Grace. When my sister died in early January, one of my closest friends, Maile, wished me grace — which stood out like a lighthouse beacon amidst the thick fog of condolence messages I’d received.
Last summer and weeks before my sister had even been diagnosed with cancer, Maile bought me a pair of earrings that I was admiring – simply because I said I loved them. I often wear those earrings and have deemed them my “grace earrings” as I make my way through each day of bereavement.
I’m not sure how to relay how deeply I appreciate her wishing me this particular sentiment because I’ve often looked to act in grace when my emotional energy levels are low.
There are many definitions of grace but the one that speaks to me most, the one that Maile meant to impart on me was “the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.” I’m often told how much I’ve acted in grace since my sister’s death and I’m grateful that Maile’s wish for me, at least outwardly, seems to be working.
Bereavement is a hugely personal, individual journey. Some people deal with it privately. I’ve chosen to process my grief the only way I know how– creatively – either through piano or through my very public writing and social media posts.
I’ve received many emails and private messages cautiously asking how I’m doing. Everyone is of course very well-intentioned. Most messages are almost purposefully awkward — of people admitting they don’t know what to say except that they are thinking of me and sending love – which I find beyond kind and appreciate so much.
In response, I figured that now is the right time to publish the eulogy I gave for Myra. I want people to know that I haven’t holed myself away in the darkness of grief – that my non-responsiveness to all the loving messages hasn’t been because I’ve been too sad to reply.
I’ve been busy doing what my sister asked of me – to take “the road less traveled” approach to processing grief by converting any sadness I have into energy for sending out love and positivity. And doing this has taken pretty much all I have.
Lastly I’ll say that Myra had a very wry sense of humour. She always said that I should get more practice public speaking.
As I rehearsed what I’d written for her, I could see my Myra laughing to herself from heaven. What a ludicrously sly way of getting me to “practice more public speaking”…
The sound isn’t great, but here’s the YouTube link to my speech.
Here’s the entire transcript:
I’d like to start this eulogy by talking about a Disney movie called “Frozen”. It was the only Disney movie that truly resonated with me because true love’s kiss that saves the princess comes from an unlikely source– her sister. And that made complete sense to me.
Our mother’s greatest gift to us was our relationship as sisters.
I’m going to spend these next few minutes telling you what I can about Myra, from the perspective of someone who was ferociously proud to be her sister.
I’m going to speak about her personality, her style, her beliefs and how she did it all with beauty and grace and a quiet strength.
Most importantly, I’m going to share with you the main message that Myra wanted me to pass to you all today – Myra is with you now. Myra is grateful to you and for you.
Myra asks that you choose to spend your energy not on mourning her, but on positivity and love…
The first thing I’ll tell you is that when Myra was very little, she was very timid and very soft spoken. At the dinner table if she wanted ketchup she would quietly tap whomever was next to her and whisper “Please pass the ketchup.” And we would goad her to be more outspoken about what she wanted. We said, “Myra, be bold! Speak with authority!” And while we were saying this, the phone rang and little Myra went to answer it and shouted as loudly as she could “HELLO!!!”
Well she never became loud or brash but Myra did manage to balance out her quiet and calm demeanor with being bold. She was quietly bold.
And she used this balance to develop an incredibly keen ability to read people. She quietly observed and then hit them hard with her astute observations, which weren’t necessarily what people wanted to hear, mostly because they knew she was right.
I used to send her drafts of my articles and I’ll never forget one email she wrote to me in response that said in capital letters “INSIPID! INSIPID! INSIPID! If you’re going punch, punch hard. If you’re going to say something, say what matters. Write it again.”
That was her style.
And speaking of style, Myra was bold there too. Myra surrounded herself by and carried herself with and dressed herself in things that make you go “Wow!” At the office she would wear rocker t-shirts under her business suits or one piece of jewellry that made a strong impact, like a belt with bullhorns for a buckle. She was all about making a statement but not being showy.
Myra was also enviably creative with a masterful eye for art and design. She had this favorite long black t-shirt with an interesting cut. One day while Myra was doing the laundry, she accidentally spilled bleach on that shirt and instead of declaring it ruined, she took it off, stared at it for a few minutes and then deliberately sprayed more bleach on different areas of the t-shirt.
Every time Myra wore it out, people would stop her in the street and ask her “Who is the designer?”.
Her dear friend, Caroline, described her as being impossibly stylish but Myra made anything possible.
Which leads me to my third anecdote about Myra. When she was six, she came to me and asked what books she should read. So I thought I’d experiment on her and give her books way above the reading level for her age. I told her “Every six year-old reads Alcott, and Dickens and Dostoyevsky.” (even though I myself had no idea who Dostoyevsky was).
So she did. She read Little Women and Great Expectations and a few years ago she told me that one of her favourite books of all time was the book she’d first read way back then at the age of six – Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
Myra was intimidatingly intelligent. I remember when she was in her senior year at La Jolla High School in California and came down the stairs to announce to me (quietly) that she’d just been offered a place at Harvard. Instead she went to McGill (!) where she met her husband, Henry, and the rest is history.
Part of Myra’s intelligence was pushing boundaries and questioning everything. Some of you who worked with her will have remembered how she would push back and wouldn’t just accept the first thing presented to her. If any of our kids spoke of something they’d read somewhere Myra would say, “When you read something that’s presented as fact, question it, question the bias. Who wrote it? Who funded it? Who published it? Where was it published?” That was Myra.
And she was a fierce advocate of women in the workplace and mentoring women to go as far as they can because she herself was mentored by an inspiring woman who did the same for her.
Those of you knew my sister in a work capacity knew that Myra was excellent at her craft and even won Marketer of the Year in 2016. When I was with her in December she told me, “I’ve just won another award that’s the industry equivalent of the Oscars or an Emmy,” but that’s all she said about that.
Because Myra was never showy. Never arrogant about anything. She used her grace and intelligence and her quiet strength to live out her mantra which was simply “We get up and we show up.” And she applied that mantra to her work and to all her relationships – both professional and personal. Myra always showed up for what she loved and whom she loved.
After my sister was diagnosed, her thirst for knowledge became even greater. She said “I’ve done a lot of reading on cancer and how we approach life and now all this spiritual stuff you’ve been shoving down my throat for two years is starting to make sense to me.”
“Because of all my scientific conditioning, it’s all a mind-bend. Everything I’m learning is forcing me to push my own boundaries on thought and belief and I now understand everything is about energy and choice. And that the greatest energy of all is love.”
Myra saw cancer as an opportunity to view life from an entirely different perspective.
“I get now that we get to choose how we want to spend our energy – on being positive or being negative. The energy is the same. The choice is ours.”
I was looking over old messages between us and in one she said was “I could choose to spend my energy on fearing death or I can choose to spend it focusing on strength.”
And as Myra grew progressively more ill, we didn’t understand what she meant by strength – because we saw strength from our own perspective – we wanted her to use her mental strength to heal her physical being.
Myra had a conversation with my husband, Simon, whom she had a very close bond with, and she told him to tell everyone “Please stop focusing on my physical body. Please stop seeing me as weak. I am anything but weak.”
Simon told me, “Myra wants everyone to know that their prayers and thoughts have helped her tremendously, that they were working and making her stronger than ever.” But not in a way that we expected. We wanted a miracle, we expected a miracle but as I’ve said, Myra always did the unexpected.
Simon’s conversation with Myra helped me understand that Myra IS showing us the miracles we were waiting and hoping for. Myra is now using that power and strength to work quietly, boldly in the background to communicate amazing things.
A friend of mine came over the other day and when I told her how I was doing she said I reminded her of her mother-in-law who had lost her son in a tragic accident when he was 17 and then lost her husband to terminal illness. In spite of it all, my friend described her mother-in-law as one of the most positive women she knew.
My friend said her mother-in-law found it almost insulting when people spoke of her strength because she had other children to live for and be a positive example to. And what my friend said gave me chills because it’s something that Myra wanted more than anything for her own beautiful children. And the message was this:
We live for the living. Whether death is something you were prepared for, or whether it came upon you tragically, we move forward, we crawl if we have to, but we live for the living. We live for those who are still here.
My sister didn’t want us to mourn her. She said if she could do it all again, she would have learned to shun negativity and detach from negative people sooner. She said that negativity and negative thought are a waste of energy. She said that while anger and disappointment and even sadness have their place, she doesn’t want it for herself.
“Use that energy instead to show love and kindness to the people who matter to you. Or simply think about my children and send them that love. Let my children feel my love for them through the kindness of others. Let them feel my presence through your kindness. You can choose to feel my absence or my presence. I hope you feel my presence.”
And because of this new perspective she’d gained, new beliefs that Myra and I discussed every single day, her greatest sentiment and source of strength became gratitude.
Myra didn’t lament what little time she had left, she was grateful for the time she was given.
So here I am standing before you today, not broken, not weighed down by the heaviness of grief. I can tell you I’m standing here grateful. I had the honour of having Myra as my beautiful baby sister. How can I not be grateful?
I can also tell you that I am filled with an endless well of love. And it’s amazing to me, but this love doesn’t allow me to falter, or wallow or mourn. Myra is holding me up and when I start to feel a shaky, I’ll get an email or ping from my other sister, or one of my dear, close friends, or maybe I will get a message from my husband and it will just be an emoticon with a little pink heart and I realise that is Myra refilling me. That is Myra performing Myra’s Miracles.”
And the miracles keep presenting themselves. Even through music, which was hugely important to Myra.
While I was in California, my niece, Myra’s eldest child, Colette, who’s taught herself how to play my sister’s favourite Bach piece, Cello suite in G Major on the viola (off YouTube!) was vacuuming and then ran off to the piano and came back and said to me. “Oh my goodness! I was right! The sound of the vacuum cleaner is playing in the key of C major!” That was Myra sending the message: “Watch this space.”
And my own daughter composed and wrote the lyrics for a song that she made for Myra, aptly titled, “Miracle.” Up till now, we had no idea my daughter knew how to compose music.
As I first said, Myra is right here, right now and Myra is grateful to and for you. Myra asks that you choose to spend your energy on positivity and love.
Myra says, “Don’t move on. Move forward.”
Myra had requested pink flowers for today. Pink peonies, hydrangeas and roses were her favourite. The majority of the flowers here today were sent from my own girlfriends who never actually met my sister. They know her only through my shatteringly huge, wide, deep love for my sister.
So I’d like to leave you with this thought:
When you choose pink flowers or buy pink flowers for yourself, maybe take a moment to think about Myra and maybe use that moment to send her husband and children love. When you randomly see or are given pink flowers… know that Myra is thinking of you!
Thank you all so much for honouring my beautiful baby sister today. I know I speak for all of you when I say, Myra, thank you for honouring us with your presence.
Catherine your eulogy encouraged everyone to not only express their condolences, but also their stories about the joy that Myra brought them. The church was filled with love, Myra’s presence…and endless grace. I am smiling at the pink shirt (covered with a flower patterns) I just realized I threw on today. Thank you for the gift of your words and for sharing Myra’s beautiful spirit by sharing this story. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/48a8b50b39d0d556e601a08f80d5dc0c94c8bbb5d1530851b4258cd9dca18e26.jpg
What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. Forever in my heart. Thank you for being so inspiring xx
This is beautiful ! Gratitude and appreciate the moments .. you are blessed with a beautiful connection with Myra.