I can’t see Wanda without thinking of her mother, Mildred, and missing her. Wanda comes to class even though she can’t help but think of her mother and miss her.
They first came to class in 2003, perhaps 2002. Wanda did tai chi, got acupuncture for neck problems and sought whole health. She and her mother loved great jewelry and getting great deals on beautiful eyeglass frames in LA. They both loved their family and helping others.
The first time they came to class, Wanda brought her mother, and yet smiled and detached herself from the outcome.
Mildred gave me a kind of Missouri “show-me” look, pretty startling in a 70-plus-year-old girl from Puerto Rico.
Mildred arrived a skeptic to my first class. I thought at the time she had been pretty much dragged there by Wanda. Over time I learned that Mildred couldn’t be dragged anywhere, but she was willing to try, often repeatedly, something that might help make life better. A few weeks after she started, she showed up with a tiger-striped mat. For several weeks when ill-health kept Wanda away, Mildred came on her own.
One day Mildred complained about how difficult her outing had been at an outlet mall. I showed her how to do virasana, hero pose, while sitting in a chair, one leg at a time. About a month later, she reported she was back in full shopping form.
With Mildred’s asthma, lying on her back, even with support, often left her breathless. She had tight hamstrings and getting up and down off the floor was tough. Still, she did it. I watched over the years as she kept trying the poses that challenged her asthma. And 10 years later, there she was, doing bridge pose.
It took a few years, but after a while, Mildred was the one bringing people to my class, some with minimal problems, one with Parkinson’s.
Once after I had been gone for a couple of weeks, I started a class by saying “next we’ll do” and she filled in the pause with an answer: “jumping jacks!” and I learned how she had faced down a sub with a refusal to try jumping her feet apart.
She was what I want from all my students: to be a discriminating student of yoga. She questioned, prodded, experimented. She never gave up. She was attending class until just a few months before she died of cancer. She was 86.
It was a few months after that before Wanda came back to class. When she did, it was to encourage another friend to come to yoga. She greets the Dial-a-Ride bus each Wednesday morning as it brings a woman who must use a wheelchair after a terrible car accident.
Someone else now sits in Mildred’s spot. Wanda has found new students to help. It’s a full class, but even so, I miss Mildred.