“This is a massive loss,” Justine Damond’s Sydney friend Sally* tells me on Wednesday morning. “It all seems quite senseless.”
The word “senseless” often becomes a crutch that we rely on during hard times. But when describing the death of Justine Damond, a woman who inspired and changed the lives of so many, no other word seems to adequately fit. Ask the people who loved her. Nothing comes close.
“She touched the lives of so many people, but she did more than that as well,” Sally says. “She actually really helped people, too. She really changed our lives.”
The Sydney woman, who moved to the US in 2015, was shot and killed on Saturday after police officers responded to a 911 call she placed about a possible sexual assault occurring in the alley behind her Minneapolis home.
Sally, who attended the Wednesday morning Freshwater Beach vigil held in the 40-year-old's honour continued, "I know it sounds really weird, but she just spread a lot of joy. That photo of her smiling... was her times a thousand. She was totally authentic, and there was just no bullshit."
Brought together by mutual friends via Soul Sessions - a series of educational spiritual workshops created by Eloise King - several years ago, Sally says that from the outside, it could be easy to write off Justine and her profession as a meditation teacher and spiritual coach as "a bit Nimbin hippy." But as someone who was personally helped through one of the hardest periods of her life with Justine at her side, she says to do so would be to discredit her.
"Just because it's something we may not understand or may not have been exposed to, it doesn't make it any less legitimate," she says, before pointing out that in her earlier years, Justine had, like many of us, gone to university and landed an impressive job fresh off graduating, but eventually, found herself wanting more. Unlike many of us, though, she actually did something about it and took the leap into the unknown.
After years of working as a veterinary scientist in her late 20s, Damond changed her life course. As she said in a seminar recorded just eight days before her death, she was struggling with the loss of her mother (who had died from cancer and struggled with alcoholism) and said she constantly felt that she was the victim of her own life.
And so in 2006, she began to do something about it, confronting things most of us try to bury as deep as possible and working through the grief and loss and detritus of the less than stellar moments of our lives.
"To have that courage to do that, to confront herself and not shy away and carry on with her life as it was," Sally says, "that's the truth of who she was."
Kat Kinney, another member of the Soul Sessions group agrees, telling The Daily Telegraph earlier this week, “she was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She was a model human being and if someone could have been designed with the biggest heart and the most love and kindness and compassion that I’ve ever met, that was Justine.”
But, as Kinney noted, "she was worried about moving to the States and worried about how different things are in comparison to Australia and with the gun laws."
Having met at a seminar in the US several years earlier, one of the many hundreds Justine spoke at and attended throughout her life, friends of Justine describe her connection to Don as "profound."
For a time she struggled, they say, with the decision to move overseas - largely in part due to the close connection with her Sydney-based father - but really when it came down to it there was never any question that she would follow her heart. And her heart was with Don.
"He was her beloved, he was her wish come true," Kinney said. "She was just so excited to be starting her life with him and to be engaged with him and become part of his family and become a mother to Zach."
Now, almost one week on from her tragic death, the friends and family of Justine are still trying to come to terms with someone who friend Alison Monaghan described as "the most beautiful person" who was "all about giving to other people."
On Wednesday, a handful of those who were touched by Justine's life gathered on the shores of Freshwater Beach, Justine's favourite spot to watch the sun rise. In their hands, they carried two things: a candle to light and hold while they watched the day break in silence, and pink flowers, "her favourites" Sally says, to throw into the sea.
"She was treasured and loved, and we will really miss her," friend Julia Reed told the ABC.
"What happened to her was utterly brutal and I'm incredibly upset that my friend would have had to suffer," Sally says finally, "but she lived a very full life; a very blessed life. And the ripple effect of that life will continue to grow."
*Names have been changed upon request.