In Honor of Ella

Most of my posts are lighthearted or inquisitive, and I don’t intend for this one to be much of a deviation, despite the focus. We lost a beautiful soul last week, my stepmother Ella. I could tell you all about the ache of loss, and the process of re-normalizing a life without somebody very important. Most of you reading have probably lost somebody, and you know what that feels like in the pit of your gut. She left behind a son, a husband, a brother, a mother, and countless friends and extended family. You know that often the pain felt by those left behind can be just as difficult to process as your own. It’s harder yet when the person was lost too early.

But to honor Ella is to honor her core, not our grief. She was unique. She moved through her life with a tangible lightness, even amidst decades of uncertain physical health and a seesaw of struggles. I don’t fully know what my belief system is as it relates to a life after this one, but her grace always seemed to transcend our present world. I believe now that her ease of living was born from a powerful spirit, and that her purpose may have been to show a troubled world how special a life could be despite the kinds of hardships that would feel insurmountable to some.

It’s difficult for some grown children to accept a new partner for their parent. I never felt this way about Ella. She fell into my father’s life without any adjustment required of his family. I do believe that they were soulmates.

By Ella, Composition: Just the two of us. Material: Sassafras leaves

Ella was a writer of poetry, songs (music and lyrics), skits and plays, and short stories for adults and children. She was a singer and confident deliverer of comedic prose. She was a cook. She was a planner of parties and gatherings, which in true Russian fashion, included more food during the “appetizer” course (buffet) than most people could consume in an entire meal. She was not much of a drinker, as little enhancement was necessary. She surrounded herself with bright colors—orange and coral were some top picks—in silky scarfs and tops, flowers in her garden, and decor in her home. She was far more stylish than I am.

She was intelligent, and inquisitive about the world. In her last months, when leaving home was not easy, she was busy sending her friends and family thought-provoking TED talks and articles about unique scientific advancements happening around the world. And just when you thought your brain would burst from all the fascinating information you were receiving—as if she could sense it—she would close with a video of a puppy befriending a monkey. It was a full-scale journey of emotion, a story given as a gift from her to you.

It sounds trite to say that we should honor our lost loved ones by living our lives to the fullest. It sounds even triter to write it down on paper. But I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is for us to honor those people like Ella, who live the way we ought to. In our tense, angry, confusing world, always in flux and transition, there is peacefulness deep inside our minds—concealed and protected. Her gift to us was moments of that peacefulness, given sparingly, and only when needed most. If we think carefully, we will see how much we needed those moments to be sandwiched between ones of angst and worry (about whatever was causing us to struggle at the time). Noticing the difference is the key to understanding what is out there and worth striving towards. It propels us forward instead of backward.

And we should strive for it. We should seek that complacency and grace. Ella, like us all, was imperfect. But she was able to unearth that way of being from deep inside her mind. She guarded us, so that we could in turn guard the sanctity of the world’s beauty. I vow to travel to every place before I make assumptions…I vow to understand every person I meet before I judge…I vow to eat every new food before I decide that I dislike it. I vow to breathe during moments of calamity.

It’s there, that freedom, even in fleeting wisps—at times when I’ve stood on mountaintops and cried because the vastness was too great to process. When the open road felt as comfortable as my childhood bedroom. When I forgot about everything that needed to be fixed, because the beauty in the immediate was palpable. It’s so clearly and obviously obvious.

And I vow to show it to you all, every day. Thanks, Ella ❤

“Forgotten Language” by Ella. Ella’s personal translation: “A brotherhood of trees the odd one doesn’t shun. It’s truly one-for-all, and also all-for-one. The brotherhood of men of this is yet to learn, but even mighty oak began from small acorn.” 

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