Why are you afraid of dying? Did anyone tell you this was a permanent gig?

One day, Yolanda, who is 85 years old, came into my yoga class. She is one of my students and claims to be a French Countess. She appeared very agitated. 

I said to her, “Hi, Yolanda, how are you?”

“Not too good,” she told me. “I am not feeling very well, and I have not slept much lately, but you will make me feel better, won’t you, darling?”

“I will try,” I said. 

Then she pointed at her favorite spot on the floor, where someone had already placed their yoga mat. She said, “I want to be there,” adding, “so I can be closer to you.”

“Yolanda, that spot is already taken,” I said, “but we have lots of other spots.” 

Despite this, she continued to insist she wanted to be in that spot.

“Why don’t you set your mat in front of that spot, and then you can be even closer to me,” I suggested.

Still, she kept insisting she wanted that spot. I said to her, “Yolanda, I am sorry, but you cannot have it. It is already taken.” I was not going to ask someone to move their mat, simply because this little old lady was having control issues. Especially not in a yoga class, where we are trying to learn to let go. We were not doing so well at that. I thought this seemed so absurd, and I could not believe what I was seeing or hearing. 

At that point, the student who had that spot said, “I can move. You can have the spot.” She moved her mat and let Yolanda have what she wanted.

After the class ended, I asked Yolanda to stay for a little while. I asked her why was she so agitated, and she said she hadn’t been sleeping much lately. When she did go to sleep, she woke up frequently during the night. 

“Do you have any idea why?” I asked her.

Then she started to tell me of all the physical discomforts she was having. 

I then asked her, “Have you seen a doctor to find out if there’s anything to be concerned about?” 

“Yes,” she said, “and the doctor said everything was fine.”

At one point, I asked her to close her eyes and take a couple deep breaths. After a while, she seemed a little calmer, and she looked at me and said, “I guess I am afraid of dying.”

“Why?” I asked.

She looked perplexed by my answer. I don’t think she was expecting the response she got. “Yolanda, did anyone ever tell you this was a permanent gig?” I said. “You know, life is temporary, and all of us are going to die. It is not if we’re going to die, it is when we’re going to die. Even though you are older than me, who’s to say I will make it home today? You know, my mother died when she was 27. I could die on the way home today. And you could still be here. That is how life works. Most of us don’t know how long we will live, but to waste our precious time with worrying about things we cannot control is just waste of your life and time. You may even live to 100. Who knows?”

She was quiet for a little while, and then a smile came across her face. She got up and told me she was going to the gym to ride a bike for an hour, and she asked me if I would like come visit her in France sometime. 

Before I left the condo complex, I stopped by the gym to see how she was doing, and to say good-bye to her. She was smiling and riding the exercise bike. The following week, she went back to France for the summer.

I could have given Yolanda the usual standard response we give to people most of time, when we are confronted with uncomfortable subjects such as death and old age. But this is one subject that I am at peace with. I have been living with and have studied this subject for most of my life, due to losing my mother at age three. 

You might say I had a head start.

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