Last week, I lost two very important people in my life. Today is my first day back at my desk, and I find it is tough to leave behind my experiences last week. I’ve blogged about both of them in the past. My grandfather, my Pa, passed away peacefully at the age of 96, and we celebrated his long and happy life. My daughter, Kathleen, read at the funeral, and I got to be a pall bearer, along with my three cousins, my brother, and my son, Jacob. I can assure you that carrying my Pa in the cemetery, where he was buried with my Nana, was one of the most difficult moments of my life. And yet, as I struggled to carry him towards our family – his eight children, his grand-children and great grand-children – and as I walked in front of my brother and behind my son, I also recognized the beauty of his life well lived.
The next day, Saturday, I celebrated the life of a very dear friend, Lisa, who passed away at the young age of 40, who leaves behind two young kids and an amazing husband. Saying good-bye to a friend whose life was cut short by cancer is a profoundly different experience.
As part of my job, I speak often to large groups and I am comfortable writing speeches and presenting. I submitted this passage below to be read at Lisa’s Memorial Service and had the unique experience of hearing my own words delivered by another speaker, who chose excerpts from memories prepared by Lisa’s friends. When the service began and my reflection was read, I was struck by how slowly she read my reflection. I worried about this, until I realized – Lisa’s Mom, who sat in the front row, is deaf and the reflections were simultaneously being delivered in sign language. The reader was pausing to wait for the interpreter. At that moment, I was reminded again that it is best in life to seek first to understand and not be self-absorbed. After all, Lisa’s Mother deserved to “hear” every word being said about her daughter. And I was glad that she was able to hear what I am sure she already knew – how important her daughter was to all of her friends.
Today is a celebration of our friend, Lisa Ewer, who was a woman of kindness and optimism, with a great capacity for humour and a terrific sense of style and beauty. If you were trying to describe Lisa, and separate her from a group of friends, you might refer to her as “the cute one” or “that little one.” Towards the end, Lisa became – physically – even smaller. But at the same time, as we watched her in the last few years, and especially in the last few months and weeks of her life, Lisa was anything but little. She had enormous courage and her heart was massive.
Oprah Winfrey does her list of “What do you know for sure,” and it inspired me to really think about what it is that I know for sure. I was struck that so much of what I believe, I saw in the life of Lisa. My guess is that many of you feel the same. So I hope to capture these lessons so Quinn and Kylie will be able to remember their mother the way we knew – and loved – her.
Lesson One – Look your best.
Lisa always took the time to make herself look good. We first met as part of a group of families that hiked together on Sundays. What would you wear to hike? With little grubby kids who chased snakes and spilled snacks and drinks all over themselves? My first memory of Lisa was her wearing a matching velour track suit, with her hair nicely done – not a pony-tail like the rest of us – and her nails and make-up done. She looked great. I wasn’t sure I could stand the pressure to be with someone who always looked perfectly composed. This brings me to lesson two.
Lesson Two – Accept others as they are.
Lisa had many friends, many dear friends, and part of her secret to happiness is that she made all of us feel good. Didn’t she? She knew that to have a friend, you have to first be a friend. She was an incredible listener. She never hogged the conversation. She didn’t judge. She always understood.
Lesson Three – Laugh often.
Lisa could tell a good story, and she saw the humour in everything. Even when she was struggling the most, she could make us laugh. One week before she passed away, she was sitting in her chair in the living room. She had been to the hospital that day because she had had trouble breathing. In the living room, there was Sue and her two girls, her husband, and her sister; and there was Mary, and there was Bill, Quinn, Kylie, and of course Gracie; and there was this guy who delivered oxygen tanks. In short, the living room at the Ewer house was packed. How did Lisa handle this stress? Quietly, from her chair in the corner, Lisa commented, “With so many people here, I wish I could have a glass of wine!” Leave it to Lisa to be the one to find some humour in the moment.
Lesson Four – Love music, food and all the pleasures of life.
Bill and Lisa love their music. From them, I learned to love Dave Matthews, but Lisa also had a knack for identifying songs. I admired the pleasure she got from music. Food was another passion for her. If there was a pot-luck party, anyone could spot the dish that Lisa brought, as she would out-do us with her new recipes and fancy presentation of good food. In a busy and hectic world where we often cut corners, Lisa took the time to prepare great food to be enjoyed with friends. Lisa inspired our road trip to Virginia, where we enjoyed some of the best music, food, wine and laughter of our lives.
Lesson Five – Be generous.
Lisa was a natural care-giver. She was interested in others, and she would check in to make sure her friends were okay. Even until the last week of her life, she would text to ask ME about MY day, before ever saying anything about herself. She was quick to find the bright side of things, and she never complained, even when she had good reason to complain. Lisa was especially generous with her praise and her words of love. I remember the first time she said to me, “I love you.” I wasn’t one to typically say that to my friends, even to my close friends, so it took me back a bit. But now I see the value of being open with others about your feelings. She was an example for all of us to love one another.
In watching June take care of Lisa, I came to understand that Lisa learned this lesson of generosity and love from her Mother.
We all know that Lisa’s generosity and love were greatest for her family. She was very intentional about priorities. Quinn and Kylie, your Mom loved you and was so proud of you. We talked about how much she wanted you to feel confident in who you are and to grow up to be good people. I am reminded of a Dave Matthews song that we sang in Virginia, that goes something like this – “and when the kids are old enough, we’re gonna teach them to fly….” She wanted you to pursue your passions and fly.
When I told Bill that I was writing about Lisa and what I had learned from her, he texted back with this: Everyone she touched learned from her.
Bill, you are so right about that.
None of us will ever underestimate the power of our little friend, Lisa. And so Quinn and Kylie, I hope that your memories of your Mom will be big, just as her influence has been huge on all of us here today.