Takeaways on Life and Death

When I worked in the corporate world, we used to talk about what the “takeaway” would be from a meeting or an ad campaign - the main message that a people would "take” with them.

Spelled with a space in between, we all know what “take away” means. To subtract. To snatch away.

Two of my lovely friends have been taken from me this year: Lisa Wolfson (LK Madigan) and Bridget Zinn. They died just three months and two days apart.

So what are the takeaways from their deaths?
- Save more emails. Email storage is pretty much free these days. When I heard the news about Bridget, I tried to find my most recent emails with her, where we had talked about the lovely cherry tree in her yard and how considering the structure of The Princess Bride might help her as she worked on final edits for Poison. I can find scattered emails back from the last two and a half years, but that’s it. Which was so stupid of me. It’s not like I didn’t know Bridget would not be around forever. I remember doing the same thing after Lisa had died, wishing I had had more of her emails.

-Take more photos. Barrett took a photo of me and Bridget at a signing, but I can’t find it on my own hard drive. I could only find it on her blog. I don’t have any other pictures of Bridget, not ones that I took anyway. The only photos I have of me and Lisa have other people in them. I always feel silly posing for photos or asking others to smile. Silliness be damned!

-Get together more. How many times have I turned down an invitation because I was on deadline? I’m sure I would have met my deadline. But those events have come and gone and can never been recreated. I need to honor life more than I honor my schedule.

- Talk about love. Lisa phoned a few days before her death. In the course of our conversation, I told her I loved her, and she said it back to me.  I told her I didn’t often say that to people outside my family, but I did love her. I still didn’t know how to say goodbye, because I knew it would be the last time I talked to her. How do you end it?  So I said "Talk to you later."  And that was that.  But I'm glad to have said “I love you” to her, even she already knew I did.

- Refocus. I will always remember a conversation I had with Bridget. She had been talking to someone who had been complaining about something small, but which she had let ruin her whole day. Bridget said she had to bite her tongue, that she wanted to say, “Well, did someone tell you today that you are dying from cancer? No? Then you are having a good day.”

- Don’t waste time. How much time do I waste? Conversely, how often do I put off doing something I enjoy (like reading) because I haven’t “earned it” yet?

And what are the takeaways from their lives?

- Bridget and Barrett found excuses for parties. I still remember the “Fatten Bridget Up for Chemo Party.” They also got married several times and celebrated what they called “The Summer of Love.”

- Lisa went to so many signings. If a YA author came to town, chances were good she was there and buying at least one book.

- Bridget and Barrett made even small things beautiful. Take this picnic they ate one of the last times she was hospitalized. If it were me, I would probably be staring at some bland institutional plate of food, not even considering how I could have something better.

- Lisa reached out to other authors, especially new authors. She focused on them in her blog and spread her joy at finding a great new book. She even called bookstores in other states when her online friends were having their launch parties and ordered a signed copy or two to be shipped back to her.

I was driving through Eastern Oregon over Memorial Day weekend. And I saw the rolling hills and rocks formations through my friends' eyes. How much more beautiful they would be if you knew your days were numbered? But I’m kidding myself. We are all dying. Our days are numbered, and we don’t know how long they will be.

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The take away
Thanks for this, April. Having known Lisa and Bridget for such a short time, my big takeaway is how much they both mean to me. Their mere presence could elevate the room, and I'm so grateful to have experienced that. Your takeaways are the best way to honor their vibrant and generous spirits. I'm refocusing right now and having a good day.
I'm really sorry for the loss of your friends and the loss to the writing community (as well as to the arts at large). I didn't know them personally, but with Donne I mourn: "Any man's death diminishes me, for I am part of mankind."

My mother, upon hearing that two newish writers had passed (she remembered hearing about the other lady a few weeks ago), exclaimed: "See? Writers who get published die! You're lucky that you aren't in all of that!"

You have to laugh. She's eighty-one and STILL campaigning to have me do something "useful" with my life.
These are wonderful life lessons that I, too, have tried to put into practice. Too bad most of us have to be kicked in the head by some tragedy to learn them.
Thank you for these reminders, April, and for sharing your joy and pain.
Lisa and I used to talk about Bridget, among a million other things. Hard to believe I'll never talk to either of them again. I hope I live such a big hole in the world.
Thanks, April. So difficult to adopt their positive spirit and energy when we're sad and even angry at our loss. But that seems to be our job as the living.

Lovely post.

And I've had many of the same thoughts and experiences since last Wednesday. Even when out doing yard work last week or over the weekend...I would pause at how beautiful the sky looked, or a nice breeze, or I would think about what to make for lunch, and I think I was appreciating everything a little bit more because Bridget would have.

She was so good at enjoying - enjoying people, and food, and places. She enjoyed her friends and her life. She sought out enjoyment.

I'm ok at appreciating, I think, but not always so good at enjoying. That's one of the takeaways from Bridget - anything half-way good is worth enjoying. Pause and allow yourself to enjoy...whatever it is you should be enjoying. :)

I suck at enjoying, at relaxing, at celebrating. I make a mean to-do list. But which makes you happier?
~ impossible not to cry with this loving post
Thank you April for highlighting the blessings, delivering the messages and for being you!
I only knew Bridget through some emails, and her blog. I feel so honored to have known Lisa for so long.. I will always treasure those notes of encouragement and funny emails and blog posts she shared.

Re: ~ impossible not to cry with this loving post
I need to start appreciating everyone! And everything! Because nothing is permanent.
These takeaways all really resonated with me, having lost a friend to cancer this year. It especially hurts when I think of all the things we were saving to do together later (when she was feeling better), and later never came.

But it did teach me the importance of making time for the important people in my life, and to stop putting quite so many things off until later. Especially saying, "I love you".

Edited at 2011-05-31 05:05 pm (UTC)
Until recently, the best I could manage was a muttered "Love ya." Trying to get better about that.
It isn't an easy thing to do, because you are opening yourself up for rejection. But you know what? I've never said "I love you" to anyone who didn't say, "I love you, too" right back. And maybe they're just waiting for you to say it first?

But yeah. I always used to be a real dork about it, too. And kissing people. I almost never kissed anyone except my husband and my mom (on the cheek). But lately, I've been finding that sometimes, it's okay to kiss people you love on the cheek, too. My inner seventeen year old is a bit appalled by it, but my 48-year-old self thinks it's actually pretty cool.

(It probably also helps that I've spent more than 25 years with a husband who has never been the least bit shy about saying "I love you" to me. And I figure if he can do it, and do it that easily, then I can do it, too.)
Beautiful, April, and so true. Lisa and Bridget: Gratitude, love, courage, and grace. We won't forget.
Wonderful post, and good reminders for life. Bridgett and Lisa were extraordinary people.

I'm very sorry about your loss of two friends. And both so young and talented- it's heartbreaking. But it is a wonderful post- reminds me to say and do things while I still have time- thank you!
I promise God and the universe I have learned my lesson and don't need to be taught it any more!
Thank you April. Well said.
I just realized I'm facing a pretty crazy deadline so we'll see how well I do at putting into practice what I learned....
These are such wonderfully important takeaways. Thank you for sharing them with the rest of us. I am so sorry for the loss of these special people in your life.
I have declared a moratorium on any of my friends or family dying for a really long time. There are still these Bridget-shaped and Lisa-shaped holes.
Thanks for writing this, April. It felt like a little window into another world. I didn't know Bridget, but I did know Lisa over emails and her blog. I think of her so often...it's strange but the spring season reminds me of her in this very sad way, because I think how she isn't here to enjoy and photograph them as she did year after year. Even my garden reminds me of her.

Bridget had a very sweet blog at bridgetzinn.com

If their deaths makes us more alert and more appreciative, then something good can come from something bad.