were moments I felt fine, when I wasn’t even thinking of her, busy with work. And then there were moments wherein suddenly the sadness slapped me in the face again. At times when I wasn’t expecting it, grief showed up uninvited. And it wouldn’t leave me alone when I asked it to.
Like a real bitch, it just did exactly what it wanted to do: make me feel miserable.
They say that meditation makes you feel better. It will make you feel your anger better, your joy, and also your sadness.
Indeed I did.
I felt it full-on. As if I had ordered that high-octane extra large coffee that I never get because I know it makes me feel bad.
I felt so sad. And I also felt angry: “Why did you leave me?!” And then I felt bad for being angry. I also felt that I wasn’t practicing what I teach; couldn’t I just ride these waves of emotion instead off wanting them to go away?
However — unexpectedly, there was a moment when I realized that it was ok I was feeling what I was feeling.
Resistance to what is — my heavy emotion in this case — is never helpful.
So I allowed myself to feel.
One night I went out for a walk. I felt energized by the cold winter air, and was admiring the starry night sky. And there she was; I clearly felt Paula’s presence next to me. She had come to join me on my outing. I felt overjoyed by the idea that I could now hang out with her whenever I want to, as we are no longer burdened by the distance of the Atlantic Ocean between us.
Every time I think of the fact that my best friend of 25 years isn’t there to send a picture of a special moment to, or share a recipe with, or ask for advice (we had agreed we would always be completely open and honest with each other), that I can’t meet her for tea and chocolate whenever I go back to Amsterdam, I feel sad.
I miss Paula's physical presence terribly.
Yet, when I embrace the knowingness that she is still here, just in a different form, and that I can still communicate with her, be it in a way I yet need to figure out, I feel fine.
Yesterday afternoon I sat down at our dining room table where the sun was shining through the window. I had a serving of freshly-baked apple crisp and a cup of coffee in front of me, something I know Paula loved too. I was looking at the white fluffy clouds in the sky, and I felt completely content.
I felt Paula’s presence. I know how much she loved this moment too. She used to call it a geluksmomentje, a moment of happiness.
While riding these waves of emotions, I am so grateful for my practice. I don’t know how I would have managed without it. My Buddhist-inspired practice reminds me that when I attach to things or people — either by wanting something that I don’t have, or by being afraid to lose something I do have — I suffer.
When I attach too strongly to the idea that Paula’s physical presence is no longer here, I feel extremely sad. However, when I can let go of attachment to physical form, and tap into the knowingness that her presence is still here, I feel so much better.
Pain is inevitable. We will all get sick at some point, and experience loss of whatever kind. Suffering, however, is optional. When we let go of the attachment that life should be a certain way, and embrace each moment as it is without resistance, we can find genuine happiness.
I know that this is what Paula was referring to when she requested before her passing: “Remember me radiant and in the full Light. Keep listening to your heart. It will show you the way.”
And grief, that bitch? Well, she visits at times. I sit with her and offer her a cup of tea and some chocolate. I know her visits will become less frequent. Until they do, I will fully embrace them.
I will sit with the pain, but I choose not to suffer.
Guest post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Marije Paternotte
Marije Paternotte, E-RYT 500, offers a unique approach to yoga; balancing movement and breathing practices of traditional Hatha and Tibetan Yoga with the stillness of the Taoist Yin Yoga, awareness of Chi flow, and an emphasize on mindfulness and the Buddha Dharma. Her teaching style is understated and compassionate. She has the ability to present complex concepts, and an in-depth knowledge of yogic anatomy and philosophy, in a simple and approachable way, for which she is loved by beginning and advanced practitioners alike.
Marije was born and raised in Amsterdam where, after her training to be a professional ballet dancer, she studied law and worked as a corporate lawyer. A yoga retreat in Bali led her to the United States where she took her first yoga teacher training. She currently lives in a small beach town in New Jersey with her husband, and teaches yoga workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings around the world, as well as locally. Marije is also a guest teacher at the renowned Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts and the Mandali Retreat Center in Italy.
Marije received both her foundational and professional level yoga teacher certification at the Kripalu Center, and is certified to teach Yin Yoga and Mindfulness by Sarah Powers’ Insight Yoga Institute.
Feature image by iracosma/Adobe Stock