Dream a Little Bigger
December 21, 2008 by donnatrussell
Yesterday I saw open grief at a memorial service for a friend. I can’t tell you how refreshing that was.
Photographer and Kansas City Star restaurant critic Lauren Chapin had just turned 50 when she basically dropped dead at the gym. Lauren was a trim, energetic, happy wife and mother of two teenaged daughters she adored.
She was in perfect health, everyone thought. But she had a previously undiagnosed condition, an aneurysm/AVM. The first symptom proved fatal.
At Lauren’s 100-percent no-BS memorial service, I saw tears, confusion and longing. A little regret that there was no time to say goodbye, no time to at least try to express the inexpressible.
Because of the family’s generosity and the quick action of doctors, Lauren’s organs went to desperate patients somewhere. The family was grateful for this thin silver lining.
I did not see anger. I did not hear rationalization. I did not sense false optimism.
One daughter said: Mom, I thought you’d live to be 100. The other said: Mom, I thought you’d live forever. Several people said: Don’t forget to tell people you love them. Don’t forget to give your loved ones hugs and kisses every day.
A friend told how Lauren’s cell phone was constantly ringing, and how annoying the chirping-birds ringtone could get. Breaking down, she added: What I would give to hear those birds again.
Some five years ago Lauren’s husband Tim lost a younger sister to cancer despite the complete absence of risk factors. Tim’s 39-year-old sister lived just five months after her diagnosis. A story from Tim’s eloquent eulogy for his sister ended up in my blog a few months ago: I’m Too Special to Get Cancer.
A pancreatic cancer patient spoke of an invisible wall. She could see her brothers and sisters at the foot of her hospital bed. “I don’t want to be on this side of the wall,” she said. “I want to be on the other side, with all of you.”
Yesterday at Lauren’s service, the wish for some time to say goodbye was palpable. Even a few painful weeks. Our minds reject a model of illness so sudden and final. There’s supposed to be a dark cloud of symptoms, the anxiety of tests, the dread of the diagnosis and the slim hope of a second opinion.
Of course none of that would be a picnic, but it gives time. Time to hold someone’s hand in a doctor’s waiting room. Time to cry together. Time to look at old photographs. Time to tell stories and laugh. Time for final words to loved ones who will then take those words to their own graves.
We can’t accept illness as a dropping anvil, and then nothing.
And yet, she could have died in a car accident. Anyone can. So why does Lauren’s death feel so wrong, I asked a family member.
We decided it was because every day we buckle our seat belts. Every day we watch traffic. Every day we’re reminded we could be hit by a car that comes out of nowhere. But even then, we picture injury. Maybe life-threatening injury.
But we stubbornly cling to the idea of a few weeks or days—hell, even a few hours—to kiss loved ones on the forehead and say what a privilege it was to walk the earth with them.
Yesterday the irony of the moment seemed lost on noone. How could death come to someone so adventurous and embracing of the here and now? Lauren was not wealthy, but she found ways to study at Oxford during her college years and, throughout her life, travel the world.
One coworker told of a quick foray into a nearby shop of South American imports. Lauren and her friend went their separate ways in the store, but came back together holding the same pair of $149 boots. The friend, noting the high price, tried to inject some reason into the discussion, but Lauren finally ended it all with: “Life is short. We’re awesome. We deserve it.”
The grieving family did not get the chance to say goodbye to Lauren. But maybe Lauren was saying goodbye every day by the gutsy way she lived. As her sister put it, Lauren’s main legacy was: Say yes. Say yes to life.
As a proud contrarian, I’m known for my disdain of the positive-thinking dogma that’s rammed down everyone’s throat. But in Lauren’s honor, I’ll do a double backflip and be a contrarian on being a contrarian. Or at least I promise to try.
I will try to dream a little bigger. If Lauren were here, I’d bet she’d say, with a smile: I dare you.
That's Very Sad.... but it is sad for those we leave behind. For us, it is peace.
Don't worry I am not going to off myself. But I am just saying... it is peace. Regardless of where you get your info... it's peace.
I'm looking forward to it... the peace. If it is possible I will miss a good number of you... but we'll meet again. (maybe)
okay, I am going to go... buy some Kansas you punk! or don't...