Sunday, August 27, 2006
loss, grief, and legacy
Someone very dear to me died last Sunday. It was expected because we knew she had cancer, yet still rather shocking, because the diagnosis was only six weeks old. One day you get a call that so-and-so has been diagnosed with cancer, you spend weeks trying to stay on top of the updates, and all of a sudden you are sitting at a funeral wondering how everything changed so fast.
It’s strange, the things that trigger grief. The memorial service was full of pictures and stories, a chance to sing her favorite song and to hear a recording of her own voice singing another. Strangely, none of this brought more than a few tears to me. I wondered, “Is this going to be like so many other deaths for me, where I just never find the tears?” Another friend of mine died rather tragically about seven years ago, and I have still never really cried about that.
This time, all it took was a letter for me to absolutely lose it- the handwriting, some funny words. I’m in the middle of moving, so it is natural that I came across a letter from Jeannie, folded in an envelope along with the letter of recommendation she wrote when I was applying for seminary last year. And that is when it hit me: I have lost one of the people that I knew, without a doubt, really, really believed in me. One of my biggest cheerleaders. (Not to mention someone who could make laugh so hard I could hardly breathe.) I walked around that day of the funeral, hearing, “She talked about you all the time,” or, “You sure meant a lot to her,” and it left me feeling like the luckiest person around to have had her presence in my life.
Shortly after Jeannie got sick, her family started a website to serve the huge number of people asking for updates. In the six weeks before she died, the site received over 10,000 hits. A huge amount of those who left messages for her were former students (she was a high school music teacher). What is such a testament to her is that the range of students was so broad, bridging every gap of clique and achievement and temperament. Why such a mixed group? It’s because she believed in kids indiscriminately, and they knew it. She was their cheerleader.
Jeannie not only taught half of my hometown to sing, she helped actualize the potential of hundreds of high school students who may not have seen much in themselves. I am just one of many who became more because of what she chose to see when she looked at me. Now that’s a legacy.