While scrolling through Facebook one night last month, I saw a post that began, “Oh man, not Lilli Miller.” My heart sank even before I read the next line, because I knew what it meant: Someone I knew had died. Lilli Rose Miller, just 36 years old, had lost a brutal battle with cancer.
I hadn’t seen Lilli in many years, and I didn’t know she had cancer. She was older than me and hung out with a different crowd — she played basketball, and I was far from the athletic type. In fact, I really only remember her from dance when I was a kid. I remember her dad, who ran the computer lab at the community college where I sometimes hung out while waiting for my mom. I slightly remember her brother, also from dance, who gamely agreed to play a male role in a few of our big productions.
I’ve flipped through my old yearbooks, and I’ve read every post in a Facebook memorial group for Lilli. I’ve ranted about how much I hate cancer, and how it’s unfair that convicted murderers live to old age in prisons. I’ve thought about other friends I’ve lost to cancer — Jim, Andy, Arcelia.
Lilli’s obituary was published in my hometown newspaper this week, and it made me cry. I rarely cry, but I guess maybe this non-traditional obituary brought tears because the message resonated with me: If everything around you is chaotic and miserable and out of your control, sometimes all you can do is find a sliver of happiness and hold onto it for as long as you can. The obituary link is here, but I’m copying the entire text below, in case that link stops working.
Read it and you’ll see why I titled this post “Lilli and the Strawberries,” rather than “Lilli and the Tigers.”
Lilli Rose Miller: February 3, 1977 – July 10, 2013.
“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines.
“Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging.
“She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse.
“Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below.
“This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is.
“It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of life.”
– Pema Chödrön
With all our love and gratitude,
Nick, mom, dad and Max
If you feel so moved, please donate to your area Hospice.