There was a weekend this month that has changed me.
It was the weekend of my beautiful sister-in-laws’ Celebration of Life.
That Saturday my husband and I flew in to Phoenix with extended family. We arrived in time to change and head over to the place we all were gathering in order to remember her and say goodbye as a group. My husband was one of the ones speaking. It was, as most times such as this are, a day of deep emotions.
The eulogies to Tessie were expressive of who she had been, catching her personality, her humor, her strength, her sharp wit, her intelligence, and most of all, her love for life and those who surrounded her in it. It was a day to honor her, and it did that in spades as we wept and laughed together. There were at least 200 to 250 people there, and as the church slowly filled up, my heart also slowly filled up with both pain at missing her and gratitude for seeing how many others missed her also.
Tessie left behind a large legacy, and it was a legacy of love.
Every person there had a story of how she’d made them feel special and important, simply by being herself. Every person there had a story of how she’d made them laugh at just the right moment, or had a shoulder for them to cry on, or looked them in the eye and called them on their BS and helped them become a better person.
As the stories unfolded, there was one theme that kept repeating: how she lived as she desired and made no apologies for anything. What you see was what you got with Tessie, straight up. And she expected the same from those around her. They spoke of how, by being exactly what she was, she made everyone around her feel welcome, comfortable, and encouraged to do and be the same.
She lived in happiness, she lived in laughter, she lived in joy of the moment – and if there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s that she lived with no regrets. This woman literally changed the world around her, one person at a time, into a better place.
That Saturday I wept as I listened to my brother-in-law stand before us with words choking in his throat as he said goodbye to his long-time wife and the love of his life.
She was an amazing woman. She was my sister. She was my friend. And damn it, I miss her. Her death sucks, I’m not going to candy-coat it, it’s wrong that she’s gone.
Just because I believe she still exists, that she is never truly gone, that there is something beyond this physical reality, doesn’t mean I’m not upset she’s not here.
Every stage of grief cycled through my system like a whirlpool, by the end of the day when I finally went to bed, I was drained and spent from it. And all I could think as my mind and body shut down every system into a blessed blackness was; “Death sucks.”
It was also the weekend of another kind of life celebration – my nephews’ wedding.
Sunday morning we woke at the crack of dawn and flew back to California. We ended up in Ventura with extended family and friends just in time to change for the celebration of a marriage. My husband was one of the ones playing music for the ceremony. It was, as such times are, a day of deep emotions.
The venue was beautiful, the music my husband played even more so, the bride the most beautiful of all. Friends and family told stories that made us laugh and delight in the couple.
They told of how the bride is a person who is so very much her own, strong, independent woman with wit and humor and intelligence, and how by simply being herself she makes all of those around her feel special. How she makes them feel more confident and relaxed in being who they are also. How her legacy in life is to love.
The theme for the wedding was in keeping with the time of year they chose to have it: the bride and groom were represented by skeletons in the cards and on the “cake” table (really a huge cookie since that’s what they loved). The theme of death and Halloween played out in the wedding decorations and favors and even costumes some of the guests and even father-of-the-bride wore. As I looked at them, I smiled. How could I not? The beautiful balance of it all blew me away.
That Sunday I wept as I listened to my nephew stand before us with words choking in his throat as he welcomed his new wife and love into his life.
The dancing and the celebration of this marriage went long into the night, the joy welling up and spilling out onto everyone in cleansing waves, filling me up until I sloshed and overflowed with it. And all I could think as my mind slowly drifted into the comforting warmth of sleep was; “Life is so good.”
The lesson here is the obvious one. The cycle of life and death and life were presented to me with acute clarity that weekend. And I welcomed it. I cherished it.
As emotionally and physically exhausting as it was, there was a beauty and a blessing in these two events happening back-to-back. That it happened in October, the month where we as a culture have a holiday surrounding death, was a significant synchronicity for me.
Death, as we know, is the ultimate transition. It is inescapable – every single one of us will experience it. As my husband says, Life causes Death. There’s no getting around it. That weekend, I had to look it in the eye and accept it.
Yet I was also presented with another fact: that life – that love – continues on. Within it, though it is not the same as that which just passed away, many of the same elements of what we loved before can and do remain. And they will introduce themselves to us in a new form.
It honors those who have gone on, it allows their legacies of love to grow, when we choose to have hope, to move forward, to keep living, and to enjoy all that we have right here, right now in this life at this moment. They will never get to breathe in this air, or see that ocean, or smell those flowers, or hug that person, or dance that dance, or take that picture, or go to that wedding again. Ever.
But we can. We can in their honor. We can even as we miss them while we do it. We can. The message of the dead to us is always this: to LIVE.
Live. Not just for their sakes, but for your own. Live, be happy, find joy, have hope, enjoy yourself – for it all passes by so quickly.
That Monday I wept in gratitude as I held my husbands’ hand and walked along the beach with him, enjoying our life and our love together.
So I keep living. Even after death.
Jeanette Elaine Dubois
Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks. She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends. She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.
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