Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Using the Poignant Effect of Death

A few months ago, in fact a week before my 35th birthday, I was shocked to learn that a friend of mine, Anna Alexandrova, died suddenly of stomach cancer. We were born the same year; both intense fire dragons.

I used to work with Anna at a children's charity in Toronto. We started around the same time and bonded over yoga, fitness and health. She was a tireless Senior Policy Advisor who went on to be the National Foundation's Director at Soros Foundation Kazakhstan.

"In our memories Anna will always remain young,
energetic, generous and full of new ideas"
Soros Foundation Kazakhstan

I love what her last employer wrote, "we admire the strength of her spirit and dedication to the ideals of open society. Anna had an acute sense of justice, empathy and belief in our ability to change the world for the better. Her passion and incredible diligence always filled us with energy and enthusiasm."

When I found out she had died, it really shook me. And for some weird reason, deaths don't usually effect me too much. I hadn't communicated much with her, other than on Facebook. Maybe I am just getting older, and    now that I have more to lose, fear my own death.

Anna's death was on the heals of another tragic loss to the Toronto community of an inspirational yoga teacher, Jenna Morrison, 38, pregnant with her second child, who died accidentally while riding her bike on the streets of Toronto. I couldn't help feeling such compassion for Jenna's family, or for Jenna for that matter. I also couldn't help thinking that it could of been me. I biked those wild streets in Toronto daily. Even in the snow sometimes.

Jenna and her family

It just makes me so sad to loose such bright lights in this world - we need every single one. 

I know all too well the effort women like these go through to get to the sweet age of 35. All the years since so young putting effort in to making oneself beautiful, presentable, knowledgeable to the world. Then using  their energy to help others and make the world a better place.

It seems like these special ladies were just hitting their stride, and blam. Gone. Did they ever get a chance to really relax and reap the rewards?  Anna worked up until her last days. She probably thought she didn't do enough. But I know everyone else was proud of her and thought she did more than enough in her short life.

For the months following Anna's death, my thoughts kept turning back to her. I kept seeing Anna in my baby daughter's wide-set blue eyes and wide smile. 

As a mother, I couldn't help feeling compassion for Anna's mother for loosing her daughter. For her husband for loosing his partner.

I also couldn't help thinking about my own untimely death should I die soon. I remember nights of singing my son to sleep and seeing Anna clearly pop into my head. I thought it may be a sign I might get cancer and die soon. And it made me really appreciate the sweet moments I have with my kids. Though, made me deeply sad to think they would loose their mom so young, and I wouldn't be able to share so many other precious memories with them.

Lately, I spend less energy consumed by the thoughts of my possible untimely death. I don't want to feed that thought too much. I think it was just my way of processing, grieving, and acknowledging. I do try to stay aware of the reality of impermanence, and acknowledged daily that death can happen any moment.

Buddhist practicioners meditate on death to prepare one for the passage, and to lessen the affect of attachment to this world. They believe it is important to think about the reality of one's death everyday so as to appreciate one's life and to prepare for the event.

I am grateful for the renewed awareness of death. Death is a powerful force. It can bring communities together. It generates compassion from mere strangers.

Death can be used as a tool for self awakening, and as a means of connecting with others. We are all one. We never die.


  1. I've known American Buddhist meditation teachers who purposefully leave meditations on death and the 32 parts of the body out - it brings up too much aversion for Westerners, because it's so sanitized in the media and in our lives. Thank you for bringing the awareness of impermanence - and the beauty of remembering precious beings - into the blogosphere. May Anna and Jenna find peace, ease, comfort, security, and liberation.

  2. death is scary, and difficult- always for those left behind. Which is what I try to remember, that those who have passed are not grieving, it's me.

    a very important topic, and so true that we don't talk about it enough.

  3. Thanks so much for your insights and compassion ladies!

  4. Wow! This is so tragic to think about all the people who loved these women so much who are now "left behind". In many traditions, death is a liberation of the soul from the constrains of our human bodies. What's sad is the loss for the people who loved them. I have much empathy for these people.

    I find comfort in the the verses from the Bhagavad Gita. I can't recall what chapter it is discussed but it is a reminder of how the soul is eternal, nothing can kill it. The soul transitions through death like discarding old worn clothes.

    I hope the loved ones of your friends, including you, find ease in your suffering for your loss!
    Blessings for sharing this Dear One!
    With love,
    (from The Gathering)

  5. Wow I am so sorry to hear this Sam. I guess we are starting to get to the age where these things will be more common. It's even more important to appreciate what we have now in this moment.

  6. What a really wonderful tribute to both of these bright lights. As Anna's husband I'm deeply moved by what you've written here. She worked until her last days trying to hand over here position in a responsible manner. She loved her team and co workers and friends and wanted a legacy from their good works, I wish she had known more about how they felt about her. I believe she would have been moved and happy to read this heart felt post. Thank you very much.
    Jeremy Ries

  7. Wow, thanks so much Jeremy. Your words mean a lot to me. I do believe in her own way, where ever she is, Anna is able to see with clarity the positive and deep effect she's had on others. I can't imagine how hard this transition has been for you. Much love and compassion.

  8. This is a really beautiful post and so wonderful to hear from Anna's husband. Both women were doing incredible work, and Toronto is certainly less shiny without them.