Remembering Lorie Levison

September 24, 2009

Last week, my friend Lorie died of cancer.  I sat with her as she spent her last exhalation and grew silent.  I tended her body.  I celebrated her freedom from pain.  And I mourned her early departure from this beautiful world.

As it turns out, in our small community, I am not only someone people tend to call in times of grief, but am also called sometimes when death is drawing near.  This is a task I cherish.  Being able to companion someone as they make that sacred transition from life in a body is the holiest thing I know.  That, and being present when a baby is born.  They are remarkably similar events, both accompanied by a rush of grace that takes my breath away.

I have known Lorie for nearly two decades.  We adopted our first daughters within a year of each other, when the girls were around ten.  Both our kids became young mothers, transforming us into grandmothers, and blessing us with some of the most important relationships of our lives: our grandchildren.

I happened to be with Lorie in the hospital a couple of weeks ago when she was given her terminal diagnosis: the leukemia she had been valiantly combating for over a year had gone into overdrive and the battle was over.  I was there because Lorie had been on a special diet, and I was the one signed up to deliver her breakfast that day, following a transfusion the night before.  She went home that afternoon, so that she could die in her own space, surrounded by the people she loved.

After bearing witness to the news, I sat quietly with Lorie for a few minutes, and then she asked me to take dictation.  She wanted to compose a letter to her granddaughter.  This launched a series of “last letters” I wrote down for Lorie over the next few days, while she still had the strength to speak and the clarity to choose her words.  This task was one of the greatest honors I have ever been given.

Lorie’s disease invaded her body with shocking speed.  A week later, she was gone.  The day before she died, as I was sitting beside her and recording her final wishes for the disposition of her body and the nature of her memorial service, Lorie — who took care of the business of her dying with the same no-nonsense elegance with which she had always tended the business of her life — suddenly reached for my hand.  “Amazing,” she said, smiling, “how you’ve just blossomed into my life like this!”  I nodded, mute with love.  And then we went back to making her funeral arrangements.

My younger daughter, Jenny, died on Lorie’s 50th birthday: October 30, 2001.  Every year for the past seven, Lorie has sent me a beautiful card and a very personal note on that day.  It has been a special, private knowingness that we have shared.  Her family has decided they would like to hold Lorie’s memorial on that day this year, to honor her life.  They have asked me to officiate the ceremony.  It will be my thank you to Lorie for holding me in her heart as I navigated this season of loss throughout the early years.

Though I do not hesitate when called to the bedside of the dying or the shattered hearts of the grieving, I have never learned to cultivate detachment.  I have been known to collapse on the floor beside a newly bereaved widow and take her in my arms and sob with her when I was supposed to be “counseling” her.  I have stumbled out the room following the death of a friend and felt like I was going to faint from the horror of their final suffering.  It is taking me many days to even begin to return to the land of the living after following my friend Lorie as far as I could go beyond the veil of this world.

Yet this same capacity for pain opens a boundless space for beauty in my life, and for the bubbling-over-delight in the simplest moments: my dogs lying in identical positions at the top of the stairs, waiting for me to come up to bed; news of the unexpected pregnancy of the daughter of a friend who died of cancer in my home only two years before; the press of my husband’s lips on my damp collarbone after a bath.

Thank you, Lorie, for blasting my heart a little wider, for carving the secret pathways of grace a little deeper.

5 Responses to “Remembering Lorie Levison”

  1. carol-la sonam dorje said

    dear mirabai,
    i made some time today to look at your blog and found your entry about lorie. i wanted to thank you for referring me to lorie as a caregiver. i was slightly fearful to do so, as i was at a low point(which occurs like a wave)with my grief for
    tsedor-la. i am learning the wave washes over me and then it moves upwards back into the tide of my living. i was honored to meet lorie and the gift she gave me…telling me she liked me with her and that i was a clear and calm presence. amazing to me that my grief process has opened my heart to sit in the presence of the dying. (my second time).
    i am blessed to live in taos first of all, to have terry barsano as my counselor and mast for my boat, ted and golden willow and support group and meeting you. i love you. tu chee chee (tibetan thank you)
    namaste, carol-la

  2. Candy said

    Dear Mirabai,
    I can only express my profound gratitude for the sharing of your words.
    Thank you.
    Om Shanti

  3. jane carlin said

    thank you for that beautiful letter. how I miss Lorie, although she is always close by in memory. Love Jane

  4. jane carlin said

    I was far away in Australia, when she died, so I really appreciate knowing you were with her… Jane

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