I have been hesitant to write in the midst of trying times and swirling change because I haven’t wanted to acknowledge reality. Putting experiences in concrete words fixes them in time and maybe forces me to accept that they are true and not some terrible nightmare from which I have yet to wake. But evading reality has never successfully changed it, and I know the only healing comes from moving forward in time.
Miranda Jeanne Casaletto
(August 6, 1991-February 6, 2019)
About a month ago, my 27-year-old cousin Miranda passed away suddenly. It was a complete shock. There weren’t any drugs or alcohol involved, she did not take her own life, and we still don’t know how exactly she died. It was on a Wednesday evening after work, and Miranda was planning to visit her new nephew later that night. She had an unsent text message to his mother open on her phone screen when my aunt found her, by all appearances having just slipped away in her sleep.
Miranda was an incredibly warm, gentle, beautiful person who put everyone around her at ease. She was always easygoing and friendly, quick to smile and laugh, and literally radiated kindness. Being around her was like sitting under a tree in the sunshine, a breath of fresh air and genuine sweetness. The youngest of our generation, she was our baby, and I thought I would get to enjoy her company at holidays and family get-togethers for my whole life. It is an absolutely devastating loss, and I can already see our family will never be the same without her.
There aren’t many words that stick with you when you experience a loss. That’s not to discount them, but more to say in grief, we tend to gloss over the actual words and latch on to the sentiment behind them: “I care for you,” “I sympathize,” or, “I wish I could carry some of this hurt for you.” A friend’s mother, whom I’ve known most of my life, landed on a magical sentiment that unlocked something in my heart to bring clarity through the fog of grief:
May her memory be a blessing.
I didn’t know at the time that this is a traditional Jewish saying, but as I rolled it around in my head and parsed it out, I found deep comfort embedded in it. Each time I think of Miranda now, I am trying to replace sadness or anger at losing her with gratitude that I knew her and loved her. When I picture her face or some memory with her from childhood, it brings me warmth and joy, and I am hanging on to the blessing of remembering her as tightly as I can.
At the funeral, my aunt spoke beautifully about how sweet Miranda was and said, as strange as it sounds in this moment, she knows Miranda would never have wanted us to be sad. Death has a frightening power to steal from memories and overshadow the joy of life with loss, especially when a death feels unnatural or way too soon. In addition to mourning the loss of my cousin, I found I was mourning the children she didn’t get the chance to have because I knew she would have been an incredible mother. I mourned the friends whose lives she wasn’t able to brighten and uplift, but celebrated those she already did. I mourned all the life events our family would continue to have without her here in person, but I am comforted in knowing she is still with us all.
I wasn’t able to go to the internment because I had to catch a train for my first day of classes (we’ll talk about that soon) and in the car as I apologized to my driver for being a weepy mess, I blurted out, “It just doesn’t make any sense.” As far as grief counselors go, my Lyft driver was surprisingly well-equipped, gently saying, “Hey, it’s not supposed to make sense, and you wouldn’t want it to, would you?” I knew he was right, and I’ve thought a lot about our conversation since then. So much of life is this series of seemingly random things that happen, and sometimes we’re elated, other times heartbroken, and I don’t really know yet if it’s going to add up to some great wisdom and accessible meaning, or if it’s up to us all individually to find or make that meaning for ourselves. When it doesn’t make sense, that has to be okay too, so long as we are doing the best we can do to do right by each other.
Miranda with newborn baby Jackson, December 2018
Yesterday we all got together for my cousin’s son’s Christening, celebrating the baptism of the nephew Miranda utterly adored. Knowing how much she would have wanted to be there and how proud and happy she would have been about it hurt, deeply. It was admittedly hard being back in the same church as Miranda’s funeral, but I am grateful her family has that spiritual home (and there are happy memories there too). I had to keep reminding myself that this was a day she was looking forward to, one that she would have wanted filled with joy, not hurt or sadness. We miss her terribly and don’t get to look over to see her beaming, but she is absolutely still with us. We all knew she was there, and we owed it to her and to her beloved nephew to start his life in faith with joy and celebration.
To get through the days lately, I’ve had to accept reality as it is and try to understand it eventually over time. I am doing my best to appreciate the blessing of Miranda’s memory without overwhelming it with sorrow. I am celebrating the things I most admired about Miranda: her kindness, her gentle spirit, her beautiful generous heart, her warmth and sweetness – and I am trying to honor her memory by being more like her in those ways. I am praying for her family and friends every day, and I am remembering to include gratitude in my prayers. I am regarding every memory of her as a blessing, and I think that’s the best I can do.