27 April 2014


We are driving through the New Zealand landscape in the slanting late afternoon sunlight. The dads—my father and Michael are in the front seat; the kids—Aidan and I are in the back. This was a spur of the moment weekend trip to see Rob and Dani on the other side of the country. We have been meaning to get there forever and had hoped to go next week but the schedule got messed up and suddenly this weekend was the only chance to go.  The next round of chemo is looming (one week from tomorrow) and I know that my windows open and close here.

But traveling—even a road trip—during chemo is somewhat daunting. I woke up Saturday morning to a sore throat and stuffy nose, the sort of cold that is a common visitor in the winter. But during chemo, a cold is frightening because I have no immune system, and a cold can turn into a threatening illness without notice. The doctors and nurses in the chemo clinic always ask what the dangerous temperature is: 38 Celsius. Hit 38 and it’s time to go to the hospital instantly. So into the car bag went the vitamins for the day, the new shawl from Sue that I don’t let out of my sight, water to keep me ultra hydrated, a choice of head coverings (from warm beanies to soft scarves to a wig) and the thermometer to take my temperature frequently to be sure the cold didn’t turn dangerous.
At home I have been amazed at how regular I feel, how healthy and strong. I walk in the hills with Melissa each day. I cook dinner (and inedible sugar and flour free desserts) at night. I edit my book and talk to clients and meet with my partners. I feel like my old self. Setting off into the wilds of New Zealand, I suddenly felt fragile and exhausted—and sick. I needed to guard myself from the sun, from the wind, from the cold. I needed to decide what head covering to wear in the car, through the towns, when we got out for breakfast. I noticed more strongly than usual how the taste of food seems to come to me from a long distance, as though I ate it with a paper wrapping on it muting its flavours. I was more struck by the ways I ached, how tired I get in the middle of the day, how bloodshot and dry my eyes are right now. I was surprised at how different I showed up to myself once we were away from home.
And at the same time, we had the sort of magical time I would expect with my dad and my family visiting our oldest friend in the house he loves so much. We went to the restaurant at the Craggy Range winery for a magnificent lunch in the sparkling sun and admired the grapevines turning red for autumn. We ate beautiful food at Rob and Dani’s house (ah the baba ganoush) and wandered across the farm they live on, chattering with the . This morning we walked through a farmers market teeming with colour and sound and flavor, around art deco Napier, and along beaches with rolling waves. Dad and I joked about how absurd it is to try and take pictures from a moving car, but how impossible to stop the car at every beautiful spot. We laughed and talked and walked and ate like old days.

This is the way life looks from here I guess. I am sick. I am fragile. You’re fragile too—we all are really. Being a human is a delicate business. And I am strong. I am resilient. You are too—it’s amazing to get up each day and get through all that needs to get done. I didn’t used to carry those two threads so consistently and simultaneously with me. I used to sometimes feel well and sometimes feel sick. And now I am more consistently both, leaning harder towards sick in the first week of chemo and leaning harder towards well in the later ones. But my shiny bald head is a constant reminder that I am not well, even in my healthiest days. And the chemo that makes me sick is supposed to be dealing with the cancer that would make me sicker. It’s all a tangle. I wonder if this tangled awareness is what Jonathan talked about as “healing.” Healing, he told me, is not a physical outcome; healing is emotional. And I wonder if for me healing is this constant understanding that life is neither about being sick nor well, strong nor fragile, but a tilting shifting slippery balance of each, using the braid of the two ideas to make me more full, more human somehow.

21 April 2014

A pain in the bones

The last glimpse of the sun today
Day 29. The last few days I have been emerging from the dark clouds of the first week and then dipping into the bone pain that comes from the belly shot a day or two after chemo. This shot decreases the number of days my white blood cell count is down—which is a potentially life saving move—but something about the way the cells turn over in the bone marrow makes my bones hurt in the most unusual and extraordinary way. This time I was more prepared for it, and it arrived just on time and felt familiar.  There are three core lessons from this that I think are worth exploring in the slanting light of this late afternoon.

The first thing I’m noticing today is that familiar pain is somehow easier than totally unfamiliar pain. Last time I freaked out about the pain in the bones. It’s wild and throbbing and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Who knew that you could feel your bone marrow? This time I saw the pain coming ahead of time, and it’s not quite that I welcomed an old friend, but I could just know it and understand it. It was clearly different this time, but it was familiar enough that it was recognizable.  I write a lot about complexity and uncertainty, and I can see here the ways that uncertainty ramps up my own experience of pain. Having a better sense of the path I might be walking—even if I can’t shape the path very much—helps me avoid getting lost in it. There is some important lesson here for me as a teacher and maybe for all of us as learners. This leads me to the second core thing I’ve learned this week…

...but sometimes it's more beautiful once the sun is down
Knowing the pain is temporary makes it much easier to bear. Now of course I know that chemo is temporary and so most of the side effects here are temporary. (I notice that the ones that linger past the treatment are the ones that frighten me the most.) But last time I felt the bone pain I had no idea how long it would stay—an hour? A day? A month? Three? It stayed about 30 hours last time (slightly longer this time, but with less severity.) Last week on one of the dark days, I got a card that actually quoted me to myself (you’re awesome in so many ways, Val, and now I smell so good) and the quote Val picked out (of mine) is about how things come and go. So obviously this is a thing I know, but it bears re-knowing (and reknowing and reknowing). Remembering that everything is temporary, that this pain will pass and this joy will pass and the sun will rise and set and rise again is maybe the most important thing I have to remember. It makes the delights in our life more precious (tonight’s spectacular sunset is a temporary and radiant jewel) and it makes the pain more bearable. I get into trouble when I think this terrible thing is the way my life will be in the future. When I can hold onto the fact that this will change, and this will change, and this will change, I am so much happier, even when I am aching badly.

The last thing I have been struck by this week is that our bodies are amazing. This is a time when the attention of many people turns to the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. I don’t know how you feel about that, but this week I have been awestruck by the miracle of our tiny daily rebirth, the wonder of bone marrow and wounds that heal and infections that our bodies cure. Really. I haven’t ever thought about my bone marrow before (how much thought to you give to yours?). I haven’t given enough thought to my white blood cells generally. This pain is a little reminder that makes object some of the things that are going on in the background all the time. Have you thought today about how miraculous it is that you breathe and your heart beats and your skin heals when you cut it? And you go to bed with a headache and you wake up without it? Yes, our bodies go wrong sometimes. Some people get sick and their immune systems fail and they die. Sometimes people get cancer. But mostly, for most people, most of the time, our bodies heal themselves. And I have been awash in gratitude that medicine has figured so much out, that we can find tumors and remove them, that we can inject our bodies with something that kills cancer and so dramatically increases our odds of living for more sunsets and more and more.
and then the light is gone for the day. But there's tomorrow...

So perhaps it isn’t a week for new discoveries. But walking in the hills, and listening to the sea, and editing the book I’m so proud of and eating healthy and yummy ginger cookies with a dear friend in the sunshine—all these make each moment crystalline, and each temporary delight a counterbalance to the inevitable—and fleeting—moments of darkness and pain. It is an extraordinary privilege to be alive. 

Totally delicious and utterly healthy ginger cookies

1 1/2 cups almond flour
1.5 oz butter, melted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
(1 tea blackstrap molasses--I don't use this but Melissa does)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda                                                                                                                              
1-2 tbs chopped crystallized ginger

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix until a thick batter is formed. Preheat the oven to 350F and drop the batter by teaspoons onto a baking sheet lined with a Silpat, or parchment paper. Flatten each dough mound, into your desired cookie thickness. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown around the edges, but still soft in the center. (We like these warm from the oven, so we only make enough to eat in one setting. We also like them tiny so we can have more, but you might like them bigger)

18 April 2014

Round two

From my last trip to Sydney
Day 26. The second first week of chemo was, as predicted, rougher than the first. Every symptom was a little tougher—the sore mouth, the cardboard taste, the mood swings, and oh my the exhaustion. Who knew my small frame could hold such exhaustion. I thought I might break apart from it all. But here, on the Friday of the (second) first week, I am emerging from a tunnel and feeling more myself, and I thought I’d give me a reminder of what was most helpful during a difficult week.

A card from friends. Two months ago, I got a present in the mail that had assorted delights, including a card for now and one that said FOR WHEN YOU NEED SOMETHING LATER. The card has been sitting on my desk, the envelope bleaching in the sun since then. Tuesday I needed something for sure, and it was perfect, a beautiful meditation on what it was to go into darkness and the power of knowing depression, sadness, anger. I found it astonishingly comforting and it felt like a gift to have the whispers of friends in my ear. How did you know what I would need next?

Oatmeal with Naomi. Each morning before first light, I’ve been getting up and having just about the only food that has appealed to me all week—steel cut oatmeal with lots of cinnamon and a little maple syrup. And homemade granola. (And the amino acid that is supposed to help my sore mouth.) We sit in the dark and talk about her day and eat warm and gentle breakfast and it feels whole and loving.

Talking with clients or colleagues. On several occasions this week I have headed into a coaching call with a client and I have wondered where I’d get the energy to be fully present for them.  And in every case, I was so much more filled with energy and enthusiasm and life afterward than before I talked with them. I am grateful each day that I love my work and that I have these interesting, smart and wonderful clients.

Essential oils sent with love. Wednesday, the day of the belly shot that really does pull me down, I got a package in the mail from a friend who put together a set of essential oils and mixed me some moisturizing cream to deal with some of the chemo symptoms. I’ve been wearing Cyprus oil (how awesome is it that the oil of one kind of tree is supposed to rebuild the white blood cells that the oil of another tree is dismantling) and touching peppermint to my temples. I might be bald, but I smell fantastic!

Hanging with family. My sister in law Laurie and niece Amanda are here this week, and even though the weather has been horrific, it has been like a warm hug to hear their voices in my house for the first time. They leave tomorrow, and then Dad comes next week and will stay through the worst days of the next first week.

Sinking into a good book. In this case, the one Keith and I have written that’s due—in its final form—to the publisher NEXT month. Geeze. I have big plans for it and not a lot of energy to carry out those plans, but it I am so excited about this book and so proud of it. It gives me energy to just think about reading it (though I often have to take a nap once I’ve read a chapter—I’m hoping this is chemo and it doesn’t happen to others…).

And I could go on.  My daily poem, part of my morning ritual each day as I put yesterday’s poem away and take today’s poem out. Each day a benediction, the marking of a day lived, another step through the chemo. A planning session with Keith for a client gig at the end of June when the next chapter has begun. A walk in the hills with Melissa this morning now that the rain has finally cleared.

Some days it is dark and it’s hard to get up. That used to be true even before the yew juice—surely you have days like that too. But in each case, there are glittering benefits, each of them touched with the sparkle of someone wonderful in my life. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

(Ironically, this week I posted more about the chemo experience itself on my work blog. You can check there if you're interested in some of the complexity implications of my chemo day...www.cultivatingleadership.co.nz)

12 April 2014


It is first light on Saturday morning, the time of day when all is black and white and then, slowly, grey and then, suddenly, the greys resolve into color.  Kapiti Island, which perches outside my study window, is missing this morning, covered in grey clouds that match the sky and the sea. It is the cloudy mornings that make the most stunning dawns, and also the most drab ones. You never know which is coming until it’s over.

It is Day 20 of chemotherapy. (I think of the days as capitalized during this chemo period.) And this third week, now tiptoeing around the corner to hand off to the first week of Round 2, has been much more of a mix than I’d ever have dreamed. I have tried to put the pieces together in the helpful narrative my brain (and yours) craves, and instead I have only a crazy quilt spread out before me, a drunken mix of colours and textures pieced together at odd and often unsettling angles. I’ll describe a little.

Grey velvet, threadbare: The week began with my hair falling out. It was surreal, seriously. I have wondered what it would be like—would it just fall down on the ground one morning and pool around my ankles like a pair of pants whose elastic has just finally given out? Would it wash off in the shower like washable mascara, the hot water just taking it off and down the drain? Would a stiff wind blow it off into birds nests?

Walking out with Melissa and Naomi into the hills on Sunday, I discovered the first piece—it hurt. It hurt to touch and it hurt more when the wind blew. I put on a hat to keep it from the wind—worse because then it hurt all the time. And when I’d give just a little tug on it, it would just come away in my hand. It was part party trick and part horror show and I worried that forever more in dreams I would be peeling my hair off of my head. Time to shave it off. I felt anxious and afraid and sorry for myself. And then an email from my father…
Black velvet, lush and thick: My Uncle Harry, my father’s younger sister’s husband, collapsed and died on the day my hair gave up for good. Out of nowhere, Harry was just gone. He had had a spate of health problems before, each frightening and potentially life ending, a heart attack, a stroke. But those were years ago and he’d made it through. And then suddenly not. I talked to my dad at his midnight, my sunset, the evening light slanting through the window and turning everything golden. We told stories about Harry, about how much he’d meant to each of us at different times in our lives, about the contagious giggle he had—so utterly and uniquely Harry—that marked him as a little boy even once he was the successful middle aged father of four. We talked about his grand children and about my Aunt Mary who had fallen in love with Harry in high school and not been without him since. We talked about age and death and loss and fear and love.  And Melissa came over and we put on loud music and shaved my head…

Burlap: It wasn’t the shaving that was so bad. Actually, as Melissa first butchered my hair with scissors and then shaved it with clippers and then (the next day after the stubble was still hurting) shaved it with a razor, we laughed way more than we cried. We put music on loud and Melissa brought in flowers and a candle and we laughed about how she shouldn’t quit her day job—I was not going to be a good model for her hair cut portfolio. And then, showering off afterwards I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, scarred and bald. I felt pity for the woman so sick with cancer--and then the flash of recognition that it was me. The cancer part of this thing came flooding back in and I laid awake that night thinking about my odds and fretting fretting about metastases. Funny what a visual will do. I’m surely no closer to death now that I’m bald—arguably the chemo is doing its job and killing cancer cells that might otherwise have taken hold in my liver or lungs—but the sight of me bald somehow makes my life feel much more fragile…

Paisley silk, purples and golds and greens: This week, a Week 3, I have had an almost normal work life—for regular at-home days, pre cancer. I have debriefed three Leadership Circle 360s, each with an extraordinary person. I have had a coaching session that felt like my new client and I were both rowing against the current with all of our might, and it took all of our combined strength to even stand still and then, together, we found a new way and the river opened to a set of beautifully branching possibilities that just hadn’t been there before. I got off that call tingling and alive and filled with possibilities. I have had conversations about complexity and hedonism, about adult development and spirituality and love. I have been moved to tears with gratitude about my worklife and the way it fills me with such meaning and purpose and joy.

Sunflowers on a cobalt blue background: And then yesterday, after a couple of early morning calls, we drove ten minutes up the road and picked up Michael’s sister Laurie and her daughter Amanda from our little tiny local airport. They were effervescent with delight about being here after traveling so long to come for the first time to this little country so far from home. Each part of our lives brings them pleasure—the food we cooked for dinner, the lush overgrown garden (with our first lime!), the tiny but character-filled rooms of our little house by the sea. They were complementary about my Jennifer wig (which I really like) and impressed with Clare—and they were just as happy about watching me in a beanie or bald-headed as I moved through the day. Being with them is just gentle and tingling joy, except that…

Royal purple silk satin jacquard: In the afternoon yesterday, Melissa came over and Naomi slipped out of her new school early and we all put on dark clothes (well, not Melissa) and we walked the 50m down the hill to Nicki’s memorial service. It was a good thing we got there early because soon it was standing room only, and then there were people sitting and then standing in a tent outside the hall. There were hundreds of people there of all ages and colours, all of us weeping on the rainy Friday afternoon. The service went three hours as people from everywhere in her life told stories about her, and it was nearly all the same story: passionate, determined, loving, pushy, generous Nicki giving to the world, loving her family, encouraging people to reach beyond themselves and build a new future. It could have been a retirement party except that the guest of honour was too young to retire, she was strangely absent, and the song her bearded and red headed son wrote and sang about her was keening rather than joyous. And then Steve, her husband, got up and said, “I think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” and as he made his way through a funny quirky story about Nicki we laughed and cried with him, this man who had loved her so much and for so long. If it had been easy to see why everyone had loved Nicki, it was similarly easy to see why everyone loved Steve. And at the end when he described how hard it was to imagine his future as anything but bleak without her, you could almost feel the collective cells of everyone in the hall reaching towards him with love and support and collective anguish.  Ahh, if there were only something we could do to ease your pain, Steve, and that of your kids. And then we turn out into the rainy Friday afternoon, blinking in our losses, each of us knowing that our pain (really—I complain about being bald?) is minimal compared to the pain of the family that went home to dinner without their dogged, loving, funny mom.

At the same moment I was at Nicki’s memorial service, my whole Garvey family was celebrating the life of my uncle Harry. There would have been laughing and crying and bad imitations of Harry’s giggle rippling around a room filled with people who share my DNA and have a piece of my heart. Two funerals on the same day on different sides of the world. And of course there are thousands of funerals, hundreds of thousands, each day, all over the world. And babies being born, and lovers getting married, and people beginning their first job or ending their last job or finally closing the door on a bad marriage and walking off into a new life. There are people snorkeling in crystal clear water, swimming with turtles. There are people desperate to find the doctor who can finally diagnose the terrifying symptoms. There is mourning and celebration and love and boredom and pain and fear. This is the patchwork of what it means to be human, I guess, what it means to have a sense of the future and the past and a fear of our own deaths and a love and a yearning to be loved.

Today I’ll post this and then go for my pre-chemo blood tests to be sure my blood levels are high enough to get the yew juice again on Monday. I’ll walk in the hills with Melissa and Laurie, in this landscape that has softened into greyish greens and greyish blues as I’ve written. Tomorrow night I start with the steroids again. And then Monday, I’ll put a soft scarf around my bald head and begin the second of my four rounds of chemo. We will mourn what we’ve lost and celebrate what we have and always always connect into the love that is the fundamental fiber in the fabric of our lives. I hope wherever you are today, you love just a little more deeply and with a little more joy, remembering that every day you are alive is a chance to giggle like the little kid inside you with the sheer delight of breathing.

(The pictures today are three different dawns over Kapiti this week, because the sky is a patchwork too.)

08 April 2014


Thanks to all who provided pictures of your beautiful bald heads. I'm here twice...

06 April 2014

Loose attachment

Aidan in my wig, me in my loose hair
I love my hair. I may have mentioned this before, but my hair is very different than I was when I last wrote about it. Short and spikey and a little edgy looking. I still start when I see my reflection in the mirror because I am so totally and utterly not used to looking like this.

I notice, though, that I’m not as attached to my hair. And I mean that in both the possible ways.  Each time I see it or run my fingers through I think, “Thank you for being on my head today. I’ll miss you when you’re gone.” But I don’t feel my eyes fill with tears about it as they sometimes would when I contemplated losing my curls. I am grateful for it while it’s here, and I am ready to say goodbye to it when it goes.

Which is good, because today it has started falling out, I think (like clockwork on day 14 as everyone said). It doesn’t have the great drama I’ve heard of, the hair that flies off in a windstorm or streams out through an open car window. Instead, it’s just like the shedding that usually happens, times a hundred, along with the aching head that everyone described that means my hair actually hurts when it moves in the wind. That brings tears to my eyes, but just briefly.

In Bali in October
The whole thing has made me wonder about attachment in general. I’ve had these long and mostly fruitless conversations about non-attachment with Buddhist friends and monks over the years about my curiosity about whether people get attached to the idea of non-attachment. And the related question about whether giving up on attachment has some significant and rarely discussed side effects itself. (This is a conversation I’ve been attached to having, by the way, as I keep at it endlessly.) I get that attachment is the birthplace of suffering and that it would be better to not suffer. But isn’t attachment also the birthplace of love? And, while we’re in this neighbourhood, isn’t love one of the core birthplaces of suffering?

Last night we went to a choral concert in Wellington to hear the Faure Requiem and assorted other works attached to the Passion story, appropriate for this time of year. In this little tiny church with a little tiny choir, I was flooded with the ways that our love for one another and our terror about and deep sadness over our death and theirs has inspired stunning music and poetry and art for all of recorded human history. I watched the evening light slanting through the stained glass windows sparking off of the golden hair of my two kids and my husband and I felt that ache of love that seems to require the breaking open of my heart to ease. And later, back in our living room watching the crescent moon sink into the sea, I held Naomi’s head in my lap as she read Vogue and explained to me about all the players on the global fashion scene. I am very very attached to her.

Which brings me back to my hair. I made an excellent decision about cutting it, losing the curls first so that losing the rest wouldn’t be so hard. I feel good about that choice every day. Loose attachment to something loosely attached feels exactly right to me. But I also feel really good about the fierce attachment I have to the family and friends I love so deeply, even if it sets me up for suffering. I want to feel the full pain of Nicki’s death, unmediated by a kind of loose attachment. I want to feel the full joy of a walk in the hills with Melissa, of baking with Aidan. I want to feel the love-fuelled bubbles of excitement about Laurie’s visit. I feel flooded by love on multiple occasions each day. The delight of that is almost painful.

Maybe I am doing the non-attachment thing wrong. But until I understand it better, I will try to be loosely attached to the things that matter less—to my hair, to my nails, to sugar in my tea (sigh), to my stuff.  But I will be fiercely attached to people (and also to these dogs I adore). I will be grateful for the love I feel for them every day, each day knowing that our ability to love and be loved is a miracle. I will be attached to this landscape, to the way the clouds catch on Kapiti island in the near-dawn. I will be attached to life, to waking up each day and falling asleep each evening and filling my days with work and people that delight me. And if that brings suffering, I’m up for it.

My friend Mark sent me a box of poetry, one poem in each creamy thick envelope, numbered for each day of chemo (I am attached to Mark). Yesterday’s poem:
To be Alive
By Gregory Orr
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…

If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?

We humans are built for dancing, for attachment, for love, for joy. And for keening pain and loss and death and grief. Until I fully believe that non attachment will diminish the later without diminishing the former, I'll stay loosely attached only to those things that are appropriate, like my hair, for example.

03 April 2014

Living and dying

Nicki and me in December

-->This has been a week in two divergent paths. On the one hand, I am doing exceedingly well. Other than the nap I take in the middle of the day and the metallic taste in my mouth, I feel basically normal and have felt this good since Monday. I never dreamed that the second week of chemo could feel so good. I have to believe that the love and support you send me, the supplements from my mom, and the beauty of the landscape have all woven together to give me an unexpectedly good first 11 days.

And at the same time, just as the more difficult first week was turning to the ease of the second week, my friend Nicki died, her difficult weeks mounting and then easing in one final breath. The massive support of the thousands of people around the world who love her, the best medical care, and the beauty of this country she loved were not enough to stay the crush of the cancer that took her so fast.

Nicki was one of those people I meant to hang out with. In our conversations and meals together, we each talked about a time when things would settle down in our lives (both of us so busy, both of us traveling so much for work, both of us with full family lives), and we could spend more time together. We have been on each others To Do list for years. And then time changes. Nicki was diagnosed in October, a metastasis of melanoma from her 20s, now spread to lungs and brain. Emergency brain surgery to remove the brain tumour and then radiation to keep it smaller left her shaken but still very Nicki—funny and honest and thoughtful about the whole thing. Suddenly we had time for each other and the dawning awareness that one never knows how much time one has for anything.

And then, astonishingly, I had cancer too. We were two women in the prime of our lives blinking at each other and talking about chemo (which she was never well enough to have) and prognoses. And when she heard mine—this on the day after my oncologist had terrified me into thinking there was a reasonable chance I had significantly less future than I was hoping—she said, “Ahhhh, how lucky you are to be talking about years. What I wouldn’t give for years.” Talk about reframing.

Swing bridge in Kaitoke (Tararua Ranges) - braving the elements
Nicki (front) and Oxfam trailwalking team
At our last coffee together, talking about wigs and green tea and death, Nicki said, “Oh, but it’s so much luckier to die this way then just suddenly in a car crash. You get to say goodbye, do things you always meant to do.” She was handing over her Oxfam responsibilities to Keith who will carry them for a time.  She was spending time with her sister whom she loved so much. She was making memory boxes for each of her three kids (the youngest in Aidan’s class): letters to be opened on their graduation days, wedding days, before their first dates. She was saying goodbye.

And so Nicki has been my companion these cancer months, my cancer always referencing off of hers. And now she is gone. Every day I wake up and feel strong and she’s still gone. Yesterday when I put on my sneakers to go for a walk in the hills with Melissa (I am walking the full walk at nearly full speed), I looked out at a dawn so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. I think of the dawns and sunsets and school dances Nicki won’t see; death brings a literally limitless number of future events we’ll miss.  As I set off into the hills—feeling so undeniably, delightedly healthy and vibrant—I carried Nicki with me. I carry her three sparkling and talented kids. I carry her husband, who loved her so much that he must be mute with grief. I carry her passion for making the world a better place. I carry her love for this beach and this sunset and this lifetime. And now, today, I’d like each of you to carry a piece of Nicki with you into whatever day you’re having. Nicki’s life was tragically short measured in years, but the volume of it still expands. The way we touch immortality is to bring love and connection and leave the world slightly better than we found it. Nicki is gone now, but the better world, the love and the connection remain. Rejoice and weep, sing and dance because she was alive…

Sunset, last night
“This whole is the earth and the sky, the ground on which we stand, and all the animals, plants, and other beings to which we are related.  We come from earth and to earth we shall return.  Life feeds on life.  We live because others die, and we will die so that others may live.  The divinity that shapes our ends is life, death, and change, understood both literally and as a metaphor for our daily lives.  We will never understand it all.  We do not choose the conditions of our lives.  Death may come at any time.  Death is never early or late.  With regard to life and death there is no ultimate justice, nor ultimate injustice, for there is no promise that life will be other than it is.  There are no hierarchies among beings on earth.  We are different from swallows who fly in spring, from the many-faceted stones on the beach, from the redwood tree in the forest.  We may have more capacity to shape our lives than other beings, but you and I will never fly with the grace of a swallow, live as long as a redwood tree, not endure the endless tossing of the sea like a stone.  Each being has its own intrinsic beauty and value.  There will be no end to change, to death, to suffering.  But life is as comic as it is tragic.  Watching the sun set, the stars come out, eating drinking, dancing, loving, and understanding are no less real than suffering, loss, and death.  Knowledge that we are but a small part of life and death and transformation is the essential religious insight.  The essential religious response is to rejoice and to weep, to sing and to dance, to tell stories and create rituals in praise of an existence far more complicated, more intricate, more enduring than we are.”                   
-Susan Christ