You know that girl, that woman, the one who radiates love and joy, filling the room immediately as she enters it? She’s the one we all want to know and win over to be in her circle of friends, if just for a moment.
We may even think, “if only I had this, or that, I could possibly be like her.”
And then you meet her. And it’s better than you expected. Her aura is genuine, not derivative or phony. You hope the two of you will hit it off and make a connection to last a lifetime. She is that magnetic. As these thoughts wash over you and even before you can introduce yourself, she’s smiling at you, asking a million questions about your life, and calling you ‘honey’ as if you’ve been in her family all along.
That was Jill Conley.
She was both an angel and the girl next door. She had razor-sharp wit and impeccable intuition. She knew who she was and what she was capable of doing. She even owned her flaws and scars (both seen and unseen), and she embraced them.
She was always the first to lift you up. Not because she could, or because she thought it was the right thing to do, but because it was just her nature to do so. She was a nurturer, an advisor, a guide. She fiercely and selflessly cast a beacon of light into and onto all of those around her, while never once thinking about turning it onto herself. She didn’t need to. She was the light.
When I started my line, AnaOno, I wanted to help other women who’d been through breast cancer. I knew I had ideas and the emotional experience to do it. I had a story I wanted to share that went beyond the construction of a garment; a story that was a journey and symbol of what AnaOno represented: the feeling of knowing you’re never alone in this.
But, I knew I couldn’t do it in my own skin. It had to be the woman I wanted to be. The moment I saw Jill, two-dimensional and in high definition on my television, I knew she might be that woman who could; she was the embodiment of who I hoped I could become.
Before Jill, I never thought of myself as that type of person. I’ve always been the girl comfortable to stand behind the greatness. I was never one to be in front of a camera or in a spotlight. I didn’t expect to be, or intend to be or even desire to be.
I remember the first day of filming Never Alone, more than half a year after the first emails Jill and I exchanged, when I saw just how much she had that IT factor. And, knowing the story of what she had been through the past four years in her own cancer journey, it saddened me a bit. I wondered what her life was really like, if she ever felt she’d missed her calling or hoped for something different for herself. But, no, she had already found it. She was living in it. Her illness allowed her to experience so beautifully and gracefully what would be the final chapter in her life: a platform to show the world her uniqueness, her love, her dedication, her kindness and her spirit. To her, this fate of having cancer and using it to lift up others was a pure honor. She saw it as a gift to very publically unwrap and share.
She brought a piece of that gift with her as she embraced the role of my alter ego. Everything I wanted to say or explain, but had such a difficult time doing so, Jill did effortlessly. She was simply excited to be there and have a part in all of it. She breathed life into my personal story right in front of my eyes without me even having to show or explain a thing. She knew me instantly. In that moment and over the next several days, Jill filled a sadness that had been long living inside of me with joy and peace.
The foundation of what was to come was built over those four days in late August, 2013, but I didn’t know where it would take us. I certainly never expected it to turn into one of the most rewarding, inspirational and honest friendships I would ever have.
What started as a model casting quickly grew into a fast, long and loving friendship. Jill taught me and showed me there are so many things to understand about yourself; some of which I wasn’t even sure I had ever understood.
She was my muse who became my sister and my best friend.
When you meet someone that instantly special and connected to your soul, you know they must have played a role in a previous life. It might have perhaps been a different walk in those times past, but somehow you found each other again in this one.
I’ve had my numerology read and many times I’ve been called an old soul. I’ve also been told I had to get my suffering out early in life so I could continue on and carry out my life’s mission. These insights weren’t always easy to relate to or fully understand, but what I did take to heart was the reference to suffering. I immediately thought of Jill. Why did she have to endure so much suffering at this juncture in her life; a time that should be about being a newlywed or starting a family and settling into life not staring down its waning hourglass.
What was the purpose? What was her purpose?
To me, it is clear. Jill was a preternatural force. She had an impact, a Butterfly effect, a mission to change so many lives. She did what she was supposed to, as much as she could, and as her dear, lifelong friend wrote the day she passed from this life, “now [she] is home.”
Her story is inspirational. Even without her here, it will continue to inspire and brighten the lives of others. I am beyond thankful it is in that, she will live on. She will continue to be that beacon of light for those who need it and for those who need strength and confidence. She definitely will be all of those to me.
When I close my eyes, I think of how encouraging and supportive she was to me personally and professionally, always pushing me to be better and spread my message. I remember how even a phone call always felt like a nice warm hug. I am filled with comfort and delight when sharing stories of her with all the other amazing people she’d met, always welcoming them with open arms.
I will never, ever, ever forget what it felt like to be in her aura and in her circle of radiance. Or what it was like to share in her goofiness, laughter, happiness and tears. I will hold in my heart our connection, a connection she was so able to make with so many people. And I will be eternally grateful she was a cornerstone in my life. I will love her forever.
Thank you for everything, Jill. ‘Till we meet again, my friend.