Slipping Through the Keyhole
by Liz Evans
Spirit can go where others can’t
Slips through the keyhole into the unknown
Follow along, it’s never wrong
Spirit has navigated the impossible
Not to be captured & held, perhaps only delayed
Cannot be drowned, cannot be suffocated
Spirit is here, listening is crucial
The invisible strength, the undeniable force.
Liz died three weeks ago today, just after 3:00 am on May 17th. I woke with a start at 3:30 and wondered if she’d died. Liz believed she had a spirit, an undeniable force, an invisible strength, that couldn’t be annihilated by any means. I like to think that at the end of her last exhalation, her spirit left her weary sick body to be free to go wherever spirits go, perhaps slipping through the keyhole to my house at 3:30 to say 'au revoir,' until we meet again.
I saw Liz less than forty-eight hours before she died, and at the end of what would turn out to be my last visit, there was an awkward moment when I wondered whether to say the actual word goodbye. The word stuck in my throat as it often does in those moments; a word without the heft to encapsulate a friendship of fifteen years; a word too flimsy to acknowledge it as the last time I’d feel her skin under my hand, or under my kiss; a word too insignificant to describe a farewell that had been underway for months. The process of saying goodbye started the moment I heard about Liz’s diagnosis: Stage IV lung cancer, spread to her liver, almost a year to the day she died. I remember the drop in the pit of my stomach hearing her husband Doug tell me the biopsy result over the phone. I had a year to cherish the friendship, twelve more months than many people have when loved ones die suddenly.
So, instead of saying the word "goodbye," I said “I love you,” each time I left her in person, or on the phone, for a whole year. She always said, “I love you” back.
A wise young friend wrote to me this past week and said, “It's weird that there's not a word to describe the surviving friend --- like widow, or orphan, but for a dear, close friend there should be a word.” Her sentiment helped me to place my grief differently. It’s so easy to compare griefs: Liz was a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a sister-in-law, an unfathomable loss in the lives of her beloved family. The devastation around our globe contains too many tragedies, all so much greater it seems than the loss of my friend to my own heart.
But Liz was my friend for fifteen years, and my ‘work spouse’ for ten (we spend more hours of the week with each other than with our real spouses!) and I walk around my days now bereft without her. I lean into photos of her on my laptop in the early morning, like this one of her hands over a stunning salad she created on retreat, and the images fill me up with her by evoking a physical sensation more tangible than absence. I pore over her poems in the Callanish Writes books yearning for her essence, and I scroll through streams of past daily texts filled with coloured hearts and Namaste emojis, trying to locate the everyday connection I treasured. I seek out friends who know the same stories, and the ukulele songs we used to play and sing, and the inside jokes, and I talk with the people who ask the same unanswerable question that I ask: why does anyone have to endure three primary cancers in one life?
And then I turn to the last five lines of Mary Oliver’s poem Lead:
“I tell you this
to break your heart
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.”
And I settle in with my broken heart, and I let it break open to feel how my grief, my friend-grief, lets the world in, and I give it space, as much space as it needs, as a measure of my love for her, my beloved friend Liz.