Monday, January 26, 2015

Daisy J. Gabrielle, 1918 - 2015

My remarkable mother-in-law died on Jan. 2, 2015. This is the eulogy I gave at her service a few days later.

Good afternoon. We are here to celebrate the life of an extraordinary woman, Daisy Gabrielle -- mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother and friend, someone who touched so many people in her 96 years, always in good ways.

Daisy was, first and foremost, a woman of noble spirit -- and a spiritual woman who understood the deeper meanings and joys of life. She believed in dreams and in souls that are eternal. She appreciated beauty and was herself beautiful. She was wise, loving and kind -- to her family and to everyone. She was generous. She was truthful. She knew serenity. She cared for and showed compassion for others. She taught us many important lessons. She made no harsh demands or judgments. She knew how to listen. She laughed easily and had a gift for making others laugh.

Humor, she understood, was good for the heart and the soul.

Music was good for them, too. How often did she burst into song in that wonderful voice of hers! She knew countless tunes, some going back to her youth, and she could sing them all melodically, frequently finishing with her distinctive smile or laugh. I can hear it now, one of the last songs she sang for my wife and me: Show me the way to go home. It was a somewhat rowdy tune, and she performed it with a hint of the devil in her eye.

She also loved to dance. I never saw her, but I can easily imagine her dancing up the proverbial storm as a young woman in New Orleans.

Despite all that she accomplished in life, Daisy was a woman of modesty and humility.

She played a role in the 1960s Civil Rights movement, when she courageously defied angry bigots who boycotted a desegregated New Orleans school by sending her daughter, one of the only white children to cross screaming picket lines, under police guard -- but you never heard her saying much about that other than that she simply did the right thing. The only times I ever heard Daisy boast were when she was discussing her family -- and her beloved husband Jimmy, who she missed terribly. She went to be with him last Friday, 12 years and two days after he left us. We remember him today, too.

Let me read part of a letter Daisy wrote to a New Orleans newspaper 64 years ago, when racism and intolerance inflamed the south and she took a stand. In it, you will hear her belief in equality, forgiveness and justice for all:

Since November 14, I have been boycotted and followed to my home by a mob of mothers who used obscene language with threats of beatings if I did not take my child out of school.

Let it be said that I feel nothing but compassion towards these women who in fear and hatred so easily forget what America actually stands for: Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of action.

It is these qualities, divine in essence, that are the core of our civilization. Tyranny and suppression can only thwart its own purpose in the end. For the sake of their beloved children, may every American mother remember it in time.

We must walk with progress in all aspects of right living...

I was a latecomer to Daisy’s family, but she welcomed me warmly -- once she was certain of my love and loyalty for her daughter, and determined that, as she liked to joke, we really did go together like two peas in a pod. To which I always responded, “you mean like carrots and peas.” It was a silly joke, but it made the two of us laugh mightily.

So I feel lucky and blessed to have known Daisy -- and to have been able to receive her warm hugs and kisses, and the benefit of her wisdom, and to admire her grace and dignity as she faced the infirmities of old age.

I hold precious my many memories of my wife and me with her -- our Sunday brunches and walks, Christmas Eves and Mother’s Days and dinners at our house, Thanksgivings, her birthday parties, our conversations on the phone. Daisy’s company always was a privilege and a pleasure. Everyone here knows what I mean.

One day last month, we drove Daisy to East Matunuck Beach.

A cold wind was blowing. No one else was around. Daisy was bundled warmly in scarf and coat and we helped her up the pavilion ramp, where she could face beautiful Block Island Sound. The sun lit up the waves and the surf pounded -- and but for the cold, you could picture endless summer. Daisy sat on her walker, taking everything in. I remember the smile on her face. I remember the glow of her presence. I imagined that beneath her sunglasses, her eyes sparkled. I imagined that the ocean, which she loved, brought back important memories.

When we asked if she wanted to leave because it was so windy and cold, she said “just a few more minutes,” as if knowing it would be her final visit to the sea. In her wisdom, I believe she did.

My wife would like me to read an article Daisy gave her many years ago that expresses the way she felt toward her children.

“I have faith in you because I have faith in God in you. I do not pray for you to be better than you are; I pray for you to be as good as you are. I pray for you to express your true self.

“I do not pray for you to be happy in the way I think your happiness lies. I pray for you to follow your indwelling light, which always leads to fulfillment and happiness.

“I do not pray for you to be free from responsibilities. I pray for you to be free from worry and anxiety -- to be the fearless, wise, confident, capable being that you are in Spirit.

“I do not pray for you to conform to my idea of success and achievement, I pray for you to express and expand your god-given abilities and talents in your own unique and wonderful way.

“I pray for you, knowing that you are beloved of God. I bless you without reservation. I love you as God loves you.”

Godspeed, Daisy. We will love and cherish you always.