The days after Lisa Korthals died, the weather was crazy. I pulled wood in from the woodshed, and felt as if the erratic moodiness in the air, the sudden graupel, the return of the sun, the swirl of snow, was caused by her raging spirit, unsettled, unwilling to let go, to leave her life, her friends, her boy. He’s 12, sweet, lovely. How could she possibly go yet? It felt as if she were trying to move the heavens to get back to him. My son is 5. I imagine my own horror at being forced to leave him. And I felt silenced by it all. By the hugeness, the gapingness, the awfulness, of it. I would go to a notebook, a screen, and try and write something. And all that made sense was silence.
Out in the storm-swirl, only three thoughts rose up, like wild prayers to her. I thought: I hope you weren’t afraid. I hope your brother came to walk you across the line. I hope your friends rally around Tye and remind him, and each other, and the whole entire world, every day, who you were. And why thousands of people are rocked by this loss.
And last night, when, I sat on the floor at Lisa’s celebration of life, in a room overflowing with love and tears, a thousand people or more, I thought, okay then. You can go. Do you sense that too? We’ll shoulder this sorrow, we’ll carry this loss. It feels heavy. But your work is done. You can lay it all down now. You’re okay to go.
Outside my window today, the day is grey, quietly raining. Wrung out. Everything is still.
I’ve heard people say, as they share news of sudden death or tragedy, “go home and hug your loved ones.” I always wondered why that caught at me like a burr. It’s a fine sentiment, right? My aversion to cliché can’t be that strong. But it jarred, regardless.
Then I read this: “Death, whether your own or others, can be a powerful gateway to complete tenderness.” (Zenju Earthly Manuel)
There it is. Lean towards complete tenderness. Not selective tenderness. Don’t just hug your loved ones, who you should be hugging every day anyway. Embrace everyone. Hug the people you interact with, if not literally, then with your interactions. Smile at strangers, hold the door open, lean into tenderness to every other human you cross paths with. Tell friends or acquaintances that you admire them or appreciate them. That’s what we should be doing in response. Leaning in to tenderness. That’s what death urges upon us.
That’s what Korthals did.
She kissed people on the lips.
She was generous with her love and energy, at ease with herself, and that ease spilled forth into being easy with everyone. And people responded to it, because as simple as it seems, it’s so rare.
“There was not one person who could walk away from her wondering, ‘Did she love me or didn’t she?'” says Wendy Brookbank. “Everybody knew she loved them, and especially her family.”
My next door neighbour unexpectedly texted me yesterday at 2pm, the day of Lisa’s celebration of life, offering to look after my son, so we could go.
13 years ago, Korthals cultivated that kind of neighbourhood around her – the old guard of Whistler ski-bum legends, all raising babies up and down the street, and being that extension of family for each other.
Me? I was blown away by my neighbour’s offer, and the logistics it took, and the way it seems that the world is conspiring to chip away at my (inherited, generations-deep, deeply programmed) “self-reliance” and “self-containment” and stoicness.
I’m riding Lisa’s coat-tails. Following the trails she blazed.
Community is what keeps us afloat, emailed a friend, with a message of condolence. And it’s so true. Yet we only really become part of it when we fall short, fall apart, fall down, need help.
Until we need help, we don’t really understand what community is. I didn’t. I was always community-minded. But I never felt part of one. Until I was incapable of doing everything on my own.
At one of my earliest visits with my midwives, 6 years ago, now, they said: “You are going to need help, so you need to start practicing asking for it now. I detect that might be a challenge for you. So get started.”
Over these past years, I have evolved into a “weaker” individual, less capable and contained, and become a flawed member of a shape-shifting community, a person living a much richer, more robust life, as a node in a big network.
That network felt so strong and beautiful last night, and it seemed so apparent to me that Lisa had long known it. And had been feeding it all along.
There are so many things to admire about Korthals, and to lament about this loss. But that is the one that hangs on the hardest. That, when you feel at ease in who you are, that easiness overflows, and you co-create a tribe so huge that your work in the world is able to continue, long after you’ve crossed the line.