There are some things you don’t get better at with age and one of those things is knowing how to handle death. Even though we might think we know all the right answers by now, Death always has the upper hand. It doesn’t matter how many articles I’ve read on the grieving process or how many blog posts about coping strategies I’ve commented on, nothing can prepare you for the news for a loved one’s death. Nothing.
I learned this lesson yet again last Sunday afternoon when I found out about my friend’s unexpected death. Even typing that sentence seems silly. Her “unexpected death” — as if any death is expected — sounds cliché. Of course it was unexpected. Surprising. Shocking. Unplanned.
(Can you tell I’m somewhere in the bitter stage of the grieving process with a touch of anger?)
My friend laid herself to sleep, and prayed for her soul to keep on Saturday night but never woke up. A young woman, too young, vibrant and laughing, with dark, shining eyes and the ability to make people excited about anything she talked about or involved in.
The world changed sometime between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Sunday. In that short time period a hushed silence took over in order for a soul to cross over, leaving this world behind and entering a new one. Leaving us behind and joining others on another adventure. I cannot begrudge my friend. I won’t.
We taught together in our own mysterious world called junior high. We collaborated on the best ways to help students learn to write to their best abilities, to read more complicated texts — not only read them but to discuss them. We would laugh together about the silly exploits we witnessed on a day to day basis. Of all the faculty members in the English Department, I felt like she “got” me. Before our new school opened, we met for lunch at a local restaurant to plan for the upcoming school year, both of us teaching 9th grade English. We both felt clueless and unsure about what we were taking on, but we promised each other that we would drown together.
I loved her sense of optimism and fun, no matter the hardship. She didn’t have a golden life or path of perfection. Yet she never complained. Instead, she took on life with zeal and with an appreciation for adventure. Our school takes the students to an amusement park at the end of the school where she and I spent time together one year. I think I had the best time at this park that year — it’s not a place I necessarily enjoy to be honest. I believe there is not one roller coaster she would turn down. I choose this experience to be my lasting memory to have with my friend.
She was the teacher who took over my classes when I left that school. My tenure there didn’t end happily and sometimes it is hard to separate the end there with who took over my place. However, she was the best person for my classes and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else. I had just ordered a new set of books to use with my 9th grade honors students and wasn’t ever able to use them. Looking back on it now, I find it so fitting that she was able to. The book was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. In all the years I’ve known Alisha, I can say she was a great example of what Pausch included in his lecture: “We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier” (p. 139). She was always driven, determined, and undeterred.
I will always consider Alisha to be a fellow lion and my heart aches so much with her absence:
“An injured lion still wants to roar.” — Randy Pausch