• The cruel beauty of life

    by Christy Sillman

    (Joyce, Jackson and Sarah December 2010)

    In loving memory of Joyce Dalton who tragically passed away 9/5/11 from a kayaking accident on the American River. An inspirational teacher, talented artist, and loving Mother – she will be dearly missed.

    “I’m so sorry, but your mom is about to die. We have two paths that ultimately end at the same spot. We either let them continue ‘coding’ her until they feel it’s time to stop, which will be in the next 20 minutes or so, and she would pass in a room full of doctors and nurses still working on her, or, we can go in there as a family, be there when they shut off the machines, surround your Mom and see her into the light with our love. It’s your choice. I want you both to feel like everything was done to save your Mom, but they really have done everything to try to save her, and now I think we have the opportunity to make her death as beautiful as possible.”

    This was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say, and it’s even harder to write at this moment.

    I’m wounded, not only because it was something I so dearly wish didn’t happen, but because I’m beyond devastated for my best friend and her brother. I can hardly bear to imagine what they must have been experiencing when I had to say this to them, and what they now feel in the aftermath of it all.

    That night I watched my best friend, my soul sister, who I jokingly call “my wife,” straddle the line between life and death. She stood next to her dying mother while being pregnant with the life of her daughter — stretched between two generations, unable to bridge the gap between life and death and bring the two of them together. What a cruel contrast; a dichotomy in the circle of life.

    Her pain is something unimaginable to me, and yet I’ve been watching it all week.

    I imagine Sarah feels like Goldie Hawn’s character in “Death Becomes Her,” with a giant hole in her stomach, like she’s missing her core. But physically she’s the complete opposite of that picture with a wildly gorgeous pregnant belly. Empty yet full at the same time.

    Devastating, sudden, traumatic, cruel loss combined with new life, new beginnings, and a new definition of self. I’ve meditated, I’ve prayed and I feel at loss as how to help her begin to go forward. And yet, I’m watching her take one step forward at a time. I’m a bystander to her grace, beauty and strength.

    I realize that she won’t “heal” from this pain — she’s going to learn to live with the pain and she’s going to be different because of it. She’s redefining her life and finding her foothold in the roots of her mother’s love.

    I grieve for her grief. I find sorrow in her sorrow. Mostly I draw strength, inspiration and peace in her strength. It’s a strength she learned from her mother. It’s a strength she will teach her daughter. It’s a strength that inspires me.




    These are the lessons which spring all of us forward from this tragedy.

    From the cruelty of life, we search for the glory. Embrace the glass as half full while recognizing its emptiness.

    The finality of death is a reality to all of us, whether it is our own or our loved ones — the secret is to find a way to gulp life up in the meantime.

    Toys, wealth, power, status, competition, even politics – all of this means nothing. What matters most in life is how you savor it, cherish it, and who you share it with.

    I watch my friend take one step forward because her mom taught her how to LIVE.

    Give life and live life, she will.

    • Such a beautiful column, Christy. Having lost my mother suddenly at age 27, I can tell you that the love and support of friends is the best healing power of all. Be there for your friend. Even if it’s just in silence. You’ll help her heal.

      • Mary Centeno

      • September 18, 2011 at 10:45 am
      • Reply

      When people wonder what to say, they can read this! Sarah is so blessed to have you for a friend Christy! You all will continue to be in my prayers. My prayer is that you can feel God comfort you…

      • Carolyn Wyler

      • September 18, 2011 at 11:21 am
      • Reply

      So sorry for the loss of your friends mother. It is hard to see someone you love go through a death of a loved one. Beautifully written.

      • David

      • September 18, 2011 at 11:52 am
      • Reply

      Mary’s comment: “When people wonder what to say, they can read this!” captures what I was TRYING to say about all of this — the event AND your column.

      • Kelvin

      • September 18, 2011 at 11:57 am
      • Reply

      Sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful column that really captures the hopelessness, the pain and the reality of moving on. Having just lost a friend myself, I needed this column. Thank you.

      • Stephie

      • September 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm
      • Reply

      Christy, I am so saddened to hear this. Your words are so strong and eloquent. I see why this piece was so hard to write, now. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry. These words stay with me:

      “What a cruel contrast; a dichotomy in the circle of life.”

      Oleta Adams sings a song that says, “Life keeps moving on.” So hard, but true, and necessary. Please give my condolences to Sarah and her family.

    • Thank you for a beautiful column.

      • Misara

      • September 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm
      • Reply

      Excellent column Christy. Having to deal with loss seems to be a common theme for me lately. My heart goes out to you and those touched by this tragedy. Life is cruel, yet beautiful…

      • Ana

      • September 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm
      • Reply

      Amazing Christy. Amazing Sarah. I am blessed to know you both and now have a different appreciation in my heart because of you.
      Christy, thank you for sharing. Your strength through all of this has been more than inspirational (that is directed to both of you).

    • Beautifully said. It happens when we least expect it. I lost my best friend of 43 years in 1998. I was lucky to spend the last 5 months of her life with her everyday. We laughed, lived and loved. There is not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her. She is in my heart always. I am so sorry for your friend but I am sure she knows you are right beside her, behind her, next to her and in front of her as she navigates this loss.

      • Margie

      • September 18, 2011 at 9:42 pm
      • Reply

      Beautiful Christy.Your words are healing and full of love and the most sincere compassion.

    • Christy,
      1.The things of the earth, they make their claim that the things of heaven may do the same. (B.S. 2005)
      2.Please place my name at the end of your list of men that adore you.

    • Really amazing column, Christy. Very heavy, but you guys appear to have a strong foundation upon which to built a future. Terribly sorry for your loss.

      • Michael Carl, MD (Christy Sillman's Dad)

      • September 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm
      • Reply

      I’m so proud of you sweetheart, and I know that Sarah will be okay with you by her side. Life is so short compared to eternity, and no one but God knows when each of us will pass over to the other side. The most important thing is to be ready at all times, and value your true treasures in life- family, friends, and love.

      • Judy N

      • September 19, 2011 at 9:29 pm
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      This is very powerful, Christy. I loved what you said to the family about sharing the last moments.

      • Norbie Kumagai

      • September 20, 2011 at 10:31 am
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      Hello Christy: I respectfully reserve the right to have my name placed after Mr. Sanders… Norbie

      • Jesse

      • September 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm
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      This is an amazing column. Joyce will be deeply missed at Vanden. I miss her every morning when I pull around the corner and she isn’t there walking with Jorge or joking with me about life. I miss her, and have learned from her. I am still learning to be a little nicer. To embrace whimsey and to love freely. These are Joyce’s gifts. Thank you for saying so much in this space.

      Lastly, we are definitely going to buy that Lady statue tomorrow and we are going to work together as staff and students to put it all together as a reminder of a life fully lived. I hope you can write about that too. With deep love and appreciation. Jesse Loren

      • Terri

      • September 22, 2011 at 9:00 am
      • Reply

      Christy, what a beautiful post; Sarah is lucky to have a friend as like you. You are all in my prayers.

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