COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — If serenity is your destination, part of the journey should include a weekly stop at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in downtown Columbus.
It’s there on Sunday mornings that Jennifer Ballou teaches a yoga class as part of the NVMM’s Resilience and Wellness program. The program also includes a Jiu-Jitsu academy.
“One of our pillars is connecting veterans to Americans and Americans to veterans," she said." So it’s a great way to do that”.
Ballou recently moved with her family back to Ohio, from Texas. Cleveland born, she and her husband Omari recently retired from the Army.
What started as a mission to teach yoga, has stretched into so much more.
“Around the same time, I learned that a position here at the museum has opened up," Ballou said. "The deputy chief of staff for the museum and I decided to apply for it – – ultimately got it. It’s become so much more because now I get to really continue to serve veterans on a much larger capacity, on a much larger scale.”
In June of 2010, Ballou and her then-husband Staff Sgt. Edwardo Loredo were both deployed to Afghanistan. She was just starting her tour with a dental unit and he was nearing the end of his tour with an infantry unit.
“On June 24, he was on a mission, a patrol where he stepped on an IED," she said. "He ultimately lost his life due to the wounds sustained from that IED. What I didn’t quite realize as an opportunity then, but I do now. I had the opportunity to escort his body back to the United States. There’s no one better to do that job than me. And, very quickly realized that our lives, my life, my children’s lives we’re on a totally different path now.”
So began a now 12-year journey of healing.
“For days weeks and months and even years after Eddie died, it was not clear what my mission would be," Ballou said. "But I did know I wanted to keep the memory of Eddie live and I think I’ve done a pretty darn good job of doing that.”
Then recently, while attending a leadership conference, she had the idea to help anyone dealing with great loss
“Somewhere along the way, I learned when I came to the realization that sharing stories of Gold star families is an opportunity for me – – it’s my mission," Ballous said. "So I’m in the very early stages of writing a book that will share stories of Gold Star Families who are doing amazing things amidst these terrible losses they’ve experienced. Military or civilian we all experience and navigate changes big and small. And so to be able to read a body of work that captures the stories of people who are doing just that can be really powerful.”
So, what has her journey taught her about healing?
“To allow yourself to experience that grief but also to find those pockets of joy and happiness," Ballou said. "No matter how small they are, allow yourself to experience and feel those things. More than likely over time they’ll start to get greater”
And, on a sunny Sunday morning in the sun-dappled Great Hall at NVMM, Yogi Jennifer Ballou can remind us, that even with grief can come gifts, if we bend toward the moment.
“We say that in yoga, like the present moment, is the only one with it matters," she said. "The past is gone, the future hasn’t come yet, and just so allowing to be here in this moment is so beautiful.”
Yoga at the NVMM is every Sunday at 9 a.m. It’s free of charge and you can register to attend a class online.
Ballou is also a life coach and you can visit her website here.