Eulogy for Lani Lisa

Lani Lisa Lawrence was an old friend and one of the people who followed my blog. I planned to visit her in Tacoma when I visited Seattle in late May, but she died suddenly a week before I arrived. Though I knew she was terminally ill, we all thought she would have more time.

Lani Lisa was both fire and water. Her personality was Celtic fire, and her boundless energy consumed everyone around her. It was no surprise that she would become a beautiful fire dancer after she found her long time home in Tacoma, Washington. Lani Lisa was also a water dancer of sorts, skilled with whitewater rafts in the red rock desert and later as a bay keeper on her beloved Puget Sound. I am honored to have had her life touch mine and to have had my young children look up to her like family all those years ago.

Me and Lani Lisa at her home in Tacoma in 2012

Before Lani Lisa’s heart settled on green Washington, she was an itinerant in Utah and western Colorado. The sandstone canyon country was where we met her, when she and my husband, Joseph, worked as park rangers together at Colorado National Monument. They were instantly like brother and sister. She kept a photo of the two of them in full U.S. National Park Service uniforms at her little urban farmhouse in Tacoma. There was little else in her house from her years in the canyon country, prompting her many Tacoma friends to dub Joseph “The Mystery Ranger.” When we visited her in Washington, it was clear how well her life in the nurturing rain suited her and how much she had become a part of the community in Tacoma. When our daughter was in college a couple hours’ drive north in Bellingham, Lani Lisa invited her down for Thanksgiving dinners and showed her the fiery art of glass blowing. Lani Lisa welcomed our son and his wife when they came to visit. Her heart and home were always open to us.

When we met her and for years afterward, she went only by her middle name, Lisa, but an experience on the Big Island of Hawai’i prompted her to embrace her first name, Lani. She was drawn to Pele’s earth-fire in Kilauea, where a native Hawaiian told her Lani was a name of power, meaning “the heavens,” and she was given her name for a reason. She certainly was. The world will miss your power, Lani, and so will we.

What I Didn’t Get to Say at My Mom’s Funeral

Linda and MomOf her three children, I am probably most like her. I’m proud to be hers, proud to be like her, proud of the spun silver hair I inherited from her, proud of the big, warm heart that I got from her that many people can’t see in me. I am proud to have attended her funeral and honor her even though I was not acknowledged during the service as one of hers. Neither were her grandchildren or my sister, Julie. Mom would have acknowledged us if she could, if only with a squeeze of her small, gnarled hand.

Mom nurtured me, valued me, embraced me even when she didn’t really understand the unconventional thing that was her middle child. She was the last of my protectors, and now she is gone. The whole world is diminished, and it hardly realizes it. I miss her deeply.

Mom taught me how to sew, what a selvage is, and a bolt, and a seam. She stitched her love into my childhood shirts and shorts and dresses. She stitched love into my children’s beautiful costumes every Halloween when they were little. These costumes held such love and creative power that her granddaughter became a costume designer, and her grandson became a builder of worlds.

Mom taught me how to cook and how the power of food, lovingly prepared, could care for people and heal them. She taught me how to wrap hamburger in a ring of bacon and make it as wonderful as any filet mignon. We, her children, dubbed these little creations “gorilla ears.” It made her smile. On rare occasions, her steaks were tough, and my brother would pretend his steak knife was a chain saw. She laughed right along with him. I laughed too — he was and still is really funny — but I remember also feeling a little bit sad because I could sense what was underneath that tough steak.

When Mom patiently showed me embroidery stitches — lazy daisies, backstitches, French knots — she encouraged me to turn each piece over. You want the back to look as neat as the front, she’d say. Even though nobody can see the back, you’d know that there was a knotted mess back there, and you wouldn’t want that. She taught me that the underneath matters. I’ve been able to see it ever since, often to my peril. I later realized, with children of my own, how much of her went into those dinners, even when the steaks were tough.

I knew that before she met my Dad, she played the piano and composed award-winning poetry in high school. I never got to read any of her poems because she didn’t think enough of them to keep them, but I did get to cherish the little notes she’d send in my lunchboxes and inside greeting cards after I had moved far away. The curve of her handwriting was full of love.

Mom had an eye for good art. She came from poverty but was more cultured than those who were bred to it. I treasure memories of her and me at the Denver Art Museum, discussing French Impressionists, what she liked about certain pieces, what was just too weird. I am no Picasso, but I offered her a choice of my oil paintings once, and a little grin broke out on her face as she chose what we both knew was the best one.

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She was musical and literary and creative and brilliant, but she was content to defer to the light of lesser people. She was content to let them take the stage and the credit, content to cover her light with the proverbial bushel basket. Because I could see underneath, I could see that light. I would have been nothing but another arrogant narcissist without her. She made me into a human being. She gets all the credit.

Her light was bright like a supernova, but it never burned because she never shoved it at anyone, never allowed it to blaze except through the slats of that bushel basket. I didn’t always let her know that I saw her light. If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t show her often enough how precious she was and how much I recognized and valued her.

There was a fierceness to her that can only be called purely Irish. Growing up, we all believed that there was a streak of English blood in her father, from whom she inherited the Mudd name. But when her sister discovered in a search for ancestry that every drop of Mom’s blood was Irish, I was not surprised, and neither was she. At her funeral, I wore a pin she gave me years ago: Erin Go Bragh! (Long Live Ireland!). Few knew it was there.

Mom once told me that she could see what her soul looked like. It was a small, clean little room, simple and well swept, bright and quiet and well cared for. My first painting was of such a room. It hung in her house for a long time. When she died, I didn’t have the heart to keep it.

Linda's painting (first good painting)

Mom knew how to love people, not in spite of their flaws but because of them. If she liked someone, she was warm like a cup of hot cocoa. If she didn’t, she could be colder than space. She was never loud about it, never obvious, but if you were spaced, you knew it. Mom was a Grand Master of passive aggression.

She was tiny and beautiful and held a universe of marvelous, hidden things inside her. She deserved a host of angels singing at her funeral, the best choir in the world, a crowd of thousands grieving her loss. But she would have been content with the single, beautiful voice and piano, and the COVID-exhausted priest’s simple prayers and eulogies that she had.

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The Old Red Bike

This year for my birthday, my husband, Joseph, reunited me with an old friend. I’d been wanting to ride my bicycle to work, but the years had deteriorated it to the point I couldn’t ride it anymore. Instead of finding a new bike, Joseph had my old friend restored, and he gave me a lot more than just a way to work.

Joseph understands that there are memories in my old red bike’s chrome-moly frame. It was made before most people knew what mountain bikes were, before these machines had titanium stems or shock absorbers, before my young dreams of adventure in mountains, deserts, and forests turned into old memory.

Some of my memories are still on its fire-engine-red frame, so Joseph asked that the frame not be repainted.

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He understands that I still love the sticker from Alamosa Schwinn Cyclery because it takes me right back to the frigid February day in 1984 when we newlyweds spent everything we had to order these wondrous new “Rockhoppers.” Some of the rusted little pits in the paint must have come from rides in the South San Juan Mountains, where I collected samples of the flora of Colorado for my early botany classes at Adams State College. Some must have come from the gravel roads of the San Luis Valley.

Some of the pits, too, must have come from pebbles and sand at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. We arrived early in the spring of the bike’s first year and asked the park ranger on duty where we could ride. He asked to see the Rockhoppers because he’d heard of them, and he admired them as he told us that the best place would probably be the four-wheel-drive roads at the park. Who could have guessed that the Canyonlands would soon become one of the great mountain bike meccas in the United States?

Joseph knows I love the California licenses adorning the frame below the Schwinn sticker because they are memories of California. There, I studied botany in grad school at the University, and I rode my red bike all over the Berkeley Hills and beyond. During those years, we had no car, so I even rode the red bike to the grocery store.

Joseph remembers how I pedaled this bike all over trails in California until I became too big with our first child and had to switch to hiking instead. He remembers how we mounted a baby seat on the back so I could take that little child, Kerry Joseph, riding. We explored trails along the Missouri River in South Dakota until I grew heavy with our second child, Lorien Rose. Not long after, back in Colorado, she was the little one on the back of my old red bike while Kerry rode alongside.

I rode to work at a plant nursery when the children were small and to my job as an ecologist as they grew older. I rode in the desert, in places with names like “Rustler’s Loop” and “Widowmaker” and sometimes in the mountains through groves of pine and aspen. This bike saw some wildflower-filled miles near the black bears and coyotes in the Ponderosa forests near our home northern New Mexico, where I tried — and failed — in a career as a schoolteacher.

These days, I need to be reminded to surround myself with the things I love. I need to remember that more adventures are possible. Joseph understands. This is why he restored my old red bike for me, taking care not to paint over any memories in the process.

 

A Wedding and a Dash

Tomorrow morning, my son, Kerry Joseph, is getting married to the love of his life, Katelyn. We love them both so much and wish them well!!! For those who have never met Kerry, I will tell a brief story that says much about him. The other day, he told me that he wants to get a tattoo of a dash (one of these: – ) . When I asked him why, he said that his tombstone will likely read, 1990 – xxxx (date unknown), and the ONLY important part about this is the dash. The dash is important because it represents everything that happens in between. The here and now. The life to live. And tomorrow morning, he and Katie will embrace that life. They will share their strong love with all of us in one of the most beautiful places on Planet Earth. I feel privileged to be able to witness it. Maybe I want to get a dash too …

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