Sunday, April 19, 2009
I attended a memorial service for a colleague today who died suddenly. When I got home, I told my husband that I wished he had come with me because it is exactly the kind of service I want for myself.
Here's why. Let's start with the fact that my colleague was a member of a beautiful, non-denominational church where, according to one of the pastors, "room is made for all beliefs." The service referenced Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism. The choir sang two rousing numbers, "rocking the house" just as Ursula would have wanted. A trumpet solo was played by the same friend who played at Ursula's wedding three years ago. And the speakers (except for brief remarks by two pastors) were Ursula's family and friends. Everyone (including the pastors) spoke genuinely about their memories, sense of loss, regrets and appreciation. Two of her brothers sang and played a traditional Puerto Rican Bomba at the end of the service.
I knew Ursula as one of the caring, dedicated social workers at the high school where I taught. I learned a lot more about her at the memorial service. She was exactly ten days older than I am. She has three lovely daughters and is herself one of six brothers and sisters. She has three grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Her first career was "banker" but she changed to social work. I'm not sure how much of a change it was though, because her family and friends had always sought her advice, help and honest criticism, which she gave generously.
She developed projects to deal with problems she became aware of from her work...especially reducing violence in the lives of NYC teenagers. I wish I had become involved in some of those. She loved dance and music and was a talented painter (several of her paintings were displayed at the service). She was a great cook. She was known to paint and redecorate entire rooms in a single afternoon. She had inexhaustible energy. I remember that energy! She always followed through on promises she made to faculty and students and was a stickler for details. She was never discouraged by the bureaucracy within the NYC school system, she just figured out ways to speed it up or get around it.
Her family asked us to share stories about Ursula among ourselves. Please feel free to do that here.