By the time my 11 hour flight to Seoul landed, I had several messages from family members with the news that Aunt Sally (my mother-in-law’s sister) had passed away in a motorcycle accident.
My reaction was typical – shock, disbelief, sadness and guilt for not being able to be with Jon’s family.
Having found out during a layover in the airport, I held my tears until I was on the plane to Bangkok and the lights had been turned down in the cabin for the night time flight.
Living thousands of miles apart, I can’t say that I knew Sally well. But I felt like we had a connection. She was going to travel with me to India a few years ago (the poor economy got the better of that trip) and when we did see each other at family reunions and holidays, conversation came easily. I fancy us as having some special kindred spirit but the truth is, I bet there are hundreds of people who felt the same way. Sally was like that. She could make you feel special.
Her big smile, easy laugh and the twinkle in her eye made you think she was the Wild Gal that she loved to be known as. But she wasn’t wild in a reckless sense. It was more of a carefree, I’ll-try-anything-once kind of way. She calculated the risks and took a measured approached in her decisions.
Intellectually I know that we all die. But when someone, even someone who has lived a wonderfully full life, dies suddenly, we think about all they could still have accomplished and experienced. Sally had plans to travel with her daughter. She was looking forward to retirement upon the sale of her custom frame shop in upstate New York. She was a superb hunter (and excellent with a bow and arrow!) and had traveled to Africa on hunting expeditions with her longtime partner, Dennis. She was an amazingly strong (emotionally and physically) woman who was quick to laugh and thoughtful in all she did. Centered. Generous. Warm.
Sally died doing something that she loved – riding her beautiful Harley Davidson. I wonder if someone had looked into a crystal ball years ago and told her that one day she would die this way, would she have stopped? And then I think of the people who climb mountains, base jump, fight fires, join the military, or otherwise take chances or put themselves in harm’s way doing what their spirit moves them to do. They are simply being the only way they know how to be. And while the death of a loved one is so much harder when it’s sudden, I’m confident that Sally left us with her heart and spirit soaring.
Though it may sound morose, I take some comfort in imagining Sally’s final thoughts. I can hear her words, in her most calm voice, saying, “Well, shit.”
My heart is at the same time heavy and empty and the thought of Sally not being at the next family function leaves me with a feeling of deep sadness. But I remind myself that she’s part of a larger clan and that thread of warmth, generosity and love connects each member of her family and I’m blessed to be a part of them all.
Ride… Sally… Ride.