My Hero is Home
During Ann’s nineteen months of cancer treatment, my duties were simple; love her, be with her, make sure she got the best medical treatment possible, and stay strong. For nineteen months I kept the tears and horror at bay. After her death, my hardest challenge has been to stop crying.
Last weekend we held her memorial service and over 500 friends and family attended. You can find my presentation on having Ann as a friend at 1:13:54 on this video. I kept the sobs at bay until after I finished.
Below is the text which lacks the nuance of the video. Please note I sanitized it a bit for the service and for Ann’s parents! I have included the “explicit” version below. Thank you.
If Ann was here, I would count on her to say, “Enough about me. Now tell me what you think about me.”
Ann was the most thoughtful, loving, challenging and kind best friend. She was funny, profane, irreverent and determined in everything. And she said yes to every adventure I proposed including taking the children in our lives on a Class IV river rafting trip during a flood. The children all claim to this day that we tried to cause their death by water. It might have been a touch more dangerous than Ann admitted.
Ann’s friend Doug, amused her often by describing Ann as an acquired taste. The truth is that Ann had to acquire you first. Often you didn’t even know that she was adding you to the team. And her requirements for you to be acquired? The right values including; love, truth, kindness, and loyalty. To qualify for the inner circle you had to have a willingness to be challenged because she would challenge you often. And if you challenged her, anger might follow but so would a thoughtful response. I made Ann angry often. On a positive note, she did inform Michael and I that we were equally annoying.
Ann nicknamed the tribe she formed as mergers and acquisitions. She never met a person whose problem she couldn’t fix in sixty seconds or less. And sometimes she gave until we hurt. Ann knew her superpower was action in an isolated and stuck world. Once she identified your problem, she would use every resource available to her to help you. Ann always opened her heart, and wallet, to the opportunity to help someone to a better life. She never let the obstacles people created for themselves close her heart. Most of us would get jaded. Not Ann. Her mission was to make the world a better place one person at a time.
Ann lived life in the tempo of a sprinter. I realize now that the intensity she brought to everything, and I mean everything, may have derived from her sense that her time with us was short. She sprinted through life knowing she had to accomplish far more than the rest of us with far less time. One of the things I most admired and loved about Ann is that she didn’t meet a paradigm she couldn’t flip. And her genius was never accepting the current modality of anything. She always asked why and wanted to know what the result would be if you approach your problem from another direction. Often she was right and it hurt for me to admit it every time. She always wanted to bet a dollar that she would be right. It was an expensive friendship for me.
Ann’s childhood at, and I quote, “boarding school” laid the foundation for her acts of service. Every niece, nephew, and grandchild has received the lecture about being kind to the kid in school that might not fit in and to use their superpowers for good! Ann knew what it felt like to be that kid.
Ann was scared to die but never terrified. What terrified Ann was the wake of destruction her death would leave behind for the ones she loved most. She knew that she was the glue in the void for so many. This was not some random accident. Ann was deliberate in everything including maintaining her friendships. She had lunch with a friend every day. She texted, emailed and called often. As some of you know, my phone has a voice mail that asks you not to leave a message. Ann hated my efficiency and laughed during the messages she insisted on leaving on that damn voicemail. And those voicemails are a gift that I will treasure always.
When Ann was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she had a clear choice and the irony of her situation was never lost upon her sense of humor. When someone asked about the type of cancer she had, Ann would respond with “Stage IV Herpes.” Ann chose again to not define her life by her illness or her trauma. She was a person, like many others, living with a disease. Yet, Ann recognized a good story and knew that her illness was a wonderful platform to share the principles that have guided her life; love, kindness, truth, and friendship.
Ann talked often about how she did not excel in the classroom. This hubris allowed her to choose to be a great student in life and at the end one of our best teachers. There was no problem she would not help solve, no transgression she wouldn’t attempt to right and no friend she would not defend. Ann was a warrior from birth through death.
During a moment of reflection about her death, I told Ann that I would never have another best friend like her. She looked me in the eye and responded, “I know.” For me, the color has gone out in the world. Everything seems duller. If Ann heard me whining right now, she would respond to me by saying; For fuck’s sake. Cut it out. Do the work. Make the world a brighter place for everyone around you. Use your superpowers for good. Choose to be cheerful and cooperative. And when in doubt, consult Ms. Manners. As she quoted the Great Philosopher Beyonce in the hospital, we are all flawless.
Ann loved this prose by Tecumseh and she embodied Tecumseh’s guidance:
“When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
My hero is now home.