Last Wednesday, a small community of friends and family said farewell to a woman far too young to see the omega of her days, but taken swiftly and without haste nonetheless. It was a terrible day, cloaked in fatigue and weary and sadness so thick it dwarfed even the heavy drape of rain. She lost her life in a whisper or a shout, and her loved ones mourned her absence, her palpable, humid absence, as they leaned in to each other for strength.
As with most celebrations of life, the words and musings of the family – each with their own layer of honesty, broken, heavy and light – got to me, most especially those of the older brother. He began with the words: “to fall, to get back up and to smile a little bit,” and then shared a story of a video his parents had taken of his sister when she was maybe four or five. She had just received Barbie roller skates for Christmas and could barely wait to put them on. She scooted out to the patio, took her first bold steps and quickly fell flat tush-side down. Only instead of wailing for someone to pick her up (as I undoubtedly would have done), she caught a glimpse of herself in the glass, checked herself out, eked out her smile (that apparently was ‘signature’ even at this early age), and wiggled her way back up to do it all over again. The next time was barely better, but the routine remained the same –
She fell down, got right back up, and smiled.
In looking at her life in arrears, the brother had realized that his sister had lived all her days with this same kind of fearlessness. She lived her life out loud – without border, with full embrace, and with a century-deep capacity for love and forgiveness. This same fearlessness also got her into some bumps in the road, that pushed her proverbial tush-side down in the decades that followed her innocent run on the skates. Her big brother, trying to make sense of her loss too soon to seem real, saw that those early days were in some measure a bittersweet foreboding of what was to come. We may not be able to make sense of why his sister left us so soon – not now, not this time when so much was going ‘right’ for her (new place, new job, new friends); but we can take solace in the fact that those closest to her got their sister, daughter, and friend back, even for a short while over these past few months, and in the purest, most complete sense of the word.
Sometimes at funerals, I feel a voyeur – peeking too far behind a curtain that is not rightfully mine.
But quickly I’m reminded that the passing of a life – whether in a whisper or a shout – is a fast forward, rewind, slow motion and aspiration of moments of wonder with people and things. I’m also reminded that despite all we do to keep it together, the reality is that we are all in recovery. It is most palpable when we lose someone like this family and this community had, or when we don’t live fully with the family we have and the family we choose. Life is often by accident, and if we’re lucky by intention. And as I reflect on why this funeral has weighed on me with the thud of a heavy heart, it is absolutely because we lost a lovely young woman way before her time, but also and perhaps consequently because we are faced with a choice to live life alive. To allow ourselves the terror of a first date, to discover and rediscover our partner with each passing year, to pause to understand our parents as they were before mom or dad, to unearth the bunker of his or her story, to choose the tougher more awkward conversation, to confess the blues even when we don’t know the root cause, to forgive and forgive, to call out our own bull shit, to recognize our beleaguered muffin tops and to be pissed at the original architect of that horrible term, to grieve our losses of friendship and family equal to our losses of truth, to have the strength and humility to defibrillate the ones that will bring us back, to stutter and trip as we become our own version 2.0, to learn and be learned, to believe and then to be someone worthy of this walk around the sun, someone whose footsteps will mean something, will crush and be crushed, will form a constellation with equal wonder and bemusement as the galaxies above.
Some folks live a lifetime without living it out loud, and with this much capacity for innocence and adventure. And for this, her family and friends will forever be changed and will always be grateful.
May you rest in peace, dear C. And like the deluge that passed through our sky on the day you were put to rest, know that the trees and the flowers are brighter and bolder because you stormed through town and kissed the breeze along the way.