I was going to write a eulogy today. I wasn’t really planning on writing one; eulogies aren’t as common as they once were so I didn’t expect there would be an actual opportunity to share my thoughts. Regardless, I inadvertently began writing it as I drove towards Oakland, where I would fly out, along the winding highway of towering redwoods. I guess it started as a meditation; a way of coping with the loss, I wanted to pinpoint just what it was that made Sally special and how I could most effectively honor her.
I thought about all the interests she had: hunting, golfing, darts, art, etc. But these weren’t the essence of the woman that had influenced me for the fifteen some odd years that she was in my life. I realized as the sun began to diminish, leaving the moon floating full in the pink orange sky above the dry hills and fields of grapes, that of all of Sally’s passions, the strongest was creating connections with people. She was a gregarious woman, generally inquisitive and nonjudgmental; she greeted each person she encountered with a loving, open heart.
I remember the night my father introduced us. It was a dark autumn Friday night and I was at Dad’s for the weekend. I gave him the most fluid opportunity to introduce his new girlfriend. I’d been working on an oil pastel reproduction of Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” for my 8th grade art class. I’d been struggling with it, hadn’t been taking art all that seriously but I was surprised to find myself really enjoying it. I was telling my Dad about the assignment and apprehensively showing excitement about something that not too long before seemed frivolous and a waste of time from my logical math and science sort of perspective. He had a Paul Lee print hanging near the wood stove. Paul is a particularly well known local artist. He asked me if I wanted to meet an artist and I glowed a little, though I was skeptical of Dad’s connections. Sally was over in just a few minutes, beaming with enthusiasm and praise upon examining my artwork and forever solidifying my commitment to creative endeavors.
She would be forever a source of unflinching encouragement. Besides that, she spent hours with me at the dining room table talking over all the teenage girl issues I was inevitably having. She never took a judgmental or overly parental tone. She heard me and consoled me. And as I got older and began exploring my spirituality, I was able to share that with her and I felt proud to be part of the strength we gained from one another. When I grew into my adulthood and made the difficult and unconventional choice to discard my original name, I felt that though I was giving up my family name (Brown), I was not discarding my family; my original middle name (Lee) became my new legal last name and happened to also be Sally’s maiden name. It didn’t matter that Dad and Sally were not officially married; she has always been our family and I’m glad to carry her name.
Being that she was such a sociable and loving woman, I realized to truly honor her I would not be able to do it alone. So I felt I needed to envision addressing the crowd that would collect at her memorial service. In my head I said to them:
“Many of us here may know one another, maybe we haven’t spoken to each other in awhile, maybe we don’t know many people here at all. But we find ourselves together for a common purpose: to honor and grieve a woman who influenced our lives. I believe there would be no greater way to honor Sally than to let her introduce or reconnect us with each other. I ask you to all take a moment to personally pull your feelings to the surface and collectively express the grief you’re experiencing. And if you’re able, linger awhile after the service and truly connect to another person here. In everything she did, Sally loved to share herself with others. She listened and loved, embracing every different opinion or lifestyle she encountered. Her everyday interactions with all of us were her gift to the world. I think nothing would make her happier than to know she is bringing her friends and loved ones together, that they might make new connections and love and support one another.”