Lena Kay’s Eulogy, April 1, 2003
Bad River Community Center
Some of you have asked where I get my strength. It comes from you. I couldn’t stand here if it weren't for all your prayers, your kind words, and your positive thoughts. Every one of you is helping me simply by being present. I am thankful we have each other to lean on.
I am terribly heartbroken, yet I have a need to speak to you publicly. I want you to hear Lena in my voice. I might laugh, and I might cry. Whatever happens, I hope you’ll join me in the emotion.
"I want people to see me proud, vibrant, and full of myself."
Lena developed a compromised immune system in her teenage years that left her susceptible to bacteria and viruses. A disease named Lupus caused this. Many of you never knew of her illness, and she wanted it that way. When I suggested that she be more public about it and let others support and help her, she said, “Mom, then people will pity me. How can I live a normal life if people feel sorry for me? I want people to see me proud, vibrant, and full of myself”. And that she was. I wanted to keep her home to protect her from exposure. She, of course, wanted to experience the world by participating fully in every opportunity and the more challenging the experience was, the better she liked it.
In September of 2002, Lena had her first close brush with death.
When I was getting Lena’s things together to come here, I came across a booklet of some of her writings. It fell open to a particular entry that is a message for all of us. In September of 2002, Lena had her first close brush with death and was hospitalized at St. Joseph's of Mayo Clinic. She had planned to spend that month studying in South Korea and later to do her Stanford University winter quarter in Paris. Unfortunately, she missed both. She began to read and write a lot when she came home from the hospital to recuperate. One of her readings that Fall was “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy.
While she was reading this Tolstoy masterpiece on the subject of death and dying, she wrote the following on Monday, September 23, 2002 at 9:45 a.m.
I had been asking myself. Do I want to live my life? Do I really want to live this life? I think I was formally, directly asked.
My dad used to say, 'You only have one life to live babe'. I thought about that today. About my body dying and decomposing into the earth. It isn’t the first time. I think of death and dying often enough. I was a little terrified of the idea but comforted myself (as so many, many do) by saying, 'Well, yeah, but what about the soul?'
Bob Marley went to the grave saying 'Don’t worry about me, worry about our people. I will go ahead and prepare a better place for us to perform and help our struggle. This is my time, what I need to do.' He truly believed it was his destiny to die from cancer and go ahead to make a world, a better place for those friends, family, and people who would join him in death and life. That’s beautiful, and I hope to God it’s true.
As I lay in bed reading the death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, after the hospital, I looked out at the yellowing heritage birch tree in our front yard, and I knew that God/nature had asked me if I wanted to continue to live. I paused thoughtfully and answered with a strong, but sheepish, 'I do, I do, I do' and the voice in my mind quieted as I repeated the words.
I got the distinct feeling that God/nature would take your life, remove you from this world in your form, were you to answer, 'No, I don’t want to live this life'. Like there is only so much energy to go around, and if you don’t want it, it will know and go elsewhere for those who crave, search for, and welcome it.
When you know your existence, you just want to burst.
You have to want to live. You have to truly believe that you want to live. That this is a life, that you are alive, you exist. And just be awed that you don’t know how or why or when or where. Just take it in. You know that feeling. When you feel it, when you know your existence, you just want to burst, just for a moment, you are reminded. Remember that you have been asked, you have been reminded.
She is challenging us to live a full life if we also choose to answer, "I do."
One of the beautiful things about this writing of Lena’s is how she used the words death/life and God/nature. She understood that in death there is life and in life there is death. She knew that God is nature and nature is God. These are simple concepts that I think Lena is challenging us to understand on a deeper level. She is challenging us to live a full life if we also choose to answer, “I do.”
Many of you have asked how you can help honor Lena. I’ve made a list of suggestions:
- Make sure you hug your child, especially on your busiest days.
- Follow your passions, take risks, and educate yourself.
- Set high expectations for yourself and do not compromise for second best.
- Pay attention to the important relationships in your life.
- Commit a random act of kindness, speaking her name in your heart, and not telling anyone you did the act.
- Say goodbye to Lena’s body, say hello to her spirit that lives in each of us.
And lastly, I am going to ask you to do a personal favor for me which may help you also. Please turn to a person near you, and speak a word about Lena. If you aren’t able to speak, just hug or touch.
Thank you all for coming here today.
Were you present at one of Lena's memorial services? If so, was it the beautiful native traditional service at Bad River or the gathering of friends, classmates, and professors at Stanford University? What do you remember?