November 2, 2018 is one year since my dear friend/colleague Dr Beverly Anderson died. The first anniversary of a death is poignant and sacred. Yes, I have had other significant losses: my parents and other relatives; friends, friends’ children and friends’ parents. But each new loss beckons new learnings about living, dying, and grieving.
Of all that I have experienced and learned about death and grief this past year, one quote rose above all the rest: “It is only when sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time, that death really occurs”. So I wish to honor my friend Beverly by saying her name out loud; writing her name as my way of honoring her life and keeping her name “alive”!
Dr Beverly Anderson was a colleague/friend for 25 years at the University of Calgary and afterward in our retirements. She focused her academic scholarship on family and community health nursing. Beverly was diagnosed with bladder cancer in January, 2017 and died November 2, 2017.
Beverly loved rituals. I would like to recount one ritual that connected Beverly and me emotionally and spiritually during the last few months of Beverly’s well lived life.
Sunny the Spirit Bird: In June, 2017, I was in Pamplona, Spain to present at the 13thInternational Family Nursing Conference. Prior to the conference, I wanted to walk the last 100 km of the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela. I felt inspired to ask Beverly if I could dedicate my walk to her. She willingly said “yes”.
I also asked her if there was something that I could carry with me during the walk as a palpable connection between us. She eagerly sent me a small, wooden bird that was beautifully carved by her brother. These birds are known as Norwegian “comfort birds”. I asked Beverly “what’s the bird’s name?” and she said “Sunny”because “I need more sun and light in my life”.
During the Camino Frances walk, I felt a very close and spiritual connection to Beverly. When I would arrive in the small villages, I would stop in the village church, offer a prayer for Beverly and take a photo of Sunny. Throughout these walking days, I emailed Beverly the photos of Sunny and me walking, eating, and praying. This walking ritual on the Camino Frances and the many prayers that were offered didn’t cure Beverly, but she told me it brought her a great sense of peacefulness, hope, and healing. This was congruent of numerous other experiences with persons walking towards death that they no longer are desired a cure, but rather sought peace and healing with their illness.
When I returned to Canada after the Conference, I went to visit Beverly in hospital. It was time to return Sunny to Beverly but she was insistent that I must now keep Sunny and travel with her. And so I have.
Beverly also wrote a poem after gifting Sunny to me. It is especially revered by me as writing had become near impossible for Beverly and she struggled to write her words on paper. Sunny and this poem are my most precious keepsakes from Beverly.
SUNNY THE SPIRIT BIRD
By Beverly Anderson
Sunny the spirit bird
is with you to comfort you
Spirit bird, gift of love
Is with you
Sunny’s spirit resides in us
To connect our hearts and souls
Sunny will travel with you
To your 100 countries
Sunny will not forsake you
She will not leave you
Sunny is your guide
for your spiritual journey
To give you courage and hope
Beverly’s non-resistance to her impending death, although not desired, softened her suffering and enabled a peacefulness and enjoyment of living in the midst of dying. It also enabled her to become an even more love-expanding woman, friend, and family member. She loved and was loved deeply.
In October, 2018, I taught a Family Nursing Externship in Akureyri, Iceland with Dr Janice Bell. I was able to share Beverly’s illness story with 40 wonderful Icelandic and other Scandinavian nurses and health professionals. They were also able to see my gift of Sunny. I especially felt honored to speak Beverly’s name in the land of her Icelandic heritage!
And today, I write the name of Dr Beverly Ann Anderson to honor her life and teachings. May her name be spoken and her life be a blessing to be remembered for many, many more years!