Love when the rubber meets the road

Be present & enjoy your moments. Life is precious & control is a huge illusion.

                                                                           — Linda Aris

In honour

This Valentine’s Day I want to honour my dear friend, Linda Aris, and her partner, Hayward. Linda died on January 19th after a two and a half year journey with brain cancer. Linda was my long-time friend and “kindred spirit”. She was also a grief counsellor, massage therapist, mother, partner, daughter, sister and friend to so many. Life was never dull around Linda. She lived with passion and heart.

How our friendship began

Linda was 18 years old and I was 22 when we met at a four month program for young adults at the Naramata Centre in BC. It was our first deep dive into personal growth and community. Although I felt older and wiser at the time, the truth was that we were both at a cross-roads in our lives and trying to figure out what was next.

When that wonderful program ended, Linda and I decided to move to Vancouver together. With just a few hundred dollars between us and through the generosity of a friend’s family, we started a new chapter in a new city. We lived together for about a year – long enough to launch us both and cement our friendship.

A few years later, Linda left the Vancouver area. Our contact became more sporadic; however when we did get together, we picked right up where we’d left off. The passage of time didn’t erode the closeness we shared.

Finding her work

Linda eventually settled in Edmonton, where she worked as a massage therapist. Some years after having her son she went back to school to study social work. Not surprisingly, she did her practicum in the area of grief work. The topic of death and dying had always been an important one for Linda – she never shied away from topics that others might avoid.

For 15 years, Linda worked intensely and with great passion in the area of grief counselling. Before becoming ill, she facilitated grief groups, offered one-to-one grief counselling and loved doing public talks. I suspect she educated hundreds, if not thousands of people about grief.

Finding Hayward

It was almost 10 years ago, that Linda met her partner, Hayward. I could tell by her communications that this man was special — and a great dancer! Linda later told me that Hayward was the kindest man she’d ever met. Given her sometimes turbulent relationship history, I knew how important this was to her.

Linda and Hayward built a home and a life together and enjoyed many adventures travelling Europe, mostly by motorcycle. These trips seemed to be a happy counter-point to the very intense work that Linda did.

Her impact

Over the years, Linda was my go-to resource whenever I had questions about dealing with death and grief — personally or with clients. I shared her wisdom and resources with many. On one of my visits to Edmonton last year I interviewed Linda for a newsletter article: 5 Myths About Grief & Loss.

During the past two years, when I visited, we often ran into individuals who had been in one of her grief groups. One woman, whose teenaged daughter had died of a brain tumour, became teary when she tried to express how much Linda had helped her at such a dark time. It seemed cruelly ironic to me that Linda was now the one battling a brain tumour. However Linda had heard so many stories of loss over the years, she knew that none of us is immune. After her diagnosis, when I asked her if she ever asked “Why me?” she replied matter-of-factly, “Why not me?”

Linda drew strength from the teachings of Buddhism and was always reminding me to live in the Now, as she sought to do daily, no matter what was happening with her health. She also understood the importance of gratitude and expressed it often in her emails and texts.

Linda was one of the most alive people I have ever known. She was also one of the most out-spoken and loving. She had friends from all walks of life and she could create a rapport with almost anyone, anywhere. She could be bluntly honest, however that was part of her charm too. When she became ill there was an outpouring of support from a massive community of friends, family and former clients. It was such a demonstration of how many lives she had touched and how loved she was and is.

Love in action

When I last visited Linda in late November, I knew it was probably the last time I would see her. She was sleeping a lot at that stage and finding it more difficult to talk and hold a focus. We couldn’t converse as we once did however I was able to help Hayward with her personal care. I was grateful that I could do something to express my love.

One evening, when Linda was asleep, Hayward and I talked about how he and Linda had met. I’d heard Linda’s version and now I heard Hayward’s. Linda was the love of Hayward’s life – and I knew that was true for Linda too.

I have rarely seen such loving devotion in action as I saw with Hayward’s care of Linda. By then she could no longer sit up or feed herself or get out of bed. This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to love. Hayward was determined to keep Linda at home. With the help of Linda’s mother, Laverne, and many others, he fulfilled that mission. Linda died at home surrounded by people who loved her.

As I reflect

I am so grateful for the journey I have shared with Linda. Personality-wise, Linda and I were very different. She was a free spirit, while I’m the predictable, stable type. However I felt loved and accepted by her on a very deep level – and I know she did too. I was blessed to be one of her many friends – and I think we all felt special. Having people feel special was one of Linda’s gifts too.

I’m also grateful to have witnessed the deep love and devotion of these two partners. Valentine’s Day so often focuses on the romantic aspect of love. Romance is fun and sexy, but it’s only the start. It’s just the beginning of a love that can grow into the kind of devotion that I saw in Hayward’s care of Linda.

When I commented on this to Hayward, he said, “That’s just what you do when you love someone”. Yes, that’s just what we do. To me, it is moving and miraculous that couples and families live out this kind of love all the time.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this Valentine’s Day. I hope to have a romantic dinner with my husband. And that will be fun. But what I’ll be thinking about is the love we share when the rubber meets the road. That’s the love that I hope I can deliver on if and when the time comes. That’s the love that makes heroes out of all of us.

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