October is breast cancer awareness month.
My friend, Deanna, died last year in November from metastasized breast cancer. I can't believe it's been a year without her. She was such a part of our lives, and we were really like her family. I feel blessed to have known her.
DEANNA MICHELLE DANKO - 36
Friend, sister, daughter, teacher, clubber, counselor, lover, loved one, writer... After fighting metastatic breast cancer with incredible energy for two years, Deanna died November 26, 2006, at her home in Ferndale, Michigan. She was born in Royal Oak on January 19, 1970, to Drew and Marilyn Danko. Deanna graduated from Shrine High School, followed by a Bachelor of Arts Degree with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Albion College in 1991. In 2001, Deanna received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California. She continued with the PhD program, completing all doctoral coursework and just beginning her dissertation, when a recurrence of cancer in September 2004 changed the course of her life. Deanna applied her love of knowledge to exploring options for addressing cancer in ways that were aligned with her values. Deanna was preceded in death by her mother, Marilyn Danko. She is survived by her brother Darren Danko, father Drew Danko and stepmother Laurie, aunt Nancy Sowa, and many extended family members who remember her with such love. Deanna is also survived by an amazing family of choice whose deep friendship enriched her life immeasurably. In true Deanna fashion, there will be no funeral. Instead, those she has touched are invited to celebrate her remarkable life with readings and stories at The Luna Lounge in Royal Oak.
She was the maid of honor at our wedding.
And godmother to our children.
This is Deanna at the American Idol concert we went to the year before she died.
Deanna and I met at Pacifica Graduate Institute. I was a 2nd year student when she stood up during the 1st year introductions and said she was from Ferndale, MI. I couldn’t believe it! We only lived half a mile away from each other and here we were, meeting 2000 miles away from home! I introduced myself, and we both marveled over the coincidence. Deanna, ever practical, decided that, since we were taking the same flights, we should share the hour drive from LA to Pacifica’s campus. And that’s how our friendship began.
Our long car rides were filled with conversations about everything from archetypal psychology to campus gossip, and eventually spilled over into our lives at home. In fact, I remember the very moment that Deanna and I became friends. I asked her outright one day on one of those long drives, “Hey… do you want to be friends… outside of Pacifica, I mean?”
She looked at me and said, “Welllll… I already have a friend. Her name is Pamela.”
I kind of blinked and tried not to smile when I said, “Well… you do know that you can have more than one friend… don’t you?”
Eventually, she let me in… she let us both in. My husband and I knew we had found a kindred spirit in Deanna, and we all spent lots of time talking into the wee hours of the night about everything from the existence of God to the finer points of bakery confections.
Deanna became one of my closest friends. We spoke the same language. I understood when she needed her space, and she understood when I needed mine. We weren’t the “call each other every day” kinds of friends, but it didn’t matter how long or short it had been since we saw each other last, we fit like two puzzle pieces whenever we got together.
Deanna was the maid of honor at my wedding, and my daughter’s godmother. She was there for each of our baby’s blessings, and their birthdays, too. (Although I think her love of frosting was a distinct ulterior motive in the latter!) She enjoyed coming over and getting love from our various doggies and kitties… and then one day she brought over a little kitty of her own and joined the proud ranks of fur-baby-owners.
We shared all the little things in each other’s lives. She introduced me to Craig’s List, and I introduced her to Freecycle. I was party to more than one last-minute post-office run when a final Pacifica paper had to be postmarked that day. (Procrastinator extraordinaire, Deanna had scoped out the entire area and had found a post office that actually stayed open until midnight!)
She introduced me to both Television without Pity and Salon. We shared a Joss Whedon obsession and traded Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel DVDs. We called each other after every American Idol episode to commiserate and speculate. When we managed to get floor seats for the American Idol tour on Ebay, we giggled and screamed like two thirteen year old girls through the entire concert and sang the songs on the way home at the top of our lungs.
We shared the big things, too. I was there for the beginning of each of Deanna’s new relationships and the drama and heartache when they ended. When my twelve year old daughter decided to leave home, Deanna’s compassionate heart and empathic ear were invaluable to everyone. When my husband, after being near death in the hospital, was on his slow way toward recovery, she brought him flowers, a bonsai tree, and healing sage to burn because, she said, she knew what it was like to be in the hospital, so disconnected from the world of living things.
I loved Deanna like a sister, and she truly became part of our family. She was beautiful and brilliant, inside and out, and I will never forget the amazing moments of wisdom and clarity that came out of our time together. There are very few people in my life who are capable of understanding the breadth and depth of the world in the way that Deanna was, and even fewer people who have been willing to see into me so fully, both light and shadow. She was a gift and a blessing in my life, and I will always be grateful to have known her.
Deanna was never willing to settle for the status quo, and while she acknowledged the light of the world, there was always a part of her that sought out the darkness. Some people might call it cynical or sarcastic, but I feel it was more than that for her. Deanna once had a classmate who was so into the whole love and light trip that she wouldn’t even acknowledge that any darkness existed in the world. “I don’t believe in the shadow,” she said. Deanna and I, ever after, would grin at each other and say, “That’s ok, the shadow believes in you.”
Darkness was not anathema to Deanna. I think it was part of her purpose here to bring what was veiled in darkness in to the light. I know she did a lot of that in her own self-reflection, and in our talks together. She helped others to do that, too, through her profession, and especially in being the kind of friend she was.
Many of you have probably heard Deanna refer to her “Raven” class at Pacifica. One of the rituals that each class had was to pass down a medicine card to the next class. Our class was Coyote, and Deanna’s class was Raven.
Raven is the bringer of magic. He is black, but in Native teachings, the color black doesn’t mean evil or darkness in the way we think of it. Black represents the seeking of answers, the void, or the road of the spiritual or non-physical. The blue-black of Raven contains an iridescence that speaks of the magic of darkness, and a changeability of form and shape that brings an awakening in the process.
Deanna lived the seeking in the void and the subsequent awakening of Raven every day of her life. She looked for those places, in herself and others, seeking the answers in the darkness. She lived her life, one courageous illumination at a time, and I loved her so deeply for her willingness to enter that void, again and again, to find the truth there.
Raven gives you the courage to enter the darkness of the void, which is the home of all that is not yet in form. The void is the Great Mystery, and Raven in the messenger. Deanna was connected to that energy in life, and I saw Raven on Deanna’s face in death, as well. She has entered the Great Void, now, and I hope, at last, she has found the Biggest Truth.