I’m sitting in my sister Susie’s family room in New York, listening to the wind. One of her cats, the one that is so temperamental he has to take a kitty-version of Prozac, is sitting on my lap. The light is coming onto the world in a beautiful way, making the trees outside this window appear to be on fire.
There’s a nearby clock tick-tick-ticking, reminding me of the passage of time, something I have been acutely feeling these days. Just yesterday, Susie and I celebrated our youngest sister Mary’s life at her funeral.
Together with our families and hundreds of friends who joined us either in person or online, we stepped away from the raging world to joyously celebrate all the things in which Mary delighted. Her passion for Christmas and her year-round decorated holiday tree. Her knack for making people feel treasured by always finding the perfect gift. Her ability to plan a party or a fundraiser to better the lives of others. Her unique capacity to toast every day, whether it was a holiday or a Tuesday.
Mary was the color yellow in what often felt like a gray world. There was nothing that could dim her light, including the cancer that she courageously battled and fought on her own terms.
Somehow, she knew where she was in the process of living and leaving, preparing us all for what was next. She scheduled and smiled through what she called final visits, letting us know how much she loved us, allowing us all to say goodbye.
It was unusual. Extraordinary. While people had opinions and the world raged outside her window, Mary was singular in purpose. She was living. It was a beautiful, agonizing, astonishing thing to behold.
Since I think best when I run, I ran as often as I could these past many weeks, heading whenever possible to the woods to watch the trees burst into flame and then smolder. As I wove my way through the trails, stopping to take and send pictures of the colors to Mary, who said she found them healing, I often listened to Thomas Rhett’s song on repeat: “In a world full of hate, be a light / When you do somebody wrong, make it right / Don’t hide in the dark, you were born to shine / In a world full of hate, be a light.”
I also thought of lines from Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” my favorite play and the lens through which I often view the world. “But just for a moment now we’re all together … just for a moment we’re all happy. Let’s really look at one another.”
I think we did. I think we all made the most of a horrendously difficult situation. These past years, as Mary lived and battled and courageously beat back all the odds and statistics, she stayed true to the light that shone within her, making sure she shared it with the world around best as she could.
In my final in-person visit with her, she confessed, “I can’t believe I’m just going to disappear.” She didn’t, of course. Her light lives on, as all our light does, in every act of kindness, in every celebration, in every person we love. We may not always be aware of the source, but light like that never dies.
Eileen Button teaches Communication at Mott Community College. She can be reached at email@example.com.