Saturday, June 9, 2012

heartbreak / joy

credit: Jason Thomas

It is incomprehensible that you won't read this post. It feels impossible, inconceivable. My brain can't make sense of it, and when it does, it hits so hard my chest hurts. And, after the hurt has torn through, peace comes. Peace and love, still and deep.

Because peace is what you felt last, and love is the gift you left.

Dear, dear Jennifer. You—who steadfastly, lovingly refused to feel defined or defeated by your cancer—passed away on the day of my son's 12th birthday, two days ago. My husband found out first, and when I arrived to pick him up from teaching, he told me on the street beside the car. I came undone then. Roared grief against his chest in the sunshine while children played soccer in a field nearby.

And then we had to keep going. Incomprehensible. We had to continue to celebrate my son's special day—we had a birthday dinner to make, and a birthday song to sing, and candles to light and watch him blow out. We had to find the joy. Dig so, so deep to find it.

We did find it, and we gave it and received it. There was juggling and stories and apple crumble eaten at nine o'clock at night, and my son making us laugh as we sat all together at the table.

The days have felt surreal since. Waves of emotion, peace, grief, love, grief, smiles, all criss-crossing, ribboning against each other.

My son had a party last night, with his band mates. We hosted a jam session at my husband's work, in the theatre there, followed by a game of spotlight through the trees outside. My son was so happy, and so thankful.

The night pulsed—like a heartbeat, like a song. Sound and joy and togetherness, all intertwined. Children donged cow bells and honked saxophones and flitted gloriously through shadows, hiding, chasing, every sense alert, alive.

I floated inside the party, and outside it, watching my son's pure joy, and thinking of you. Thinking how heartbreak and joy can lie together, hand placed in hand.

Jennifer, you would have loved to be here. Your boy and husband would have been in the thick of it, and you…well, you would have been the life of the party. You always brought people to you, you made them know they mattered. You gave love like breathing.

Our lives have been connected for so long. Thirteen years. We met the loves of our lives within months of each other. We, both of us writers, married jazz musicians. They were best friends, each other's best man. You got engaged days after staying with us in Australia, with a ring your husband bought in a town half an hour from here. My husband flew 14 hours to be at your wedding in California when I was 8 months pregnant with my girl. You were at my wedding three years before that. You and I were the same age, had our 40th birthdays within three months of each other. We wrote our blogs and loved each other's words. At some point in all these years, we became friends in our own right, aside from our husbands. It has felt so precious and so good, being friends with you.

I have gone back to re-read your beautiful words. 

Oh, Jennifer, thank you for them. 

Over and over, you write—you call out—the only thing that matters

is to love

To love. To LOVE

You are a writer, were a writer, are a writer. You are a mother, were a mother, were a wife, are a wife. You are, you were. How can that be real, the word 'were'? You are, to me. You always will be. Here inside. Inside your darling son and your beautiful husband and all your loved ones. You are

Here is the last blog post, written by your husband. It speaks of your peace and of your joy. It's a stunning post.

You are stunning, dear friend. Your spirit is so big, so beautiful. It fills the space around, fills me, fills the ones you love. It sings.

I love you,

love you,

love you.

Taken in April, when my husband was in the US.
Jennifer and I were sending huge hugs via text.
Look at all that JOY.


  1. I'm so sorry, Helena. So sorry.

  2. Oh, Helena...I am so very sorry. Hugs to you!

  3. So very sorry for your loss, Helena. What a great woman she was/is!

  4. You have been blessed to experience the rare joy of true friendship. We lost my dad the day before Chloe's birthday- I understand the juxtaposition of sadness and the vividness of a child's delight at birthday time. I heard grief described in a movie by a character who said the loss was initially like a brick that you carry around and it weighs you down in everything you do, but eventually it gets smaller and becomes a pebble that sometimes surprises you when you reach in- this is so true for me- sometimes i reach in just to remember... My thoughts, heart and love goes out to you. Thanks for sharing this deeply personal experience. Xxxxx

  5. So, so sorry, Helena. Thank you for telling your story, and some of hers. Her love and joy have now touched me through your words.
    sending you love and light

  6. I know how you feel. I am still caught between the two. I am not sure how long this will last . Here and then not. You know, it's like a candle that has gone out and the smoke is still streaming. It's hard. Hard to think of, to look at, to imagine.
    Your friends was a true gem.
    She is loved and missed by people who did not even know her.
    People like me.

  7. This is a loving tribute to your dearest friend. My heart aches for your families right now. Pain and loss is what the ones left behind feel. She is somewhere else smiling, laughing and waiting to see you again.


  8. This is such a heartbreaking and breathtaking testimony to Jennifer's life. I can not imagine the pain you must be feeling. She sounds like a beautiful person, inside and out and I am sorry you are hurting.

    Praying for you dear friend and your family and her family and everyone who loved her. Beautiful words as always....


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.