Death is not an easy concept to understand. It comes and sweeps all sense of stability from you, it takes your comfortability and shakes you up.
In my life, I can count on both hands the people close to me who have died. I can think back to the funerals, the families, the cemetery, the feeling of being lost.
I was ten years old when I lost my uncle. It was the first time I can remember having special memories with the person that died. It is the first time I truly sat in silence, a mental slideshow running through my mind with snapshots of the time we spent together.
Today, I lost a close friend – her name was Jorja. My first memory of Jorja is at the Metropolitan church in my town – my family slowly crept into the church, wanting to experience something new, but feeling a little awkward. Jorja was the one who greeted us and welcomed us in. Here started the journey to a wonderful and meaningful relationship cut far too short.
A few months later: Walking into our home church and suddenly my dad points out, “That’s Jorja. Remember her? She was at the Metropolitan church.”
“The transgender one? She was so nice! Can we say hi?” It was at this point that Jorja became a stable and welcome part of my life.
Jorja’s testimony is one of amazing re-creation in the eyes of God. Jorja finally found herself in her late fifties, and celebrated her third birthday this year. She has spoken to many other churchgoers about who she is without hesitation, guilt, or remorse.
Jorja has shown me how to be proud. She showed me to stand up and say, “Yeah World, it’s me. I’m beautiful and you can’t take any part of me away.”
Jorja taught me what it means to be a good ally. She taught me how to stand up for her, my gay brother, and my nonbinary best friend. She showed me that anger is not the only resource, and I can have a calm voice in all the turmoil.
Today, I lost a great friend. I lost the woman who means more to me than most. The woman who was an active part of my life for two years.
Today, I feel sad. I feel overwhelmed and confused and sad. I walked into my Spanish class, saw the faces of some close friends, and broke down. I sat in my seat, trying to do my bell ringer, and the tears began to fall. One friend grabbed my hand, another wrapped her arm around my neck, a third patted my cheek. I wanted to go home and curl up in a ball and cry until I couldn’t cry anymore.
Instead, I smiled a small smile at my friends, wiped my tears, and finished conjugating Spanish verbs.
I was surrounded by friends and comfort, and all I could think about was Jorja’s face when we went to see her at the hospital last month. All I could see was her face as she blew out her candles at her last birthday party. All I could see was her face as she stood in front of the Metropolitan church and gave her testimony and praised God. I felt all her hugs and cheek kisses. I heard her gentle voice — saying hello, asking how I was, telling us she had stage IV cancer of the tongue.
All I can hear is her trying to speak to us with the tube in her throat and needle through her tongue. All I see is her shaky handwriting asking my dad if she’s in Dallas.
I hear her say “I love you. God bless” to each of my family members as we stood around her hospital bed.
Jorja, you have been in my life for some of the worst moments. You have been here for some of the best. You were there for the mundane and the exciting. You became a part of our church family, and found your way into our hearts. You mean so much to all of us.
In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda “Death doesn’t discriminate/ Between the sinners and the saints/It takes and it Takes/And we keep loving anyway”
To one of the saintliest people I know – you never stopped loving, and I won’t either.
I remember your stories of people who shut you out in ignorance – and your door was open to them. You never spoke ill of them, and you were ready to accept them back into your life. You didn’t force them to come to you, you showed them the open door and backed away to wait for them to make their own decision.
That is your legacy, and it is one of the most honorable. Everyone who knew you was blessed by your kindness and acceptance, and I hope to continue that in your name.
Death is hard. It will come and make everything tilt, off kilter, everything will feel wrong. Feel it. Allow yourself to feel sad, to feel the pain. Cry. Scream.
And remember. Watch the slideshow. Think about the jokes, and the serious conversations, and the last moments.
I will continue Jorja’s legacy. I will live my life the same way she did. I will open all the doors I have kept shut, and see what happens.