My friend Sara died on March 1, 2013. I can still hear her voice and feel her strong arms around me. She was tall and worked out a lot so that woman's hugs were good and solid. She was really strong, inside and out.
I met Sara when I accepted a part-time position as a chiropractic assistant in 2010. I had just been let go from a job I'd held since 2006 and I was reeling, totally in survival mode. I had been asked to leave with no warning right before Christmas.
I met Sara a few months later, in February. We became friends, instantly. She was really smart and her work ethic was unparalleled. I respected her so much and I busted my ass to keep up with her, but she never made anyone feel less than nor did she try to appear better. She just worked really fucking hard.
That office was full of light and laughter, and Sara was the glue and inspiration for all of us. The 6 months I spent there were medicine for my soul. I was fervently trying to build my health coaching practice and my self-esteem. Being fired isn't fun, especially by someone who you thought was a friend. My trust was a little shaky. I was also trying to start a new relationship with Brenda, who was trying to come out for the first time. Life was really hard. I was in shock but still tried my best every day. Even though we were new friends, Sara supported me 100% on my good days, and my not-so-good days.
Pretty soon after I started working there, I heard she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn't have much bandwidth to process it. I just figured she's be ok so I shared the knowledge I had as a health coach and she soaked up everything. I remember when I told her to eat more greens and she said to me one day, "I added kale to cream cheese in the food processor for my bagels. Does that count?"
"Yes," I said, with a smile. "Yes, it counts. It's a great idea!"
I still use that as an example in every talk I give to college students, or anyone, trying to get more greens in their day.
That year, Sara fought her ass off to keep her health afloat as the chemo treatments weakened her strong, muscular body. She gracefully embraced the changes that happened to her physical form and I envied her courage. She lost her hair and still ran around that office with her pink Sox cap. Pink. For breast cancer awareness.
And she had surgery. And all was good again.
She had beaten it.
And time passed and she enrolled in my 15 Days of Fearless Living program last year. She made tons of friends and everyone loved her. She soaked up every single word I wrote and breathed life into that online community.
Sara didn't always understand my gender transition, but gently asked questions when she wanted to know more. Or sometimes she didn't ask anything and just cheered me on from facebook, via txt or during our phone calls.
When she realized her cancer was back with a vengeance last year and called me to tell me, I felt something solid break inside me. I prepared myself as I had for my friend Jennifer's death when I was 16 years old. I prepared myself for something I didn't want to happen. I did my best listening and tried to support her the best I could.
Sara loved animals. In October of 2012, I figured she could use a laugh so I offered to lend her one of the silliest movies about animals that always makes me laugh, BEST IN SHOW. I changed my mind about lending it and Brenda and I went over to watch it with her and her daughter, Cami, instead. We made popcorn and laughed at the silliness and I felt grateful that I'd had the sense to make that time to spend with her.
It's difficult for me to sit with the truth that I was so busy running my business and struggling through my own transition process last year that I didn't make enough time to see her or talk to her. And I have to fight from moment to moment to not feel too guilty about that.
In late January, I attended the Landmark Forum and experienced some helpful shifts. I knew Sara would love the mental olympics and some of the nuggets of personal growth. She was so smart---always seeking out knowledge about anything and everything. She was like a walking encyclopedia. I invited her to join me via a facebook chat one night but she was in too much pain. I confessed something difficult to her. I told her, "by the way, I deleted your comment the other day because i was afraid to share what i was doing [when I went to Landmark]. I didn't want to hurt you. I'm sorry if i did that. I didn't know how to reply so i just took it down." She replied, "I didn't know you took down my comment, but if I'd realized it, I would have assumed that you had a good reason. I trust you. Silly."
Sara did trust me. She trusted me 100%. She trusted me when I didn't trust myself, or my own capabilities. Sometimes I was afraid of her love. Sometimes I was so afraid I hid from it.
That confession to her marked a turning point for me, when I realized I didn't want to hide from her love and her generous spirit anymore. I realized I was worth it. I deserved it. I infused as much light and love into our exchanges as I could and I was looking forward to seeing her at a fundraiser to get her a new treatment. It was scheduled for the end of March. She took another one of my suggestions and set up an online fundraising page and I know it brought her a lot of hope, as she watched those dollar bills come in.
But March 1st was the day. That was when she decided it had been a good fight. It was time to let go.
I feel said I wasn't able to say goodbye in person. I feel glad I expressed everything I did in the ways I did when I was able to. I feel sad I won't hear her voice again or get another text message or another hug. I feel glad that she's no longer suffering physically or emotionally, struggling to keep a smile for her kids, Cami and Anna and Danny. She didn't want to go. She had more to do, she said.
Be present with the bitter and the sweet. That's the best we can do, when death happens.
I'm grateful for her children, who I will love and support the best I can. I am grateful for my memories. I realized I don't have a picture of us, not one I can find, but I do have many, many memories. It's better that way. I can lose pictures. I can't lose memories.
Saying goodbye to Sara isn't something I got to do in person but I feel at peace. She departed with no doubts about my life for her and I'm grateful for that. I'm also grateful for the ways she's inspired me to live that out with everyone, every day.
Transitions aren't easy. My life has certainly been a challenge, but the way Sara lived her life and greeted her death, really encouraged me to live mine fully and OUT LOUD. I know she was living vicariously through me and my courage and my voice on many days and there were so many times I pushed a little bit harder, just for her.
Because if I have a strong body and strong spirit, I better damn well make the best use of it that I can while I'm here.
She wanted me to do that. She wanted it with every fiber of her being.
Living my life fully and with a grateful heart is the best way I can say goodbye to Sara.