The Flight of Val

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My friends,

V-Tuley-at-Salvation-Tree She is gone.

I got this simple post a day late. Weary from an all day cross-country plane trip, I now waited for the train that would take me towards my lodging. I was alone in every sense standing on this empty platform. My Smartphone informed me that Val was dead. My breath caught.

There was no surprise in the news. I had visited Val in hospice the night prior. Val lay there emaciated, glowing, moving in and out of lucidity. Cancer had won the struggle for the body. Diagnosed at 39, surrendering at 44, Val, in the words of her obituary, “relished life.” In the same obituary it noted, “In her hands a cancer diagnosis became a creative medium for conjuring an astonishing rich garden of community.”

I was lucky enough to be a small part of that community.

Val had stable cancer when I met her three years ago, two years into what she once called “This Great Difficult Thing” but she was still getting her ‘magic juice’ every three weeks with an eagerness I found encouraging. Here she was, made to order. I had put the word out that I wanted to meet a stage iv woman younger than me. I needed to be shown that this journey was doable. Val was a good one for inspiring. When I learned she biked everywhere and was recently seen splitting wood, I requested a date with her.

We spent hours strolling the gardens of Crystal Springs. In retrospect, we both lied a lot, saying how, “this was ok, this knowing that we would die younger than planned.” Despite the big lies we shared the smaller truths of how to find comfort with our terror, how to break down the enormity of our diagnosis, how to cherish the invigoration of knowing that mortality was now more than a concept.

She started her own journey by reminding us that, “None of us are getting out of this alive.” Indeed.

We met a month into my own diagnosis. I still had my long hair on that walk. Val and I were different people – she butch to my femme, she poetic while I sought solace in linear thinking, she musical and I without rhythm. And yet we were consigned to the same path, different entry and exit points, but a specialized highway for those with terminal cancer.

We didn’t maintain a high volume of contact. She was enjoying probation while I was entering lockdown. We had different needs. But Val was always there for me.

Our groups, her Salon of the Scathed and my It’s A Dying Shame, became complimentary platforms for exploring the taboo topics encountered when walking towards death or having death walk towards you – it’s never really clear with cancer. Humor, irreverence and rawness were core to our shared style. We were determined to experience the range of emotions and to enjoy the process.

Val wowed me with her soul too large to be tethered in one body on one planet. I don’t know where we go next. I am not in a rush to find out. I like to imagine Val as her own little prince on her own little planet still enjoying sunsets and sunrises – one more image of Val to delight.

Val wrote once, “I want there to be a good story to tell. How I will do battle and overcome. How you can all relax and not be afraid to click on this blog. And in truth, even if the thing does grow there are many more steps to take. There are more options. More story.” The story is now in our hands.

An ode to Val by Marcy – May 2013

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6 responses »

  1. Oh Marcy, I am so sorry for your loss, and your heartbreak. And glad you had the opportunity to walk alongside Val for a time, albeit, too short a time. As always, you are in my prayers and thoughts.

  2. Marcy, Val sounds like an incredible woman, and I’m so glad you were able to have her in your life as a mentor and a friend. I know you will miss her, but she is so right that we all face the same end. Thinking of you, as always, and sending hugs your way.

  3. You may not think of yourself that way, but your writing is musical and poetic. Such a fine tribute to a strong woman. Sending you love and good thoughts for your journey this week.

  4. Val sounds like an awesome person–and a wonderful companion in your joint trek through “This Great Difficult Thing.” You have done a masterful job in writing this tribute to her–in being able to share the pain and the joy. I love the reference to The Little Prince–and can just imagine the roses on her little planet. You are a remarkable person and I feel honored in being part of the beautiful garden of community that you have created. Prayers and blessings as you make your way through this pioneer’s journey.

    Jeanne in Newport

  5. Marcy,
    Val sounds like an awesome person–and a wonderful companion in your joint trek through “This Great Difficult Thing.” You have done a masterful job in writing this tribute to her–in being able to share the pain and the joy. I love the reference to The Little Prince–and can just imagine the roses on her little planet. You are a remarkable person and I feel honored in being part of the beautiful garden of community that you have created. Prayers and blessings as you make your way through this pioneer’s journey.

    Jeanne in Newport

  6. “Val wowed me with her soul too large to be tethered in one body on one planet.” Thank you for these words. I’ve known Val since we were about 8 or 10- I can never remember the exact moment or year. But a very long time. And in all those years this always defined her- bursting from her own seams. She gave so much. Thank you for following the creative path through your difficult journey. I wish so much that the collective world could give you both more time, more health, more everything. Blessings to you.

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