This year I had a different focus for the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival. My goal from last year of going early and with a group was met but the weeks prior had added a new goal of releasing a lantern for a friend that had passed. It monopolized my focus.
That friend was Holly and she was a force to be reckoned with, while she’d made a lot of Incredible Hulk jokes as she was going through radiation for her battle with breast cancer, she didn’t suffer from multiple personalities nor fight to control bits of herself. She knew who she was, loved herself, and excitedly shared her passions and herself with the people she met. She was in a word, awesome.
When she’d found out she had breast cancer, she’d acknowledged it but said “I am gonna fight this bitchbasterd like a goddamn champ” and I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that she wouldn’t succeed.
Through her 11 month fight, she shared what she was going through in words and photos, documenting all the procedures, her experiences, and what she was feeling, from her heart. She named her wayward boobs (Woodward and Bernstein) and even picked out names for her next set (Abbott & Costello). Her strength was inspiring and I knew that she would tackle this and come out even stronger. She’d talked about volunteering with other women in their own battle and made quick friends with the other patients, supporting them. She endeared herself to the staff at her chemotherapy sessions, having them join her in signs that displayed which “Battle Round” she was in against cancer.
She had so many friends and supporters cheering her on! I knew she would beat cancer. Her spirit was too big to be stopped and her attitude too fantastic to be denied, but I was wrong.
I’d seen a post on Facebook that she was in the hospital and it depressed me, but honestly I didn’t think much of it. She’d been through other hospital stints and always pulled through, I knew Holly was unstoppable. When I checked in with her brother a couple of days later though he told me she was dying and still I knew he had to be over-reacting, it couldn’t possibly be, not Holly. And yet, years of friendship with her brother told me he wouldn’t joke about that, even as every atom in my body shouted it couldn’t be true. It left me in a spin and each day it felt worse as I was half way across the world, away from my friends that I should be there supporting. My daily check-ins through instant message felt so completely inadequate and I floundered not knowing what I should or could do.
A few days later she passed away and the day was dedicated to crying. It was not supposed to be that way and seemed so outrageously unfair that it could have occurred. I focused my anger at her doctors for giving false hope with their ‘all clear’, how were they even still practicing? James had to remind me that regardless of that, her passing still would have been devastating, not that his logic helped.
As the days passed, I started to put it all at arm’s length. Being in Thailand, there is a degree that I can pretend she is still actively having her adventures across the US, taking in movies she loved and working at “her” theater. I was not going to the memorial so I could live in my ignorant bliss but I pushed myself to be present for my other loved ones also grieving her loss.
The lantern release was my act to acknowledge that Holly was gone, that I would never get to talk to her again, never get to watch a movie with her, hear music, or even just have a meal with her. That wonderful being that was Holly had moved on. I’m pseudo-spiritual enough to believe her energy is just in another place, on some next great adventure, but I am still left behind missing her.
So releasing her lantern became my entire focus, it was my connection to Holly. I poured so much energy into her lantern, dedicating all my focus to drawing the image I’d created for her that I had trouble acknowledging the group that had arrived to share the event with us. I fought with myself feeling the image would not be good enough for something so important to me. I felt a sorrow over it but still I guarded that lantern like a mother bear. I shot laser-like glares at James when he dared move it out-of-the-way. Did he not see how important it was?
When it came time to light the lantern, I was a nervous wreck, fearing it would burst into flames at any moment and having a near panic attack because it was so important to me. The slowness that it filled with hot air was painful, for every fold of the paper might dip into the flame, but that moment as I held it over my head, delaying to release it, was worse. I thought of this lantern as a connection to her and soon it too would out of my grasp. When the moment came and I finally released, it was with great sadness.
The lantern lifted into the sky floating up to join the dots of hundreds of others previously released. I’d waited until the end of the ceremony so that it could be special, as she was, and not fight for attention with the others. Although unplanned or remembered, fireworks had begun as the lantern began to fill with air and it soared into the sky as fireworks went off around it. It seemed a fitting tribute.
Holly was a firecracker, at times she was loud and talked too much for my delicate introverted self but she was amazing and beautiful and larger than life. It breaks my heart to know that she is gone from me, but I still choose to believe her spirit is taking on some new grand adventure.
So I apologize to the people who I went to the festival with but my focus had to be on that lantern, especially as it sailed up into the sky until my attention was forced away and I lost it in a sea of others.
Where I’d been too distracted to feel the same tears as last year as the first wave of lanterns launched, I definitely felt them as I watched her lantern sail away.
I love and miss you Holly.