April 2, 2007

On No Sorrow


I've been avoiding this post for days, not wishing to fetishize the death of my friend, nor to question it away...nor to draw attention to myself as a great tribute-writer or some sort of paragon of "how to accept death with equanimity." Today the words will have their way.

Here's my sweet Betty, who passed away, her partner wrote, "with grace and beauty," out of pain and happy, on Friday night, March 30. This was the second bout of cancer in her body that I am aware of; after successful treatments for lesions in the brain last month, more lesions were found in her spine and she opted not to continue treatments. Hospice was called in and in her last days, Betty was surrounded by loved ones and, I like to think, other angels such as she.

Betty and I were not close in the way I used to think closeness meant: we had no weekly or even monthly phone calls or emails, we never visited each other at our homes or took trips together. We lived on opposite sides of the country for most of our acquaintance and hers was not the name that first came to mind in my times of need; yet I would gladly have flown to her bedside if called upon (and I understand she wanted no visitors). Instead I sent Reiki, love notes and photos.

She told a friend she would love a call from me; I didn't call in time. I'm not sad about it; I realized any desire to speak to her was not for her but for me. Our last words were exchanged many months before her diagnosis and I am sure they were loving words, as ours always were to each other. Now I can talk to her whenever I want to...and I do.

Betty and I bonded not simply over The Work but over our mutual passion for writing. She was a talented essayist and wanted to write about The Work for publication, as I had done. She sent me her gems for editing and critique; she struck me as so generous and ego-less with the things she loved.

At a School for The Work, some of the staff staged a skit based on The Sound of Music, called "The Sound of Questions." (Guess who played the Mother Superior?!) As "Sister Willingnessa," Betty gave an adorable performance as an innocent nun who sees the light of her own truth while inquiring into the Ten Commandments with "Sister Katie."

"But I don't covet anyone's wife!"
"Go in, sister..."
"Oh...oh now I see...my mother was a wife and (crying) I wanted my mother to love meeeeeee!"

It was just a few seconds' worth of dialog but she was so sweet and engaging, I will never forget it.

A friend who was at her bedside wrote, "Betty is teaching me to live through her dying." What I can say is that Betty taught me how to live through her living. Knowing her, she didn't miss out on one precious second of her last days of life. As someone who is "alive," I cannot say the same for myself yet. When I got the news of Betty's diagnosis, I had her in the grave immediately; for a little while, believing my thoughts about illness and death, I was under the ground while she, so clearly, was living a full life. While she was still in treatment, she wrote me that a core of peace always remained untouched by drugs and hospital visits and the mental fogginess that occurs with brain cancer. And, she said, it took hard work to stay focused on recovery. I love that she knew when to stop, that she never gave herself anything less than the best that was available.

The day prior to Betty's passing, I felt weak and experienced lower body aches from an impending flu. I kept thinking how she'd be so graceful and present with that pain and it has helped me to be with the discomfort without war. (WWBD: "What Would Betty Do?") That night, as a friend and I were talking about her on the telephone, we simultaneously experienced Betty in us, as us. Here as my very self she remains, so abundantly present that I cannot grieve her death or miss her.

Rest well, sweet Sister Willingnessa. I love you so much.


©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Mona said...

I remember sitting with Betty on the floor in the back of the meeting room at one of the public events at the end of the School.

We chatted about facilitating, exchanged email addresses, and she complimented me on the work I was doing.

It was really nice hanging out with her on the floor. It was like we were two friends chillin in the grass at a great concert.