Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020 issue.
Through the depths of darkness, connection and purpose was brought to the light.
“It felt like a really profound gift, even though it came from tremendous loss and sadness,” says Sandra Traganos, 35, of her transformational experience at the Grief Support Network (GSN).
Traganos enrolled in GSN’s nine-month yoga therapy program after the loss of her 13-year-old step-son, Jayden, in 2016. A year ago, Traganos didn’t realize her self-worth was enough to warrant what seemed like a luxury. Now that thought seems ridiculous.
Traganos said she realized after Jayden passed that our grief culture is intensely hidden. During her first session at GSN in March of 2018, fears arose from sharing something so sensitive to her heart in front of strangers. But once she was present, things she had never bothered to think about, things she was suppressing, began to pour out of her mouth. GSN became a safe space for her to be vulnerable in a nurtured boundary, surrounded by people who have also endured loss. She started in the six-week program and transitioned to the nine-month after the gift of financial support from GSN’s scholarship program.
At GSN, Traganos noticed tremendous change in herself, learning ways to understand her grief — feeling like she had a community to come home to, a place where she could find home within herself.
“You think coming home only happens through the joys and the sunny days, but realistically it’s through the darkness we become more ourselves, through the trials and tribulations that we really discover who we are,” explains Traganos.
“You think coming home only happens through the joys and the sunny days, but realistically it’s through the darkness we become more ourselves, through the trials and tribulations that we really discover who we are”
Founded by Wendy Stern in 2012, GSN is a community-based nonprofit in Boulder that offers yoga therapy, peer support and community rituals to those who have experienced loss. Stern was inspired to open GSN’s doors to honor the life and death of her son. Her grief led her to a profound journey of transformation and with her background in yoga therapy, she wanted to offer healing experiences to others on their journeys. Since 2012, GSN has served over 5,000 grieving individuals.
“[Traganos] is an incredible role model of what is possible when someone digs in and commits to the work and to themselves,” wrote Stern.
Sandra Traganos and her daughter, Nalani.
“You’re going to break open, you’re going to be shattered into pieces,” Traganos shared. “But what you do with those pieces is entirely up to you. I chose to sweep the pieces to the side and just let them be broken and that didn’t serve me, it didn’t serve the world. Now, I’m choosing to put them back together and make something great out of it. That’s what Jayden deserves.”
Together with her husband Ed, Traganos founded Jayden’s Place, a nonprofit that partners with schools to create holistic self-care offerings to empower children. Their goal is to provide children with skills early on that help them feel like they have a little more control in this world. Their first year fundraiser donated to groups contributing to suicide awareness. Their next project is adding buddy benches to different parks in the Denver area. If kids see someone sitting alone, they can go and make a buddy on these designated benches. Traganos says these benches show that it takes a community; it’s not just adults that need to be aware of children’s lives, it’s also the children, and it’s everybody that touches each of us that needs to be aware.
Sitting in her home office in Arvada where she practices as a holistic coach, Traganos shared a school photo of Jayden. Despite, or perhaps alongside, the tears that streamed down her face, she gazed down at his toothy grin with a smile of her own — a mirror of her paradox-riddled journey through grief.
“I can be grieving but have moments of joy through that grief. I can be in those two very different places at one time, and what a gift in this human body to be able to straddle such a spectrum in the same breath,” she says. “Rather than being ‘I’m sad’ or ‘I’m happy,’ and categorizing things so specifically and finite, I see no boundaries there. We’re all of it at once.”
Once she settled into this realization through her work with GSN, she explained how excitement blossomed in her life once more. “My heart burst open,” she adds.
Following the completion of the two programs, Traganos knew she had to go further; she was so deeply impacted that she wanted to provide that same experience for others in her community, specifically children. She enrolled in GSN’s yoga therapy teacher training which began in October 2019.
To learn more about GSN’s yoga therapy teacher trainings, immersions and yoga therapy programs, go to griefsupportnet.org.
Photos by Youssef Naddam and Sandra Traganos.