Taewon (first row far left) and Elaine (standing far left)
By Elaine Willis
Disability advocate Elaine Willis recounts guiding a friend through loss, and gives her advice for honouring friends and family.
Honouring, that’s just one word. It’s a simple process, too.
My friend, Taewon, lost his first friend this summer. Tae is a warm, friendly guy, I liked him the moment we met. He’s a young man who has made some serious decisions about his life, forging forward, taking risks, putting himself “out there”.
For a sensitive person, for an immigrant, for a person with mobility challenges, I admire his attitude all the more.
The friend who died was especially close to Taewon, as I understand, because this was the first person to really see Taewon as a regular guy; he didn’t notice disability.
He as the first person to really see Taewon as a regular guy
He looked him in the eye, talked to him like he talked to everyone, included him in everything. And being regular, being just one of the gang is really the aspiration of almost everyone, with or without a disability. Losing this someone who epitomized the word “friend” was seemingly too much to bear.
As the weeks went on and the grieving continued, I told Taewon about my way of handling those who have passed on in my life, and they are myriad. I honour them.
I told Taewon about my way of handling those who have passed on in my life, and they are myriad. I honour them.
I honour them by embedding their names in my passwords, some of them are thought of several times a day as I type and retype their names. It’s private, it’s personal, it’s tiny… but a tribute nonetheless. Each person (and DOG) also has a specific memory or association.
For example, one of my favourite recipes - rice salad- has a tribute to my friend Gevin, who first sent me Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. I use it a lot. I buy it for others and give it as a gift.
I tell people the “Story of Gevin” and how he came to mail me a box of goodies from Louisiana. I think of Gev when I cook. His memory is wholly embedded in my kitchen. Larry is Single Malt Scotch. Mark is Chess….on and on it goes.
I explained this to Tae. Despite his wounded state, his comprehension was immediate. He smiled through misty eyes. “Beer,” he said. “I will remember him every time I have a beer because we drank beer together at SFU.”
“Perfect,” said I.
As the weeks passed, he still mentioned his friend a few times during our conversations, but the panic was gone. He told me about the planned memorial, but gradually the focus of the conversations shifted away from his loss. Honour beer seems to be working.
He still mentioned his friend a few times during our conversations, but the panic was gone
I teased Tae by telling him I would honour him with an article.
“I’m not dead yet!”
He flashed me the grin that everyone is always pleased to see on the murderball court….but that’s another story.
Elaine Willis is a teacher, a community activist, a business woman, an environmentalist, a techie and an advocate for people with disabilities.