My beautiful soul friend left this earthly plain today.
I thought I would be anxious about her dying – death has always made me anxious… but not this time, surprisingly.
I’ve been hit by a waterfall of emotions but anxiety isn’t one of them. There is no anxiety, just the space that she’s left. You see, before my visit and when I went to see Jens to say goodbye, all we did was talk about death – her interactions with her death doula, conversations with her palliative care team, the kind of vegan burial shroud I should look for in case her ‘chosen family’ could not source it in her tiny town…her choosing to voluntarily stop eating and drinking on a set day…where she would be laid to rest and how to make sure everything was given back to the earth.
We talked about what would happen after, and when she was too weak, asked me to read to her again and again about what happens when our souls begin that new journey. I read to her over and over again from our favourite buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. And when she was agitated I sang to her.
“Is it weird?” She asked in her fine voice, on my first day visiting her in her seaside town.
“If what’s weird?
“That I’m dying,” she said.
It wasn’t, and I told her so. I thought I might have felt so, and the anxiety bubbled up in me as I took the four hour train journey to see her. But when I got there, it was just me and my friend. My friend and me. All I just wanted to do was desperately hold her face next to mine and never let go of her hand. It wasn’t weird at all.
Doing it her way
She would not entertain me being sad. Instead, she reassured me constantly, even when she faced her own anxiety about what lay ahead.
“Please don’t feel sad, feel joyous that I’ll finally be free of suffering” she said to me, “I’ll never leave you.”
She would continually say this to me until I reluctantly left her to come back home.
“I love you so very much and I’ll never leave you, wherever I go.” She said it to me again as I sat on her bed, holding her hand and staring into her beautiful eyes, she staring back into mine intensely. “I will look and listen for you,” I replied.
I did not cry as I walked away. But I did turn back to glimpse her just once more.
Earlier in the day when I had cried for the first time since seeing her she told me she didn’t want me to be sad. I told her it wasn’t “like sad sad”. More like when you’re really excited and happy to see your friend and then it’s time to go home and you don’t want it to be over. She smiled.
13 days before, when I had arrived to see Jens in her ancestral home of Cornwall, we sat and had her last meal together. She called it “the last meal.” It was an organic, fruit salad. When I had asked her what her preference was for fruit, she had said ‘rainbows.’ And as she ate the last bits of food she’d ever taste, she said to me “Eat the rainbow, even on your way out.”
Get the sand between your toes
My dying friend was dying the way she had always lived. True to her self, true to her beliefs.
She had survived more than 30 cases of sepsis, acute kidney and organ failure, surgery… We’d known each other for more than a decade and countless times I was gripped by sheer anxiety as I rushed to the hospital thinking this is it, it’s happening. But it didn’t.
Jens lived a lot longer than anyone thought she would. She was strong yes, fiercely so, and defied doctors’ orders, stopped receiving ‘nutrition’ through a feeding tube (which was always the cause of sepsis episodes) to following a strict organic, vegan, whole foods and fermented diet, which extended her life and gave her some quality in her ancestral home before she left this world.
It gave her some happiness too – it was the happiest I’d known her. And she shared her learning and healthy food with her community and online, often making healthy vegan, organic foods for her community, and to sustain local essential workers labouring through the covid 19 pandemic and lockdown.
“Promise me you’ll go down to the beach and get the sand between your toes. It will ground you,” Jens instructed me. She knew I had trouble feeling and being grounded.
“Promise” she insisted.
“I’ll try my best, it’s raining.”
“Promise,” Jen wouldn’t let up.
She was stubborn. Exhausted and drained as I was, I trudged myself across the cliff and down endless stairs, to the beach that evening, after I finished work and breathe in the fresh Cornish air, that had revived my Jens. It was in this place she spent many happy days with her lovely sea bopper friends, who looked after her before and during her last days, and who she told me are among those who had showed her she had deserved love, and had permission to love and receive love, guilt-free. Of course she was right. So I dug my hands into the sand.
There is so much more I want to say about Jens. And I will, but for now I will share something she asked me to share as widely as possible. She whispered the words to me as she lay in bed, saying it was “a legacy I can leave.”
A legacy I can leave – Jens Whitehorse
I shouldn’t have lived anywhere as long as I did.
I want to share a message about eating plant based – variety, lots of colours, whole grain, non processed.
Learn how to ferment anything and everything. Don’t eat anything that’s labelled ‘healthy’ from the shop, because it won’t be.
Gratitude for nature and everything. Be outside, just be.
Always be joyous and love.
Always be truthful, with yourself and everybody else. You deserve your own kindness.
Always eat kiwi with the skin on.
Rest in peace my beautiful Jens. Until we meet again xx
This body is not me, I am not caught in this body.
I am life without boundaries. I have never been born,
and I shall never die.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations of my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
birth and death are only doors through which we
pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.
birth and death are just a game of hide and seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say goodbye,
say goodbye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source at every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
Thich Nhat Hanh