The world is never the same after she is there

Daily Truth from the Brave Girls Club: “there is nothing on this earth so beautiful, so comforting, so warm and inviting and loving as a girl who knows who she is…A girl who knows who she is shows up with so much light, confidence and love for everyone and everything around her that the room, the world is never the same after she is there.”

this is that girl

This quote describes my friend Kelly perfectly–so much light, confidence and love for everyone and everything around her—her life, her presence on this earth meant the world would never be the same, and two years ago today, the world was forever changed in another way when she passed.  This anniversary is such a strange day, filled with “sad wonder,” a raw and broken tenderhearted sadness, profound love, the brutality and beauty at the heart of life’s preciousness. But also on this sad anniversary, I feel a lingering rage, an anger that is both fierce and impotent because there is nothing to attach it to—who am I going to blame? God? Cancer? Western medicine? Certainly not Kelly, who did everything she could to stay.

Grief is a strange and sneaky beast. You can be moving through the most normal, boring part of your day, and something will catch you, trigger a memory. A flash of color, a smell, a song—it catapults you right back to that moment, the moment it happened or the moment you knew, when your love was unbound from form, screaming through the wilderness like a wild, rabid animal, suffering and murderous. It’s just like those mornings after it first happened, when you woke and there was that moment of innocent, sweet forgetting. Then you remembered, and it’s like you just found out, like the loss is happening for the first time, and again the grief is just beginning. The gift of dull, blank detachment you’ve cultivated, the veil of disassociation, the illusion of healing is torn away, ripped off and replaced by surprise, shock, tearing and smashing, pain followed by anger.

Thich Nhat Hanh said “what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive.  This is the best that we can do for those who have died: we can live in such a way that they continue beautifully, in us.”  I was stuck for a long time, but Kelly’s loss, preceded by Obi’s—both of them diagnosed the same week, with Obi’s cancer terminal from the beginning—changed…everything. The loss of their lives gave me back my own, shook me, shattered me, woke me up, and while I am grateful, I am also angry, and I know how utterly naïve it is, but I want to throw myself on the floor like a three year old, screaming and kicking about how it’s not fair.

The essence of grief is love unbound by form, nothing physical to attach it to. When the form that we love is no longer with us, we don’t know what to do with all the love we feel. There’s a collection of stuff left behind that provides no way of connecting with what’s gone. It is tangible, reminds us, but gives us no comfort, no real relief–a paw print preserved in plaster, a picture, a letter in that familiar handwriting but only the memory of the voice. With no forehead to kiss, no ear to whisper into, no hand to grasp, nothing to hold, we are adrift, lost, angry and afraid.

And yet, while form leaves us, love doesn’t. We may find ourselves with nothing physical to direct our love to, but it’s still there. I can no longer have a bodily experience of those I’ve lost in the past few years. I will never again smell the musky stink of Obi’s neck or touch the soft hair of his belly. I will never hear Kelly laugh or be able to hug her. And that is devastating, heartbreaking each and every time I think of it–but the love remains, whole and unbroken, constant and enduring.

In yoga this morning, I cried during shavasana (corpse pose, an asana done at the end of a session, meant to relax the body, allow it to integrate the practice). This happens a lot. It’s a vulnerable position, physically and emotionally, and after a good (or bad) class, a hard class, an intense class, I am left raw and wrecked, tender and open. I can’t think about how much I’ve changed in the last few years, how much happier and more focused I am, the drive I feel to do good, to save lives besides just my own without thinking about Kelly, without feeling a deep determination that I need to do what Kelly is no longer able to, to reflect all the love and kindness and good she manifested. I feel an obligation to so, to do better, and then do more, to wring every last drop out of life, to show up “with so much light, confidence and love for everyone and everything“ that the world is changed.

Kelly, I wish with my whole, broken heart that you were here, that we were having a dance party to celebrate. I’m going to have a little one today anyway, because no matter where you are, the love is still there, unbroken and whole, and you, your brilliant, precious self will always be something to celebrate. You will forever make me feel like dancing. And although I know I can’t do anything about the empty spot you left, I can fill the Jill shaped hole, to “live in such a way that…[you] continue beautifully, in…[me].” I love you and I miss you.

P.S. If you are together, please kiss Obi for me.

5 thoughts on “The world is never the same after she is there

  1. Cat

    Couldn’t agree more. I cry when I look at her smile because it is so sad for so many that she is not here. Thanks for sharing, Jill. Hugs to you on this “raw” day. xoxo

  2. pittsburghphd

    Give in to your need for an “It’s Not Fair” tantrum if you need to. I was listening to someone the other day who said that we teach children that they need to treat others fairly—this is part of their ethical training. Then when they get a little older and complain that things aren’t fair we tell them that the world is not fair as if they should just accept that. What we should emphasize is the world is not fair and we should be outraged about that and we should work to do something about that. The fact that I listen to so much radio that I can’t remember who said it might be a sign that I have an NPR problem, but I do think there is truth in that statement. Maybe no one is “to blame” for Kelly’s death, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair. You are trying to right the wrong of her death by living in a way that honors her values. So have your tantrum and know that you are doing just what you should to bring balance back to the world.

  3. Pingback: On the Origins of Things | A Thousand Shades of Gray

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