Inner City Diary
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Our friend's funeral a celebration of life
November 7, 2004
As the music played prior to the start of the memorial service, several large video screens displayed a slideshow focused on the woman who brought us together.

We saw her once more -- smiling, hamming it up with family and friends, goofing around in costumes, dancing at a gospel concert.

Some people feel that you're not supposed to smile at a funeral. Make no mistake, I think all of the hundreds of people there shed some tears during the service -- myself included. But anyone who knew Lee also knew it would be OK to smile as we remembered our friend.  

The pastor commented that the shortness of her life didn't negate the fullness of her life. One of her friends echoed the sentiment of Irenaeus that, "The glory of God is a person fully alive."

Another remarked that Lee was a person who lived life "out loud." She expressed herself in a way which was remarkably unrestrained while still genuinely humble.

The service was held in Calvary Temple, and while there were a good number of church folk, there were also many from the community. I reflected on what type of person could cause the assembly of such a diverse group of people.

Some folks stand out in a crowd, and Lee was definitely an outstanding person. Those who met her were not inclined to forget her.

As an artist, many people were touched by her work. I sometimes struggle with a limited imagination and failing memory. But artists like Lee could take a scene and record not just the colours but the emotion of the moment on her canvas.

It was this same love of colour and keen awareness of her surroundings that blessed many of her friends. And it was her willingness to colour outside the lines, her artistic licence, that inspired countless others.

She took artistic licence with everything from her makeup, to her clothing or furniture -- bright and bold as her personality. Artistic licence was even applied to her faith which, in the eyes of some, strained the starched confines of religion. But anyone who met Lee quickly understood that faith was both the greatest gift she had received and the greatest she could offer others.

We laughed as an exercise instructor related Lee's artistic licence with aerobics -- one in which the music or instructor ceased to matter. What mattered was that she was moving as enthusiastically as her sandals and colourful frock would allow.

She loved singing. And loved it even more when she and her husband Bob were singing with others. Her daughters shared fond memories of those singalongs. A friend commented, "Even those who couldn't carry a tune were carried along by others."

There's a maturity of spirit which allows people freedom in expressing their joy -- not really giving a care if it's considered "cool" or "corny."

There's a vivid imagination that sees hope where others see only gloom. A world infused with colour, where the divine can be encountered in even the seemingly insignificant details of life.

I wasn't at all surprised when I heard that Lee had painted daisies on her garbage cans.

Whether by a bubbly smile, boisterous laugh, an encouraging word, or a poignant observation, there were many ways Lee spiced up any room she entered.

The memorial service progressed as many do. Songs were sung, scriptures were read, the preacher preached.

We shared in a defiant celebration of life and faith to counter the fatal blow of the cancer that took our friend. But the sickness that took her body can't steal our memories or destroy her legacy.

As one of her friends shared, "One of God's masterpieces is now a finished work of art."

Three of Lee's friends and both of her daughters shared their memories. I was especially touched by the testimony of her daughters. One lives in Florida, working in urban development while the other teaches a kindergarten class in Winnipeg. Both serving others.

Her husband, while not speaking during the service, visibly echoed the appreciative sentiments of others. Lee was more than a loving wife and faithful mom, but also a mentor and friend.

I walked home alone along Ellice Avenue after the service.

I walked past the shopping mall and restaurants. Past the bar. Past the drug house. Past the men's club and the pawn shops.

And I pondered the comment of the wise man -- "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart."
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929