Yesterday I found out that Teva Harrison died. This wasn’t a surprise really, I knew she had been feeling unwell for months even though the last time we actually “talked” (and by this I mean chatted via Instagram messages) was shortly before my surgery last August. Her presence on social media had become very limited due to the fact that she spent a lot of time fighting her disease but also because she spent a lot of time living her life. She had wonderful friends and a wonderful husband and a smile that would make everyone stop and take notice of her. Everyone agrees that there was something magical about Teva. She wrote an article about her ability to find four leaf clovers. She says it isn’t magic but I’m not sure any of us believe her.
I cried when I found out. It was right before the bedtime train started. We were trying to get Oonagh to brush her teeth and get ready for bed and a message from a friend told me she had died because I hadn’t been on social media all afternoon having taken Moira to a play and trying to live my life in real time. Then I sucked back my tears and read three chapters of Sophie Mouse and sang Oonagh a song and tucked her into bed and then went and watched the second half of Thor Ragnarok with Fionnuala and Mister. I worked on the current sock I am knitting. I braided the girls hair before they went to bed. At some point during all that I read about Teva’s death and posted about it on Facebook because I didn’t know what else to do with my sadness and I felt like I needed to say something. Did I need to say anything? Not really I guess but that is how I process things. I write them out. I wanted everyone to know that another light had gone out from the world.
The funny thing about my knowing Teva is that I was already following her on Twitter before I really knew who she was, before I knew anything about metastatic breast cancer – before I knew that it was slowly destroying my bones. I was following her husband too because of his charming David Leonard Weather Service posts (#dlws). I didn’t even know they were connected in any way. This is the thing about the Canadian literary scene: it is very small and one connection leads to another. Even for someone like me, who isn’t really part of the scene, who thinks of herself more on the peripherals of the scene. I have, over the course of the last 20 years of blogging, made a number of friends who either were already authors or have gone on to be authors. I feel more like a Canadian literary cheerleader than a card-carrying member. So I knew about Teva. I knew about David. But I did not know about their great love until I was diagnosed and someone pointed me towards Teva’s cartoons in the Walrus. And then we talked and become friends but I always feel the need to say “Internet friends” because really, that isn’t the same kind of friendship as someone who lives close by and you talk to all the time. It’s just someone you wish you could have a closer friendship with.
Last summer I took a social media break for a couple weeks. I can’t remember when this was exactly but it was before my surgery. When I came back my online friend, the poet Anya Krugovoy Silver had died and I had missed it. And by missing the initial announcement I felt like I had let her down. I had never met Anya but we had chatted over the years about mothering through this disease and how it has effected our lives. Both Anya and Teva were some of the first people to reach out to me when I was diagnosed and I will be forever grateful for the lifelines they provided.
When Anya died I couldn’t even talk about it. I felt guilty for taking a break from the internet and for not knowing that her health had taken a serious turn. The result is now I’m afraid to take a break even though a lot of the women who were my initial lifelines in the early days of this diagnosis are gone. Another thing the three of us had in common were supportive and caring husbands that we were all very much in love with (and, I hate to say it, but this seems to be rare with women who have late stage cancer). If you ever followed AnyaSilverPoet on Instagram you would know that her husband Andrew still updates her page. He will break your heart daily with his grief over the loss of his wife but in a culture where we are generally so afraid of death and dying it is really a beautiful thing to witness. For those of us who “knew” Anya it is a gift.
Both women taught me that no matter what you just keep going. You can rage about your disease in poetry, or in essays, or on your blog, but that is just a fraction of your time. It’s the day-to-day life that needs to be lived that makes being here so worth while. It’s those wonderful husbands that you aren’t ready to leave yet, it’s the children who need stories before bed and their hair braided, it’s those books that you haven’t read, or the places you haven’t visited that make it so imperative to keep on getting out of bed in the morning – even on the days you might not feel strong enough to do so.
Still, I feel like every time one of these women die we have all been cheated some how. After I posted about Teva’s death on Facebook and Instagram yesterday people kept saying “I’m sorry for your loss,” but I didn’t really know Teva, just like I didn’t really know Anya, although I treasured each and every interaction and online conversation I had with them. The truth is it isn’t just my loss – it’s all of our loss. When a light like theirs goes out in the world there is no getting it back.