One of the most beautiful experiences of my life happened at a funeral.
In February of 2009 my husband’s sister Kim died. Kim was born with Down’s Syndrome. She lived to be in her early fifties and died after living with Alzheimer’s for many years. My husband Bruce gave the eulogy for her. It was a wonderful tribute to a very special woman and it is something that I would very much like to share with all of you.
Jean Vanier, the wonderful individual who devoted his life to helping those who are developmentally challenged, and from that spirit of love and compassion founded L’Arche, an international network of communities for people with intellectual disabilities, very much emphasized that we are not the only ones who have something to give.
We can be very much enriched by what those of us who are born with the kind of gifts that Kim had have to give to us. The following words, spoken by my husband on May 9, 2009, very much reflect that.
For those of you who did not know Kim, you would have liked her. And she would have liked you.
When my sister Kim was born my mom and dad were told all the things that she would probably never do. But look at her photographs; look what she did. They show her laughing, smiling, swinging, swimming, dancing. She wrote stories, coloured pictures, shared her accomplishments, interests and happiness. She was a dynamo powered by Cheez Whiz. She was never bored or at a loss for things to do. She was the happiest person I have ever known. She taught me a lot. I love her and I miss her.
Kim was quiet. Usually. Unless she thought nobody was listening. She would talk back to the villains in the movies and television shows she watched. (If Gene Hackman had ever spontaneously combusted or met with some other untimely end, Kim would have been a prime suspect.)
When Kim thought nobody was listening, she sang. She loved music. She would have been great at “Name That Tune”, but they would have had to crank up their microphones to “11”.
Kim sang. And she danced. She danced so much she wore out a spot on the flooring in her room. I would like to thank the Beatles, the Carpenters, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, the Partridge Family, Lawrence Welk, Tom Netherton (whom she got to meet in person), and all the other singers and musicians who gave her so much joy -and exercise- over the years.
She sang, she danced. She dreamed. Kim had a lively, vivid imagination. She loved fairy tales, fantasies, and adventures. Sometimes as books, sometimes as movies; sometimes both. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, the Wizard of Oz, the Three Worlds of Gulliver, the Ten Commandments; stories of good and evil, heroes and villains, witches, genies, kings and queens, princes and princesses. She wrote her own stories, putting herself into the thick of the action and romance. Her handwriting style started out with the letters we’re familiar with but became something that only she could read for certain.
She sang, she danced, she dreamed. She flew. She spent hours on end on the swing set in our back yard, radio playing. She wore out a spot in the lawn under her swing, packing and compacting the dirt so much that grass would not grow. She loved hot-air balloons. She loved to watch their slow quiet flight. It is no coincidence that two of her heroes flew; Christopher Reeve as Superman and Harrison Ford as Han Solo (Kim didn’t like him as Indiana Jones -too rough and scratchy with that unshaven face).
Kim was a kind and loving person. We all touch, shape and reflect each others lives. Kim could bring out the best in people. People would treat her with kindness, gentleness and patience. Kim helped make us who we are just as we helped make her who she was.
I would like to thank my mom and dad for all they did to give Kim a beautiful life. It was not easy. They chose not to institutionalize her, but to keep her at home, a part of our family. They gave fifty years of their lives to do this. And while I know that being the people they were, they could not have done otherwise, they still deserve our thanks , gratitude and praise. They did good.
Kim was a kind and loving person who brought out the gentleness, kindness and patience of those around her. When we go from this place, we take her gentleness, kindness and love with us. Treat yourselves with gentleness, kindness and love. But don’t keep it to yourself. You can’t hug a memory, but you can share it. If we treat each other and those around us with gentleness, kindness and love, then we honour Kim’s memory and keep her alive in our hearts.
Death, among other things, is a reminder and an opportunity. It is a reminder of our own mortality, that our own faculties and abilities, our hopes, fears and desires are fleeting, transient, impermanent. But it is also an opportunity to identify with all those who suffer as we suffer; it is a link to our common humanity. We are all on the same path of old age, sickness and death. This fact can help motivate us to treat all we meet with kindness, gentleness and love, to extend our circle of compassion beyond the bounds of family and friends to embrace the whole world. It is an opportunity to pause and look at what is really important right this moment, because this moment is all we have.
What will you do with your moment? If I might make some suggestions:
Sing. Dance. Dream. Fly.
Kim; may you be at peace.
May you be at rest.
May you know that we always remember you.
At the end of the eulogy, Kim’s favourite song “All you need is Love” by the Beatles was played on the sound system in the chapel and everyone in the church sang it. It was a very, very special moment…one that I will never forget.
Rest in peace, Kim.