I’ve thought a lot about death this past year.
I’ve also thought a lot about life, too.
Just over a year ago, I watched my childhood best friend go to the doctor, with what was thought to be a normal urinary tract infection, turn into the discovery of a brain tumour, and soon after, a terminal stage 4 cancer diagnosis. I watched her live her final year, and I watched her in her dying days. And I watched her peeking down from heaven’s balcony, as she snuck her vivacious personality into her own funeral. Who else would start out with a rockin’ foot-stomping, hand-clapping, drums-a-blazing praise song? I giggled while bawling at her tear-and-laughter-inducing funeral arrangement. What a woman. What a life.
Sometimes you need to have Death come and walk with you for an extended time, in order for you to learn how to truly live. And love. Yes, death’s impending shadow certainly teaches you to love right now, and love without hesitation. Our days here are numbered, which isn’t to make us feel rushed or stressed, but truly there is a certain urgency to plant one’s heart in the present moment and squeeze out as much life and love in every single one of those moments. Recognizing that death comes to us all (in what is often the most inconvenient and unfortunate of times) is a loud reminder and call to the “now-ness of love” and the “now-ness of life”. C’mon now, we’ve got some loving to do! No time to waste!
I learned this with Lisa. Especially in her final weeks. You could see she was already one foot inside the door of Heaven. And one foot tediously balanced on earth’s footstool, with her loved ones. She was so ready and eager to be united with Perfect Love, yet still wanting every single last moment with us, her human loves. The tension between earth and heaven was so tangible in her final weeks.
Sometimes the unfiltered love of her final moments on earth was overwhelming. When we’ve become so used to sipping from little cups here and there of filtered love, what’s one to do when a torrential fire hydrant of unfiltered “living water of love” is blasted on you? Sometimes, you don’t know how to handle it. But handle it you do, and well, you let it knock you over. And then you bask in it. And then you participate in it. And the next thing you know, you’ve said “I LOVE YOU SOOOO MUCH” about a billion times in 5 minutes, and you’ve rubbed feet and hands a million times over, and laughed about how clothes and skin are such tragic barriers to intimacy, because you just want to be SO CLOSE, WITH NO BARRIERS TO LOVE.
Yeah, impending-death sure makes you get WEIRD-CLOSE. And I didn’t mind at all. These are the life-changing moments that make a life a LIFE. It’s the love that matters. It’s the love in the ordinary moments of life that makes life extraordinary.
At one point, nuzzled together on her hospice bed, Lisa and I shared a hilariously heavily-medicated moment where we were feeling so close to one another. She felt she was in love with me. But she wanted me to know that she was in love with me, but “not like sex”. She “loved Matt (her husband) like sex”, but she was “in love with me but not like sex”. All I could do was giggle and laugh. Of course, I knew what she meant. And of course I felt the same way.
Man, I miss her radiant, quirky laughing self. And her deep, counsellor-therapist self. She was my hyper giddy laughing deep philosophical partner in life. I didn’t know I would only have that specific unique laugh in my life until September 30th 2017. Well, actually, I have her laugh recorded on an old cassette tape from when we were about 12 years old. I also have our infamous duet of the Rankins’ “Rise Again” on cassette tape too. Surprised, we were never signed. Sheesh.
So. Many. Memories.
Ah, fickle dickle, death is a thief that takes the good ones far too soon. I wasn’t ready to let her go. But love lets her go. She’s upgraded to a far better fellowship. I’m a tad jelly. (Translation: “Jealous”. That’s for my mum, who’ll be reading this and saying to herself “What does Ali mean by jelly?” There you go, Ma.)
Speaking of my mum, today, I was reading a newspaper article cut-out of Ron Rolheiser sent to me by my mother. It was actually a certain paragraph from one of the articles that hit my heart so deeply that I had the sudden thought, ‘I’ve gotta write right now — get some thoughts out.’ I haven’t written much in the past year. I think just once since all of this transpired. So here I am. Thanks, mum. Thanks, Ron Rolheiser. Anyway, he wrote,
“When we die, while we may well be eulogized for our achievements, we will be loved and remembered more for the goodness of our hearts than for our distinguished achievements. Our real fruitfulness will flow from something beyond the legacy of our accomplishments. It will be the quality of our hearts, more so than our achievements, that will determine how nurturing or asphyxiating is the spirit we leave behind us when we’re gone.” – Ron Rolheiser.
When we die, we will be remembered most for the goodness of our hearts and the quality of our hearts. How we loved. That’s the legacy. Our love. Our love determines how nurturing our spirit is to those we leave behind. Lisa for sure is leaving behind a hugely nurturing legacy of love. Her heart was huge. She loved big. She always loved big, but her final weeks and months, wow. Historic big love.
After this past year, I’m left thinking a lot about the quality of my heart. The quality of my love. The fearlessness of my love. The giving-ness of my love.
The priority of love.
Sometimes I think you need to think a lot about death up close and personal, and see it right in front of you, in order to gain a far richer and truer appreciation for life, and love. Sometimes you must go through hell, in order to open up to heaven, to have your tastebuds awakened to love, a foretaste of what is to come.
Thanks, Lisa, for teaching me a hell of a lot about love. I miss you, but I hope you’re having a blast in heaven. I’m especially curious if the Doritos and Jalapeno Poppers up there are especially yummy? xoxo.