Friday, December 12, 2008

when your own words fail - use someone else's

I am so glad Jaimie is much more eloquent than I - this is a far better representation of the person Erica was.  This is the eulogy given by her best friend Monday.

"Hi Everyone,
When Jaci first talked to me about doing this, my biggest fear was standing up here before you and not being able to get these words out. But after Erica passed, my fear changed. I wasn’t nervous anymore about standing here and crying, I was nervous about finding the right words. It’s enough pressure for anyone to eulogize their friend, but to do it for a woman who always had the right words – whose eloquence, creativity and wit were evident to everyone she came in contact with – is a truly daunting task. Whenever I was at a loss for words, whenever I needed help with grammar and punctuation, whenever I needed a Scrabble triple-word-score worthy word, I always turned to Erica. And here I am now, left to my own devices, so E . . . let’s hope you taught me well. Here it goes.
Erica, E, EJ, Murray 1, Reekie, Beek and always her favorite . . . Erica…names for an extraordinary woman who I have always been, and will forever be, so honored to call my best friend. [Note from Jamie: The former “Erica” is pronounced the way Erica pronounced her name (with the emphasis on the 2nd syllable), while the ladder “Erica” is pronounced the traditional way (with the emphasis on the 1st syllable). Clearly, the joke loses something when reduced to writing!] I could stand here before you today and talk about Erica’s compassion, her intelligence, her sense of humor, her smile, her sparkling eyes, her incredible love for her family and friends. But these are things you all already know. So my job now is to tell you a few things about Erica you may not know. 

Like how Erica’s closest friends throughout her life were just the right combination of alike and different. Erica was one of those very rare and special people who enjoyed the company and friendship of people who didn’t always share her views or who said things she would never say herself. For instance she often times left it to me to make an inappropriate, politically incorrect joke while she laughed and shook her head at me all at the same time.
Or how, before her days of hob-knobbing with other over-achieving, international do-gooders at Fletcher, Erica was a rugby-playing English major at Oxy. And before that, she graced the halls of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Santa Maria where she swam, was homecoming princess, and worked at Hot Dog on a Stick . . . oh that’s right . . . Hot Dog on a Stick . . . sorry E.

Or how she’s a canuck! That’s right, she was born in Canada. Her Mom Judy lovingly described Erica’s birth on the blog that Erica kept as a way of sharing her journey over the past few years. In the post written on Erica’s 29th birthday, Judy wrote of her baby girl: 
“At precisely 7:47, 29 years ago, the sweetest most beautiful baby girl arrived in West Vancouver British Columbia. She was the cutest little baby weighing in at 6lbs 10 oz with the most engaging smile ever. Today, this same lovely little baby has metamorphosized into a wonderfully strong, intelligent, inspiring and beautiful young woman.”
Another thing you may have not known about Erica is that her favorite city in the world was Paris. Up until about a year ago, she always said that she didn’t have a favorite city, but sometime recently (and I think I know why), that changed, and she said she knew that she would always feel at home there. So, the next time you are in Paris, please think of Erica. Visit a museum for her. Sit at an outdoor café, sip espresso, and people watch for her. Try speaking French at the risk of being laughed at . . . and when that happens, laugh too because you know Erica would have been proud of you.

Erica once said to me that she felt like she was a jack of all trades but a master of none. She knew she was talented and creative but didn’t feel like she excelled at any one thing. But I beg to differ. Erica was truly a master of human relationships. She had the most amazing ability to make everyone she came in contact with feel like her best friend. And she made friends to the very end. She was naturally the most welcoming and friendly person I have ever known, and she brought together people from around the world as her friends. Very shortly after Erica was first diagnosed she created a top ten list of the best things about having cancer . . . leave it to Erica to find the bright side of having cancer ;) The number one thing on her list was bringing her loved ones together. She said: “I love it when people from different segments of my life have the opportunity to meet and get to know one another. Jamie called it my ‘elf on the wall’ trick (the joke sort of deriving from me being the obvious elephant in the room, but trying to be like a fly on the wall), but many hours of each day were spent in a semi-snooze listening to my Mom get to know my friends, or my sister get to know my graduate school colleagues, or a friend from Japan getting to know a friend from high school. I loved just listening to their precious voices and knowing they were there.” And Erica has accomplished this more than she will ever know. I realized yesterday that while I may have lost my best friend, I have gained another mother and another sister in Judy and Jaci.

To my Chinese mother Judy, thank you from everyone else who loved Erica for not only caring for her, but for us too. You shared your little girl with so many people, and we will forever be thankful to you for that gift.
And to Jaci…I know Erica told you constantly just how she felt about you, and I could go on and on about her love for you, which was clear to anyone who ever saw the two of you together. But I’m not going to, because it was SO evident to everyone in this room and because, honestly, I don’t think either of us could handle it. So all I am going to say, one last time for Erica, is “big wing.”

A few days before Erica passed, an anonymous Oxy staff member wrote one of the most beautiful posts I have read so far. The part that touched me the most was about Erica’s smile. The post read: “Her ability to take us along on the tragic and cruelly unfair journey she has been on these past few years, with grace, dignity, intelligence and humor is truly amazing. It speaks volumes about her strength, and her inner beauty that is matched so completely by that radiant smile she so often beams. I think it is her smile, immediately engaging, immediately inviting and immediately warm that radiates and gives you a sense of comfort in her presence. In Oxy staff meetings I would often look across the table and see that smile, matched equally by her intelligence and enthusiasm, and I would think to myself - wow, she is something.” I don't think I have ever known a more beautiful smile. I hope that none of us will ever forget that smile…I know I never will.

A week before Erica went into the hospital for the last time she asked me what I thought would happen to her after she passed away. At the time I gave a basic and reassuring answer in an effort to calm her and ease her fears. But when I think about it now, I like to think that Erica is now forever enjoying what would have been her ideal day here on Earth. She is with her Mom, Dad, Jaci, and Linda. She is surrounded by her aunts, uncles, cousins, and countless friends. Her days consist of a rotating schedule of crossword puzzles, card games, group reads, yoga, political debates and dim sum. Barak Obama is President for eternity, and not recycling is a crime punishable at law.

It was clear to me from very early in our friendship that Erica had a special combination of compassion, integrity, sense of humor, strength, morality, and world consciousness that very few people have. She made an immediate and lasting impact on whomever she met and encouraged those around her to strive to live life to the fullest. 
Erica taught us all many things over the past few years. One of the things that I am most thankful to her for is teaching me the true meaning of the word “selfless”. I saw it everyday that I was with Erica. She was by far the most selfless person I have every known. She would do things for other people no matter how badly she didn’t want to just because she knew it would make them feel better.

One last thing that I want to mention was her sense of humor. The girl knew how to tell a joke, was always quick with a great come-back, and could find humor in just about anything in life. This was evident in most of Erica’s blog posts. The blog was created to give Erica’s loved ones updates on her health and treatment but quickly took on a life of it’s own. Some of her more creative and humorous posts over the past two years were her December 2007 “12 Days of Cancer” post and, my own personal favorite, her October 2008 missing I-phone post. My favorite part of that post being: “The search for the missing iPhone has been conducted in a professional and thorough manner. Amber alerts have been issued on the 101 and 280 freeways. Digital Voicemail-sniffing dogs scoured the patient units, the 3rd floor VIP room, the cafeteria, and the radiology ward, places EJ's Mobile's owner has frequented lately. As each hour passes, the owner has less hope that the mobile device will be found intact. ‘I have had it for about a year and half,’ the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. ‘I'm not sure how I will be able to fill the hole its absence has left in my purse.” The girl was funny!

Over the past few days I have been looking over old blog posts, e-mails, and letters from Erica, searching for some of her words. As you can imagine, I had an endless supply of poetic passages from Erica that I could have shared with you. But the words that I have chosen aren’t necessarily the most poetic, but the most poignant. In an e-mail from her to some of her closest friends on January 13th of this year (two weeks before she relapsed) she said:
“The first year of treatment was awful, the only specks of sunlight being the love you all showered on me. 2007 was a year marked by growing strength, growing hair, growing happiness. While undergoing treatment, I completed one year of my master's degree and managed, despite my family's and doctor's worries, to still do some of things I love, like traveling. Still, I'm not sure I can remember what it's like to be 100% pain free, to not be anticipating the next invasive needle, to not know which of the cocktail of drugs I'm on is causing today's particular pain. My optimism for 2008 is severely hedged by cautious anticipation of lingering side effects and, of course, relapse concern, but I still think that getting this far is worth a bit of a celebration.”

So that is what we will do for you today, my dear. We will celebrate your life, our love for you, and your love for us. We will laugh and smile and cry in your honor, and we will do it knowing how much fun you are having watching us. We love you, we miss you, and we will forever be better because of you. I love you E!"

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