Last week, I wrote about having a wonderfully ungraceful meltdown from trying to take on and figure out just a bit too much all at once in this new life of mine. In the past week, I’ve slowed WAY down. I’ve stopped making overwhelming to-do lists. I’ve let myself wander and enjoy things. I’ve gone for morning walks and tried to focus on being kinder to myself. I’ve spent more time being quiet, and trying to pay attention to what’s really important. I’ve forced myself – against my will – to be more social and to reach out to support others who might need it too.
All of this has helped tremendously, but the thing that has really shaken me up and re-aligned my over-analytical brain was something much bigger. On Monday afternoon, I got a phone call from one of my very closest friends. We never call unexpected, so I knew something was wrong. Sure enough, the news was not good. One of our friends had finally passed away, after a lifetime battle with an autoimmune disease that made her body attack itself terribly. And though I would not say we were close friends… she and I became closer because of Drew’s death. She reached out to me, hardly knowing me, and our friendship grew for several years as we wrote back and forth about death, grief, the darkness of life… about art and creativity and our love of nature. She was a talented artist and one of the most unique souls I have ever known. She knew things about life that most of us do not know – those of us who have never had to face our own mortality. I knew things she did not, having lost so many in my life before her. We were always learning from each other, and so even though we were not particularly close friends, it kind of always felt like our souls had known each other for many lifetimes.
Despite all this woman had been through, she had a brightness in her soul that everyone noticed. A brightness perhaps that comes from the burden of knowing you will not live long. And though we knew she would likely pass in a few months, it came more suddenly this week than expected. It hit me harder than I thought it would. And that familiar feeling came… the very pit of my soul could feel that her light had gone out. Her brilliant light, and all of the creative energy and beauty that she brought to this world just by being her and sharing what she loved with all of us… it was gone now. The feeling inside me that whenever I thought of her, I felt her aliveness, and it filled me with a little more of that aliveness too… just knowing she was out there living and being in such a beautiful way. It was all quiet now… except it wasn’t actually. The more I listened, the more I began to hear her song again…
I cried more than I even expected to. And I’ve not been able to get her off my mind all week. But, this has actually been a good thing. I’ve looked for signs from her, and found them everywhere. In the birds mostly. She rehabilitated everything from tiny sparrows to stately barn owls and clever hawks in her work at a bird sanctuary, and she had a pet Crow that went everywhere with her. Since she died, this one particularly bright yellow finch has been at our bird feeder every single morning singing louder and more beautifully than I’ve ever heard a finch sing. (In fact, as I’m typing this, he just showed up!) Whether she sent it or not doesn’t matter. What matters is simply that his song makes me feel her again. His song makes me know that her soul is still singing and shining and her energy goes on.
So I owe a very big part of my better week this week, oddly, to someone else’s journey transitioning onto another world. Nothing will stop you in your tracks and make you evaluate your own life faster than this. It is, in my eyes, the final and most meaningful gift a life can give to us. I know her life was far from easy and far from being joyful all the time. But she found joy constantly. She was – it seemed to me – very discerning about how she chose to spend her time… and she spent as much of it doing things that she loved and being with people she loved as she could. I’m sure in part that was because her illness required her to have such an enormous store of joy to get thru the hard days – but nonetheless it’s a lesson for us all.
So while I haven’t been able to stop thinking of her this week, my mind has been filled with all the lessons that her death – and her spirit – is providing me. To get out in nature and remember how amazing it is. Not just sometimes, but every day. To stop caring about things that I don’t need to care about, and let them take care of themselves. To laugh in the face of the hard stuff. To get out of my head and bring myself back down into my heart – because that is what should be leading me always. To be a friend to others, even when I want to hide away. Especially when I want to hide away, because usually there is a friend who is feeling that way too but hiding it from the world just like you are (I can’t tell you how many of these friends I have found in the past week, all of us, overwhelmed by life and grief and hiding it.) To be quieter, listen better, and remember to notice all the small beauties around me every day… and to share those little discoveries with everyone else just like my friend did for me while she was here. And most of all, to treat myself as precious, and unique, and only here for a short time.
In the end, no one will remember my friend Corena for being anything other than Corena – which seems to me the greatest success of living a life. No one will remember how much money she made or how successful she was or how far she did or didn’t travel or whether or not she ever reached certain goals of her own or not. She will be remembered for creating beauty, truth, and aliveness in the world – no matter how dark the day was. She will be remembered for her heart, and her kindness, and her ability to bring gentleness and creativity and love into our lives. These are the things she sings this week. This is her final song to the world.
It is the sort of song I want to leave behind when I die too… and that perspective has me realizing I’ve not been singing that song so well lately. All of the other stuff I’ve spent the summer worrying and stressing about really doesn’t matter, and it’s made me quiet. As an artist, I want to be remembered for bringing more beauty, comfort and aliveness into people’s worlds, each and every day. As a person, I want to be remembered for being kind, for listening well, and for helping them feel loved and noticed.
They aren’t new lessons. These are all the lessons that Drew’s death taught me, but how easily it can be to forget what’s important in the midst of modern life. I wish dearly that my friend were still here, but I know – as all of us here do – that her role in my life is not finished. She’ll be teaching me things for years to come, just as Drew still is to this day. She’ll be singing her song each day, and I will always be listening for it.