What I learned from Jen’s death

The body, like a mother, is pregnant with the spirit child.
Death is the labor of birth.
And all the spirits on the other side are waiting
To see how that proud birth shall occur
.
- Rumi

[This is a repost of the eulogy I wrote for Jen in 2004.]

My former girlfriend and current close friend, Jen, died Friday, August 13th, 2004 at 1020am.

It was her third round with breast cancer, and this time it metastasized to basically everywhere. She was 33 years old.

I was present with her for her last week in the hospital, and there when she passed. It was amazing.

I got to see a life in which it was fairly clear what she came to give, and what she came to learn.

I believe Jen came to give love, and she gave a lot of it to a lot of people.

I also believe that Jen came here with a question, which was something along the lines of this:

Do people really, really love me? Will they be there for me? Am I lovable?

He life really helped her ask that question. She was adopted, so her original parents weren’t there for her in the way she wanted. She never had a stable father figure. She tended to chose men who couldn’t really stay with her, and those who tried to stay she would, by her own admission, drive away.
There were times when I feared that she would die believing that she was unloved, bitter and alone. Thankfully, that did not happen.
At the end, I think she got what she came for: she was surrounded by friends, and really got it that she was loved.
I believe she died with the answer to her question. I believe she died knowing that she was loved.
So — while it certainly is tragic that she died, and so young — her life was a success.

Things I learned from Jen

When Jen found out she was terminal, she took on life at an incredibly inspiring level. She tooks risks she never would have taken before, with love, with her time, with her money. She traveled. She connected with people. She “got it” that life wasn’t permanent. It was very impressive to see.

The night before she passed, I had a dream in which she told me to make a list of the things I had learned from how she lived once she learned she was terminal. Here they are:

Make beautiful things, and cause beautiful things to be made.

Jen really took this on in a big way in her final months. In fact, the day before she died, some stained glass windows she had commissioned were ready, so they were brought to her hospital room.

Take pictures of places and people you love, and put them up where you can see them.

She became an avid photographer, documenting her life, sights she loved, and the people she loved. When she died she was in the middle of a project of putting dozens of 8×10 photos in frames and up on her walls.

Have your home be an ongoing project of increasing beauty. Make it an expression of what is best about you.

About a month before her death, Jen started redecorating her home. I have to admit, my first thought about that was, “You are going to die soon, why redecorate?” But I quickly realized that truth of it: If you aren’t going to make your life the way you want it when you are teminal, then when are you going to?

She was having the walls painted the colors she always wanted, having molding put up, some new floors…really making it beautiful in the way she wanted.

Customize your life as much as you can. Have a “signature” style.

In Jen’s case, her signature style became pink and tulips. She loved both of them, pink tulips especially.

A few weeks before she died, she gave up driving, because she didn’t want to have a stroke and kill someone. But she did still want some freedom to move, so she got a scooter, saying “Then at least I probably won’t kill anyone else if I die on it.”

And to customize it — she got a pink helmet, and was having it painted pink.

The stained glass she had made was also customized — with beautiful pink tulips.

When you love, love. When you get your heart broken, be hurt, be mad, move on.

Jen had intense loves, and intense disappointments. When she was disappointed she had strong feelings, but eventually seemed to let them go, and move on.

Hire people to help you if you can. Being surrounded by beauty is worth effort and expense.

I know I try to “go it alone” in my home, and usually fail to keep it as beautiful as I’d like. Jen hired the people she could to help her make her home work. Though not everyone has money to hire people to help, the idea of getting help is a solid one.

Don’t forgo making thing beautiful in favor of getting things done.

At the end of her life, Jen saw the importance of taking the time to have a beautiful environment. That really made a difference to me.

There is risk in life. If you want to ride the roller-coaster, ride it.

A few months before her death, Jen went to Disney World — with over a hundred tumors in her brain.

The doctors told her, “If you ride the rollercoasters, you could die.” But she loved the rollercoasters.

So she rode them. As she said to me before her trip, “I want to live my life as long as I can. If I die on the rollercoasters, at least I was living.”

Make yourself as pretty as you can, and enjoy doing it.

As her former boyfriend, I can attest that she used to spend a lot of time making herself pretty — but she never really enjoyed it. She was often ashamed of her appearance, and suffered about her weight, quite a lot.

In the last months of her life she let go of scolding and shaming herself, and really seemed to enjoy looking as good as she could — even as she lost her hair, or swelled up on steroids. Her enjoyment of looking as good as she could make her even more beautiful, and a lot more relaxed.

It’s worth time, effort and money to have a beautiful life. Love silly things without reservation.

Pink things, flowery things…Jen became increasingly willing to love silly things, and take pleasure in that love.

Thank you, Jen, for what you gave me, and what you taught me.

–Dmitri Bilgere

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