An online friend of mine died this week.
She was an administrator of a local message board we have both participated in for over a decade, and I have met her in person maybe a dozen times. We had an interesting connection in that we both considered the town I currently live in and the New Haven, CT area to be home.
Evelyn battled cancer for 6 years; remarkably strong and relatively symptom-free until about two months ago. Over the years, in emails to a smaller group of board members, along with bragging about her grandchildren, she shared tales of her treatments; making the indignities of hospital visits and chemotherapy seem like a hilarious romp through the medical establishment. Her descriptions of bodily functions gone horribly awry were not for the squeamish, but they could make you laugh out loud in the right frame of mind. Humor, it seemed, was her way of fighting back. She was so full of life, it seemed that death might never come.
When it became clear, however, that Evelyn's journey was coming to an end, her husband joined our local message board and began posting updates. Sprinkled in between the reports of "resting comfortably" and family visits were the incredible words of love he had for her and pain at the thought of her not being there. It was those words that moved me the most. We should all be so lucky to experience such an uncommon love, connection, partnership.
As the days progressed, more people shared their prayers, remembrances, and condolences. It became clear that Evelyn had had an impact on far more people than just her family. She was a social worker and counselor at heart; more and more posters recalled a time when she had helped them through a difficult phase or reached out to someone who was struggling. Some of these were people she might not have befriended in real life, whether they knew it or not, yet she was generous enough to read their words and offer advice or a virtual shoulder. That Evelyn's obituary included the fanciful names of family pets among those who survived or predeceased her showed a Buddha-like respect for all sentient beings, and gave us all a final laugh.
Over the past six years, I frequently wondered if I could muster the strength and positive outlook in the face of what Evelyn was dealing with. She recently shared with her family her belief that "life isn't about waiting for the storm to be over, but about learning to dance in the rain."
In one of her last posts on the board, Evelyn left a link she knew I'd be interested in. She was always thinking of others, sharing, even to the end. In the past few days, I have come to believe that a lot of what Evelyn stood for were some of the very things I've been struggling with lately - love, courage, humor, patience, generosity of spirit, running headlong into the winds of a challenge, enjoying the life you have.
It may be that her attitude was her last gift to us, to her family, to anyone she crossed paths with. I will try to keep that spirit with me. Even in the rain.