One thing all of us will do is die. Last weekend I was able to be with a friend, Victoria, as she transitioned, and it was heartbreakingly beautiful.
In class the week before, I talked about the practice of dying in savasana (typically the last pose in a yoga class.) Savasana translates in English to “the seat of a corpse.” Sometimes I talk about savasana as a time of rest or integration, but it is also an opportunity to practice surrender. Death is the ultimate surrender.
What was beautiful about my friend’s death was her readiness to surrender. She was complete. She was at peace with her life. She was able to say all the things she needed to say. She was not afraid.
It was heartbreaking because her body experienced a lot of pain. Also, knowing soon we would not have our senses or our bodies to connect with each other brought grief. I miss her voice, the way she looked at people, her smile and her hugs.
After she passed, I felt a spaciousness around me like she was everywhere. A week later I walked through the woods at Seward Park crying and I felt her in the trees. At the same time I cling to the last voicemail and text message I got from her because it is a connection to her limited human self to which I am still attached.
My grief is heartbreaking, but also beautiful. I am lucky I got to spend more than a decade with her as my friend and my grief is connected to the beautiful love we shared. I am surrendering to this grief and to that love.
May all beings die fearlessly. May all beings die with emotional ease. May all beings die with physical ease. May all beings die peacefully.
Here are the words I had the opportunity to share at her graveside service:
Victoria and I met on yoga teacher training over a decade ago. At the end of that training she gave me a jar of homemade jam. I didn’t know at the time how much she would share with me and teach me through our friendship. Victoria taught me about seeing the good. She could look at any situation, no matter how dire, and find something redeeming. And she meant it. People were good and she believed in them all.
Victoria taught me about laughter and joy. Our adventures in the wilderness with Stephanie and Tristan, also know as Team JAC (Just Around the Corner,) were always so fun because of Victoria. While we were laughing hysterically from exhaustion, swimming in mountain lakes or she was fixing my broken backpack with dental floss, she taught this Midwest suburban kid how to be immersed in nature and fall in love with it even more.
Victoria taught me about being a good dog mama. I remember the day she got Hugo and brought him to my house. He took over my dog’s bed and fell fast asleep. In the years of knowing her as Hugo’s mom I learned about kind, compassionate boundaries, the unconditional love that comes from that special relationship and when to freak out and not freak out.
Victoria taught me about trusting life and taking risks. From leaving her full-time job as a PT to start her private yoga therapy practice to falling madly in love with Laurie these last few years. She let life lead her and she was good at saying yes to whatever life brought.
Victoria taught me to care for others deeply. Her love for others shown through in her constant care of those around her. She would start up a conversation with anyone and everyone, look people in the eye and be fully present. Even in the last few days of her life she was there lovingly for everyone who came to be with her. She shared that she was complete with every person in her life and was open to hearing what others needed to say so they could feel complete. She always took time to be with people from a full, open-hearted and unconditionally loving place, whether they were family, friend, a student, a patient, neighbor, or just a fellow hiker on the trail.
When Victoria was first diagnosed with cancer she taught me about vulnerability, honesty and being open to support. We cried together, talked about our fears and our hopes, the painful realities of treatment, and she was able to share clearly both how we could help and how she wanted to continue to support herself. She taught me about the sweet balance of maintaining independence and agency and allowing others to hold and care for her.
Victoria taught me how to live and how to die; mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We talked about death openly and honestly from day one of her diagnosis. Her brother Andy told me, “She helped me more than I helped her through her passing.” That is true for me too. Victoria taught me about feeling complete, being ready for the next adventure and being fully present to the moment, no matter how painful or how beautiful.
Victoria told me there is no death. She was not afraid to die because as she said, she knew she was passing through and emerging into pure love and consciousness. So every time I see love I see Victoria. From the sunrise, to the redwood tree outside her and Laurie’s home, to the raccoons who greeted me in the driveway after she passed, to the whales, to Hugo, to even my grief. Each tear I shed is a testament to that pure love and consciousness we share, which means she is right here with me and with all of us now and always.