Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Memorial to Willa

I spent yesterday in a sad beautiful world. It began in an old Jewish cemetary in Glendale/Queens New York--with hundreds, thousands of tall, thin elegant grave markers, tightly standing one aside another in every direction , and there too the age and date of death, many markers with small stones and rocks carefully placed around the engraved name, as is the Jewish tradition. It ended at a lush one story rustic designer home and abundant landscape in Westchester, decorated in the best welcoming colors and complete with a pool and accompanying sweet cottage alone atop a hill in a clearing of tall pines and songbirds. This was not a show-off house: it was home to Willa's sister, and the love of it showed.

Willa died 12 months ago. Yesterday was the unveiling of her headstone. She was diagnosed with lung cancer--she who quit smoking with me twenty years ago, after too many late night talks of philosophies and longings. Quickly she beat it, and then quickly it beat her. In life and death she was equal parts brave, wise, whimsical, kind, adventureous, outlandish, spiritual, fair, perceptive, and a standout candidate for the growth-of-the-decade award.

When Willa died, it made no sense. This was a woman who grew into herself, became a leader in disability rights, could combine any food source together for quick magnifigence, wore purple and red and mysterious earrings, who readily shared her view but so easily you were gently rocked as you listened. This was a woman who secretly was a best friend to so many people that her memorial last year became abit comical as one person after another claimed Willa's best-friendship (including me). This was a woman who knew this deep precious part of me only as I and perhaps one or two other people ever will. This was a woman who knew my soul. This was my friend, Dan and Sarah's mother, Susan and Ellen's sister, Vivian and Gail's guardian angels.

Willa spent alot of her life with a cautious perceptible shaking of her hands as she showed up every day, every moment to face down her fears and become her unshakeable wonderful self. Whenever it counted, she raised two strong kids, pushed herself into dazzling career success, and unbeknownst until her memorial, served as best-friend-in-residence whenever the need.

Is it ok to confidently say that Willa's death is unfair? I'm generally not a poor sport about life's ups and downs, and I've never been delusional about mortality. I'm also not new to death: I've lost my father, two friends (both car accidents), a cousin and a sister-in-law. But Willa? Finally at the intersection of peace and calm, when her life is just fine thank you, Willa has to check out? Very very unfair. Very very unbelievable.

Yesterday about 20 people quietly sobbed and lovingly watched as her children removed the thin white vail from her headstone. There it was: Willa's name: confirmation of a loss too huge to ever truly accept. "This is what love does", her gravestone said. Yes, Willa, this is what love does. It lives in my heart, gives me courage, and reminds me that I can be truly known. Thanks, pal. I'll keep an eye out.

Love, KJ


  1. I think we have a similar take on divine justice, KJ. Read mine...

  2. Sometimes, shaking your fists and yelling at the sky is a necessary thing. And then we step back and remember the grace that a person brought to our lives. Sounds like a bit of both was justified and a bit of both was done.