Sunday, November 25, 2012

Love is Real

Last week I spoke to 400 high school students in San Diego about the topic, “Life before death.” It was my first public talk about my daughter Esther. Esther was well loved in life and is deeply missed by so many now. Often, I’ll get asked about that, about whether a larger, shared grief is a comfort or a burden. It’s not even close: it is a great comfort that a growing number are inspired by her story! And I am deeply grateful that I can be a sort of ambassador for her message of hope. The only thing better would be sharing the story with her by my side. But then, I kind of have that, too.

Here are a few, disconnected excerpts from the talk which was entitled, “Life Before death; My Daughter’s Hope for the Future.”

I want to talk with you about a Hope for the Future; about the possibility of living in the face of death. Dying is inevitable. Living is not. Death is not the most powerful thing in life. Life is the most powerful thing in life. And Love is the engine of Life. There’s something stronger than even death!

Recently, Esther’s 9 year-old brother Abraham asked, “Dad, is Heaven real?”  After a moment, I said, “Let me ask you a question. Is Love real?”

Esther’s life message was clear for all to see: Somebody, somewhere is waiting to love you; somebody, somewhere is waiting for your love.

And then, right in the middle of the Fairy Tale, came the cancer. On Thanksgiving Day, 2006 the diagnosis: “Papillary Thyroid Cancer metastasized to the lungs.” The clouds had moved in and were about to cover the sunshine.
Gravity may have tethered her to the four corners of her bed, but her spirit would not be bound. She would live a life before death, embracing the beauty and enduring the agony. She reached out  –she was a Welcomer after all-  and through a growing, online presence that included vlogs and blogs, she built a community of friendship in those virtual spaces in that Magical Land of Adventure known as “Nerdfighteria.”

With big sister Abby’s encouragement, she met the King of Nerdfighteria himself, the author John Green. At Leakycon 2009, she walked up to him, stuck out her hand and said confidently, “Hi, I’m Esther!”  “That’s a nice name” he responded with a friendly smile. After a slight pause, she awkwardly blurted out, “YOU’RE AWESOME!!!”

John would get to know her and was charmed by her (naturally) and celebrated her spirit which increased her visibility as a passionate advocate for those without a voice. She also became somewhat of an Advice-Giver, answering online questions, some of which were ridiculous and trivial but most of which were of a serious nature. And she tweeted:

“Welp. I'm going in to the hospital again. Thanks lungs I love you too.”

“Just wish I could get better so I don’t have to keep worrying about getting better.”

Just a few days before she died, I said, “Esther, what am I going to do without you? How am I going to live without you?”  And I thought she would talk and say, “Well, Dad here's what you do; here are the three steps to dealing with grief...” But she didn't say a word. She was sitting on her bed; she just held out her arms and said, “Come here.” So I went over and hugged her and she hung onto me and I held her. And she didn't have to say anything. She didn't have to say anything at all. It was her way of showing me that we were going to be ok.

After her death, her little brother Graham left a few messages on the house answering machine: “Can anyone out there please tell me how to get in contact with my sister? I want to tell her that I love her and I miss her and she can visit me anytime she wants.”

She was buried with a “Save Darfur” wristband on her arm. Her life was entirely this world focused. She believed in doing good work here and in leaving eternities with eternity. While she rests in awesome (as it says on the back side of her tombstone), we work for awesome.

So, yes, Abraham, Love is real. 

~Designed by Zach Payne

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