In loving memory of Jenna, Yogamama

Many of you have read this tragic news on the front page of the newspaper or on TV headlines about the cyclist killed in the West End of Toronto on Monday.  Jenna was my friend.

Jenna 1.jpg

In August of 2009 my family moved to Canada, and wanting to establish roots quickly for my son, we enrolled him at a parent run playschool co-operative in the Annex, called Huron Playschool. At the first parent meeting at the start of term, I made my way into the basement of the St Thomas Church, met a few parents and looked around to see who I wanted to sit next to. I was attracted to a bright smiling woman who had a luminous moonstone around her neck. I squeezed myself into the toddler sized chair around the kids craft table next to her and introduced myself. She told me her name was Jenna. Her son was the same age as my son Tai. She was a yoga teacher. I loved her immediately, and saw every complex facet of myself reflected in her. That evening she was elected chairperson of the Board, and I was elected Registrar. We had a good laugh after the meeting, thinking how great it was that two mad Yoga Mamas were now in charge of running the entire playschool.

Jenna was the glue that held the playschool together. Jenna had an endless supply of energy to co-ordinate and nurture most of the projects at the school. She initiated the Halloween, end of year, and Christmas parties, and began introducing all the kids to yoga. As the chairperson of the board, she created community and momentum and empowered us to begin projects that may not have happened without her enthusiasm. As a parent run co-op school, it was an incredibly special place. We co-designed and helped implement the curriculum, and assisted the teacher one day a week in the classroom. Without Jennas commitment to fun, creative, playbased learning, the school not have been the same special place that it is.

Jenna and her husband Flo were instrumental in getting so many little things done around the playschool, like painting and repairing the baseboards to help pass health and safety inspections.  It may seem like such a small insignificant detail, but it sticks in my mind, because it was a job no-one else wanted to do.  The school blossomed and doubled in size in the three years that Flo, Lucas and Jenna have been a part of it.   They also helped to create the beautiful mural that we painted on the wall outside.   There are so many things.

I learned of her tragic death on Tuesday morning at work, through my connections in the Toronto yoga community. I don’t remember what happened at work for the next few hours, but do vaguely remember speaking with a few people on the phone. I don’t remember crying, but as I left, caught my reflection in the mirror and quickly went to the bathroom to wipe the black mascara which had run down my cheeks all the way to my chin.

From 889 I jumped in a cab and drove to Huron Playschool in the Annex just south of Bloor Street. I sat on a wet park bench and watched chartreuse hued leaves falling from the trees. I looked up at the sky. I ate fudge to stop the nausea, shaking and shock. I remembered chatting with Jenna in the park, as we watched our sons on the swings and slides. I saw her riding up Huron Street with Lucas on the back of her bike. I remembered standing outside St Thomas church with her after mid winter board meetings chatting, hugging, laughing and busting out yoga moves to stay warm. As it got colder that afternoon I entered the church where our Playschool is. It was so warm, and silent and felt like a womb. I could hear the clock on the wall ticking like a heartbeat, and could hear the muffled sound of the kids laughing from the basement below. I sat in the church hall where Jenna used to teach the kids yoga and literally saw her dancing around with my son, picking him up, singing to him, teaching them downward dog in her purple skirt that she wore for Halloween. Tears were just streaming down my face. I could not stop them. They have not stopped since.

I had to break the news of Jenna’s death to the entire Playschool community. Unbelievably to me, no one at that stage knew of the tragic news. I wish I was not the person who had to deliver this news to her close friends who saw Jenna on a daily basis, whose kids play with Lucas, and who were sharing the joy and radiance of her pregnancy as only other Mothers can. We held our kids close and stumbled back to my friends house and sat stunned around the kitchen table drinking tea. Some of us were sobbing. Mostly we were quiet and just holding each other and working out how to tell our kids what had happened to Jenna.

On Tuesday night I attended Jenna’s vigil at Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda. Matthew and Scott hugged me and then hugged me some more. I sat on the sofa staring at her photo, wrapped lovingly in Tibetan silk scarves, illuminated by candles. I caught the loving glance of strangers across the room whom were in deep recollection of Jenna also. I spoke to a few people, students, colleagues, and friends and shared stories. I met her midwife whom had delivered Lucas, and was supporting Jenna through her current pregnancy. We all ate a lot of cake. There were some tears, but many more moments of laughter and then poignant moist eyed silences.

There are so many stories about Jenna, most of them I want to keep to myself and share in whispers with my girlfriends who knew her.  The past few days have been long and painful, and I have just been trying to ride the waves of grief.   Yesterday I practiced 108 sun salutations for her.  Some of them felt soft and joyful, there were many that felt angry and filled with rage.  In some I saw her above me as I reached my arms into a prayer overhead.  In the middle, there were 8 – 10 namaskars which left a puddle of tears on my mat.  I collapsed into a still Savasana at the end.  I couldn’t stay there too long.  To mimic a corpse was too painful.

I remember you as a radiant and glowing mama Jenna. I remember you as a woman who had so much love for kids, that it overflowed to all the children around you. I remember you as a person I loved from the minute I sat beside you. I remember you on your bike, and dancing. I am heartbroken, and am grieving for your family and close friends.

Assato ma sad gamaya

Tammaso ma jyotir gamaya

Mrityor ma amritam gamaya

Lead me from the unreal to the real

Lead me from the darkness to the light

Lead me from death to immortality

(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)