The other week, I shared a post about the loss of my dear friend Victoria McCarthy. Here is more on this wonderful human and the lessons I learned from our one year of friendship.
Last night I slept. For we had strayed together in my dream, through some dim glade, where the shy moonbeams scarce dared light our bliss.
As we know loss is one of the greatest teachers of life. Nothing brings us into a deeper state of vulnerability and reflection than the loss of someone we love. Little else will remind us that while we may go through the daily motions of our days, each breath is precious beyond measure.
Only one year ago, in the midst of the pandemic, I made a friend that felt like we’d been friends forever. Looking to take my workout outside of my house, I found Tori McCarthy, a well-loved fitness trainer at a gym based here in The Hudson Valley. Tori was immediately encouraging, motivating, and fun…a bright, unexpected lift during days that often felt dark and worrisome.
But as I got to know Tori more, I realized she shared a way of living that I could really relate to. Tori had been through a lot of loss and personal challenge, but instead of falling into the pain, she found optimism through giving others love, support, motivation and friendship. She did this through her work in theater and performance, she did this as a fitness coach, she did it by becoming a competitive power lifter. She admitted that life was tough, but she refused to miss a day of living even when the grief rolled in.
It felt like we were just getting started when her Cancer diagnosis came in December 2020. Her fight began and even though I’d known her only a few months, it wasn’t a question that I was on this ride with her. We texted daily, FaceTimed frequently, and caught up on life (my life too) in sweet encouraging connections.
She began taking a daily oral chemotherapy that we thought would give her the chance to live a full life. She stepped back into her work and her normal flow as best as she could. But within a few months, challenges began and it revealed itself that a more aggressive form of Leukemia had evolved and while this was devastating news and landed Tori back in the hospital for regular chemo, transfusions and biopsies, her positivity and energy never wavered. She was scared, admittedly so. But her light wasn’t dimming.
A huge wave of hope washed over us all when Tori became a candidate for a bone marrow transplant and low and behold, her sister was a match! HOPE. We exhaled for a moment, the greatest version of a solution had arrived. Tori began planning for an autumn shift to Memorial Sloan Kettering.
And then…another hurdle arose. The chemotherapy treatment that Tori had to endure prior to a transplant began to break her down- she couldn’t get her numbers back up and her strength began to waver. Doctors attempted to get her numbers up, her strength up, back on the path to transplant. A fever came. The ICU came. The call came.
Tori passed away.
It couldn’t be true. NO. I screamed. I cried. Why her? Why this? Why now? How could this happen so fast??? We all know there’s no answer to these questions- we ask them into an echo chamber.
Right now the hole in my heart, the pain in my chest is so present, so visceral. The grief washes over and over. Losing someone suddenly always feels like this- but someone so young? In so many ways, just starting their life, a LIGHT that touches so many would only keep giving off that light for a long, long lifetime- how could it get cut off so abruptly?
And in this present moment, with only a week since I received the news, and on the eve of attending her memorial service, I will do what I know how to do best: write what I learned from Tori.
If you give love, you will never be forgotten
Since Tori has passed, the web of people she touched has come to the light. People from her theater days, the gym, and of course the people who she supported and encouraged who were also facing their Cancer journey at the medical center are saying the same things about her: she always told me I could do it, her smile lit up the room, her hugs made me feel better, she never judged me. I can relate. Tori’s smile, hugs, and constant encouragement of me as a woman and a mother made me feel so seen and cared for. In the middle of her cancer treatment, she wanted to come with me to a biopsy I had to have. How many people would have room for that during their own difficulties? That’s the person Tori was. Always give love with abandon and authenticity- you make an impact you may never know but everyone will remember.
Never Stop Moving
I connected with Tori through our workouts. We lifted weights, we took dance breaks, we stretched and chatted. Movement was a huge part of both of our lives. When she went to the hospital and landed there for several months, she walked circles on the floor just to get her steps in. She walked several miles a day! I feel so lucky that I was able to walk those floors with her when I visited. She showed me that no matter the challenge or physical discomfort, there’s always a way to move, to connect with your body…there’s always a way, when there’s a will.
We can be both scared and hopeful.
When I got the news that Tori was gone, I couldn’t understand how this could be when there had been so much hope! I realized that HOPE had been Tori’s MO, the way she kept herself going…and all of us. She told me sometimes that she was scared. Nervous. But always HOPE. In fact her last photo on Instagram was a gorgeous selfie, bald head and all, and her caption said “ If I can still feel beautiful and sexy with a jugular catheter and bald head, we’re doing ok.”
And that was Tori, always some reality gently stirred together with optimism. And this reminds me that it’s never either/or but usually a mix of it all. Fear and Love. Anxiety and Optimism. Worry and Hope. This is reality and the nectar of the human condition.
Tori, thank you for loving me and sharing your sweet spirit with me. One year does not feel like enough and I will forever grieve that it wasn’t longer. My heart aches for your family and Terrance but some lights are just too bright to shine for long.
I know you are my angel now, always reminding me that I’m strong, fierce, and fabulous beyond measure. So grateful for the pure love exchange we got to share- there’s no better gift from this life we are given.