I’ve spent most of my four years since starting The Hivery as open-hearted and transparent as I know how to be. Telling my story seemed so safe among the kindness and love of a community centered on elevating each other. You always made me feel like I could lead so openly.
But I’ve been quiet these past few months and the weeks since the heartbreaking death of my dear younger sister, Maggie. She died a little over a month ago, and I’ve wanted to say something for a long time. And like a long lost friend, I have felt the urge many, many times to reach out and write to you. Like when you pick up the phone to call and then set it down because you don’t know what to say.
Sometimes it was because the pain was too great and the emotions too raw to tell my story. And sometimes, especially when Maggie was sick, I had to choose between sitting down to write versus spending precious moments being present with my sister. And as the moments became more and more fleeting, I had to choose Maggie.
Now, as I grieve and try to process, I feel “ready” to begin to share. I don’t yet know the fullness of this experience, but it has begun to feel, only recently, like it is needing to come out. Glennon Doyle, a favorite author and activist of mine, talks about how she is able to be so transparent in her writing by not sharing her story in real-time. She allows some time to pass so that the rawness isn’t in the moment, but can be recalled with the slight safety of distance. I understand that now. I’m still raw and my heart is fragile and ripped open, but I feel called to express my love for Maggie and to begin to tell her story and mine, too.
Maggie was diagnosed with breast cancer last September at the age of 33. The day that I found out, I was shattered with worry… I remember vividly how I crumbled; I sat and cried in the shower at what she would have to go through to get through this. I was angry and sad for her that she would have to put her life on hold, take time off from a job she loved, and possibly have the opportunity to have children taken away from her. At that time, I never thought she would die.
She was living in LA with her boyfriend, Brandon, and with him and my other sisters, we created a schedule to go with her to every chemo. I loved being by her side and was amazed at her determination to conquer this chemo thing, stay strong, and keep her routine. She worked full-time throughout chemo (she was a chef and the director of catering for a chic LA restaurant group). She was determined to show up as her best self, both for battling cancer, and for her future. She admitted often that this "cancer bullshit” was the most traumatic experience she’d ever been through, yet all she could talk about was how lucky she was to be so loved, to have healthcare, to have a second chance. She kept us laughing throughout her chemo treatments, making jokes with the chemo nurse that she’s here for happy hour, and requesting a margarita in her IV bag.
One morning, during my visit for her fourth round of treatment, I was leaving Maggie's house in LA…it was early, and time for me to go to the airport. Maggie was still sleeping, so I quietly tip-toed into her room and sat next to her on the bed. “I’m leaving,” I said, and kissed her on the cheek. Her eyes opened, I rubbed her little, bald head…it was the most perfect, little head I’ve ever seen. Bald and sleeping, she couldn’t help but be adorable. “I miss you already, Mags”, I told her.
“You need to go. You’ve got stuff to do. Keep doing what you’re doing, Grace. You’re doing the right thing.” she said. And then, “Mom’s proud of you."
“Mom’s proud of you, too.” I told her, as the tears welled up. My heart hurt and my heart was bursting at the same time.
Even after her own chemo treatment, in her pajamas, with her sweet, little face looking up at me like a Buddhist angel, she thought of me, coached me, encouraged me, and loved me. I sat on the bed that morning and felt through my veins what it means to love so deeply that it hurts.
And, she did it…she did exactly what “they" told her to do. She did all of the chemo treatments. She continued an organic, vegan diet. She did yoga, she meditated, she went to acupuncture. She journaled. She practiced gratitude. She started telling me in November how scared she was and that she’d been thinking about what it means to face mortality, to think about being afraid to die. I reassured her. We read “The Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell together and picked out where she was on the journey. She had accepted the call, she was in the dark night of the soul, she would reach transformation. She would use everything she’d learned for good and to make a difference. She got a double mastectomy in January. The end was in sight. She’d do a few rounds of radiation, go back to work, and put this horrible nightmare behind her. They scanned her breasts and saw no evidence of disease. We celebrated. She was worn out.
But, two weeks after her surgery, she just wasn’t recovering. She was exhausted and having debilitating headaches. They told her to come in to do a brain MRI, just in case. A few hours later, she called me. I was in a meeting with a potential investor for The Hivery…it felt like an important meeting until the phone rang. It’s amazing how life screeches to a halt when you get that call. “It’s in my brain.” she shrieked. “The cancer is in my brain!". I got on a plane to LA a few hours later. I laid with her in the hospital bed. “They told me that I’m going to die.” she cried. It couldn’t be true, it couldn’t be true. But, there it was. The truth.
I started to bargain in that unreasonable and unuseful way we do when we are desperate. “You can have my business. I will give up my house. I will do anything. I will start all over. But, please don’t take my sister. Please don’t take her from me.”…I’m not sure who in those situations we think will hold our business or our house as collateral, but we negotiate with the voices in our heads, nonetheless. We plead to the universe, to anyone, and to no one. We beg for the world not to be so brutal. Please no suffering, please no pain. Please don’t take my sister.
I tried to be strong for her. And sometimes I wasn’t. Sometimes, I was just her sister. And she felt for me, too. She asked me about our other sisters, “Grace, what will Abby do if I die? What will Emily do? What are you going to do?”…I told her that I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to do without her. I didn’t know how to raise my kids without her. I didn’t know how to have confidence without her. I didn’t know how to be inspired without her. I worried that I would lose my light, my soul, the flow of inspiration forever. That I would be sad for the rest of my life.
So, I stuck to her like glue. And, it was hard. I spent most of February and March in LA with her. She had brain surgery and a port put in her brain so they could inject chemo directly into her brain. We thought, “We can buy some time, and then we can beat this". She would be terrified one moment, and calmly tell me the next that THIS was not going to take her down, that she was not done. We got a second opinion at UCSF, and they gave us some hope. They would try other things.
“She’s young, and aggressive cancer needs aggressive treatment.” they told us. We drove her to SF in mid-March and she moved in with me. I was so happy to have her in my home. I wanted to take care of my little sister. My kids and husband were in it with me. We shifted from our family life to a life centered around focusing on hope and miracles. I have an amazing team at The Hivery that picked up the slack at work and allowed me to focus completely on her. The community rallied around her. The love notes started pouring in. We were all in with Maggie.
We were determined to heal and created our days around the objective of thriving. Maggie and I created some beloved routines that I will treasure forever. We touched a redwood tree everyday. She wrote about self-love everyday. She taught me how to like green tea…she began her day each morning with our wonderful friend and meditation teacher, Rachel Rossitto. We lovingly nicknamed her “moonbeam” for the way she floated into our home each morning to sit with Maggie, sing, guide, drink tea, and meditate together. She saw my dear friend, Malcolm Campbell, a spiritual therapist. She was willing to go deep in body, mind and spirit to beat this. And, I was determinedly by her side. We drove to full brain radiation together every day for weeks. We decided we were the only weirdos who could enjoy the car ride to radiation as much as we did. We talked about the future. She got her appetite back. We rewarded ourselves with great meals, worthy of her foodie/chef palate. Our baby niece, Cici, was born. We flew to Minneapolis for her baptism as Maggie was the godmother.
Just before our trip, she had begun complaining about a back ache. The pain got worse. And worse. And worse. When we got home, they MRI’ed her spine. The cancer had spread again. This time to her spine. We held each other up in the hallway of the hospital when she got the news.
Her legs gave as she gasped, “Grace, I’m so afraid.”
“Me, too, sister.” I said. We hung on to each other; we stared at each other. The sounds of the city went silent. When we got in the elevator, we saw regular humans, who weren’t dying. They seemed like another world.
We shuffled out. We went home. The pain got worse and worse and worse.
We went to the hospital. They told us she was not going to be long. The moment that she passed in my arms, her spirit floated up and away from her physical body. I learned everything in that moment; I felt the closeness of the other side and went with her as far as I could. She was beautiful. I believe that she took her last breath, as if to say, “I’m ready."
The night before my sister’s funeral, I thought I might need to go to the hospital due to a piercing pain in my sternum. It didn’t feel like chest pains, but felt serious enough that I called a friend who is a Chinese medicine doctor. She explained that when loss is so great, it creates a loss of breath and that the breath can stay in the chest cavity and create tightness. She explained further and then said, “Grace, what is happening to you is that you are heartbroken. You are not having a heart attack. You are in the depth of the human experience and your body knows that this is the precipice of love and agony.”…Nothing ever felt so true.
I don’t pretend to have wise words of wisdom on the path of grieving. I have experience with loss but we are always beginners again and again when it comes to heartbreak. I know that I will go on, even when I don’t want to. I know that so many dear friends, family, and those before me have experienced the depth of loss. I watch them with deep respect; I feel the weight of their hearts. And I will live and survive, and feel joy again. I will create beauty and admire it, too. This level of sadness is not forever, but the agony is deep. And the questions are intense. “Why do I get to enjoy this sunset? Why am I the fortunate being that gets to be here?”…
A few weeks ago, I was driving on the freeway and I admittedly cut someone off. I was distracted, likely crying, and pulled a lame lane-change maneuver. The driver laid on the horn. Many, many times. She was enraged. She flipped me off first with her left hand, then her right, then with both. My first thought? “Hmm, maybe her sister died, too.” Things had started to shift. My broken heart was softening. There would be light in the cracks.
When I lost my mom seven years ago, the grief was intense. There was a moment crying on my living room floor when I searched and searched in floods of tears for who I could be and for what to do with the intensity of the loss I felt in my heart. I had to make something. I was certain. And from that, I made a Hivery. From this loss of my dear sister, I can’t see what might come out. But, the seeking and the willingness to let it out are what my sister wanted; and, I know deep in my heart it is the only way that I can survive.
So, now what? Where to go from here? How to rebuild or transform a soul that feels hurt, broken and tender. There is a pressure in the opening as if there is a new call to be. There is a searching and a gap, a distance between where I am and what I yearn for. And I’ve noticed that amidst the darkness, the cracks of light are starting to come back. I’m starting to hope again, to plan, to create, to think about ways to improve, and ways to go deeper.
As it relates to The Hivery I have, through this experience, been changed forever. And The Hivery is not “just” a business any longer. It’s not about where the next Hivery locations will be, although it is our intention to spread The Hivery love far and wide. It’s not even “just” a women’s co-working space. It’s a tangible, artistic expression of the human experience, specifically a community who is willing to boldly live at the epicenter. To use our talent, love, pain, and vulnerability for the service of others and for the depth of being the fullest humans we can be.
At a time of agony for so many, children separated from families, people suffering unimaginable anguish, it has never been more important to live at the greatest level of our own potential, in order to make the most meaningful contribution we can. To soar with authenticity, love, and beauty, to dig deep in order to be fully alive. To stand with the wisdom of experience through the pain, the suffering, the anger, the fury, the hardship. To speak with bold voices, answer the calls, honor the opening of the heart. To know that you’ve felt the deepest love and the depth of sorrow, and yet, to know you must go on. To make something that helps people make an impact, make their contribution, do something that matters. And it all matters. That’s what I’m learning. I’m learning, each day with the help of my sweet sister Maggie’s voice in my ear… the crux, the depth, the gravity, the love, of what it means to be a woman.
p.s. Many of you so kindly expressed interest in coming to Maggie’s memorial service and I know it wasn’t possible for all. I’ve attached a video of the eulogy that I was so honored to give for my sister. I hope it helps you know her a little better. There was no one like our dear Maggie.