A few weeks ago I wrote my own eulogy. It’s a writing exercise I’d heard of many times, but one I had never done. But, I’ve thought about my own death since I was a young kid. As someone who always assumed I’d die young (a belief I’m just recently beginning to challenge internally), I’d thought about this type of thing many times before.
The difference is that I wrote this eulogy as a sort of “weekly review” of my life in the most grave sense. And then two days later I was in a doctor’s office having them tell me, “Well, with you being as young as you are, it’d be rare that this is cancer, but we need to be real that that’s a real possibility here. We can’t do anything now. Come back in 3 weeks.”
I’ve been thinking about this eulogy a lot over the past few weeks, and while I understand that I don’t control all of my fate, I went from being scared and overwhelmed, to being determined that this is not where my story ends. That I will not let it end right as I was on the brink of what I talk about below.
I have since received the good news that I am (almost) in the clear cancer-scare-wise. But it has been a poignant few weeks and I’ve realized that I am not done fighting. I am not done adventuring. I am not done working on things and becoming the best version of me that I can be. I will not lay down and die. If I die right now, I will die fighting if that is an option. But as long as I am breathing, my story is not yet finished.
So, here’s my weird eulogy post. It’s a mix of attempted honest self-reflection and how I hope, maybe, people would remember me should the story stop here.
NOTE: NOT A SUICIDE NOTE. NOT AT ALL.
Joanna O’Hanlon died today. She spent her last day reading blog posts, having fun texting a cute boy, and trying to sort out information from other “productivity” blog posts that she could steal and make her own for a company blog. She was trying to get this done by 3pm, but her mind kept wandering. She went on a run, finished an art project, and went to a cheap movie. It was an ordinary day.
She didn’t know today would be the last day. She would’ve bought and eaten dessert at lunch had she known. She did try V8 finally for the first time before she passed though. She’d continually passed that option in life until today. She actually really liked it, even though it was like drinking cold tomato soup.
The story ending as it is, is a tragedy. She was on the brink of new life. On the brink of hope. On the brink of finding meaning in life again. But she hadn’t quite teetered over the edge. She had weathered the horrible, vomit-inducing, life-wrecking, heart-bulldozing times. She’d wandered in the desert. And when she was almost into the new, beautiful, life-giving season, it just stopped. That’s what makes this so sad. Knowing that joy and hope and adventure were right around the corner.
She had no real romantic involvement ever in her life. She struggled with receiving love. Her independent spirit was her fateful flaw. “You never needed anybody,” her best friend had said to her one time. But in the last year, she’d learned what it was to need people, and to need them without being able to ask for them. And they showed up. Again and again they showed up. She was working on making that translation into her romantic potential. But before she died, she knew she was loved. Not by a man — but by many men and women who gave her their love when she was really broken. When she felt the most unlovable. When she really needed love.
She was reckless in her honesty. She defied the regular rules of propriety about what you could say out loud. She was honest about how she felt, about how life felt, about how death felt. She couldn’t stomach the trite positive-spins that the church and the ignorant put on pain. She would speak out against that with colorful language deep from her gut anytime she heard it. She made many people uncomfortable. And she wasn’t sorry about that. The truth was important to her, because she saw what lack of honesty, what positive-spins and secrets did to people. She’d been hurt by that before. She was finding freedom in the truth, and she wanted to share it with the suffering, even at the cost of making the non-suffering uncomfortable.
She dug into her pain. She let it fill her. She let it burn away the excess in her. And she sought healing. She so badly wanted to be healed. But when God told her he wanted to use her while she was still broken, she cried, and said OK.
Jo loved God. He was her only constant in life. She looked like a wanderer to many. She was, I suppose. Her heart was not at home. It had known pain. It had loved this world. But the only real roots she had were in her God. He had held her, traveled with her. She loved God because he was good in a world that so often felt bad. She loved him because He was there for her when her pain and shame were too much for others. He was there when she wandered. He was there in the wails in the middle of the night. She loved God in the most selfish way possible — she loved Him because she needed him and trusted him. And because she knew He loved her.
Jo loved life. She loved to laugh at funny things. She laughed and squealed with joy when she did child-like things like go to the carnival or swim in the snowy river. Joy might’ve looked like it came naturally to Jo, but really, it was a choice. A choice to not let her sorrow hold her. She would seek joy out. It was a priority in her life. Fun was a priority in her life. She believed she was on an adventure. She chose to believe that.
She really liked high places. She was a climber. Always had been. She could still be seen sometimes on a run, coming across a play ground in the neighborhood, and swinging unabashedly on one of the swings — swinging higher and higher until it felt like her adult-weight would make the whole thing topple.
She loved people. Especially broken people. Especially people who had shown her love. She thought nothing of giving time, money, opportunity, or energy to make these people a priority in their times of need. She needed to work on making them a priority when they weren’t in need, too, though.
And she loved stories. Her curiosity was a bit much for most people, so she was learning how to curb it for the sake of others. But she always, always wanted to know more. She wanted to learn about people and places and things.
About what makes the pressure in a fire hydrant so great that the water literally SHOOTS out of it, while the water in nearby houses simply drizzles out regularly. And which Roman emperor built the coliseum, and which one finished it. And what’s the difference in technique/approach of a barber verses a hair stylist. And how to put in a pool. And how Lewis and Clark crossed the Columbia river. And how did they know they would even find an end to the continent? And what seasonings are in V8? And how did you get to be the person you are today?
Her curiosity for knowledge, and her love of stories defined her. There were six words that always caught her interest: “Let me tell you a story…”
She was working on writing her own story, too. It is incomplete. But so is life, I suppose.
She is survived by some of her immediate family, not all of them: her mother, her father, her brother. She is survived by extended family and her friends — too many good ones to mention them all. But they live all over the country, all over the world. She is survived by her town: Oroville – the land of the hopeless and broken and stuck. She really loved that town. We don’t know why, but she did.
We don’t know what we should do with her body. She used to say to just throw it in the sea because it was the cheapest option. But we’re not sure it’s the cheapest option. And we’re not sure if that’s what she wanted anymore. She had definite desires — but they changed… it was hard to keep track sometimes.
Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.