Kathy Cramer. She was one of my mom’s first friends in St. Louis, and because we had no other family in the area, she became our chosen family. She was often at our table on holidays- stopping by my parent’s house for a drink, or just dropping off the perfect present to my boys for no reason at all. She always smelled great, looked beautiful, and hugged me fiercely. I always liked Kathy. She was kind, and good, and made me feel special. She brought with her delicious food, engaging conversation, and a contagious, positive energy.
Breast cancer made us closer. I had it. She had it. Different stages. Different treatment plans. But the same cancer. We shared text messages, conversations, and the hope that both of us would be well again.
Last week as I drove to the ICU. I knew I would be saying goodbye.
And all that energy, and sparkle that she had always radiated, was gone. She was dying. I have never seen someone dying before. It is not like the movies. It is not peaceful, and pretty. It is raw, and hard to look at, and scary . . . and real. I watched my mom and her friends whisper their goodbyes. I watched her nephew stroke her face. I watched her husband hold her hand, and kiss her head. I watched her chest rise and fall, each breath was a battle.
She died later that night.
And it all feels like it happened in a blink of an eye. She was just here. She was this force, this fire, this light. How is that possible that she is gone?
How is it possible that we are all here, and then in a blink, we’re not?
It feels impossible to digest. And yet, it is the only thing we know to be true about life: it ends. We are all going to die. It is a truth, a reality. And yet, it shocks us, surprises us, knocks us down, and leaves us shaking our heads and hands. How can she be gone?
Today was her funeral. And to say that it was magic, might sound strange, but it was: it was magic. It was inspiring, and devastating, and joyful. It was beautiful and full of such a sweet sorrow. It was, as her husband named it: a “celebration of impact”.
Kathy spent her life’s work as writer, a motivational speaker, an innovator, and a risk-taker who developed a organization that focused on the impact of being positive. I watched her TED Talk recently, and she tells the audience not to stay in the negative for too long, to move it aside and say, “besides from all of that, I can solve this anyway.” And somehow even though her closest family members, friends, and husband were beyond devastated with the loss of Kathy’s life, they focused on the positive.
They focused on their memories, on their gratitude for knowing her. On their ability to see the extensive reach of her wisdom. Instead of focusing on her death, they focused on her life.
Is it possible to be lifted up at funeral? To be inspired, and motivated, and to leave feeling grateful? Is it possible for her husband to stand up – on what will probably be the saddest day of his life – and so gracefully speak of his love? Yes. Her funeral was magic.
It is true that we will all die.
But it is also true that Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another.
And it has to be true that Kathy was there today, in the music that left us with chills, in the magic that left us hopeful and motivated to walk out into the summer air, and in the moments that left us feeling the weight of death, and the hope of love.
As the lines of a Mary Oliver poem read at her funeral say “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
It is a blessing, and a burden to remember these truths. We are blessed with this “one wild and precious life,” and we are burdened with the question: “what is it you plan to do?”
Kathy and I spoke about how cancer brings you a certain clarity. A new lens to look through. How the depth of the small stuff sticks with you. How your ability to notice and recognize beauty intensifies.
And Kathy lived all the way up until she died. She recognized her one “wild and precious life” and she did great things.
Today I left her funeral wondering what risks I will be willing to take? What leaps of faith will I be willing to make? What will I do with my one “wild and precious life”? The teacher in me thought about working backwards with the end in mind.
I too, want a funeral, that’s magic.