Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lael Swinney Stegall

My sister Lael died this last October. An extraordinary woman who truly died too young. Here are the obituaries as well as my comments at her memorial service.

Bangor Daily News:

Washington Post:

November 19, 2011

Deer Isle

Lael’s Memorial Service

I knew her longer than anyone here. I’m Danny, the little brother (as she usually introduced me). I was privileged and honored in having someone as powerful and magnificent as her as the constant force in my life, all of my life.

Lael and I always talked with each other about everything including the difficult aspects of life and death. As we faced the predictable chapters of her transition, I really wanted to share with her the thoughts, reflections and emotions I knew I would be sharing with you today at her memorial service.

I traveled to Bangor Hospital in early August to be with her and Ron as she fought a particularly nasty infection. On Sunday evening, she was still engaged in the fight. The three of us couldn’t predict with complete certainty what the near future held. On Monday morning, we could. She had made her decision. She shared it with Ron and then shared it with me.

I then gave her the letter that I’ll read to you this afternoon.

Dear Lael,

So, of course, it is as sad as can be. You are another one I was depending on for companionship in old age—knowing that we are both just at the top edge of middle-age. The pattern I’ve anticipated was predictable and just lovely. We would regularly recall how lucky we had been to have the parents that we had and growing up in the times we did. We both see not just threads but thick ropes that tie our past to our present.

We would slowly shake our heads at the mistakes and mistaken judgments we made along the way, but not dwell. We would congratulate each other on the really good decisions and choices we made. And then we would enjoy laughter, scrabble or bridge, really good food, a spirited discussion, a sail, or a walk around a misty pasture above the rocks.

We both love the depth of our ties to each other so much. We appreciate our differences as well as the depth of our similarities. Truly unconditional love.

But now my memories will have to suffice--always glazed with a sadness of what should have been.

You “incite community.” You have always most embodied the spirit of our parents—a deep humanist care for all those in the world; a deep level of principle that guides and protects that care despite the skeptic, self-interested, and cynic.

You have a fearless personality that brings together any possible combination of that humanity. You do this everywhere and you always have. It’s in the food you pull together will brilliance and passion to feed scores. It’s the garden of a master social gardener. Everyone appreciates, everyone pulls something, everyone benefits. Everyone you spend just a few minutes with becomes a best friend because you always share something special.

We did agree recently that I am probably the most intense but you are clearly the most gregarious.

You and all of us deserve an opportunity to celebrate how lucky we have all been in our journey. This mustn’t be compromised. Our tradition, the ties that bind, our foundation is exceptional. It’s not here because of something pre-ordained or pre-determined, but ours because of hard work, real struggle, deep passion, deep confidence, and finally our optimism about the world we inhabit.

We build families through thick and thin. We do what our parents taught us: we model how an adult and a couple should live rather than tell the next generation what to do. We accept the limits of our capacity with a shrug and determination to do better. We have fun. We do things. We push the limits. We are intolerant of some things.

We do live for the moment and accept the finality of death as we see it happening around us whether in large numbers or in our immediate and extended family. We dwell on the possibility. Life is always three-quarters full.

Starting now, you are in control. It is the time to gather your extended family around you to recall and share the moments and chapters of an extraordinary, lucky, and intentional life. We will do this without regret, without remorse, and without hesitation, and with as much laughter and as many tears as possible.

Let the water flow—there are already more droughts than we need.