Found: a Spring letter

We just passed the 14th of the month and for the first time, I don't immediately know how many months ago Kelly died, not without counting. Curious.

Did I tell you? I am writing a book. A book about Kelly and our friendship and grief and her death and my unsatisfactory life without her. A life of bitter pain but little suffering. Part of that book will contain her hand-written letters to me (and hopefully mine to hers if I can get into her archives soon).

As I transcribe these letters, I found one that feels especially timely since it's nearly the same time of year that she wrote it, only 8 years ago. Every drop of ink is just so Kelly. Her letters were exactly like sitting down to a cup of coffee with her: she'd tell me about her purchases, how people in the country always gawked oddly at her, and we'd discuss our latest developments and research in gardening. Then we'd spend hours shopping for plants. Then she'd come over and help me plant them all.

Kelly was such a massive help to me. Without her, I feel like I am trying to lift 300 lbs of life. Maybe that's why I am always so tired. I've lost one of my main sources of energy and motivation.

I am a very amateur gardener, pots only so far. But my body is naturally awakening to this desire to plant again. Last year, it took all I had to plant a few herbs, strawberries, several tomato plants, and a shit ton of lavender when she got sick - simply because it made me feel close to her. Knowing that she'd be doing the same, working in the wild, if she could, motivated me. It was my medicine to her - to do what she couldn't.

We purchased several of those plants together at our annual day together in May, an edible plant sale. We've gone every year since 2012, and every year, Kelly's crate of purchased plants got bigger and bigger. We would walk back to my house and have brunch and a lazy day of laying in the sun, grab a hot dog for mid-day dinner, and do some sort of communal dinner that evening.

As I read this letter, smiling for the indelible Kelly Clarkness of it all, I thought you might like a smile too - even if it breaks your heart.

I am missing

There once was a me
I knew

But you died and took me
with you.

In place of me, a new
confused thing will do

Strange things like
hoard your every shoe.

The earth you walked,
the dirt you knew

Stained on the bottom
of a boot no one else can have
but you.

But you, not here, left me to hide
those shoes.

Your quirky socks I wear,
Will they walk my feet to you?

The wise old owl of me used to have
the redwood tree of you

A tall and lanky perch
from which to view

The shirking prey, the darkest night, the darting truth.
Tell me, my guru,

What now? What can I do
without the branches of you?

"Stop," you say,
to choose

For I left, but I am not gone," you say.
"And I have news for you.

I am more than tree.
I am all colors, spirit-hewed.

Stop denying that same is true for you.

I promise, my owl
Everything you need, you already have
deep, deep, deep inside of you.

Go plant a new tree,
the tree of you.

Please believe me, you would
If you could see you as I do.

Strong as stalwart, as in your youth
Firmly-planted, leaves true blue.

There is no way out of this
You must go through."

But I am blind, wing-bound.
My vision slight, talons eschew.
I cannot be as I was once used to.

I am missing,
I am missing,
I am misssing

I am missing,
I am missing,
I am missing
me, too.

Frida and field trips

Last night, I lost it. Like properly. Like big, ugly tears. I couldn't see and I couldn't stop.

Last week, just a few minutes before leaving my therapy session, I lost it. Less ugly - there was someone watching, after all. But no less big and broken.

I broke down during those particular instances NOT because Kelly has died and is dead. Well, not directly.

Last week at therapy, I cried because my therapist asked me to identify some heroes for an exercise we are doing. I said Frida Kahlo almost immediately and when she said why, I choked on my sudden tears. I said because of her immense suffering and her wild power and her fucking resilience in the face of extreme tragedy and her ability and dogged determination to learn to paint and express herself from that place of persistence and pain.

I cried because I realized I had actually just described Kelly.

"Anger" an early prototype of a tarot card for a deck Kelly was flirting with making

Last night, I cried because I got an email from Bowie's school saying I wasn't picked to chaperone Bowie's first Kindergarten field trip. I not only wanted to go see a play with her, but I also wanted to make sure she was taken care of in the special way she needs right now (Kindergarten has been a tough for bathroom times). And for some reason, getting an email from her teacher saying, "I will take care of Bowie" made me weep. And then I wept for teachers who answer fucking emails all hours of the day after spending every ounce of energy on kids. And then I wept for the people affected by the California fires. And then I wept for the victims in Las Vegas and their families and friends...for Puerto Rico, for Spain, for Mexico, Houston, for women and minorities (and our climate!) in America under this President. And then I wept for this planet and the end of everything, how the knowledge that everyone I love will die means something different to me now and how it feels less hopeless but more deeply, deeply sad. And then I wept because there is so little time to get our life's work done and I've been wasting it. And then I wept because I am grief-tired and didn't mean to waste it and felt judged by myself.

And then I wept for Kelly and for how she was so much of my daily living and guide toward mystical lands and hand-holder on the mutually paced path of self-discovery and maker of massive salads and bringer of green smoothies and wearer of billowy skirts with combat boots and speaker of truth in the dark and preserver of privacy and believer in mother and then, and then...

sitting in the hot bath with cold tears running down my face,
I remembered when she told me that she thought I was doing it right. That I was a good mother.

That's when I lost it.
I wept for me.

For me, for me, for me. For Bowie not getting to know Kelly as an adult. For Kelly not being here to help me with my sacred altar. For all the new ways I'm required to be that I don't want to be.

And I didn't want to stay there because I didn't want to feel sorry for myself, surely other people's loss is greater - Brad, Kathy, Jay, surely it's not my place to feel sorry for myself, look at how beautiful a death we were given, look at the life she lived, look how I got to love her, look how rich this soil is, look at how much more color the world has, look, look, look!

But I couldn't lift my chin this time.
I couldn't look up
I couldn't look at other people's sorrow anymore. I could only see mine.
I didn't go looking for her in my tarot deck or the night sky.

And it was time to face the me part of the grief. Weeping for little Candace, young, pitiful, incensed, raging and indignant. I thought of Bowie wailing about a necklace she lost and I imagined what it would be like to so unabashedly express loss.

Likely, it looks just like this.

Where she lives now.

I feel myself coming back to life,
if that's what you want
to call it. Life.

Seems like a massive stretch.
I resist and resent it.
I don't want to start putting the broken pieces back together
When your physical form isn't one of those pieces.
I'd rather stay shattered.

I said I could never go on
without you; here I am
Going on.

I scry into this crystalline ball of murk,
a cocktail of guilt, anxiety, exhaustion, and excitement.

There are a lot of faces here.
They speak.
Where is mine? Where is my voice? Will I find it
without you here, megaphoning my voice back to me always
Gently holding, fiercely protecting, lovingly knowing
my desperate, soul-shattering need for solitude.

I scry into the eyes of women
new and old
and see such deep, knowledgeable, wild
pain. So comforting, reassuring
that you are still close.

My spirit rages against my ribs, tearing its own flesh since it has no garment to shred from its corpus.
But the anger has also taken a rest.
Now the fear, the fear that as the days go by, you'll begin to fade.
Writing that last line, "you'll begin to fade"' that's what finally got me crying again, after days and days.

I keep thinking about the title of a book that I might read.
"After the Ecstasy, the Laundry."
The what's next after we shared a moment standing at the veil and you held my face before you parted the curtain and said, "Find me in your imagination. I will always live there."

I took your hands, blew into them my owlwind, and trilled for you. Releasing you, yelling go.

And then you slipped through a white, gauze-like curtain.
But I lied, I didn't want you to go. I don't want you to go.
Please, don't go.

You did.
So now what?

The tears, after days of dryness.
Sweet, welcome
The tears remind me of your hands again
holding my face.
And pointing me inward
to the you and me that is not under threat, scrutiny, admiration, interpretation, or definition.

"Find me in your imagination," you whisper again.
I ask the deck, where the fuck do you live now?
She says back "in your imagination."

So you've taken up residence in the most creative space of my inner self. Okay.

Truth sayer,
Miracle maker,
Heart breaker,
Death slayer,
I hear you. I hear you with my ancient owl heart and repeat it back.

Pursue yourself.
Pursue yourself.
Pursue yourself.
Pursue yourself.

That's where you live now.


The story of your death day

Later, I want to tell you the story of your Death Disco - how surprisingly beautiful it was for us all. But for now, I leave this here, the transcript of the story I told, the story of your glorious death day.

Photo by Kelly Clark: "Five Things Friday

"Join me in this sacred space as I tell the story of Kelly’s beautiful crossing over into the mysterious afterworld. For us, it was a day drenched in joy and wonder. The days afterward held considerably less that that, but on that one magical day in July - we were rebirthed by death.

It is my strong hope that you too will be given new life by bearing witness to this story.


When you took your last breath of this planet’s oxygen, I was in the back seat of my car with another man.

That "man" is your 1-year-old nephew, Roscoe. Your sisters Aubrey and Laurel, who Joel and I had just retrieved from the airport, were inside a store we’d stopped at en route to your home.

Joel was in the front seat when his phone rang. It was our Allison and I still don’t know the exact words she said, but Joel hung up 30 seconds later and I said, “What?”

“Kelly’s dead.”

The news, so perfunctory and unceremoniously delivered felt like the one time a Shaman used a massive owl wing to blow air onto my back and my face. The eerily powerful owlwind of you had washed over me.

I knew there was a reason I didn’t wear mascara that day. Kelly, I don’t think I ever will again. No, that’s a lie. I will and we will discuss it, forever. Because our particular flavor of soul contract was made of old wisdom, the worship of curiosity, attraction to mystery and self-knowing, the love of a well put together outfit, and eye makeup.

It was such a beautiful, hot July day and I had the car windows down. Joel got out of the car to intercept your sisters and I heard the most holy, sacred curse bellow from Aubrey.

"GodFuckingDamn it," she screamed, clawed her belly, and bent over.

Laurel was stunned silent, frozen, a hand covered her mouth, grasping for the impossible breath.


About a half an hour after you passed, we pulled up to your house after what felt like the longest drive of my life. Your dad was sitting on the steps, ready to receive us. I quickly hugged this man I had never met but always knew, left him to greet his daughters, and made a B-line for you.

I ran into Allison, who was rose-colored with pain and also hugged her but couldn’t linger even for a second as those long-ass tendrils of your crone hands grew from the bedroom down the hall into roots and vines around the corner, winding around my heels and neck - pulling me into your death embrace.

I crawled onto your bed and grabbed your face and Oh! Oh! I was so happy for you. I kept whispering in your ear, “I’m so happy for you, I’m so happy for you, You did it! You are so brave. Oh this is so interesting!”

I wailed, so says Robin - though I didn’t hear it and it wasn’t even nearly as loud as it needed to be. I kissed your soft skin and whispered to you.

I worshiped this ultimate act of self-love, to know and trust that this is for you and for you alone and everyone you were worried about and holding onto this life for - that we are all going to be okay - we will take care of each other as you orchestrated.

Brad stood up from his seat at your right, and I grabbed your hand. I held it forever, kissing it for so long. Noting that we needed to do your nails.

I grabbed a file. I knew we wanted to prepare your body for the last most important event of your life, your death day...and as you told me, you needed to look good.


It was time to call the women to us. After a few hours, they all arrived. We all wanted to spend time with you, bearing witness to this moment. I also felt you wanted time with us, for us to see and be and love on a Kelly free of that GodFuckingDamnit cancer.  

We celebrated, and continue to celebrate, your liberation from: ketogenic diets, chemo x 3, broken back bones, lymph-edema, radiation, deep fatigue, crippling anxiety, persistent nausea, no appetite, not being able to breath.

And yet that body still felt so impossible to let go of.

Because despite all it had not done for you and for us, it was also so glorious, always poised and stretchy and confident and perky and olive-skinned, willowy, strong, and whole.

As I filed your nails, there was a moment we got to be alone. You asked me to play "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" and I was like, “Really??” And you were like, "Yes bitch."

I laughed, and we hung out with Lauryn.

And soon the ritual began.

Your mother brushed your hair and put lavender oil in it - clipping a small locket of hair for keepsake. We wandered your property for botanicals and flowers. I put them all in a pot of water in your creme-colored Le Creuset dutch oven - which you loved.

We steeped the petals and herbs and foliage to make your holy water - scented with lavender, fern, pine, sage. Your mother cut the shirt your were wearing off (that fucking neon shirt) and we tore it up to use for washing rags. Using your carefully curated mug collection, we dipped our mugs into the water and dipped the cloth into the mugs and washed you as we cried and passed around a bottle of whiskey.

"We should sing," someone said. But what? Does anyone have any song?

And another said. “Sea of love” and we laughed because why that? But it was perfect. And then we sang “Sea of love.” And as our voices sang “Come with me, my love, to the sea, the sea of love. I want to tell you how much I love you.” And then “dream a little dream of me” as a prayer to you to please visit us from wherever you must go.

And as our voices floated out the open window above your head to so you to began to float in bliss. Women, singing as they work, women singing over the bones as they have done for generations.


After you were washed, we put alternating umber and white colored dots around your eyes, your afterworld makeup mask. We put this gorgeous red warrior stripe down the down the center of your lips.

Kelly, you loved it. We could all feel how INTO it you were.

We soaked small California poppy petals, fushia petals, and sage leaves in oil and make a necklace of them at your collarbone and around your belly button. We poured lavender, frankincense, and cypress oil all over your feet, hands, legs, belly, torso, collar bone, arms, and hands. Oh how we indulged in those expensive oils, pouring and pouring. And the room, oh the room smelled so amazing.

We tucked masses of fresh lavender and  bee balm under your neck and head - bright pink palms of petals that looked almost like earrings. Between your torso and arms we tucked hydrangea and echinacea. On your head was a crown made of ivy and cedar leaves.

We wept softly still, as the ancient hands made ready this vessel which had housed the soul and spirit of the woman we loved. Who loved us. There was such joy in the room that we got to be all together like this.

We painted your middle fingernails only, so you could return to earth with a great big fuck you to cancer.

"Middle fingers up, bitches,” I heard you say with a laugh.


We finished getting you ready and called in the men, who placed a crown of ferns at your head and sage leaves at your feet and hands. You were ready.

We then opened a bottle of champagne to toast you, pouring a few drops in your lips and belly button. We rang the singing bowl three times. Oh how goddess-like you were, like Titania, the queen of the fairies.

We hugged, we laughed, we wept, someone put food and drink in us, we made such irreverent jokes and you were there, bounding around in curiosity, excitement, and love.

We lingered there.

And then it was time. We wailed. I fell to the ground on my knees and saw nothing but heard the young innocent cries around me. All of the children inside of us, all of the growing young women, the middle aged women, and our ancient crones...they all wept and wept and wept.

Through this sea of tears, you were carried into ancestry. As if the swell of our wailing waves propel you to the ancient ones.

Eventually, the wailing died down and we gradually began to come and go out of the room. In my time with you, I kissed your hands and studied your left arm - the tattoo too long covered by a sleeve. Hatch - it said.

I studied the markings, wanting to make myself drunk on you. Knowing I would never again behold this earthy visage.

The holy water cooked in your favorite Le Crueset dutch oven.

Jess's hand dipping into the holy water


At sunset, the call was made to have your body taken from us. Four of us sat in the room with you as they wrapped you in soft white cloth and placed you tenderly into a beautiful red velvet bag. I was nervous that this part would be gruesome, but it too was beautiful. They lovingly left your death outfit on, and we sent you with a great horned owl wing feather and a piece of danburite.

We walked out behind you ringing a bell and beating three drums, your funeral mourners. Yet, it didn’t feel sad to me, it felt sacred. Like the absolute holiest ground I’ve ever walked on. As they placed you in the car, we put a braid of sweetgrass on your head, and kept drumming as you drove away - kept playing until we couldn’t see the car anymore.

Photo by Kelly Clark 

And you, you eternal cowgirl...true to form, you rode off into the sunset.


Many hours and much whiskey later, we burned every GodFuckingDamnit cancer book in the house we could find. And with it, we burned away the cancer from you, from Brad, from the house, from us all. Cancer's grip on you fell into ashes at our feet. 

Be well, bird."