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Son’s untimely death leads Newport Beach woman to help others through yoga

Newport Beach resident Amy Von Der Ahe poses with a portrait of her son Johnny and his dog Koda, a 5-year-old Husky.
Newport Beach resident Amy Von Der Ahe poses with a portrait of her son Johnny and his dog Koda, a 5-year-old Husky. Von Der Ahe is in the process of creating a yoga program, Yoga for Grieving Parents, for those suffering with loss of a child. Johnny, who was 15, died in the summer of 2020 after he was hit by a car in the street outside of their home in the Dover Shores neighborhood.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Johnny Von Der Ahe loved to surf. He would catch waves at 56th Street or the Wedge, or Trestles if he could get someone to drive him there.

The morning of July 1, 2020, the 15-year-old from Newport Beach had just logged an epic surf session and returned home. Johnny was skateboarding in front of his house in the Dover Shores community with his cousin and younger brothers Jack and Charlie when he was hit by a car.

An incoming sophomore at Mater Dei High School, Johnny died from his injuries.

Johnny’s death rocked the Dover Shores community. Last year on Oct. 28, which would have been Johnny’s 16th birthday, families decorated their homes with green lights — Johnny’s favorite color. Johnny’s 17th birthday would have been just a couple of weeks ago, and community kids wore green, or clothing from the “Ride On VDA” foundation that the family started.

Amy Von Der Ahe, who has been a yoga teacher for about 15 years, believes yoga saved her own life after she lost her oldest son. It took her about nine months after the tragedy before she leaned back into the practice.

“I thought about it a lot and I tried many times, but I just couldn’t,” she said. “I couldn’t do any of it. Then one day, I just did it. I kind of forced myself to do it. Then every day, it got a little bit better. Some days, I take a few steps back and everything hurts again. But then I just keep going. Little by little, as I leaned into my yoga practice, it started to strengthen me emotionally and physically so that I could take another step forward.”

Amy has long known the rewards of yoga. And she knew, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, there had to be people hurting. She connected with some of them in Newport Beach and in Laguna Beach, where she’s a longtime teacher at Pacific Blue Yoga.

She has decided to start a program called Yoga for Grieving Parents. She’s writing and developing the program, which she hopes to formally launch in January, and has started Facebook and Instagram pages to develop a sense of community.

Newport Beach resident Amy Von Der Ahe is in the process of creating a yoga program for those suffering with loss of a child.
Newport Beach resident Amy Von Der Ahe is in the process of creating a yoga program, Yoga for Grieving Parents, for those suffering with loss of a child.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

She said it’s a natural step to help people in similar circumstances learn and develop methodologies to survive what she called “an indescribable pain.”

“I really just have to believe that I’m supposed to do something with this tragedy,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “This is a new task, a new challenge, but I just have to know that there’s a higher purpose to all of this.”

Amy Von Der Ahe said the program will likely be six- to eight-weeks and feature both one-on-one work with her, either in person or via Zoom, and self-study she’ll guide.

This is a positive thing for her and also for those who she hopes to reach, said Andrea Martin, a Newport Beach-based yoga friend who introduced Von Der Ahe to the vinyasa style of yoga. Both Martin and Von Der Ahe now teach at Ekam Yoga & Pilates, located on Mariner’s Mile in Newport Beach.

“Though I’m not a grieving parent, I’m an empath,” Martin said. “When [Johnny’s death] happened to Amy, we became so close. There’s this thing about yoga that has this connection.

“Yoga gave her a place to go, and that’s what I know she’s hoping for with her Yoga for Grieving Parents. They’re going to have a place to go. Not just a place to sit and talk about their child in a group community, but an actual physical way to move your body. Through your nervous system calming, it actually does wonders to your body.”

Johnny Von Der Ahe of Newport Beach is shown on a fishing trip in June 2020, shortly before he died.
(Courtesy of Amy Von Der Ahe)

Amy has felt the physical improvements, even if the mental side can still be a struggle. She remains a strong mother to Jack, now a sophomore at Newport Harbor High, and Charlie, an eighth grader at Ensign Middle School.

She said eventually she would like to do workshops in local studios and other places, where people dealing with loss and grief can come and work together.

“There are lots of Facebook groups and Instagram groups that are dedicated to grieving parents, but it’s a lot of commiserating, which is also necessary at times,” she said. “Sometimes I just want to cry, and sometimes I just want other people to agree with me about how much it hurts. But I also think there’s a need for a forum like that to help people take a step forward and continue to find a way to live and find joy again. The pain will never go away emotionally, but physically it can.”

Amy enjoys talking about Johnny, keeping his memory as fresh as possible to those around her. She knows intimately how much others in her position could also use some help.

“If using this experience, both with my yoga and my pain, will help just one person, then I will have done something to make Johnny proud,” she said.

Her voice sounds faint again, but that’s OK.

It’s the voice of someone who continues to ride the waves of life, and wants to help others do the same.

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