Shaken, Not Stirred

When my Cousin David died one year ago today, it was a big deal. Death is always a big deal. Regardless of circumstance, death is the Big Cheese. It’s especially powerful if you’re with someone when they take their last breath. It’s a vibrant reminder that death is real, and we’ll all be dead one day.

That truth came into sharp focus for me this past year and it’s been a mantra I’ve used to guide my decisions forward. It’s also becoming a mantra I use when friends are questioning what they want to do with their lives. “You’ll be dead one day,” I say unflinchingly, “so go for it.”

While I knew my cousin’s death signified a big change in my life, what I did not expect was the BIG CHANGE that actually happened. I felt like a dusty snow globe, the kind I had as a kid from the Palm Springs Tramway, that was taken off the shelf and vigorously shaken. The snowflakes that had settled in comfortably over the years were flung into chaos. I became aware of all the stagnation in my life as the snowflakes swirled around uncontrollably before settling, willy-nilly, into a new pattern I don’t yet recognize.

Almost immediately after my cousin’s death, everything in my life – except my marriage and my dogs – was up for serious examination. Was I living my life to the fullest? Was I doing what my soul yearned to do? Was I fulfilling my potential? While the answer was a resounding YES in the past, it was now a jolting NO.

Cousin David’s passing gifted me with x-ray vision that allowed me to diagnose where I was stagnant in my life, and it was almost everywhere I looked – most notably my job, my home, and my city. So, with great surprise and disbelief that “the time had come,” I began to let those things die too. It was shocking to consider leaving my wonderful job of sixteen years but it was a decision that became crystal clear over a period of several months. It was also shocking to consider leaving San Francisco – a city I have adored living in for 22 years – but it’s a decision my husband and I are making with certainty. It’s time for change. Big Change.

I don’t like change. I root. I cling. I worship at the altar of stability. What I’m doing with my life right now is so “not me.” But the time has come thanks to the force of Cousin David’s spirit backing me up. Whenever I think of “taking the leap” and leaving all that is secure and comfortable (and stagnant), I feel him PUSHING me off the ledge with the guarantee that I will fly, not fall. Thanks to his support, I have no fear. I am jumping. And that’s because being with him when he died, shook me to my core. Thank God.

Cousin David credits me with “saving his life.” I was the person who gave him permission and courage to finally investigate the possibility that maybe he was gay. It was in 1994 during an epic trip to Ecuador – to the rainforest, Quito, and the mountains of Otovalo – where we found ourselves in front of a fire in a rambling, old hacienda talking until dawn. I gingerly broached the subject with him, and it miraculously succeeded in opening up a facet of his being that had been fiercely locked away with fear, shame and denial. In his late forties at that time, David went on to fully investigate, embrace and celebrate his true nature, and for the rest of his life, when people would ask him how he “came out” and met his beloved husband Jon, he always credited me with guiding him. He would finish his story with dramatic flourish by saying that he owed me his life.

Like in any good fable, the beneficiary of some great deed becomes in turn, the grantor of an equal or greater deed to another soul they meet along the path. I now understand that Cousin David’s death and spiritual support as I prepare to spread my wings and take the leap, is his way of reciprocating for how I shook him up like a snow globe that long night in Ecuador, and helped him claim the last 20 years of his life with renewed possibility, and the promise of growth, challenge, and joy.

Here’s to my brilliant cousin and the beautiful gift he has given me by dying way too soon. I am ready to take that running leap into my future, and it’s him that is giving me the jump start. I’ll be dead one day, so why not?