This is part two in a three-part series about the gifts others are in our lives. To read part one, click here. This part, part two, is a letter Sonja wrote to her family after Ruby’s memorial service (with some minor changes made for clarity by the editor).
Things I didn’t say at the memorial…
Let me preface my thoughts by telling you how wonderful it was to see you all again at the memorial. I treasure the opportunity to once again embrace you and see your faces. You are the family of my childhood and I cherish the memories. Thank you for sharing your life with me. The older I get, the more I am reminded of the wisdom of making sure you keep people in your life who remember you when you were young.
I have heard it said that when you share your thoughts and memories of another person, it is really yourself you are describing, not the other person. I have found this to be true. People reveal their own capacity to experience another person when they attempt to describe that person. What they’ve told you is what they comprehended when they shared a few fleeting moments of that person’s total existence. It’s a way of saying “This is who you are to me!”
It’s also been said “a prophet is unknown in his own country” (Mark 6:4, paraphrased). Perhaps in a similar way, we tend to take for granted the people who are so close to us. We may not really come to value or appreciate the little things that express the person’s character and personality. We have so much history with them that they have simply become part of the story of our lives where we are the central figure. Like an intricate pattern on a tapestry, we may tend to look at the side where all the knots and frayed ends are displayed and not take the time to enjoy the magnificent pattern on the other side.
Had I been around Ruby my whole life, I might have been tempted to limit my awareness of her. Although Ruby was in my life over a period of about 20 years, it was generally only for a few days at a time. As I’ve grown and matured, I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on how my values and perceptions have been influenced by the things I learned from her. Not that she sat down to teach me, but what I learned from the things I observed when I was in her presence.
Perhaps there was little in her life that the world would find noteworthy. She may not be acclaimed as having accomplished any earth-shattering deeds, but Ruby possessed a unique gift for deeply appreciating others and reflecting back the value she saw there. I am reminded of an article I read may years ago where the writer was reflecting on two famous people he had interviewed for magazine articles. He said “I interviewed Sir Lawrence Olivier and came away completely astounded by what a magnificent person he is.” Then he said, “I interviewed Maurice Chevalier and came away completely astounded by what a magnificent person I am.” Ruby had that same ability to make another feel as though he or she was a special person. She could see the person I was becoming, regardless of how mundane my life might seem to me.
My career has evolved over time and is currently in the field of organizational development of large companies, i.e., tracking the demographics of that system and how it all interacts. The current popular view invites us to think of large companies as complex systems where each individual contributes to the broader culture and health of that system. As part of that learning, students are required to look at our own family culture and understand how each person in it contributes to the learning and development of their own life and, ultimately, to the whole family system (culture).
As I began to more fully understand the influences that taught me and shaped me as a person, I realized that I developed largely because of the things I learned from Ruby. After my father (her stepfather) passed away, I never had a connection with her. Over the years, I increasingly felt a longing to find Ruby so I could share with her my awareness of how much she contributed to my life. I recognized I had been telling people for years about the marvelous role model she was for me and I wanted her to know — from my own words — about all the ways she enriched my life. I wanted her to know I truly understood and valued the seeds of wisdom she planted in my heart. I didn’t want her to depart this life without realizing that I “got it.”
I “got it” that I had been influenced by an amazing woman — one of the most precious gifts in my life! She possessed an incredible spirit! I “got it” that she was one of the most curious and teachable people I’d ever known. She had a passion for sharing each new discovery with anyone who was willing to listen. It makes me feel good about myself to know that I “got it”!
I am filled with gratitude that I was blessed to share a significant part of the five years that immediately preceded Ruby’s journey through the veil. For the last three years of her life, I called her on the phone nearly every day in the early morning hours. She didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the physical limitations she was experiencing, although I knew of what was happening to her emotionally and physically. I also understand what it was doing to her spiritually. She never wavered in her unshakable faith in her God and gratitude for the gift of His Son. She was in the company of angels every day.
I spoke with her about her personal struggle with being so vulnerable — a word that did not flow easily from her lips. Although she was acutely aware of this increasing physical vulnerability, she didn’t feel sorry for herself. She was too busy feeling love and gratitude for all that surrounded her. She had joy in her heart and laughter on her lips. She literally could find humor in any situation around her. Mostly she could laugh at herself and often reflected that “what didn’t kill you would make you stronger.” We often joked about how she had already “died” once so she was experienced at how to die. She believed she was given a few extra years to finish up something. She wasn’t sure what, but she knew it was really important.
There are two quotes from Neal A. Maxwell’s message “Enduring Well” that she beautifully demonstrated to me: “Drink from the bitter cup without becoming bitter” and “Rather than simply going through the trial, allow the trial to go through you” (quotes paraphrased).
The morning of the day she passed away, the last conversation I had with her on the phone was about love, hope, and faith. She expressed encouragement for the things that were happening in my life, telling me how lucky my grandchildren were to have a grammy like me.
Although she didn’t speak of dying, I knew she was ready. She had made her peace with God and she longed to embrace her beloved Jesus. Even though I couldn’t be there at the sacred portal of her passing, I know she was attended by happy, loving, and compassionate angels. She had fulfilled the measure of her creation and was eager to begin the next phase of her eternal journey. I can almost hear the excited voices cascading through the heavens as she broke through the veil: “Ruby Colleen is coming home!”
She departed this world not fully aware of how she would be remembered by her family. She realized she was a woman born before her time; truly an “explorer of this dispensation.” She started her own personal “women’s liberation movement” years before society ever guessed it needed one.
Yesterday at Ruby’s memorial, I spoke of the importance of telling your loved ones about the precious gift they are in your life. Yet there were many things that went unsaid, at least in my heart. When I shared with you that “I am a celebration of Ruby’s life,” I only scratched the surface of the gift she is to me.
This morning upon waking, my mind is flooded with the words that still long to be expressed to you. At the memorial service, I failed to tell you all that I experienced Ruby to be. Let me correct that omission now by sharing with you in this letter what I shared with Ruby during these last few years… Her “memorial.”
Sonja lives with her husband, Dale, on Anderson Island, Washington. She and her husband are Church Service Missionaries serving in the Addiction Recovery Program, focusing on pornography and sex addiction. She is also a certified life coach and teaches "Life Skills for Emotional Self-Mastery" in her stake twice a month. She does not teach you only to process something traumatic done to you in the past; rather, she helps you learn to feel it, heal it, and LET GO of whatever you still do to yourself and to others in order to cope with what was done to you in the past.