In memoriam Stephen tWitch Boss 1982-2022
Like so many others, I was deeply saddened by the loss of this young man this week. It’s been such a pleasure to watch his rise to what appeared to be a successful, happy, and joyous life.
I’ve been a fan since I first saw him on So You Think You Can Dance. His professional and personal life has been an inspiration. He radiated the essence of his love for dance, his wife and family, and life in general. I believe that radiance was an honest, true reflection of what was within him. I don’t know what darkness overtook him, but his suicide is evidence that what dwells within us is precious and must be protected.
We’re all going through so much stuff right now. Grief, the pain of the world, is pervasive and lingering. It can’t be written off as easily as simply being “the pressure of the holidays.” It goes deeper and will last longer.
The sense of being in a crisis or in a situation over which you have no control is real. You can’t change things or other people. You can only change yourself and how you react. Yet, your shift can change the those things by creating a new energy, which helps to create a new paradigm.
I cried for tWitch. I cried for Allison and their beautiful children. I know how difficult it is to lose a person who completely fills the space in your heart. I know what it feels like to wonder if you’ll be able to breathe without them.
What I have found is that the only way to continue on is to force yourself to breathe. To focus on memories, to draw the ones you love and who love you close, to remember to seek the light that connects you to the Earth and everything on it. It’s not easy and we all need help.
Today I’m sharing an article I wrote earlier this year. I believe it offers a simple but powerful way to create connection. Maybe it can save someone on a day when they feel so disconnected that there’s no reason to stay.
With every occurrence of a celebrity death, social media feeds reflect an outpouring of admiration and recollections of the contributions of the individual. Glowing tributes and expressions of sorrow at their passing abound. And that’s nice.
I was particularly struck with the significance of these public tributes at the onset of 2022, when I observed the reactions to the deaths of Betty White, Meatloaf, and Thich Nhat Hahn in a three-week period. Personally, I thought the level of grief expressed for Meatloaf was a bit out of proportion compared to the loss of Betty White and Thich Nhat Hahn. (But that’s just a personal observation. No disrespect intended for the rock ‘n’ roll icon, and if you were a fan, my condolences for your loss.)
Certainly the beloved TV star and Buddhist monk received the adoration they deserved during their lifetimes. And the public display of affection and sadness at their passing was understandable, as we have witnessed at the passing of the many prominent and well-known people before them.
Yet, how often do we do the same for our own loved ones? How many non-celebrity folk know how others feel about them?
How many times have you sat at a memorial service and thought, “Wow, I didn’t know that about him/her?”
How many times have you wished you would have asked more questions of your parents or expressed appreciation or love more often to a friend while they were alive?
My awareness of these demonstrations of grief at the deaths of public figures is undoubtedly heightened by my advancing age and losing my beloved Joe in November 2020. Yet if his illness and death brought any reason to be grateful, it is this: In the weeks prior to his passing, he experienced a wave of love and support from those who knew him.
It was the height of the pandemic, and our communication with most people was via Facebook. From the time we made his illness public to the day he died, friends, family, and the many, many people he worked with over the years posted photos, sent handwritten letters and cards, contributed to a much-needed GoFundMe, and showered him with their love and prayers of support.
I can assure you from firsthand observation of his experience, getting those expressions of love and friendship while you're still breathing is significant. While I’m not yet able to report on how it feels as you watch your memorial service from above, I’m going to venture a guess that receiving the love on the living end trumps the post-life experience.
I wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of affection for Joe. From the time we met, when he introduced me to a friend (and clients, employees, and pretty much anyone he knew quickly became a friend), that person would always share a tale of something nice that Joe had done.
Joe was loved because he shared love with everyone. I was 45 when we met and he was the first man I ever witnessed to hug his friends hello and goodbye and say “I love you,” with the squeeze. He maintained and updated his phone list consistently so he could keep in touch with everyone—and he did. If he felt too much time had passed without connection, he’d call to say hello.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m just not that kind of person.” Add me to that list. I’ve gone years without contact with friends from my past. Yet I found I could always pick up where we left off when we reconnected. I think that has a lot to do with how the relationship was conducted when it was active.
I’m affectionate with friends. And I offer respect for their individuality. I compliment and support others. I express my gratitude for their presence in my life. Not always with words. Sometimes, it’s picking up a small gift, sharing something I have, or doing a favor. I’ve found that a hug when someone is hurting is often far more powerful than anything you can say.
Still, I know I could do much more, more often. And that’s one of the items on the top of my to-do list now.
What goes around…
When you show or express love for another, it’s good for you too. I have one other personal story to share here today.
My mother had a stroke in her early 70s and never fully recovered. Her last years were spent in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and finally, an assisted living facility. For the latter half of that time, she was in Florida and my aunt (her sister) and I were the only family in the area for regular visits.
Throughout her illness, rehab, and the time spent in her last home, I visited and brought my children, then around 7 and 10, as often as I could. Sometimes the visits went well and sometimes not, and I never knew until I arrived what her mood would be. The kids almost always guaranteed an improvement when they came, so I brought them whenever possible.
One Saturday both kids had other plans so I came alone. My mother was distraught—I don’t remember why. It was painful to see her so unhappy and before long, I made an excuse to leave. When I reached the large, sliding automatic doors at the entrance, something stopped me from exiting and I turned around.
I found my mother where I left her, in front of the widescreen television in the sitting room. When she saw me, she smiled broadly. As a result of the stroke, she had short-term memory loss, so it’s possible that she didn’t even remember that I had been there five minutes earlier.
I asked if she’d like to go for a ride (it was August in Florida and pushing her in a wheelchair around the grounds wouldn’t be fun for either of us). Her whole face lit up.
We drove around the neighborhood. I took her past the community where she had once lived and to some new ones nearby. Finally we stopped a local deli and had lunch. I remember seeing her eyes drift past me while we were eating, and I finally turned to see what she was looking at. It was a family with a baby and a little girl with a doll. I’m not sure why, but she seemed fascinated with them. Perhaps it was the contrast to what she had to look at while eating in her assisted-care home.
I promised to bring her grandchildren on my next visit, and she smiled.
That was the last visit, however. Several days later, I received a call from the facility that my mother had a seizure and had been rushed to the emergency room at Hollywood Memorial Hospital. She was gone when I arrived.
To this day, to this very minute, I thank God for stopping me from leaving on that Saturday. Had I not gone back and my last memory of my mother had been one of escaping for my own comfort, I know I never would have forgiven myself.
I’d like to start a new trend: #TellThemToday.
It’s not a new concept. Just one that bears repeating.
If you love someone, #TellThemToday. If you appreciate someone #TellThemToday. If you… well, you get the idea. #DoItToday.
My best, Shelley