Losses

Stella died finally. It was a mercy. I stood by the door of the chapel in my wool suit with tears and laughter streaming out the door, and wondered how I’d gotten there.

We were sitting at our desks working when she started to get a headache. She went home. She took aspirin. She rested. The headache wouldn’t go away. She didn’t complain until the third day. She was like that.

The headache was a brain tumor, a deep one, in a spot that resisted treatment, though they treated her anyway. She lasted some years after that, mostly through positive attitude and stubborness. She wore a beret to cover the bald spot the treatment gave her and smiled to show that she was unafraid.

Stella was bombastic. She spewed love. She hugged you when you met her, and then every time she saw you after that. She smiled and laughed and raved and ranted. She assaulted life, and life was better for it. If anything, the tumor motivated her to double down on love. She became more, rather than less.

The day of her ‘life celebration,’ the chapel was packed and people flowed down the steps, hung out of the back door, and stood quietly in the driveway. No one wanted to cry because Stella wouldn’t have wanted that, but they cried anyway, because that’s how grief works.

I drove around all day thinking about my friend and trying to make some sense out of the senselessness of her loss. What to do? What to do?

I came to this conclusion: You have to let things like this change you. You have to let the example people like Stella set seep into your bones and change the way you are in the world. We talk about learning the lessons of losses, but it’s not enough to simply learn, to intellectualize, to become aware. You have to change the person you are. You have to let all that love wash through you, and you have to pass it along and become a more decent, a more positive person. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Stella would come to me and say that she had ridden her bike over the weekend. The traffic terrified her, but she was trying. One day, she thought, she’d be able to ride all the way to work. She wanted to be a cyclist. This was part of what I did, part of who I was, that she was willing to take as part of herself. She was letting me change her, until the tumor derailed the process.

Life can be full of painful losses. I won’t catalog the possibilities, because we are all aware. And when I relate these events back to cycling, which is in my nature, I see both how small a thing riding a bike can be, and how it can also change your life. A loss on a bike, in a race, or in a town line sprint, or in a crash, is a nothing, a false conceit for things like the passing of a friend. At the same time, every ride is a meditation on living. It can be a source of learning and strength and root-level change, if you let it.

When a friend dies, you think about your own mortality, your loved ones. It rocks your sense of the order of the universe. But rather than retreat into anger, which is almost always my first inclination, Stella’s passing reminded me how impotent anger really is, and how powerful love can be.

There is a ghost bike around the corner from the office Stella and I used to share. A cyclist was struck and killed there years ago, and the bike has remained. Now, when I pass it, I will think of Stella, and I will smile, knowing that I am a better person for having known her.

 Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot

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15 comments

  1. Walt S

    Robot,

    Your postings always make me think. Today you made me think and feel. During times of great loss, everything gets jumbled up into intellectual and emotional paralysis. You have helped me see these times in a positive and better way. I truly appreciate your gift of words.

    Thank you.

  2. Souleur

    indeed, we should change, else we are just heartless, changeless, soul-less creatures

    some changes hurt, are loss

    some changes are good, make us feel well

    but change is change

  3. randomactsofcycling

    Robot – My commiserations for your loss.
    Thank you for your words. I like your attitude.
    And yes, as Gandhi said “be the change you wish to see in the World”. Don’t just think about it.

  4. P Poppenjay

    ‘…let the love wash through you and pass it along.’

    This is a change in the thinking of and experiencing loss and grief.
    One I will copy and hold.
    Thanks, Robot

  5. Running Cyclist

    Robot – your words here give me a deeper understanding of why I love to ride and run. I too, tend to relate all aspects of my life back to these activities and despite their relative insignificance, they bring order and understanding to my world. Well done.

  6. PeterLeach

    Thank you Robot.

    In your words
    “… You have to let all that love wash through you, and you have to pass it along and become a more decent, a more positive person. It’s the only thing that makes sense …”
    and
    “… every ride is a meditation on living. It can be a source of learning and strength and root-level change, if you let it …”.

    We can all become better people and should strive to do so.

    In the words of a friend who I lost in 2009″ “Ride forever, Stella”.

  7. Jesus from Cancun

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend, but you wrote something beautiful about it.

    Life is all about love for everything and everyone we have. When we have someone who reminds us of this, well, life becomes such a better journey.

    Thank you for sharing.

  8. Fred

    Beautiful words, brought tears to my eyes.

    Am sorry for the loss of your friend. Am happy for your renewed celebration of life.

  9. Rudy

    Thank you for expressing so clearly what Stella’s passing can mean to us. Or should mean to us. After spending time together for 40 years, the very thought that she will not be here so we can share silly jokes is painful. So that we can share jokes AND cry together. We did both of those in abundance.
    But Stella would not want there to be pain. She bore enough of that for all of us in these past few years.
    What I am taking from Stella’s move to the other dimension is what she whispered to me every time we met in the last few years. She whispered it and she yelled it out: while you are here, love every minute of your life. Do not let anything get in the way of your love for life and your fellow residents of this planet. And yes, Stella viewed us as part of the planet way, way back, decades ago, before it was the “cool” way to look at things.
    TQM, Estelita. Todavía y para siempre.

  10. Roberto Chao

    Dear Robot,
    I am Stella’s husband. I know well of her kindness and love for everyone. But I didn’t know you. I didn’t know to much about her work mates and her job. But I could appreciate their love for Stella while the final celebration to her life. Almost ten of her colleagues came to it and as you said dozens of people remained outside. Even that day I was myself surprised by the amount of love she created in her life.
    And as one of Stella’s best friend Rudy, said before of her: “while you are here, love every minute of your life”. That’s what I learned from her too. Her long journey on her sickness was painful to watch, but she was always content and happy, minimizing or not giving to much attention to her pain. She was always an optimistic person.
    What a lost we all have!.
    But life has to continue as you said. With your beautiful words and dedication to an audience (we the people) you showed us passion and love for life.
    I love to ride a bike too. The breeze you feel while doing it is incommensurable.
    Let’s celebrate life and ride much more our bikes and feel that air coming thru our lungs.
    Let’s celebrate all previous loses all over the world by opening our lungs to more fresh air and been more lovers of life!!!.

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