On January 17th, 2017, Anastasia Povolotska died by suicide.
I was in love with Anastasia. No one had ever challenged me the way she did. No one had ever made me want to be a better human being like she did. Every day of our relationship seemed to add something to my life I didn’t even know I wanted or needed. My life is better for having loved her.
I’ve spent the past two weeks honouring leaders in my life who are women. Today I’ll finish by telling the stories of one who left my life and one who entered as a result.
Sasha Aspler is Anastasia’s twin sister. We did not know each other well before we experienced the trauma of that morning together. I suspect it’s not unusual for people who share something like that to feel a connection. Everyone else wants to help. Everyone else tries to be there for you. But a true understanding can only come from someone who lived it with you. We don’t have to try to explain. We don’t have to pretend to be strong. We don’t have to choose our words and reactions carefully to try to make the other person feel less uncomfortable.
We just get to be two people who love her and miss her.
Sasha is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister. She has never wavered in her commitment to those roles despite her world being blown apart. The loss she and her family have suffered dwarfs mine but she has been there whenever I have needed her — to share our tears, laughter, fears and strength.
Sasha — I guess I didn’t believe you could be all that she said you were.
I do now.
There’s a look people give you when they discover something like this has happened: a pitying look like you’re a little bird with a broken wing. They ask “are you alright?” in a gooey soft voice that is well intentioned but infuriating. We don’t know if we’re alright. We know what you want to hear — but we just don’t know ourselves.
I didn’t want the look, and I didn’t want the questions. She was too good for social media mourning so there was none.
Four months after her death a dream came true for me: I was given the opportunity to deliver the commencement address at the University of Alabama Birmingham’s School of Medicine. I wanted to feel like she was a part of that day so I tried, for the first time, to pay tribute to her onstage.
Like my most popular TEDx talk, the address is a poor example of how one should deliver a speech. In both cases the emotion of the moment got the better of me. I wish I could have paused more often, paced more slowly and allowed space for thoughts to breath. I was embarrassed by how poorly I delivered something dedicated to someone so important. I’ve never shared the video of the address.
I first heard the words “you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story” just a few months before Anastasia died. The past year has shown me how painfully true that is.
However, we can control whose stories we choose to tell, whose leadership we choose to recognize and whose lives we choose to celebrate. She was the best of friends and best of women, so I close a week of recognizing incredible women by finally sharing what I intended to be a tribute to her:
Anastasia Povolotska was a unicorn. So is her sister.
Tell your unicorns how much they mean to you. Tell the world their stories. And always look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.