I have tried to write this blog entry several times over the past couple of months. I have written over and over in my journal about this, but bringing grief into the light and making it beautiful is a difficult thing to do.
One of the reasons why I have gone silent on this blog for the past few months is that most of the fall and winter, my mind was mostly on my friend, Ellen, who died in February, after living with stage 4 breast cancer for 9 ½ years, well beyond her expected lifespan.
Ellen was one of the first people in Flint that I felt really saw me for myself, and not just as the partner of Deb. She and I would often say the words in the other’s head during group conversations with our partners. More than once, Ellen would laugh at something I said and say, “you and I really are so much alike”.
I wish I was more like Ellen. When I was sick, I was impatient and whiney. I was angry and manic from the steroids and the anxiety. Ellen taught me to quit feeling sorry for myself and deal with life as it is, not as I wanted it to be. Ellen knew when I needed to talk about something other than the cancer. I tried to do the same with her. So much of her last 10 years was spent in the hospital for chemo, radiation, surgery, bone marrow transplant, more chemo more radiation, check ups, blood draws, more chemo more chemo morechemomorechemomorechemo. Yet still, she volunteered at her daughters’ school, met with friends for lunch, shuttled the girls to softball practice, play practice, visiting relatives in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. Yet still, she had time and made energy enough to cook dinner for her family every day (even when she really didn’t want to eat) She still, up until the end, helped the girls with their homework every day. She loved her time to have them read to her. Yet still, she had time to go on a cruise, go to Disney a couple of times, swim with the dolphins, ride an elephant and help fix an orphanage in Cambodia. Yet still, she had time to sit and talk with me from time to time, and laugh and remind me not to take myself too seriously and remind me that one person really can change the world. Yet still, she had time to love on a Tasmanian devil puggle puppy named Jake and a serene mutt named Serena. Yet still, she put other people’s needs before her own. As she got sicker and sicker, even if she could barely keep her eyes open, she didn’t turn visitors away. She said that they needed to say goodbye to her or they needed to see her. Not that she needed to see them, but that they needed to see her.
She told me that I needed to learn to play again. She told me that she was worried for her kids, but felt good that they were going to have us in their lives. Then, she laughed and said that we have to put up with them through their teenage years and she doesn’t. But, she said she also doesn’t get to see them grow up.
In the last week or so of her life, Ellen’s life partner asked me to write Ellen’s eulogy. Of course I would write it, but I had doubts: I have only been close to her for about 11 years, what about all those years before? Will someone be offended that they were not chosen? Can I get through it without completely breaking down into a blubbering mess? Can I do her justice? Can I write about Ellen without having it only center on my relationship with her? Can I leave room in the eulogy for other people’s grief? Can I make the girls and Annie know how Ellen cherished them? Can I explain how Ellen changed the world?
All these doubts, yet I felt like it was a sacred honor to be asked to do the eulogy. I really wanted to finish it so that Ellen could hear what I was going to say about her. I wanted her to understand what she meant to the world and to me. I wrote about 5 different versions of the eulogy, then finally, took the very best of them all, took a lot of myself out of it, added some changes that Annie requested, and cried a hundred times during the writing. I was unusually crabby and quiet at work, and my coworkers came to understand why, and let me be in that space.
The reason why all of this is related to my not writing on my blog is that, all I wanted to write about or think about or pray about for months was Ellen and her partner and the girls. I didn’t write it here because Ellen used to read my blog faithfully and I felt like I needed to be strong to support her, not the other way around as seemed to happen so often, even when she was sick. Even when she was dying.
And then today, I said goodbye to another dear friend. I held him and his wife, also a dear friend, in the light of love and joy and I sang him home. And I grieve with her and laugh at our memories of him. And I miss him fiercely already.
But, I believe that somewhere, Walt and Ellen are dancing together, perhaps in the glow of the Northern lights, or in the sound of a cello.