Death is such a sudden and jarring thing. It doesn’t matter if the person was living on borrowed time, or if death came swooping in out of the blue, years ahead of schedule, it seems we are always caught off guard. Never more so, I think, than when somebody’s child dies. Even if that child is an adult, if they have a parent, they’re somebody’s child.
Alessandra was the beloved daughter of a dear friend of mine. I knew her when she was a little girl but hadn’t seen her in years. Much had changed for her in that time. She’d grown up, and she’d faced challenges with her mental health, which had led to challenges with her physical health, and these challenges had led to other challenges, as disabilities so often do.
A couple of weeks ago, Alessandra died unexpectedly, of natural causes, in her sleep, at the hospital. Because of the level of care she required, and the critical shortage of supportive housing in the community, Alessandra had lived mostly in hospitals in recent years. She was at a good place when her life ended – she was happy, in love, and things were going well.
There was an open mic at the memorial service, and people were invited to share their stories, memories and thoughts. Her mom started, and was followed by a steady stream of people who shared their memories with great love, humour, tenderness and respect. It was the most touching celebration of a life I’ve ever attended. It left me wishing I’d taken the time to know her as an adult, and to be her friend.
Here are some of the things I now know about her – some of these things I remember from when she was a little girl, some are things her mom has told me over the years, and some are things I learned on Thursday.
Alessandra was a larger-than-life presence at the hospital, and made friends with all the nurses, patients, and hospital staff. Everywhere she went, she talked to everybody. She got people to tell her their stories, and she remembered all these stories. She also shared her own stories. She loved people and introduced everybody to everybody else. Alessandra’s version of “us” included everybody; nobody was an outsider. She was generous in every sense of the word. She attracted people into her life who could love her absolutely for who she was, and vice versa. She lived wholeheartedly in the moment. She was spontaneous. She was intense. She was kind. She was loyal. She was brave. She loved animals. She sang. She was always in motion, even after she ended up in a wheelchair. She danced with Propeller Dance. She made friends easily. She lived life large. She had a big smile, a big voice, and a big personality. There’s a big hole where she used to be.
Though Alessandra died young, I think people who live wholeheartedly in the moment get a lot more mileage out of time.
Her aunt, Arleen, read a poem she’d written for her. Sometimes people write tribute poems which are sweet but awful. This was not one of those poems. This poem left me in goosebumps and tears.