The final week before winter break brought two memorial services for me. The first, for my 99-year-old great uncle, led to thoughts about all the things his eyes had seen since 1910 and all the stories that were trapped in his mind that had really stopped working a year or so before.
It wasn’t a really solemn affair, but truly a celebration of long-lived life.
But the second was different.
It was for 39-year-old co-worker Koran Salem Trombley, who died Feb. 16 during an operation to help her continue her long battle with cancer.
Although dubbed a celebration of life, I guess I have mixed emotions abut that title for the gathering in her name in the new Campus Center.
One by one, colleagues, friends and family members walked somberly to the podium and spoke about this amazing woman’s ability to make everyone better and happy around her. They talked about her big bright eyes, her wide smile, her love of dancing and PHISH and her genuinely kind spirit.
As they spoke, everyone cried.
Her former professors told of how the 2005 graduate made every class that she was in better for every student in there. Her sister told stories about their childhood and donned a feather boa that Koran had given her as a funny tool to cope with the struggles of parenthood.
“A feather boa helps everything,” she said, quoting her sister. “And she was right.”
Then there was the student singer, Brittany Colburn, who passionately played and sang “I Hope you dance” in tribute to Salem’s propensity to break out into dance at any given moment.
As she sang, everyone cried.
And when her 10-year-old daughter Kyra walked to the podium and struggled through sobs to tell the estimated 400 people packing the room about the day her mom died, we cried harder.
She recalled how her mom told her that morning that she’d see her after the operation was over — only to be told later that day from family members that the operation didn’t go as planned and that her mom had passed.
The brave little girl told us how people keep telling her to cry it out and she said she planned to do just that until she sees her mother again.
I guess it was at that point I struggled with this whole celebration of life thing. No little girl should have to start living life without her mother at age 10. And seeing one of her two older brothers sobbing throughout the ceremony made me struggle with the concept even more.
The ceremony was perhaps the saddest memorial I have ever attended, and the only celebrating I wanted to do was to have a couple of beers to numb up a bit.
I don’t really even feel qualified to write about Koran because so many people knew her better than I. But there are some people you just know are good and kind as soon as you meet them. She was one of them.
I guess maybe that kindness and vibrant spirit is simply needed more someplace other than on this earth, although convincing everyone in that room that Friday would be difficult.
But wherever that may be, wherever she is now, rest assured it’s a better place already.