Buddha at The Hill of the Buddha in Sapporo.
Photo by Roméo A. / Unsplash

She died before I met her, but one story made me love her with all my heart

Cai died peacefully, on her own terms, with dignity and surrounded by family and friends on January 2 this year.

Oregon's laws allowed her this. ALS, or Lou Gherig's disease, had shortened the time frame for her; she wanted to pass on her 72nd birthday but the disease had progressed to the point where she wanted peace faster. She wrote a goodbye on her website, as eloquent and hopeful and happy as anything she'd ever written, letting us know that her time frame had moved up two weeks.

I'd missed that. Surgeries and pain and life had shouldered my interest in Cai's story aside. Life does that; it gets in the way.

Last night as I was watching yet another spectacular sunset here in Lincoln City, Oregon, I had a sudden desire to know what had happened to Cai. I had a strong feeling that when I typed in her name, the word "obituary" would populate.

It did. I wanted to weep.

Sometimes lives touch you in surprising ways, and yet their faces are only photos.

Cai Emmons was one of those to me. I already miss this woman I never met.

As I was slowly but surely backing away from Medium last year, one day I stumbled on one of her essays. It quickly became clear that this brilliant writer, who lived in Eugene, was someone I really wanted to know.

I was already too late. Her heartfelt, hilarious and heartbreaking essays detailed a life coming to an end. ALS is a devastating disease. It acts quickly, and debilitates without mercy. Cai's writings detailed the daily battles to not only navigate her house with a walker, but the kinds of awful situations that she was able to turn into hilarity.

It was the latter which captured me.

She and her husband, a local playwright, were negotiating terms with the feeding tube which had been inserted into her belly. It somehow got loose, and the two of them collapsed in laughter.

That story instantly endeared her to me. I could love this woman with my entire being. The ability to find the laughter in the midst of battling this awful disease isn't just brave. It's mastery. It's the kind of weapon I have learned to use to juggle what Life has thrown at me, and when I see it in others I celebrate with my whole heart.

This is one of the few times I will invite you back to Medium. Cai's essays are here: https://medium.com/@caiemmons

I will give you more links to her material and her prize-winning books, if you are so inclined: https://caiemmonsauthor.com/books/

The last of the sun set as I had my feet propped up on the big picture windows facing the Pacific. Cai was only two years older. As I read about her life, took in the stories about her and reveled in how she had faced her horrific diagnosis and how joyfully she embraced her imminent journey which would allow her release from her crippled body, all I could think of was how Nature might be righteously evil at times, but God doesn't waste lives.

God never wastes a life.

We cannot possibly embrace the meaning of an existence at the level where we operate. We're not wise enough. However even at my limited comprehension I knew that this woman's work and her example were something to emulate if for no other reason than that she wrote to the day she died, and indeed submitted yet another book almost before she took her last breath.

Writing was in her DNA, and with that skill, even as she wound down her last days, busy with projects and finally, facing the inevitable two weeks sooner than planned, chose to say goodbye. Here is her blog post six days before she left this life:

Wrapping Up A Life – Cai Emmons

From her post:

Part of me would like to be able to step back and say no to everything, but each time I consider that I realize I don’t really want to. I will die as I have lived, saying yes to everything, trying to bring closure despite knowing that neat endings are an illusion.

We are so very obsessed with living and pushing back the dark if for no other reason than a horrible lack of trust. Last year the deepest part of me was soothed by reading the book After:A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond.

Dr. Bruce Greyson spent fifty years researching Near Death Experiences before they were called that; his book ends with the kind of deep reassurance that I have reinterpreted as that yes, Nature might be a Hell Bitch, but the Universe herself is kind.

I don't believe in the carefully-constructed self-serving human version of God in all its forms. I do, however, choose to believe in a benevolent, not a malevolent, Universe. Cai Emmons's writings and her life stand to the celebration of all that in the face of an horrific diagnosis, which in the space of two swift years reduced this vibrant woman to a physical shell of herself.

But it did not diminish her spirit.

If anything, that strengthened her, bolstered by the love of friends, family and her husband. She chose to write about her journey and in doing so she likely touched many more than just me.

Selfishly, I am sorry I never met her. I suspect I would have loved this wonderful human being from the depth of my soul.

But I did meet her. God didn't waste a life at all. I got to celebrate hers, and I am passing that gift along.

Cai, from her obit. Please buy and read her books. I will. 

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