By Jacque Van Eps
Elizabeth has been gone one short month and the memories of her laugh and cries of anguish ring painfully clear in my heart. She was stricken with cancer twice in her 37 years of life. She found the odds too high and the lack of internal peace too agonizing to go on. After much searching, she chose to take responsibility for her own peaceful departure. On a sunny day, she drove to Big Sir, California and found a campsite with an old Oak tree facing the river. She climbed into her sleeping bag, took her pills and drifted off to sleep in the filtered sunlight, alone.
Elizabeth's childhood was a perfect example of the lack of the precepts. At an early age, if she took an emotional problem to her parents they would offer her a drink and say, "Here, this will make it better." She was an alcoholic by age 15. The family was constantly verbally abusive. When Elizabeth had surgery for the first breast cancer her father said to her, "Why don't you have them fix your face, too." There was seldom, if ever, loving speech and deep listening. Elizabeth watched her mother and two siblings succumb to cancer before she was 28, and her father died over a year ago, leaving only unresolved suffering.
This courageous woman was a bridge of love and generosity, always reaching out to do something for someone, never thinking of herself. She wanted love badly, giving herself away at all cost to get it, but she did not know how to let people truly love her. Love coming her way just didn't feel safe. She had never married nor had children but deeply desired both. Elizabeth had been sober for three years by the time the second cancer struck in her spine, and through it all she stayed sober. Sobriety was one way to love herself. It helped her to feel real and clear-headed so that she could face the world from a place of truth.
Elizabeth lived with my husband and me for three weeks after her last surgery, and the love that grew between the three of us was one of life's irreplaceable treasures. I feel that the essence of who Elizabeth was, is more present now then when she was alive, and I take comfort in knowing that she is finally at peace, unencumbered with the fear and anguish that so tormented her life. Elizabeth will be sorely missed, but her life has been an incredible wake-up call to all who knew her—a call to wake up and take responsibility for everything we say and do.
If I could say one thing to you as parents, spouses, children, and friends, it would be: Mind the precepts. Read them daily if you have a tendency to forget their intent for direction in your life. You can choose to plant the seeds of suffering or of joy and happiness.
Jacque Van Eps lives in San Luis Obispo, California