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« E-mail of the Week [used with permission] | Home | A Perfect Day in L.A. »

The End

Part of: Rant

Death and dying have come up recently. A friend said he was probably not going to live past 30. Another friend’s sister died. One of my friend’s often talks about her passed brother (who raised her), but it’s in a really nice way. His memory is really staying alive. I also got to watch the entire HBO movie “Angels in America” directed by Mike Nichols. Also,Keifel had two insightful posts about how he handled a friend’s death.

Quite a few people I know think living in this world is hellish, and that we should embrace death, because that’s when life will get heavenly. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they deal with death. If I were diagnosed with a terminal illness tomorrow, the big difference in my life would be that I would be fearless. Of course, there are different emotional stages one goes through in this kind of process, and some people are in more pain than others.

My friend, Jessica Maxwell, died at 20 years old. Jessica was sweet, sensitive, thoughtful, highly intelligent and a very talented poet. Supposedly her poems were published posthumously. When I did a Google search, I could only find recipients of The Jessica Nobel-Maxwell Memorial Poetry Award---yet no information on Jessica or how her award came about. This was frustrating.

I learned that Jessica died when I came back to college from summer vacation and decided to drop by Jessica’s house. It was a beautiful day in late August, and I remember thinking how much I liked Boulder, Colorado and my school. I was excited to see Jess. I had ambled up to her quaint Victorian house and knocked on the door, so hard that my knuckles hurt. Her roommate, Tracy, answered the door.

“Hey, Tracy, is Jess around?” I said in a friendly manner.

Tracy was an old friend of Jess’s and she was fun, wise and free-spirited.

Tracy got a stricken look on her face, which I couldn’t comprehend. There was a long pause. Then Tracy spoke deliberately, “Jess is no longer with us in physical form.”

Everything froze. Tracy looked at me in a compassionate manner, “I’m so sorry I had to tell you like this.”

I felt overwhelmed and used the payphone three blocks away to call my mother. I felt weird telling my mother my friend had just died. She said she was sorry. What else could she say? This didn’t bring me any comfort.

Luckily, my school was very small, we were a real community (except for some of the annoying Transpersonal/Contemplative Psych students and holier than though Buddhists), and the school was run with Buddhist principles in mind, so it attracted quite a few highly conscious people.

We had a really nice memorial for Jess. I was proud of myself for attending and speaking up, even though, at the time, I was closure phobic. I thought if I didn’t formally end something, I would be saved some emotional hardships. Speaking at the memorial was very helpful in my mourning process.

I remember Jess’s mother and sister were there. I realized, as I spoke, that I truly felt in my heart that Jess and I had been friends in another dimension or lifetime and would be in contact again. I also believed it was Jess’s time to move on. I knew her spirit was happier wherever it had gone. This was my first experience properly digesting death.

My first friend to die, Alyssa, had died in junior high school, and my mother had not let me go to the funeral. This wasn’t one of my best friend’s, but I wish my mother would’ve let me gone.

The other death moment that forced me to shed some of my innocence was when my paternal grandmother died. She was buried at The Hollywood Forever Cemetery next to my grandfather who had died before I was born. My immediate family was at the grave site. I was the only one not crying, because I prefer to cry in private and was overwhelmed by everyone else’s emotions, as well as my own.

It was probably the second time I’d ever seen my father cry. My father gave me a piece of paper with thoughts about his mother that he wanted me to read.

“You’re the one good at reading and writing,” he said by way of explanation.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe and wanted to hide, but as usual, my strength shone through and I somehow pulled myself together and read his words.

My old therapist helped me through that one and once said, “I’ve learned that in life, it’s important to say everything you need to say to someone, because you’ll never know when they’ll die.”

That has always stayed with me, and I believe it’s good advice. I try to keep my mortality in mind when I am hesitant to take chances, or take steps to make my dreams come true.

Recommended Book: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

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