Author and professor, Arnold Beisser shares an anecdote in his book, A Graceful Passage Notes on the Freedom to Live or Die: When he was a child, his father gave him a dime so that he could get an ice cream cone, a double decker ice cream cone. He eagerly walked to the drug store, stepped up to the soda-fountain counter and ordered: once scoop chocolate, one scoop strawberry. He took his unstable treat, paid his dime, and walked out of the store. As he was standing on the sidewalk outside the drugstore, just as he was about to take his first lick of the ice cream, disaster struck. He tilted the cone too far to one side, and the top scoop fell right onto the pavement. His heart sank. What happened next, though, unsettled him more than the ice cream spill. The owner of the store saw what happened and told the server to go out and replace this boy’s ice cream cone. A display of kindness that would’ve been right out of Cindy’s playbook. But, Arnold was puzzled by this small and simple act of justice. He had duly received what he had paid for; it was no one’s fault but his own that his ice cream spilled, and yet, he was rewarded with an entirely new cone. The simple rules of justice dictated that he didn’t deserve a replacement. His unsettledness stemmed from the realization that such “simple rules of justice” often don’t work. If good things could happen without any apparent or logical reason, then, so too, he realized could bad ones. We want to believe in those neat packages of justice we are taught as children. If we do what we are supposed to, then peace, prosperity, and certainly health will follow. If only.
The very fact we are gathered today – dressed in our whites and florals in honor of Cindy’s beautiful spirit – to mourn her death and to provide comfort and consolation to Wayne, Chelsea, and Hannah; the very fact that I am standing here eulogizing my dear sister-in-law – my Baltimore sister and friend - is stark and painful evidence that nature operates by its own rules and not necessarily by our human constructs and expectations of justice. Diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago, just before Chelsea’s Bat Mitzvah, and then, after having been deemed cancer free, to learn 5 years ago it had metastasized into her bones, Cindy was certainly dealt a terribly unjust hand. There is no changing that reality, and there is no satisfying explanation as to why this would happen to such a wonderful, loving, positive, and just human being. It simply isn’t fair. But there are choices to be made in the face of even the most unfair and painful of circumstances. We can remain angry or unsettled, stewing in a sea of negativity that leaves us frozen in place; or we can model Cindy’s bravery and choose to remember what was good – and there was so much good in Cindy’s life – and allow that goodness to motivate us to live according to her example.
May we learn from Cindy’s friendly, outgoing nature and ability to fully accept people where they are; let’s learn from her tendency towards striking up long conversations with compete strangers; may we learn from Cindy’s love of and fierce loyalty to her family; let’s learn from Cindy’s ability to savor the simple joys of living – a glass of wine or a cold beer, steamed crabs with friends, enjoying the water and time spent relaxing on the beach; and perhaps most of all, may we learn from Cindy’s ability to face her diagnosis and prognosis with the incredible courage and fortitude she exhibited. Even in her absence, Cindy can teach us how to live. If we allow her to do so, we keep a piece of her embedded in our hearts, and we enable her legacy to endure.
Born on January 1, 1959 to Harry and Helen, Cindy had three siblings: Jack, Donna, and Dodji. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and her mom, who raised her and with whom she was so close, died when she was only 16 years old. Yet, like through her cancer journey, Cindy didn’t allow these early challenges to destroy her generous spirit or her innate goodness. Her resilience and strength of character were evident even then. Indeed, Cindy’s inherent goodness was one of things that Wayne recognized in Cindy from their first moments together.
Wayne and Cindy met at work in 1984. The story I always heard from Alma was that Cindy was a godsend because she set Wayne straight and helped him settle onto a stable path. The story I always heard from Cindy was that it was the other way around. As Wayne admitted this week, it was probably a little of both. I think we can all agree, however it worked, it was a perfect partnership. They just connected. Beautifully. Married for over 30 years – since that beautiful day when they decided together to do their own thing and get married while vacationing in Hawaii. Together, Wayne and Cindy created a loving and nurturing home for their daughters Chelsea and Hannah. Cindy’s world was built around her family – Wayne, Chelsea, and Hannah you were her center. Her foundation. On Sunday, in describing how Cindy took care of all of them, Hannah shared, “I always felt, ‘I’m so lucky she’s mine.’” Well, I can’t tell you how many times Cindy would declare the identical sentiment about having Chelsea and Hannah being “hers” and having Wayne by her side. Barb can testify, too. When the three of us would go out for dinner, Cindy always beamed with pride and joy talking about her girls especially. She felt like the lucky one. Even just weeks ago, despite starting hospice, despite her pain, she proclaimed, “I’m so lucky.” I wonder if Cindy recognized that her “luck” in this case was in large part a product of the incredible love she put forth in the world.
Hannah, Chelsea, and Wayne all remarked how Cindy took such good care of them. And, she did. She took care of everything, but it wasn’t the tangible tasks that made such a difference. Sure, she made great soup, hosted wonderful gatherings, always welcomed friends – both hers and Wayne’s as well as their daughters’ into a beautifully prepared home, and extended gracious hospitality to everyone (like the time Wayne walked into the kitchen to find Cindy serving a fresh hot breakfast to some stranger named Bobby). What made her family feel so taken care of, though, wasn’t how the eggs were individually prepared, rather it was the way in which she made everyone feel safe and loved. What made Cindy exceptional was her ability to be fully present for you in the moment. Both Chelsea and Hannah remarked how Cindy had the capacity within her to make them feel completely understood and so fully loved. She was fully there – always until the very end.
Cindy didn’t come to the decision to begin palliative care and enter hospice lightly. Every choice she made was with Wayne, Chelsea, and Hannah in mind. She knew what was ahead and worked to ease their transition – she even moved Wayne’s clothes into the bigger closet in their room knowing she’d no longer need it and he might not do himself. And, while her suffering was all too evident particularly during her last week, it is clear that you brought her comfort as she prepared for the inevitable. You brought a smile to her face even as she was facing the unknown. You made sure she was surrounded by your loving presence as she made the transition from life to death.
A non-biblical, but still really old book most likely written between the 6th and 1st centuries BCE known as The Wisdom of Solomon teaches that honor does not come from old age or length of year, rather understanding and compassion are the gray hair of humanity. A later (Rabbinic) tale elaborates: A man tasked with cleaning the sanctuary after a wedding paused in his work to look at the flowers that lay strewn on the bema. “What a waste!” he thought as he looked at the lifeless flowers around him. “You call this a waste?!” One of the flowers protested. “What is life anyway, yours or mine, but a means of being present. My mission was to create some fragrance and beauty, and as I have fulfilled it, my life has not in any way been a waste; rather, it has been full and fulfilling.” The flower paused and then continued, “Flowers can be compared to people. They live in deeds not in time. My glory may have been brief, but you should have seen all the smiles I brought to people and all that I got to be a part of.”
Thank you, Cindy, for all the smiles, all the joy and love you have given and will continue to give through the blessing of memory.