Ithaca, N.Y. — Today we learned that Leyla Dietrich, the Ithaca teenager diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, died recently in her mother’s arms. She was 17.
The 21st Century Library Campaign – Tompkins County Public Library
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Leyla’s two-year long struggle with cancer has inspired countless others, including a 1,000-plus member online community called Leyla’s Village, to “Live Life Like Leyla” and embrace all the beauty of life and set aside its trivialities and minor stresses.
In the last days and hours of her life, the Village page has been flooded with memories of Leyla, as well as poems and photos in her honor.
In the last month, as Leyla’s condition worsened, the village population doubled in size.
Close family friend Jessica Jones notified the villagers in a post late Monday morning.
“In the end, it was the longest and saddest and sweetest goodbye imaginable. Leyla had transcended to a timeless summer place; it was those who loved her that were trapped in the here and now, where time is still real, and every second that passed marked our grief.
Leyla spoke her surrender only once, in the quiet dark of night, her words clear and true. Her eyes were unburdened by tears; her smile full of knowing, and love, and sadness and hope.
The whole of our tribe joined us on the last leg of our journey together. We marked our final hours with gentleness towards one another, honoring our tears and our memories; reminding one another to just be, to cherish our time, to be curious and to sit comfortably with our sorrow and a blanket.
Deep night shifted to dawn and it was here where we reached Leyla’s final gripping uphill climb. By the time the sun shined its way across our frozen world our girl was restful and at peace. She was snuggled deeply under covers, breathing softly in the arms of her mama who held her so close.
We gathered in the Great Room and we labored. We laughed, through our tears, and we breathed. In the throes of our final love push we talked softly, cried loudly and snuggled under wool blankets. Papa played his guitar, and Nana nested in Leyla’s favorite chair and sewed a quilt for August. Katie, read poetry about the loveliest of birds, who then appeared; our sprit animals staying close, marking this great transmigration of souls.
Opal combed Leyla’s hair, and painted her nails beautifully. Their goodbye was delicious, and sweet and soft in heart. And Julia, she held Leyla so gently it made our souls spill out of our broken bodies and onto the floor. For in the end, as in the beginning, it is mother and daughter and their tender wordless exchange of knowing. The organic imprint of one another so beautifully intertwined.
There were quiet snores, and whispered promises. Leyla, you don’t need to be brave anymore, all of the hard work has been done, there is no more doing, and no more trying. Soon you will be free. Just rest baby, drift on the gentle wind. It is your time sweet girl, we have wrapped all of our love for you, it is yours to take on your journey. Your new life awaits, and somehow, in a way we can scarcely imagine, it loves you even more than we do. Just float baby, float down the river on our sweet lullaby, let it carry you gently, softly bringing you to the sunkissed banks of beyond.
And our Leyla, she folded up all of the love we have and let it shine her forth. Thousands of sky lanterns descended from heaven and lifted her gently out of her tired body at dawn. We watched the bright fire of her soulshine until it was only a twinkling glimmer. When at last she was out of our sight, we learned a new truth; one our sweet Leyla wanted all of us to know all along and bury in the deep soil of our bones.
Blissful Dying is not a fairy tale, not a plea whispered in desperation to a frozen world. In the end there is only one final lesson, and only one thing that matters. Blissful Dying is for real; and it is full of love and grace and the deep knowing of soul. It is gentle, and kind and heartbreakingly sweet, and it was beautiful after all.
In death, our sweet girl met our ancestors on the beach in the sunshine; just a short walk in the warm white sand to her new summerhouse where her soul finds bliss still.
Jessica and our sweet Leyla”
You can read more about Leyla and Leyla’s Village here.