• Erin Zelinka

When Death Reminds You of Love


I found out on Facebook that my friend died.


I started seeing posts on her timeline. Things like, "I'll miss you." "You were a shining light." "You left us too soon."


My logical mind knew what this all meant, and yet, the power of not wanting it was so strong that I found other ways to explain the messages.


Maybe she moved. Maybe they used the past tense because they were referring to a particular instance in which she was amazing. Maybe Maya is still alive and all of this means nothing.


A testament to my disbelief was the fact that I wrote her directly. "Hey sweetie, is everything ok??" Multiple question marks would show my desperation and make her respond sooner.


Next, I wrote her roommate. "Hi Camille, this is Erin. We met last year through Maya. I'm seeing all these posts on FB and quite worried. Do you know what happened?"


I tried to call. She lived in Sydney, Australia, where I met her two years earlier, and I now lived in Southern Oregon. No answer. Logic began to catch up with my denial, and I started to panic.


Needing answers, I commented on the Facebook post. "What happened? Is everything okay?"


Maya was one of three close friends I had in Australia. I moved there in October 2015 on a Work and Holiday Visa, needing some stability and cash after the past nine months of backpacking.


Before Maya, I had met an Australian man named James who invited me to his work party down by the harbor.


It was love at first sight—with Maya. James was nice enough but boring, going on and on about Rugby League, when I spotted her.


She reminded me of the actress Alyssa Milano, but with even bigger, deeper eyes and a cool short haircut I wished I could pull off. I felt magnetized toward her, and I managed to excuse myself from James and float toward her table.


The way Maya treated me reminded me more of a man who is leading up to asking you out on a date. They ask lots of questions, not with an intent to judge but rather to confirm their initial, natural interest. Both naturally drawn to the other, Maya and I confirmed our friendship compatibility within minutes, and a date was set.


We figured out that the new flat I had just moved into, in a neighborhood called Newtown, was a 15-minute walk from her house in Marrickville. Maya loved going to the weekly Marrickville market, and she invited me to meet her there the following Sunday.


Eager for friends, and allured by Maya's brazen elegance, I met up with her. We got a coffee and sat on the lawn in the sun, amidst all the vendors and food carts. We talked a little, but sometimes we just sat there, enjoying one another's company.


"You know, with some people you feel like you have to keep talking or it would be awkward. But we can be quiet, too, and that's really special." Maya said exactly what I had been thinking.


We seemed to just get each other, though we were quite different. Maya was practical and financially motivated. I was whimsical and artistically motivated. Maya loved Muay Thai boxing and her side job as a professional makeup artist. I loved sitting on the couch and not doing my makeup.


One day, I expressed admiration over her perfect makeup, and she offered to take me to the store and help me pick out some products. She applied each shade to my cheeks with the pads of her delicate fingers. This was Maya, always offering to help.


I had been working in an Italian restaurant where I finished my nightly shift at 11 p.m., after the busses stopped running to my place in Newtown. I never minded the hour-long walk home, but Maya worried.


"I'll pick you up and drive you home," she said. She offered to pick me up every night, and, the thing is, she really meant it. Others might make this kind of generous offer while secretly hoping you'd say no, but Maya wanted me to accept. She always did.


I said no to the chauffeur service, but I did accept her next offer, a few months later. It was summer in Sydney, and my flat had no ventilation, which was causing me to wake up gasping for air in the middle of the night.


"You can stay with me," Maya said, sharing her full-sized bed with me for as long as it took to find a new place.


All of these kindnesses didn't come flooding back into my awareness until that day. The day I found out we lost her, at only 37 years old.


After I commented on that fateful Facebook feed, I received a message from Maya's brother, whom I had met once when Maya invited me to their mom's house for a traditional Lebanese dinner.


Much like Maya, her brother seemed more concerned about my wellbeing than his own. He apologized for not contacting me sooner. He told me that she had a serious accident, that she was in the ICU and beyond hope of recovery.


Hospital specialists believe that Maya fainted and fell into a really bad position. After several days of her condition continuing to deteriorate, her family had to make the heartbreaking decision to take her off of life support.


I told her brother and her roommate Camille that I was sorry, that I loved her very much, but I didn't cry. While I was sad, I didn't feel that sadness in the depths of my being.

I hadn't seen or talked with Maya in so long that I wasn't sure what I was supposed to feel now. She was no longer a part of my day-to-day life, and yet, she had once been so important to me, so loved.


I looked up the last thing she had written to me, nearly six months earlier.


"Of course we'll travel together," she wrote, referring to our plan to meet up one day in Thailand. I felt awful that I hadn't responded, and I expressed this regret to Camille, who responded with a kind note.


"She always said she loved you. Don't think for a second she didn't know you loved her. Some loves are timeless and I don't want you to think you could have said it more."


I closed my laptop and went about my day. I told my partner Tyler, and he hugged me and told me how sorry he was. We went grocery shopping. We ran other errands. We had plans to meet friends that evening, so I went into the bedroom to change.


And then it hit. Tyler found me in the bedroom with my limp arms dropped to both sides, crying. It came out of nowhere, and now, six months later, it still does. When I think of her, the memories, and when I consider the new memories she will never make.

However, as the months passed, I began to see how Maya was still creating, still influencing. Special details about her and moments we had shared would spring to mind at random times, as though she had whispered them into my ear.


It was like our first date at the market, where her silence spoke to me more strongly than words. Now, in her physical absence, I could feel her presence more than ever. The imprints of her kindness and her spirit were still alive, immortal.


Two months after Maya passed, Tyler and I found out that we are expecting a baby in April. We hadn't planned it, but it felt right, and I knew immediately what I would call her if she were a girl.


When we told my mom about the pregnancy, she disclosed that she had dreamt a few weeks ago of having a grandchild, a little girl with dark wavy hair who said to her, "I can make you a hat."


This brought to mind the best day that Maya and I shared together, when we took the ferry to Manly, a suburb of Sydney with beautiful beaches. We stopped into a little shop on the way and tried on all these different hats, laughing and taking selfies.


I thought, I hoped, that maybe Maya's consciousness lived on. Maybe it was with me.


At 19 weeks of pregnancy, we watched the ultrasound tech go through each anatomical check—the stomach, the liver, the lungs, the heart.


"Do you want to know the gender?" she asked.


"Yes," Tyler and I said in unison. We were desperate to know, and we had been counting down, marking off days as soon as it turned Midnight each night.


The tech moved the slimy wand over my belly, taking her time, positioning it so you could see upward and between the baby's upper thighs.


"It's a girl," she said, and I cried—sobbed actually—with tears streaming down the sides of my face and wetting my hair.


It's a girl. It's a Maya. I couldn't always see her, but I would always love her.


Author's note: After sharing this essay with Maya's family, I learned that Maya may have saved the lives of four people, all of whom were recipients of her organs. Most of them are young people who had been waiting over a decade for compatible organs.

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​© 2017 by Erin Zelinka

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