She spent Memorial Day weekend in a glass sunroom at a friend’s house in Locust Valley, N.Y., where just a week later she would die. I spent the weekend in the Bahamas with my family. I rode a bike for the first time since I was 12 years old without falling. I felt fierce about my physicality in a way I hadn’t felt since giving birth to children.
When you have a baby, the body shuts down, so the uterus, a giant muscle, can push a new soul into the world. Your body doesn’t care if you are in an elevator, clutching a pillow, trying to get a taxi to the hospital. Birth happens without any control of the rational mind. I think about dying the same way. The body shuts down so the spirit can leave.
One of her last texts to me was while we were in the Bahamas: “I have to find the time and energy to get there! Love U.” She was dying and neither of us wanted to believe it. I kept sending her texts without getting replies. Pictures of us at Rao’s laughing about something. She was wearing leopard. In another, we were in our bathing suit cover-ups at my twins’ birthday party in Westhampton Beach. We were grinning and holding onto red Solo cups filled with rosé while our kids played in the background. Another was around Christmas, at a Naughty and Nice party. The four of us wore flashing devil horns; she was in gold lamé, I was wearing red leather pants, and my husband was wearing pants where one leg was green and the other red. Her husband looked handsome in a suit. I then texted her a note from my 10-year-old daughter:
“Dear Mrs. Hardy, This is Campbell Fealy and Kristen Fealy wishing you the best of luck and to get well soon. xoxoxoxox.” If I were in my right mind, I would have made her rewrite the note to change “best of luck” to “we are praying for you.”
I sent another old photo of me and my son James, jumping in front of a candy store called Hardy’s in Bath, England.
There was an emergency prayer session in the days before she died. Fifty women came and sat in the pews of Brick Church. Some wore skirts and heels. Others wore gym clothes and sneakers. One woman passed around a notebook for people to write things to Paige. Boxes of tissues were also passed as people sat and wept.
Over the weekend, in between her bouts of vomiting blood and bile, Tripp read her each note and showed her each picture. On Sunday severe thunderstorms blew in to New York City. A loud clap of lightning struck our apartment building. I woke up. My husband slept through it. I paced the apartment and had a glass of wine at 3 a.m., trying to calm myself down. I saw the flashes of light outside my windows.
In my mind there was a disturbance in the universe and I was looking for a message. I felt something in the air. I felt her presence, her transition from here to there. I went back to sleep. Stephen woke up to an email from Tripp titled “Our Precious Paige.” He wrote:
“It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you that our beautiful, precious Paige is now with the angels in Heaven. She passed away peacefully early this morning. In true Paige fashion, her last words were, ‘I Love You, I Love You, I Love You’ over and over again to me and to her family. It was a sad but truly beautiful moment.”
She died on June 6, or 6/6, as I like to think about it, because she was born on November 11, or 11/11, her favorite number.
Her obituary read: “On Monday, June 6, 2016, Heaven became a little more fabulous as Paige Ethington Hardy formally became an angel, ending her lifetime apprenticeship. While ovarian cancer may have taken her life, she won the battle, fighting with dignity, humor, and grace. Until the very end, she remained the strong, happy, beautiful, and courageous Paige we all loved, unafraid and confident in her faith in God.”
I took my children and flew to her hometown, where I met many of her friends from growing up. We all wore leopard dresses to the funeral. Hundreds of people came to First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Ky. It was the church where she married Tripp. People who didn’t even know her came to pay their respects because of the obituary in the paper. Very few people wore black. There were women wearing bright colors with elaborate hats. In the front of the church there was a display about her childhood set up by her parents. There were photos of her going to the Kentucky Derby with a huge smile on her face and an ’80s photo of her winning a county fair beauty contest. Her hair was teased up to the same height as the peak of her crown.
My husband and I stood in a long line waiting to pay our respects to her family. Our children went off to find hers in the basement. As we rounded the bend to the pews I saw Paige was in an open casket. I sucked in air through my teeth and bit my tongue. She looked waxen from my vantage point, and thinner. When I approached the coffin, I looked for signs of her soul. I didn’t see any. I touched her cold hand and looked at her fingers, which appeared to be drained of blood. They felt bony and dark. She looked like an effigy, not the Paige I knew. She was only 46 years old.
When we sat down in our pew, my husband, ever the scientist, said, “At death, people lose a pound of weight.”
“How is this possible?”
“I think it is just air,” he said.
“A pound of air? Ridiculous! It has to be the soul,” I said, convinced of life after death. I was sure in my belief in God, as sure as I could be. My doctor husband had seen many people die. I had found faith.
On the first Sunday after the summer, at church, I saw Tripp and his five kids sitting in the front pew not far from the altar. His three boys were wearing jackets and ties, and the girls were in dresses with wet hair. It was 8:45 in the morning. We hugged them and sat behind them. I listened a little more closely to the service. And on the last page of the program, the celebrant said, “Life is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those traveling the journey with is. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with you always.”
Paige had gladdened my heart in this journey for 13 years and I was grateful.
Kristen Fealy was a national news correspondent at the Fox News Channel before becoming a mother. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University and is working on a novel.