A few years ago now, Cassie’s daughter, Ella, wrote a piece on the meaning of beauty. In the final sentence of the piece, Ella wrote, “The only thing that means anything at all is excruciating beauty if only you can find it.” For people who follow me on social media, they will recognize that I have grown to appreciate that phrase and even apply it to my life. Every guest certainly teaches me something about my own grief. Every once in a while, however, I have an interview that I feel impacts me in a way where I will be forever changed. Hearing Cassie repeat the words written by her daughter has done that for me.

Cassie’s 23 year old daughter, Ella, had an amazing spirit and personality. She was unique and loved by everyone around her. She was artistic and expressive, truly a beautiful soul. What began as a headache and suspected severe sinus infection around Christmastime in 2019 was found to instead be an exceedingly rare cancer that would take her life in a few short months. Only a month or two after the world started shutting down for COVID, Ella took her last breath and died. 

Ella’s death was in April 2020 in Paris, France which made it impossible for her to have a true celebration of life. During COVID, Cassie’s American family were not allowed to enter France at all. Everything was put on hold. In some ways, the family’s grief was even paused. Finally, two years after Ella’s death, the family was able to celebrate her life in a way that could truly honor her. Her family and friends could finally gather together. Cassie called the experience ‘excruciatingly beautiful.’

When we as bereaved parents think about our lives now after the deaths of our children, we are so many experiences that can be described as ‘excruciatingly beautiful.’ Recently, Andy’s life has been honored through two graduation ceremonies and a camp building dedication. When I would mention these events to friends, I would often get a big smile telling me how great it was that they were honoring Andy in that way. I can’t argue with that. It certainly is amazing that different people are remembering Andy, but I actually had a hard time with the big smiles and others telling me how happy I must be feeling.  As amazing as these things are, and as amazing as Ella’s celebration of life certainly was, it was not a happy experience; it was an ‘excruciatingly beautiful’ one. I think that phrase helps people to understand just a little bit better. 

Thank you, Ella, for the gift of that phrase. I know it will change others as it has changed me.