When I saw her, she was recognizable by her flawless skin, the depth in her eyes that led to a soul which had experienced both pain and appreciation. When she greeted me, her arms were open, beckoning to be enveloped in her embrace. When she hugged me tight, she spoke to me in a voice that was a bolt of lightning, yet soft and joyful. And when she laughed, she was the woman I had always known, unchanged over the intervening 40 years.
That was how long it had been when I saw her at Evergreen Cemetery in May 2011 during the dedication service of the memorial plaques listing the names of those who perished on November 18, 1978. Little did I know then that our relationship would establish itself anew and blossom as it did.
We spent the next four years speaking daily over the phone. There was not anything I could not share with my new big sister. There was never a doubt that what I told her would remain in confidence. She offered me wisdom, love and encouragement, always encouragement. She witnessed my suffering at times, but always said “I never worry about you, because you always make it through.”
My nickname for her was “Warrior Queen,” not because her temperament was one of conflict, but because it was one of love, resiliency and compassion for others. Her deep love for her family – especially her son – was infinite. Her spirit was one that required love, as she was modeled in love.
Through her daily pain which sometimes immobilized her, she would always push through, whether it was to make trips to the grocery store, to walk her granddaughter to the bus stop, or to travel to San Francisco to take care of her beloved uncl. And when I made the foolish suggestion that she needed to rest, she would always say “Girl, I will rest when I am no longer here.”
No matter what side of the country I was on, we would tune into the daily Joel Olsten sermon and then talk afterwards about what he’d said. Our discussions included the works of Deepak Chopra, Nelson Mandela, the Dali Lama, Jesus, Wayne Dyer, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and others that inspired us. She strived to reach a deep spiritual understanding in her reading, writing, and meditating, and I believe that when she closed her eyes for the last time, she was finally at rest.
My joy in her passing is that she has no more pain, that she will never suffer another broken heart, that she is now experiencing unconditional love. My joy in her peace almost – but not quite – compensates for the grief I feel each day for her loss.
(Leslie is a regular contributor to the jonestown report and the author of Slavery of Faith. Her earlier writings are collected here. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.)