My friend Heather died on Friday, May 11.
I keep saying this to myself over and over. I write in my journal, “Heather is dead.” I get home from work and ask my wife, “Is Heather still dead?”
She had been sick for quite some time. She’d weathered several medical crises and hospitalizations over the past five years or so and always made it through. This time, though, she just slipped away, in her sleep, at home. I think this is what she would have preferred.
I’m not unfamiliar with the work of dying and death. I know how this works. I know that there is no meritocracy in death. I know there’s no use in thinking that it’s unjust that shitty people get to be alive while the kindest, sweetest, most loving person I have ever known had to die. And yet. This is where my mind has kept traveling since I got the news Friday afternoon.
We became friends 21 years ago. She was deeply spiritual. She converted to the Catholic Church as an adult. She was a Catholic of the pro-choice, social justice variety–the best kind, in my Catholic-turned-Episcopalian opinion. Heather was a modern day mystic, an intuitive, receiving messages from the Holy Spirit and the saints. She saw angels. This was her lived experience and I believe every single bit of it. She always seemed to me to have one foot here and one foot in the other world. Now she’s in that other world, that other place, both feet firmly planted, fully present.
My shaky belief in the afterlife was made much more definitive after watching my mother-in-law die at home in our living room almost two years ago. One minute she was there; the next she wasn’t. Her vital life force was gone. Where did it go? It went somewhere else, clearly. It was impossible that the essence of her just evaporated or disappeared. It went to that other place, with the ancestors and the saints and angels and everyone else.
Heather’s husband told me the approximate time window when she died on Friday. At that time on Friday, my day off, I was arriving home from running errands and having lunch with my wife. My wife unloaded bags of mulch from the car, and then I swung by the public library to pick up a book, and then I went to therapy. During all of that time, I was being really ordinary, just living my life, being an active and living person. And Heather was dying. How? How is that possible? I don’t get it.
And ultimately, it doesn’t matter that I don’t get it. It happened anyway, regardless of my ability to comprehend it.
Heather’s husband is arranging a Catholic funeral for Heather, which is precisely what she would want, at the church where they got married. Her husband’s faith tradition is not Christian, so he has asked me to help select the readings for her funeral Mass. This is such an honor, to do this for her, to get to do this for her. I know that she would want me to be involved in this. I know this in my bones. I was her only bridesmaid at this church when she got married nearly 12 years ago, and now I’m continuing to serve in a supportive role for her in this same church. What an honor. It makes me almost breathless to think about it.
The major thing I want to tell the world about my friendship with Heather was that I loved her so much, and she loved me, too. That’s it. I always, always, always felt so very deeply loved by her. She loved me for who I was. Her love had no conditions, no strings attached. I always knew where I stood with her.
I want to love like she did, fiercely, purely, unconditionally.
Her husband and mother have told me this repeatedly since Friday:
“you were so special to her”
“you must be having a hard time, too”
“she loved you so much”
Oh God, I loved her too.