This time last year, I was writing obituaries. I wrote a lot of them.
This month, I’ve been grateful for the ability of other people to put some of the grief and loss swirling through our community into words. It’s the thing about loss – it knocks the wind out of you, and with it, all the words, all the insight, all the security.
Last summer, there were a couple of times I’d be out riding my bike, and I would think suddenly about the late skier and guide Lisa Korthals. As if she were with me. At my shoulder, coaxing me on. And then I felt sheepish. Who am I to imagine Lisa would whisper to me? There are so many other people her spirit would attach to, first, right? It wouldn’t have time for me, a looser acquaintance, a less dear one, amongst all those others with a greater claim.
That scarcity mindset sure is hard to kick.
After my landlord, Village of Pemberton Councillor Lynda Chandler, died, almost 15 years ago, I drove home from her memorial, where a Japanese garden had been planted in Pioneer Park in her honour, emotionally wrung out. I remembered Lynda sharing a night she had struggled to come to terms with her cancer, and her imminent obliteration, and literally screamed at the sky. How I had loved her for the ability to put that into words, her everyday vulnerability and ease with sharing that. How I had loved her for her quiet professionalism at the Credit Union where she vouched for people as decent and worthy of a loan, even if their credit rating wasn’t up to snuff. How many people in this community got their foot in the door because of her quiet advocacy?
How far does a person’s influence extend? How can it be traced, once their work is out in the world, spilled beyond their body, their immediate sphere.
I read through comments on Dave and Tessa Treadway’s freerange.family instagram account after Dave died, and it struck me that one of his most profound legacies just might be giving so many men, who he had never met, permission to do the riskiest thing of all and love their families, to soften into fatherhood, and treat it as an adventure and an absolute blessing. Not just people in his more direct community, not just people who encountered him, but complete strangers who were drawn in by his authenticity and heart. Mapping that impact looks like a sky lit up with constellations, all connected, continuing on far beyond the limits of our vision.
That day 15 years ago, as I drove home from Chandler’s memorial, I felt the hollow ache of loss, of never seeing her again, and wondered: where is she now? And, as if inspired by Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials books, I saw it in my mind, a ripple of glitter, a great murmuration of magical dust dissipating into the air, and thought: she was now everywhere. She had dissolved.
I understood the moment when Lynda Chandler had sensed her own demise and railed against it. My ego, too, chafes, at the complete obliteration of Lisa Richardson. I’m kinda fond of her. It’s hard to imagine the world is able to continue merrily without me, because, I have never known the world, apart from through me, through this vehicle of me, my body, my experiences, this Lisa Richardson-shaped vessel.
And yet, it will.
And my vessel, this body-container, will dissolve, decompose, back to atoms, back to dust, and what is contained in it, the essence, the essential, the stuff of spirit and life force and animation and the ineffable will be released, and it won’t stay stuck together as one lumpen mass, because there will be no container to hold it together. It will dissipate like dandelion fluff, and yet each dust-bit will be everything, each dust-bit will not be 1/1,000,000,000,000th of me, it will be all of me. And I will be reminded of the truth of abundance because I will be everywhere, in everything, amongst everything, moving with it and through it, and I will able to hover over my son’s shoulder, at my husband’s side, and I will be able to check in on everyone I’ve ever loved or known, and follow the bees in my old garden to the wild hive they take my flowers’ nectar to that I’ve never seen, and I will be able to follow the leaf that my son threw in the creek past where it went out of sight, and then I’ll follow the water droplets and I will be able to chase every single bit of my curiosity all the way to the end and I won’t run out of time or be distracted or need to choose or focus or pick one or suffer fomo because I’ll be everywhere, and all the lightness will be me.
And so, of course Korthals has been riding at my shoulder, coaxing me on. Of course, I can call her spirit to me, without taking anything away from her son, her husband, her brother, her best friend, and all the other people walking through their days with a great gaping hole in it.
That is what was swelling in my heart this week as I drove away from a quick coffee with my friend, who had flown out to speak at Dave’s memorial. Who knows what it means to hold space for the loss. Who expressed something kind, that made me say, “thank you for not waiting until I’m dead to say something like that.” While I have this body, I will do the things that only an embodied being can do: I will hug people fiercely and unashamedly declare my love for them, I will dance with the trees regardless of how crazy it makes me look, and pedal my bike up the hills until my lungs burn. I will do my best to notice the signs of aging with curiosity, instead of indignation, and an immense gratitude for the fact that I am here to experience this. I will do my best to let things land in my body, instead of sweeping them away – the kind word that is easier to duck, the true insight that sends tingles across my scalp, the hilarious joke that makes my head feel full of beer foam – all light and bubbly, the hot coal of rage at injustice that gags in my throat, the gaping loss that sits like a rock on top of my chest.
Endings are so hard. And some days, some years, when all you seem to write is obituaries, it feels as if everything is ending, imminently. But I trust in the shimmer-dust. There is too much in each of us to be contained forever.