I was thinking about eulogies. If only we all got a chance to write our own goodbyes. I was thinking that maybe I will write something for my own funeral — that sounds terrible and morbid doesn’t it? I don’t want to invite death, so I am putting it off for another day.
Still, what would it be like if each person could write their own goodbye to this world. What would you say to comfort the living?
On Monday I attended a funeral for a former co-worker from the CMC, Richard Truhlar. He died suddenly at the age of 60. It was quite a shock for everyone. His friends and family eulogized him beautifully and I know that he would’ve been proud of them, especially proud of his sons Soren and Darius. In a way, Richard sort of wrote part of his own eulogy. Songs and poems that he had written were shared with those of us in the funeral congregation.
The news of death always reminds you of whoever you have lost in your life. Eight years ago yesterday, I lost my first ever friend in this world. She was only 33. It was a really hard loss for me. To lose a parent is one thing, but to lose your first friend at such a young age is tough because it is like staring down your own mortality.
Her name was Dawn and I miss her still. She had that energy that never made you feel like you had to be anybody other than who you were. I needed that very badly growing up. I was a very awkward chunky girl with thick glasses, and braces and I think that if she hadn’t chosen me as her friend, I might’ve been easy fodder for bullies. In fact, we met because she was helping to protect me from a bully. Look at her beauty and grace in this picture. She could’ve been friends with anyone, and I am lucky that I knew her and that she liked to hang out with me too.
Eight years ago, I put up a little website in remembrance of her. It is a very aged site (I was never a good coder), and sometimes I think I ought to take it down and put up something else. Year after year, it comes up for domain and hosting renewal and I just can’t bear to take it down. Re-doing the site doesn’t make sense either. So it sits there like a little memorial. Since I still think about her, it gives me comfort to visit that old website, more comfort than visiting the cemetery.
Getting back to funerals and eulogies. It is fitting that I write about Dawn today since it was the anniversary of her departure yesterday. I have done two eulogies in my life. One was for my friend Dawn, the other for my grandmother. I miss her. I wish you knew her like I did. Because you missed out, I thought that I’d share what I thought of her and the love that she gave.
Read on Sept 28, 2005
We were searching the house to find the notebook where Dawn wrote the invitation list for her funeral and looked through it, and didn’t see my name on it. So I don’t even know if I’m invited! Dawn, wherever you are, whether you invited me or not I’m going to speak at your funeral, for I am considering myself, a given.
I don’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t know Dawn. I met her kindergarten. There was a boy who had been calling me names and I said to her “Dawn! Get him!!”. And she did, she took off after him to go beat him up for me. Minutes later, he peered at me from the area of the classroom where the jackets and cubby holes were. He was smug and was mouthing mean words at me. I can still recall looking up at her saying “Hey! Why didn’t you beat him up Dawn?” She shrugged and a said. “He ran away.” That was the beginning of our life-long friendship.
Dawn used to tell people that we knew each other since birth for we discovered were born at the same hospital, Women’s College Hospital in downtown Toronto. She was born on the 16th of August, and I was born on the 29th. Just 13 days apart. It was junior high when we found this out.
“I don’t think we knew each other,” I told her, “I thought new mothers only stayed for like, a week.”
“Ya but my mom nearly died!!” she said excitedly. Poor Sandy.
Maybe we were there together in the nursery. I like to think of us in our cradles side by side, with our pink tags around our small baby wrists, friends from cradle to grave.
Dawn was in every class that I had from kindergarten until adolescence, and in our teenage years, Dawn’s house became like my second home. I remember she used to let her pet rabbit Chachi run free at Sandy’s home on Godstone Road. I was always amazed at how all of her animals responded to her with such love. Anyone who’d ever been to her house had probably seen it too. The animals love her, and they know she’s gone and you can tell they’re grieving too.
In our teenage years and even when we were adults, we developed the habit of watching TV while on the phone. Mostly it was silence over the phone, with some comments made about the show we were watching. It made us feel like we were sitting there together and I liked that.
We also used to hang out at the local mall, eating mounds junk food, all the while vowing to each other we would start a healthier diet the next day. She always followed through on that, whereas I didn’t much try. I love that she never made me feel badly for that. Not once.
During our youth, we walked around Fairview Mall. I was trying to look cool and she never needed to try. I was a very awkward chunky teenager with thick glasses, braces, bad hair and bad posture. Now, I don’t know if some of you saw that picture of her, when she was 17. To hang around someone as beautiful and graceful as her raised my status in high school. She didn’t care if I was beautiful or not, or if I wore cool clothes. She didn’t pick her friends that way. All I had to be was myself.
Being a Leo, Dawn was always the first to experience everything. She was the first in the history of Woodbine Junior High to break her viola in music class. She put the phone receiver on the bed to play Johnny Comes Marching Home on the phone for me. When she was finished playing she put the viola on the floor to look for her Guns and Roses cassette on the floor. In the process she threw her clothes over the viola. “Found it!” she said (about the cassette), and then as she was walking over to put the cassette in, she heard a loud crunch. She was both laughing and crying at the same time.
Dawn was first among my friends to try smoking, or I guess it wasn’t really smoking, for it was just strands of uncooked spaghetti lit on the burner because we had no access to cigarettes. I don’t know what kind of spaghetti it was but it had a tiny hole through the middle. She had a crush on a boy at school who smoked. One day, she got hold of a cigarette and we went out to the smoking area where her crush was standing and she lit it up, and mostly just held it.
“You smoke Dawn?” he asked.
“Ya, totally, for like over a year now.” She answered. She wasn’t lying in a way. She’d probably been smoking spaghetti for a year.
In grade eight, she joined the air cadets with another friend of hers. I remember seeing her in her uniform and I snickered at her. I admitted to her years later that I was also proud of her for standing so tall, straight and confident in her uniform like a soldier, ready for action…
I could go on and on about all of the memories that I have of our childhood and adolescence, but really my point is that in my life, knowing Dawn prepared me for whatever I would have to experience. First time skipping school, first pet dying, first kisses, first intimacy, first broken hearts, first falling in love with your soulmate, getting married, having a baby, being a mom. I have been comforted my whole life knowing that whatever I might have had to face she probably already went through and that she was only a phone call away. She is now also the first and oldest friend of mine to pass, and I expect I will find her there to greet me on the other side, just as I imagine as her grandfather, Chincho greeted her.
The last four years with Dawn have been precious to me. Having lived away from the Toronto area for all of my twenties, and then moving back, we picked up our friendship exactly where we left off. Together, we had a small circle of friends that we grew up with. The fab 4: Me, Dawn, Mira, and Mandi. We have the kind of friendship that more resembles a sisterhood. Friends that you choose when you are young and who remember who you have always been.
The other night, I went back to look at my yearbooks to see what Dawn had written to me. The messages always read “Go for the Gold!” or “Don’t change, you’re fine the way you are.” Whenever she said Go for the Gold she accompanied it with a dramatic hand gesture. It was a gesture that was an encouragement. It was at the time, used as a statement of carpe diem. It was used anytime you were afraid to do something. Usually, she could just make the gesture and it would give you the courage to try.
When I lived in Vancouver, Dawn came to visit me. It was just before she met Dave. They had already had one date. She told me all about him, that he was handsome, tall, and nice, but that she slaved in the kitchen all day to make Lasagna and he didn’t eat it. “So rude!” I told her. “That guys sound like he sucks. You gotta find someone who thinks you’re the shit.”
But I think she made up her mind in Vancouver that she would try again to open up her heart. With her sister Lisa’s encouragement, she called Dave and gave him another shot and I was glad that she did. About a year later, I got a card from her. “I have a man,” she wrote. “And don’t worry he thinks I’m the shit. He’s an angel”. This was Dave. For better or worse, sickness and health. At their darkest hour, Dave told her many times, “If I had to do it again, I’d do it all.” I looked at them loving each other and knew they were soulmates.
In March, she was undergoing what I think was her 9th type of chemo. “I’m tired of having cancer,” she told me. “I just want to be normal again”. Days later we went to a small pub in Stitsville to hear Jackie sing. It was still winter time. Dawn’s hair hadn’t grown back yet so she was wearing a ballcap and there were quite a few people there that she and Dave knew. We stayed for a couple of drinks, and I don’t know if she was having tons of fun, but she didn’t complain about it. She went to the bar to order a coffee and came back with a real four-leaf clover. A real four-leaf clover.
What are the chances of finding a real four-leaf clover in the middle of winter? In a tiny clover plant at the bar? She was very excited.
“Maybe my luck is changing!” she said, tucking it gently into her wallet. “I’m going to show it to Meghan tomorrow morning.” (Meghan is her 5 year old daughter)
The night that she found the 4-leaf clover, I prayed hard for her luck to change; for fate to send a miracle. What I realized this week, was that even though she was the one who found it, the luck was ours and that she was our miracle.
The last few days we have all be crying a lot. When we are crying, we are really crying for ourselves. Because she made us feel beautiful whenever she was around us. If we are to make sense of a life lost so early, if we are to ever get over the grief in our hearts it will come from a realization that to remember, is to continue to be as beautiful as we are when we were with her. If we are to continue living, we must do so by her example, with great courage, never a victim, always a hero. I’ve never met anyone who suffered so much and complained so little. I’ve never met anyone who could give so much, despite her own pain. At every turn, every time she received bad news, she allowed herself only a short time to grieve about it, if at all. And then with great resolve, she would push the tears aside and continue fighting, always with a sense of humour. Even until the last breath she always kept her good humour.
When she found out that she was untreatable, she told her mother Sandy “I’m going on a big adventure!” and she told me “I’ve always been curious to see what’s there on the other side.”
In closing, I want to thank Dave, Sandy, Meghan, Carol, Lisa, and Kim, and both of their families for taking good care of my friend Dawn. Remember that she is with all of us, all of the time, for we are the ones she loved. She is a part of us forever.
Dawn, we love you so much and will miss you so much, and will miss how you loved us. We will remember you with tears of joy and will take care of each other. I wish you your best adventure ever.
Everyone who knows you by heart will recognize you in the crisp early mornings when everything is silent in the event that bears your name. Dawn. With beauty and grace, you are the rise that gives us hope.
P.S. I just wanted to note here that Dawn was a non-smoker throughout her whole life except for this experience in grade 8. In no way did the cigarette that was mentioned above, relate to her breast cancer.