Death — our only guarantee

As far back as I can remember, I thought about death. I remember as a teenager, there was once a disagreement in the house, and I yelled, this is stupid, you can’t leave mad, what if I walked outside, tripped on the curb, and broke my head open, how would you feel? Okay, maybe I was a bit dramatic as a teen… I also remember when Meet Joe Black came out, and after watching it, bawling my eyes out, I had one word, This. Death is the only guarantee we have in this life.

Last week was tough on the death front, and ironically, it happened in the infamous threes. First, Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon ;, died by suicide. You read through her history and your heart breaks over and over, yet in 2013 she launched the infamous Project Semicolon. Its mission: “Dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self injury.” Many of us who dedicate our life to this work have been affected by suicide in some way, usually as an attempt or a survivor of suicide. Amy did this. Her message of hope and inspiration touched countless people who now have incorporated it via clothing, jewelry, or a tattoo. My heart goes out to her family and the people who she has touched with her work. Instead of being defeated, it puts the fire under me even more to continue with this work.

The second was another person I did not know either and only learned about last week. Mike Hall was an ultra cyclist who died last week in Australia after being struck by a vehicle, one day away from the finish of the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. I have since read and learned a bit more about him. On Friday, I saw the film Inspired to Ride, the documentary on the First Trans Am Bike race in 2014 (and unsupported ride covering 4,233 miles across ten states). I went as my boyfriend was in this race, and I wanted to learn more about it. I walked away in awe of him and the amount of grit and perseverance one must have to accomplish something like this. My mom in Bend did a supported ride several years ago across the US. Between the two of them I feel quite lazy! We went to this movie with our hearts heavy knowing this amazing cyclist, who won the race that inspired this documentary, died just a couple of days before. He was profiled a lot in the movie, and I got a sense of his determination and drive. He rode for the joy of riding, yet had this amazing strength and ability to surmount and win these amazing feats of endurance. The sense from the articles I read was that he was yet another who inspired many and that the world lost an amazing ambassador to the ultra cycling community.

The third was someone I did know, my neighbor Bob. I moved into my house after Jesse and Maribella’s tragedy. My neighbor Teri came over, introduced herself gave me some jam, and soon after, I met her husband Bob. What stuck me was their humor and joy for life and each other. Last summer, Teri told me he was diagnosed with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Anyone who has known someone with this knows it is an awful disease with no cure. It is a neurodegenerative disease and weakens muscles and impacts your ability to physically function. There was a time last fall where they said that he had only weeks left, but after a couple of weeks, I believe, and don’t quote me on this, he said, fuck that. He rallied and did a lot better for awhile. I saw him just weeks ago while delivering Girl Scout cookies, and he was cracking up with Raffi. He was an inspiration to me in his grace, dignity, and humor during this arduous fight. I got to hug Teri today. I mowed their lawn as much as I could over the last year, wanting to do something to help. Today was no different, as the threat of rain loomed again with the green grass bursting with spring exuberance. I saw her on the porch and turned off the mower and we hugged. I hugged with the knowledge of the pain her heart felt, she hugged with the disbelief and shock that I expected, trembling in my arms. I wish I could take her pain away. She lost her husband, and more importantly her best friend of 23+ years. I get that ache, I understand the impending loneliness that will ensue. We chatted on the porch a bit, laughing here and there with dark humor as well as sweet memories.

We truly have no other guarantees in life except that we have a finite amount of time on this planet, there is no expiration date nor knowledge of the how. I never forget this, knowing it from childhood with the reinforcement with a brick across my head with Jesse and Bella dying. I have been called lovingly intense by many people since they have died. Recently I said, yes, I am either asleep or intense. Those are my two speeds. I am not sure how much longer I have left, often I feel premonitions of not as long as I think. Who knows. What I do know is that I need to make the best of it, which explains the intensity. I am learning to relax more, though that is still tough at times. Last week we lost many inspiring people, each fighting their own battles. One fighting a long battle and losing, inspiring others to continue to fight for a world with Zero Suicide. Another, a man fighting to win yet another race, inspiring others to never think things like that are impossible. And the last, a man who fought against one of the shitiest diseases out there, yet doing it with humor and grace, inspiring those he left behind to do the same with the life we have left.

Freshly mowed grass

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Stephanie Willard

Originally published at on April 4, 2017.