Three years ago, doctors told my close friend Betsy Davis that her body was going to soon fail her in every way. I had met her through friends in our 20s at The Brewery in downtown L.A., a scrappy-fabulous old brewery-turned artists’ loft campus. We’d dated the same guy, and thus became fast friends, ripping up lands from the Coachella music fest to Venice restaurants to the Kentucky Derby (my turf).
The diagnosis was ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She would lose the ability to swallow, breathe and move her arms and legs. Her art—she laser-cut plastic into exquisite abstract sculptures, and was a genius graphic designer—became increasingly more difficult to create. During those years, though, she fast-tracked joy. She hit countries on her bucket list and forbid friends to cry around her. She moved to Ojai and hired a woman to help her execute her art, verbally explaining to her how to draw what she was hungry to express on paper.
She died last month. She chose not only to take advantage of California’s new Right to Die act, but to do so in the context of a thoroughly thought-out party celebrating her life, her art, her friends and love. She gave away her art and her clothes. I left with a crystal necklace that made me horribly sad, and a heightened sense of confusion.
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When I got home from the trip, I had a difficult time looking my precious 4-year-old daughter in the eye; it’s as if grief was lurking behind a clear window, and I didn’t want her to even get near that sill.
Now, a month later, after the tears and the spiritual soul-searching and confusion and shock, I’m finding the experience has shed a new brilliance and fearlessness upon the way I approach the lives of my daughter and younger son. Thanks to Betsy’s example, life presents itself now as a quick chance to rock some major joy. I live in Brooklyn, where parents can be very focused on learning and accomplishments. But now I’m seeing life for my children and myself more as a space to fill with contentment, generosity, light, humor, gratitude, generosity and joy. Period.
Before Betsy died she did a brief Q and A with me to the best of her ability, and it speaks volumes to this approach to both myself and my children.
May we all enjoy being silly, imperfect human beings.
Jamie Luke: What is your advice to your loved ones?
Betsy Davis: Do not miss me, but rather let the qualities that you admire in me grow larger in you. (They all know that my death is not the end of my adventures.)
What is your message to children?
Have more courage than fear…and be kind.
Would you do anything about your life differently?
I have thought about this, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t. I learned from my mistakes.
The great unknown! The best way to travel.
What will you wear as an angel?
I’m guessing there’s an official uniform?
And what will be your first act?
Put on my uniform. Then, keep Trump away from the White House.
What does your next world look like?
I’ll let you know when I get there.
What will you come back as?
I’m finished with Earth.
What is the best medicine?
Besides champagne and medical marijuana, definitely laughter; the first two help with the third, obviously.
What are your parting words to this world?
Well, I don’t have any great insight on life now, no wise words to impart. I will say that this universe is far too vast for any one thing to be important. Yet, we’re all living our lives the best way we can. So, enjoy the Now. And thanks for the blip of time I’ve had being a silly, imperfect human being.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jamie Luke is the Director of Content at The Foundry at Time Inc.