Image credit: Abigail holds a bird given to her by her medical team.
It's given in honor of finishing her last round of chemotherapy and with the message, "Spread your wings and fly." From her Facebook photo album.
“Where’s the pizza?” my husband asks.
We eat dinner out. He wants to make sure one of us brought the leftovers in from the car and put them in the refrigerator.
“I don’t know,” I respond from my reading chair as he walks over and takes the pizza box resting under my book off of my lap.
He smiles gently though doesn’t mention that I still have my sunglasses on. I notice that when it’s hard to read while squinting over Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem about night travelers who search the darkness instead of running from it (Search the Darkness, The Pocket Rumi, edited by Kabir Helminski, p. 53).
I’m dwelling on the part where Rumi says that night travelers are full of light.
Here it is again: adversity is a harvest opportunity. Those night travelers are full of light from a practice of softening and opening while in the darkness of pain.
I think about Abigail, and that she knows about this type of harvest. (I meet her about a year and a half before she is diagnosed with cancer and while I am in treatment for lymphoma. I’m now stable.)
She just died.
Abigail passed from complications during an autologous stem cell transplant. She is thirty-one.
I’m sad and shocked. I knew she was very sick. I knew about stem cell rescue statistics. So why does her passing feel sudden and unexpected?
Because she thought, spoke, and lived like she wasn’t sick. Well, it’s more than that. She lived a moment as the best ever, even at her sickest. She had that kind of life-loving spirit.
Even when her stem cells are being drawn to save for re-entry later, her “no big deal, I can do this, wait, I can do this with humor and acceptance” comes through. As if giving a White House tour, in a video she says:
“Welcome! Here I am at the hospital…blood being drawn. Stem cells! As you can see, I have a corner view.” She gestures to large windows and raises her eyebrows in jollity, making me wonder if she’s at a five-star hotel. With a click of her tongue, a nod, and grin, she closes with an Edward R. Murrow mimic. “Good luck and good night.” Then she smiles like an Olympian who has already won a gold medal.
And just a few weeks ago when her healthy stem cells were being reintroduced into her body, a group of nurses gather to sing happy birthday. Abigail opened to the love, raised her arms, and directed their song as if conducting a choir.
Abigail was happy.
Overflowing happy. I see it in her short simple videos: a close-up glee of a sparkler aflame, pleasure in seeing rowing crews glide by on a river outside her window, sounds of the Pacific lapping on the shoreline, a recording of her beloved Stanton’s Daffy Duck voice. And the video of a butterfly visit and request: “Butterfly, tell me your secrets.”
I think that butterfly gleaned from Abigail’s secrets. That black and white swallowtail probably flits by for insight about how she lives and loves. How she makes people feel. (Like the person before her is the most important in the world.)
Her happiness is evident in our conversations. Even ones about tough topics.
We talk about how both her brother and my son die unexpectedly. She says, “You know how when someone dies they’re still here?” I smile and tell her about the day a hummingbird flies into my school classroom and lands at my feet when I am in early grief about my son’s passing. Her face lights up as if she knows that bird. She speaks with a heart-connected sparkle in her eye, “I feel my brother nearby like that.” And then we share beautiful and quirky ways we’ll visit loved ones after passing on.
She calls around the end of June.
She talks about the coming stem cell capture procedure. She’s thinking a lot about that. Well, not that exactly. She’s thinking about love. And those who love her.
She hopes so much that they feel her love. I listen to what I believe is one of the most precious soliloquies I’ve ever heard about her deep and abiding love. Her voice sings in joy.
She loves them and she knows they love her. She can feel it. It’s like nothing else matters. There is nothing else to do.
I feel like I’m part of a privileged awareness.
I take in her message.
She thanks me for listening and ends with what she tells everyone she meets, “I love you so much.”
I miss Abigail. I think of all those people missing her right now. Her fearless journey reminds me that love enlarges when I face difficulty with an open heart in community with others. Her passing invites a high calling: face your joy and despair at once.
With inner brilliance beacons, Abigail shows us how.