I wrote this in the event that I had the chance to share it at the memorial of a dear and special friend. I did not. So I share it here as a last gift to a woman who continually blessed my life.
I am a writer – and I talk a lot. I am never at a loss of words. But the loss of Diane? It left me speechless. Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because there don’t seem to be adequate words to describe the person she way … the heart she held … the kindness she displayed… the superhero who was a true representation of God’s love right here on earth. And so I struggled to write this… to write something that conveys everything Diane was to me. Then something occurred to me… and that is to speak about Diane in the past tense would not only be an injustice to her, but a misrepresentation of everything she is. Diane is still very much alive – in the people she touched, in the programs she affected, and in the influence she leaves in the world today. She is still very much alive – and will be, I suspect, for a long time. When I think about her in this way, I am at no loss for words. Indeed, I have to choose which ones to use!
I know that the sentiments I share today are ones that are common in this room. You only had to meet Diane one time to know that she was something special. I met her when I was hired in an area school district. Barely 25, I became an administrator in a demanding place with high expectations. Once I got over my initial impression that she hated me – you know how she had this way of checking you out that could be really intimidating – we became fast friends. I valued her mentorship. And she provided it willingly and with an open heart. Diane had an uncanny way of making those around her feel truly special – she did it like no one else I’ve ever known. She would look at me and say, “Jennifer, you are a talented young woman.” And I believed her. She’d say, “You can do it.” And I believed her. Confiding in her felt safe, celebrating with her felt exuberant, and being in her company felt like home. A favorite writer of mine said: “Before I die, I want to be somebody’s favorite hiding place, the place they can put everything they need to survive, every secret, every solitude, every nervous prayer, and be absolutely certain I will keep it safe.” That’s what Diane did – she was a confidant, mentor, friend, a safe place. She wasn’t easy. But her expectations made me want to be a better person.
Several years ago, I read an article that was written by Kerry Egan. Kerry – at that time – was a hospice chaplain and her article was called “What people talk about before they die.” In her article, she said that despite what most people think, those closest to death rarely talk about God or religion. Instead, what they talk about most is family. She came to the conclusion that people talked to her about their families because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning in our lives. She said that we live our lives in families; the ones we are born into and the ones we create through the people we choose as friends. I remember when my husband and I were trying to start our own family – through two rounds of IVF with no success. Diane was one of the few people who would actually talk with me about it. Unlike others who ignored the struggle or said naively optimistic things, Diane said to me one day, “I want to be supportive, but I don’t know how.” Her willingness to let me tell her what I needed was more supportive than anything else. She always asked, “What do you need?” Her intentions were always good and she always acted in love. Diane was family to me. I’m certain I learned an awful lot about God through her.
In closing, I share this: If I reflect on my life, I can identify three truly influential forces who have shaped who I am. The first is God and my faith. My parents are second. And third is Diane. I hear her voice in my head. I feel her love in my heart. And I carry her spirit with me. Diane will be alive in me for the rest of my life. I will miss seeing her and hearing her voice. But mostly, I will forever be grateful to have been given the chance to love her.