This morning I noticed that the faucet in the hotel room shower reminded me of those cow skulls you see from places like Arizona.
“I’m afraid of places like that,” I say to myself, as water pours over me. “They’re too dry.”
The more I age, the more I need water nearby.
And then I think about the sea vs. lakes and streams, and I consider where I want to live at the end of my life and where I want to die.
My mind flashes to the space where my Mom lived out her last days–in a hospital bed in her living room, surrounded by windows, a block from the bay.
“I want to die there,” I think, which is absurd because I never lived in that house and my mother’s estranged husband lives there now–with his girlfriend and her kids. (I would call him my stepfather but we went to highschool together. He was my boyfriend’s best friend.)
“Do you mind if I die here, Dan?”
It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen in my family. My father, the surgeon, was the one to pronounce my mother dead in the livingroom of the home she shared with the man with whom she left him.
I left them all a quarter of a century ago for the mountains which is where I now live on a canopied road that runs alongside a brook.
My house sits above a pond belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception where I celebrated my 50th birthday 5 years ago next week.
A good friend from highschool came up from the shore for that weekend; it was her first time in Vermont; and last month, her husband came up with their oldest son to spread some of her ashes on the water here.
If I were to die like my mother, with time to consider such things, I suppose I’d welcome a view of the Atlantic. I was born beside that sea.
Mine was a December arrival, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is funny because my parents got pregnant out of wedlock like Mary and Joseph, and my father was a Jew (His grandfather was anyway) which is why the Catholic Church refused to marry them even though my mother was a Catholic born on Christmas Day.
Hate hides in so many places, fed by fear and superiority as if “All Men Are Created Equal” is not self-evident but something that has to be, in each generation, proven.
The Sisters of Mercy tended my mother’s labor at their hospital across from the beach in Sea Isle City so if not the beach, then maybe I could die in some house of Mary, like the one across the pond from me in the Green Mountains–the summer camp belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
Some find my absorption with death maudlin or worse—premature—as if there is the promise of tomorrow for any of us.
My sister died beside a pool. My grandmother on a bridge. My mother beside the bay windows. All in their 50’s. The first two by total surprise; the last with two months warning.
I suppose if I outlive the lot of them, I’ll be reborn. Last week I took the ferry across the Delaware Bay to visit my great-aunt ahead of her 92nd birthday.
Her mother, my great-grandmother lived into her nineties too.
“I’m ready to go,” she’d say when I’d come to sit beside her as she woke from her afternoon nap.
I massaged her legs under the blankets in a hospital near the sea in the days leading up to her death.
Born a Jefferson, my great-grandmother’s people go back to the 1700s in Delaware and Virginia. I imagine she never questioned belonging, though being born female in 1898 meant she wasn’t considered equal in any way–not with regard to property, opportunity, representation or even bodily autonomy.
Some things haven’t changed.
Belonging seems essential to living and dying, doesn’t it?
I suppose no matter where I die, I’ll carry the sea with me inside.
It’s Sunday night and the house is empty again. Aidan has returned to school, and our weekend guests have headed south toward Philly.
The hush. The still. The simplicity. Tonight, the empty house is a friend.
In this spaciousness, I am brought to tears. Not once, but several times, consecutively.
“We buried my friend today,” I want to say, but that’s not true. It was only her ashes we released over the Whetstone Brook because she was drawn toward it when she visited 5 years ago.
“I love that creek near your house,” she’d say.
“It’s a brook,” I’d tell her.
That trip was her first and only one to Vermont, and she came in the winter, and she hates winter, and she was very sick then too. But it was my 50th birthday, and I had planned a women’s weekend, and she wanted to be here, much like she wanted to make it to London during my semester abroad when we were 20.
Despite her fragile state (though fragile is never a word that could be used to describe my friend), she traveled alone ahead of her husband and our friends so that she could have an extra day before the festivities.
The sky grew dark by the time her train pulled in, and a light snow began to fall.
She and I walked up the hill to the Co-op to meet my family, and we took it slow, stopping often. “It’s okay, Kel,” she said, “I’ll be okay.”
We were wild together once—dancing, laughing, gallivanting—in London, in Philly, at the Jersey shore.
Now all her wild was inside.
We got together again a couple years after my 50th for a long weekend in Cape May. We celebrated her birthday. She was doing really well that time. She loved the sea. Even in February.
No one knew it would be her last.
If you’ve followed me on Facebook ahead of the election in 2016, you may have recognized our friendship by our fierce arguments.
You may or may not have noticed the ways we “liked” each other’s family photos and celebrated each other’s milestones. You wouldn’t have known that behind the scenes, we checked in on each other’s kids and talked about her treatments and made plans to meet up when we could.
Laura talked a lot about making it back to Vermont in the summertime, admiring as she did all the photos I posted of the pond.
“My son Cameron has to get there too,” she’d say, “He thinks like you do.” (They’d argued fiercely too.)
On the day after the election, I posted an image of myself. It was reminiscent of the photo I knew as a child: the weeping chief looking over the littered land.
Laura messaged me immediately: “Maybe women will really rise up now,” she said, encouraging me, with deep compassion, even while celebrating her candidate’s shocking victory.
I missed the Women’s March. Laura was hospitalized that week, and died on the eve of the inauguration.
It’s funny that she’s come to Vermont again just ahead of the mid-terms. Her son Cameron and I talked politics all weekend, doing our part to bend the arc of history toward justice.
As we took a pinch of her ashes and let them go over the rushing waters of the Whetstone Brook, it began to snow.
I remember her as wild and audacious at a time when I was the new girl at her Catholic High School, hesitant and introverted.
Decades later, she messaged me when I was the new middle-ager arriving on FB, and I was surprised to learn that she (like me) was fully adulting–not only as a wife and mother (unimaginable!) but as a widely, impactful professor (more unimaginable!)
Given the limitations of “knowing” someone within the confines of a high school uniform, I was further delighted to discover that beyond her memorable snark and comedy, there was a kind, tender and thoughtful soul–revealed in her very private responses to my very public writing–which I received from her from time to time in messages and in delightful hand-written notes and even in that rare in-the-flesh connection when we shared a pew or two back east.
She is still passionate about horses and friends. And now her 3 children. Her husband. Her work.
Looking back to high school, I can see passion as her sustaining quality. Living large. Gusto.
It’s hard to imagine such a life/light vulnerable.
The love shining back at her in this moment is exponentially large.
Send yours if you will out to Washington state.
May we all step inside this light of connection to hold and be held in times of difficulty.
ps. Kelly, our name means WARRIOR.
July 6, 2018
My first Cortado.
What I loved about youth was the way i could throw it all away. Sex with a total stranger on a ship crossing the channel. Tequila shots from Kass’s pump. Pool crashing and star-gazing with another’s lover. All night pillow talk. Another party. Another concert. Another city. Another train. Another friend of a friend’s couch. Hitchhiking. Road tripping. Heading out for a season in the Rockies.
There was so much life on the table that there was plenty to waste.
A high school classmate took a fall on Tuesday. A car accident on the side of the road. An overdose. A suicide. An empty nest in August.
In 2 weeks I’ll see my oldest friend.I want to wrap my arms around her and not let go.
Maybe I should have ordered the Flat White.
July 8, 2018
This morning in my Facebook feed. A highschool classmate with whom I share a name. She took a fall on Tuesday beside her horse.
This morning we hear from her husband through a friend:
Kelly has taken the next step in her adventure… with strength and grace and beauty, as always.
And just as my heart collapses for him and their 3 children and Kelly’s life ending at 54, the very next post I see is that of a newborn.
The baby of my cousin’s daughter.
Arrived this same week.
“Aria,” they call her.
An operatic solo.
And isn’t that just like Kelly, as testimonied by friends and family and students and colleagues–near and far–past and present–as together we prayed/hoped/shouted/danced for a different ending than the one we’ve been given just now.
July 9, 2018
Take a walk
Her husband writes:
Good morning to everyone, and peace be with all of you. I’ve picked up Kelly’s phone this morning for the first time, and I’m not Facebook savvy. I’m hesitant to post because I don’t want to stop the flow of love and remembrance and tributes and photos and stories. So don’t stop.
I’ve only read a few posts, and been deeply moved, to laughter and tears and admiration, by all of them. I will read them all, eventually, but know that the kids and Kelly’s enormous circle of friends are following right along.
Kelly loved life, and so many people, as fully as she could, and these last few days have shown all of us that her connections are even broader and deeper than any of us realized.
For today, and tomorrow, and as long as you can, keep her in your hearts, and live by her example, loving deeply, laughing often, reaching out, bringing together, questioning, wondering, inspiring, reading, mentoring and collaborating and learning, and walking in the light, both literally and spiritually.
(Our family) treasures these memories you are sharing. Keep it up.
Peace be with all of you. Now go take a walk, and take Kelly with you…
July 9, 2018
Post from a colleague:
July 10, 2018
Her husband writes:
There’s been some conflicting information about Kelly’s accident, so hopefully a few details will at least help make sense of what happened, if not why.
…On a beautiful Tuesday evening she picked up her horse from the trainer where he’d been while she was away. Since she was looking forward to riding in the Albion, WA 4th of July parade the next day, she led Eddie on a walk around the neighborhood — on foot. About a quarter-mile from home, walking into a slight ditch, her feet slipped from beneath her, and she fell with her head hitting the ground first.
The impact left a small bump on her head, but initiated massive internal bleeding, which led to profound and irreversible damage. She walked her horse home, put him out in the pasture, came inside, grabbed an ice pack, called to (our kids), and they decided to take her to the emergency room. She lost and never regained consciousness before she got to the hospital.
Pullman Regional immediately called LifeFlight for transport to Sacred Heart in Spokane, but all of the neurosurgeons agree that nothing could have been done outside the first 10 minutes or so, and in that window Kelly was still walking with her horse in the Palouse hills she loved so well.
Because Kelly was young, strong, healthy, and possessed of an indomitable will to live, she defied predictions for several days, which allowed her family and many friends to say goodbye to the woman they loved and admired. She passed peacefully as first light filled the sky.
Please keep her in your hearts, and keep the memories and tributes and photos coming. They are a treasure and a blessing and a solace and a smile to all of us who knew and loved and worked with Kelly, from family members and lifelong friends to casual acquaintances and professional colleagues.
Peace be with all of you.
July 11, 2018
A young friend of Kelly writes:
So apparently, Kelly has made it through orientation in record time (as expected) and the admins in heaven are letting miracles and moments like this bless our lives down here.
July 11, 2018
Her huband writes:
We are working on plans for a celebration of Kelly’s life — as soon as we have things figured out, they will be posted here as well as other sites. You Facebook readers will be some of the first to know.
We are also working on details of a memorial fund to, as Provost Dan Bernardo puts it, ‘perpetuate Kelly’s legacy at WSU.’ We are all sorry that the WSU family only had a year of Kelly’s enthusiasm and action and vision as Vice Provost, but we are hopeful her memory and momentum will be carried forward. Details as they become available.
Make sure to take a walk today, even if it’s just around the block.
July 12, 2018
Better for a while
Her husband writes:
We are very close to finalizing the details for a celebration of Kelly’s life and legacy…
Sharing this song this morning, because it feels right. It’s a favorite of ours. It’s for all of you, who ‘make it seem better for a while.
July 13, 2018
Her husband writes:
Here are the details, press release-style:
Dr. Kelly Ward, Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Recognition at Washington State University (WSU), passed away on July 8, 2018.
A celebration of Kelly’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, August 4, 2018 at 2:00 PM in the M.G. Carey Senior Ballroom in the Compton Union Building (CUB) on the WSU campus in Pullman, Washington. A reception will follow at the Lewis Alumni Centre, also located on the WSU campus. Program details for both events will be finalized and released in the near future.
The Funeral Mass for Kelly will be celebrated at 7 PM on Friday, August 3rd at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman.
Gifts in memory of Kelly can be sent to the “Kelly Ward Legacy Fund” at the WSU Foundation (https://go.wsu.edu/kelly-ward-legacy-fund). The Kelly Ward Legacy Fund has been established for the advancement of women faculty at Washington State University. The Office of the Provost will work with the Association for Faculty Women and the Commission on the Status of Women to ensure that Dr. Ward’s legacycontinues in perpetuity.
For those traveling to Pullman, hotel blocks have been reserved at the following locations:
July 14, 2018
She listened to the end
Her husband writes:
I promise I won’t keep doing this every day, but it’s therapeutic. I’d love to talk and write with so many of you, so this is a small step…
Yesterday I moved the truck back to its spot beside the barn – Kelly had left it in the usual location for unloading horses. I knew from a message that she had been ‘jamming’ to music as she drove home Tuesday night, and as I turned on the CD, it switched from track 6 to track 7, so I know that this is the last song Kelly listened to, and that she listened to the end.
July 15, 2018
Her husband writes:
…Kelly and I have lived together since 1991, and she has written in her journal every day. I have NEVER seen any of the entries. Last night, while putting something away, I saw the book on the bedside and looked at the final page.
These are the last words Kelly wrote to herself that Tuesday morning: