“Yesterday a child came out to wander…”
—Joni Mitchell, “Circle Game”
Last month, a friend I’ve known most of my life passed away after a recurrence of cancer. It was not entirely unexpected, but it happened suddenly and was deeply shocking. I thought she would always be there—an unspoken assumption many of us probably have about close friends or family. We never imagine that they won’t be in our lives. Yet she was gone. And even the most profound spiritual beliefs about life after death cannot entirely prevent the initial heart pain of losing someone you love.
Teddy and I met in college in San Diego in the late 1960s. We were “flower children” together, going to student demonstrations and be-ins and finding our way during a time of radical social change and personal transformation. After graduating, we lived together in San Francisco and then traveled around Europe for five months. We knew each other’s parents, boyfriends, and first jobs. Eventually I moved to the Boston area for graduate school in women’s literature, and Teddy got a degree in art therapy in SF. I returned to the West Coast after a few years but then moved once again back to Boston. Teddy moved to the East Bay and continued to live an alternative life as a dancer, poet, musician, and art therapist. In New England, I was active in the feminist movement, came out as a lesbian, and wrote for various publications.
No matter where we lived or what we were doing, we always remained close friends, “kindred spirits.” Our lives intertwined even from a distance. I met Ron, the man she married and who was by her side at the end of her life. And she met Anne, my life partner, when we visited California. I can still see Teddy’s face filled with such joy as she looked lovingly at the two of us together. In 2014, she flew to Massachusetts to play the flute at Anne’s and my wedding. Having her present was one of the most beautiful, touching parts of that day. Among other songs, she played Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game,” which we had listened to many years before in college.
Everything does come full circle in life, and everything is ever-changing. If you embark on a spiritual path, as I did (and Teddy did, with her Buddhist practice), you learn impermanence and letting go. “Forever” is a truth, but only within the continuing soul consciousness beyond one lifetime. As a human being, you are born, and your parents love and launch you on your journey around the circle. Mine were the backbone of my life and so much a part of who I became. I feared their deaths all my life; yet when they passed (and I was with each of them), it became one of the deepest spiritual experiences of my life. And so with Teddy’s transition. I knew she was “gone” here in this dimension, but I also knew her spirit could never entirely vanish. On some level, I was comforted in knowing that she, and others I have loved who have died, are “on the other side” of a very transparent curtain. They have not disappeared into a void where I can never again reach them.
The week after she passed away, I could feel her presence unconnected to a physical form. Memories of our shared experiences flowed through my awareness in wave after wave. My human self couldn’t believe she was actually gone, but my soul knew she was still present. This is one of the ironies of life. We understand on some level that people we love are eventually going to die, but when it happens, it is so hard to assimilate. This is part of the soul’s experience in a human body: the appearance and seeming disappearance of life. Loss and grief are so real, so heart-breaking, but in the process we learn that nothing and no one is ever lost, including ourselves. Gradually, over the course of a lifetime, we grow in wisdom, until finally we accept all of life. We learn that death is an open not a closed door.
Or that is my belief, my trusting. That is what my soul, and God, show me is spiritual truth. And the longer I live, the more expansive that awareness becomes, the more I open to whatever comes, in this world and beyond. For ultimately, there is only love in this universe—divine love and human love. And they are one and the same. Indeed, that was Teddy’s last text to me from her hospital bed, just before she transitioned: LOVE. The essence of our friendship and the wisdom of a lifetime. I carry it with me in my heart, always.