By Catherine Keefe
Much has been said in the past few days about how 29-year-old Brittany Maynard died. I’d like to tell you a little bit about how she lived.
Brittany, with a passel of other girls, came to my daughter’s 13th birthday party. We invited guests to attend in their most fabulous feathery, sparkly attire, turned our living room into a mock casino, and created an at-home Vegas Night. I hired a 16-year-old boy from down the street as a Blackjack dealer, and it was at the Blackjack table that Brittany spent most of the night. She flirted while most of the girls were so shy they wouldn’t even talk to the only boy in the room. Brittany bet all her chips and won, then fluttered her red paper prize-redemption tickets like confetti across the room because that was more fun than trading them in for a tube of bubblegum lip gloss. Brittany sashayed through the party like a starlet, trailing feathers from her black boa. She sipped Martinellis with her pinky raised, and laughed more loudly than any other girl at the party. She was, as the invitation requested, fabulous.
To know a girl on the cusp of emerging adulthood is to look through a kaleidoscope and slowly turn the lens. Who she might become is a fractal of who she already is.
Brittany was light years ahead of the other 13-year-olds in the most important way possible. She had a way of living without paying any attention to what anyone else thought about it. She was strong at an age when many girls become weak. For that reason Brittany was the kind of girl a mother loved that her daughter would befriend. My daughter and Brittany remained friends until some time in the middle of high school when their interests and activities slowly diverged.
A little over a year ago, I saw Brittany’s mom, Deb, at Trader Joes in Rancho Santa Margarita. Deb was my daughter’s middle school science teacher, my own particular hero for the way she passionately engaged students with basics of geology, biology, and chemistry. It had been years since we’d seen each other so we caught up in the apple aisle about our girls’ college choices and career paths, marriages and our own lives.
“Brittany always does things her own way,” I remember Deb saying.
“And that’s why we love her,” I answered back, knowing that not everyone likes that trait in a young woman.
In the moment when I knew the chance conversation was almost over, I wondered if someone I’d lost touch with would believe how much she’d impacted my life by no more valiant feat than being her one true self and standing by her daughter when she too was being her one true self.
When you say it’s so good to see you and you mean it, and you hug and move on, and next read about Brittany and Deb in People magazine, life takes a surreal twist. When I wrote in April about my daughter’s friend, recently diagnosed with Astrocytoma Glioma, a malignant brain tumor, I had no idea Brittany would become “the public face of the controversial right-to-die movement.”
Oh how I’d like to hug Deb now, to tell her how much strength and love our family is sending to her in Oregon. How I’d like to remind every mother to hug her daughter a little more tightly just now. How I want to insist that everyone who has followed and commented upon Brittany’s story to remember Deb, a mom called to be braver and stronger than she ever wanted to have to learn to be.
A woman whose spouse has died is a widow; the girl who loses both parents is an orphan. There isn’t a designated word for a mother who loses a child. It’s a black hole in the language.
Some die like a candle snuff. Others expire as a sonic boom. Brittany died the way she lived, a meteor lighting up the darkest desert night sky. She was an only child, but there was nothing “only” about her.
She was, and will always remain, fabulous.
Cheers Brittany, dah-ling. You impacted our lives for the better and for that we’ll always be grateful. Thank you Deb, for sharing your Brittany with us. We reflect back to you all the light and love your daughter spread.
Many thanks to photographer Lauren Sepulveda, another one of the passel of girls, who shared her images of The Rise Festival for this post. You can find more of Lauren’s images at Voz Collective.