Tuesday, March 17, 2015

One More Blog and Then I Promise to Move on If Only Just a Bit

Had the choice been mine, i probably would have sent her off a bit more flamboyantly.

People have been incredibly kind to me over this latest hurdle in my life, which really wasn't about me but certainly impacted me in a huge way.  I saw someone --  in a hospital -- on a Saturday, and we laughed and joked about the latest  preposterous happenings in both of our lives. I tiptoed around the indignities related to the sick person's illness and treatments but  didn't totally avoid the topic, unpleasant as it may have been, as I knew the sick person I was visiting needed to vent and would share what she needed to share about the subject in order to maintain her sanity. I also had an academic  interest in her situation this time, as I had studied the very foundations of her illness and the treatments she was undergoing. 

I still don't have my cell phone back, but I've been promised it will reappear in the morning.

I knew she was really sick, because in today's world it isn't easy to procure a hospital bed for a day, and she'd been occupying one for five days. I stayed for as long as I could -- for about five hours in this particular case -- but eventually she started to drop in and out of sleep, and I knew I'd overstayed my welcome and it was  time for me to go. Both my brother and my sort-of boyfriend Jared dropped by for portions of this time.  A couple of our close friends, both of whom had visited recently, as their schools were much closer to her hospital than mine was, stopped by briefly. It was almost a party-like atmosphere.  Claire's parents used the time to shower, catch up on rest, and take care of other things. I wonder now if I robbed them of valuable final hours with Claire. I certainly hope they don't see it that way. And it was not as though anyone asked either of them to leave, anyway.

Those of you who didn't know Claire personally have probably already read enough about her to last more than one lifetime. I promise that after this, I'll cease and desist for the most part with the posts devoted exclusively to Claire and to my memories of her.  I'm sure memories of her will creep into other posts from time to time, but i'm not going to change the blog to "In memory of Claire" or any such thing. 

This last blog I will share, however, as it ended up serving as the framework for her eulogy. The entire funeral was a colossal case of one person being asked to do something and then deciding that he or she could not do it, and conning someone else into doing the particular task for him or her. Such was the case with the eulogy. Claire's parents had wanted her brother, Brad,  to deliver it. At the last moment he decided he couldn't handle it. My brother was sitting next to Brad during the service. Brad knows that Matthew has the ability to speak off the top of his head to some degree without appearing as a total fool. Brad handed his notes to Matthew. He told Matthew he'd go to the pulpit to explain the change in plans. 

I had anticipated that, with the way things had been going in terms of nothing going off as planned or assigned , something of this nature might have happened. I've always been Matthew's best speechwriter, so I took a manuscript - completed copy along with bullet points, as Matthew usually speaks best from bullet points, and handed it to Matthew. He scanned it and nodded at me as if to say it would work. 

I'll share the manuscript essentially as I wrote it.  It's not exactly as Matthew delivered it, although I've written in a few of the additions and changes he made as I remember them

The Eulogy

It would be nice to begin this address with a light-hearted joke to break up the mood and put everyone at ease, but that's not going to happen here. I don't know how to take what has just happened and turn it into something about which we can all have a good laugh and then feel better.  A girl who should had her entire life ahead of her is no longer with us today, and the only emotion I can feel is one of almost indescribable sadness. Please forgive me if I dispense with the ice-breaker joke that would have put at all at ease. I for one am not at ease. I'm afraid I'll say something that might make things worse than they already are.

Still, in addition to all the religious rites and the kind remarks Father Harguindeguy has shared, and in addition to the religious nature of the ceremony, it's important that we devote time and thoughts to the the very real person who was  Claire as most of us knew her. We all knew her in different ways and have different memories of her. I'll share a bit of what Brad, my sister, and I remember as being the most salient memories of our memories of her and the essence of what it was that made Claire the truly unique individual she was.

I met Claire only briefly when she and my sister were enrolled in a gymnastics program. We presumably knew the family to some degree before, as they are relatives of relatives of relatives, or something like that. my sister could explain the exact almost-relationship, but she's not going to speak, and it's not all that  important anyway. What I remember most about those days was that brad and I were incredibly bored at the gymnastics competitions and found things to do to amuse ourselves at these competitions that had absolutely nothing to do with gymnastics. What I'm told about Claire as a gymnast was that - despite being the skinny little twerp that she was, she excelled at the strength events - the uneven parallel bars and the vaults.  In that regard, she was the one-hundred-eighty-degree opposite of my sister, whose strengths were the floor exercise and balance beams. The girls looked enough alike at the time - Claire was a bit taller and maybe slightly less thin, but if the two were not standing side-by-side, the difference was far from obvious. Their facial features differed a bit, but not enough at that age to be all that noticeable. The two of them could have passed as twins for more easily than Alexis and i did, and we actually are twins. I remember my mom saying that the coach joked that they could probably keep the two separated at all times and pass them off as a single gymnast, with each one doing the events at which she excelled. As far as I know, they never actually tried this stunt of pretending to be the same person, but then again, there's a lot the two of them did that neither I nor anyone else knew about. Some of those medals they both won might have been collaborative efforts. 

Claire possessed a degree of straightforwardness -- brutal honesty might more accurately describe it --   that cut right through any decorum. I'm told that when she was small, she was blunt to the point of being rude. When I knew her , such was no longer exactly the case, but still, she didn't mince any words to spare anyone's feelings. If someone didn't want to know what she really thought, they'd best not ask her. I recall a physics teacher asking the class's opinion of his mustache he had recently been trying to grow.  The rest of us squirmed uncomfortably on our lab stools. Claire told him that, in her opinion, it looked as though a centipede had been glued to his upper lip.

Both Claire and my sister stopped gymnastics for different reasons -- I won't go into the details at this time -- ask Alexis later if you really want to know -- but by then, we had moved to a house that backed up directly to Claire's family's home. At that time Claire  and Alexis were in different grades, but outside of class time, the two were virtually inseparable. (Alexis and I skipped seventh grade, so we were later all three in the same grade level.) Our families were close then and continue to be. I can remember my mom sending Alexis out the back door and across the fence to borrow baking soda or some other such ingredient. An hour or so later, my mom would have to drag Alexis off Claire's trampoline, or would give up and just get the baking soda herself.  

Brad was two years older than I was, but we were close pals as well. Laurel, the youngest of the children, probably felt left out because she didn't have a Rousseau of her own, but Claire and Alexis were good about including her in many of their activities.

By looking at Claire, a person might have included that she was a fairly average and conventional person, but not much could have been further from the truth. She had a greater interest in bugs and spiders than did any little girl that I ever knew. This interest carried into her young adult life. Despite having to take time off to receive treatment for her lymphoma, she was slated to graduate right on schedule with a bachelor of science degree in entomology this spring.

Her interest in Kingdom Animalia did not extend itself to rodents, though. Her brother Brad and I spent hours tormenting both her and my own sister with rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, gophers -- just about anything we could get our hands on. Between the two of them, I'm not sure who was the bigger rodent-a-phobe, It was a war we never should have started, though,as the two of them were both much smarter and in possession of much more devious minds than Brad and I ever had, and we paid dearly for any prank we pulled for the purpose of scaring the two of them.

The time I remember most  that they got even with us was a time when Brad had a driver's permit but no license, and thus didn't have permission to use his mom's car while his parents were out for the day in Brad's father's car, and couldn't have driven legally without a licensed driver accompany him. Teenage boys  rarely know their limits where driving is concerned, though. and Brad certainly didn't. We had driven all over our small town, taking care to avoid major streets when we might be stopped by law enforcement. We left the car parked outside another friend's house and were waiting for him to join us in our joy-riding escapade. we planned a tip up road winding along the delta.

I'm not sure which girl was more responsible for the prank.  I have to assume Claire was the driver, as Alexis, even once she had a permit and could drive legally with supervision, was a horrid driver, and she knew her limitations. I can't see Alexis having gotten behind the wheel of anyone's car before she had her license, much less prior to possessing a  permit. Claire was a bit more confident and daring -- and competent -- in that regard, though. 

While Brad had left the car parked in front of a friend's house as we waited for him to change into what he thought was appropriate attire for our day on the delta, the car mysteriously disappeared. When the car was eventually found -- with information provided by Claire and Alexis,  in an area of the university campus near the pool area that would be locked behind an electronic gate from late Saturday afternoon after a water polo game, and might very easily have remained there until the following Monday morning, I assumed, the girls had found another key. (I learned later that the girls very quickly and adeptly hot-wired the car in broad daylight on a city street. Never underestimate the technical know-how of a woman or --even more -- of two of them.)  We emerged from our other friend's house to find no car parked beside the curb, and didn't know where to begin to look for it.  We didn't want to report the car as stolen, as the police report  would have clearly noted from where the car had been taken, and no one had Brad's parents' permission to removed the car from the garage. When we ended up on foot  at my  house, the girls were practicing a Scarlatti string piece on their respective instruments -- Alexis was a violinist while Claire was a cellist -- and quite a talented one, I might add. 

The girls appeared absorbed in their practice -- perhaps a bit too absorbed.  Eventually we determined they had to know more than they were letting on. We threatened, bargained, and bribed until they sent us off on a wild goose chase, eventually leading to a car locked behind an electronic gate.

Claire and Alexis agreed to help -- for a price. Both girls were divers -- former gymnasts often make good divers -- and had paid enough attention to know their own coach's code to the gate because from time to time they liked to get into the diving pool to practice when no practice was scheduled. For a negotiated fee of forty dollars each, Claire and Alexis plugged in the code and opened the aquatic area gate so that we could drive our car out and home safely within minutes of the time Brad's parents returned. The girls used their earnings to go to dinner and to the movie that we had planned to see that night, while we sat at home, essentially penniless.  

Many of you know of the stories of Claire and Alexis successfully simulating an earthquake in a shaky upstairs classroom at our high school, or about the time she and Alexis took a teacher's substitute lesson plans and substituted them with plans they had written themselves -- very different plans, I might add, than the teacher had originally written. In the note from the "substitute" to the teacher, Claire and Alexis indicated that all the worksheets assigned that day had been sent home with students as study guides. I don't think the teacher was every any the wiser. Claire would tell you that in, part, such was the case because the man didn't have  any particular wisdom in the first place.

Once when the school was undergoing its accreditation process, donuts and coffee had been provided for the accreditation committee. Claire and Alexis graciously left the coffee for the administrators and the accreditation committee, but took the large box of donuts to their first-period class and distributed them. Claire's rationale was that not only was it not wrong to have taken the donuts, but to have left the donuts would in and of itself  have been morally bereft. Bribing an accreditation committee was an act of corruption, Claire insisted as the box of the donuts made its way around Claire's and Alexis' first-period class.

While Claire could be mischievous almost to the point of being ruthless, she had a very kind side to her as well. Academics came very easily to her. She frequently took mercy upon classmates to whom the work did not come quite so easily. She used her knowledge and skill to make complex material more understandable to classmates -- may of them older than she was. She wrote quite a few research papers that she didn't turn in, and for most of those papers, she charged nothing. I realize that I'm speaking in a church, and extolling the virtues of someone who helped others to cheat their way through academia may be seen as less than appropriate to some than to others, but I believe that Claire's heart was in the right place when she helped others to pass classes they desperately needed to pass.

Claire was almost always on the side of the underdog. Neither she nor my sister, while not total social pariahs,  would have been considered "cool" in high school, and occasionally bore the brunt of teasing for being different because of their intelligence, though both she and my sister knew how to use words effectively enough that most of those who might have picked on them were afraid of the humiliation Claire's or my sister's words could have provided in response to any unsolicited bullying. Claire knew, however, that any teasing or bullying she endured was minimal compared to what others less fortunate had to tolerate on a daily basis, and was quick to come to the defense of others who  were victims in this regard. Any student was welcome at Claire's lunch table, including individuals with learning disabilities and sometimes even members of the "popular" group who found themselves temporarily on the outs with the rest of the popular group for whatever reason. Claire welcomed them with no questions asked. I would like to think that during these times, the temporarily exiled popular kids learned something, as in that they were not as different from the kids who didn't dress as well as tho most popular students and those who may have possessed learning disabilities as they might before have thought.

I didn't hang out at their table, at least in part because it might have seemed uncool for siblings to be in the same immediate social circle, though Alexis and I did move in different social circles, but my friends and I often stopped by their table for brief exchanges -- usually somewhat insulting in nature, but -and I certainly hope Claire knew this -- always in jest. And I always directed my insults at Claire and at my sister, rather than at any less fortunate souls seated with them. I hope Claire understood it was my way of acknowledging them, as there was never anything mean-spirited in anything I had to say either to Claire or to my sister.

When my sister experienced some social difficulty at school, first because a boy off a prom date with her by announcing it to the crowd at large in the cafeteria, and later when Alexis was physically attacked by another student in retaliation for claiming original authorship for a paper the other student had stolen from a teacher's file cabinet containing copies of "A" papers, no one had my sister's back to the degree to which Claire did. When, following the attack, the football team initially sat in the tables immediately surrounding Alexis, further intimidating Alexis, Claire was quick to investigate and to discover that the football players were seated where they were for Alexis' protection. The thief of the paper had been a football player (whose association with the team was ended immediately following his attack upon Alexis). The football coach had told the team that every member of the team would pay in a major way if Alexis were to suffer any further retaliation. the team decided it could best keep that from happening by sitting near enough to Alexis to prevent anything further happening to her. Still, it was Claire who was willing to take on several male athletes in excess of two hundred pound in order to find out what was happening on Alexis' behalf.

Claire was the one who created and gave to my sister the dartboard with the picture of the boy who broke off his prom date with her because of her having been confined to the wheelchair -- an act which ultimately led to the "excommunication" of our family from the Toman Catholic church. The "excommunicarion" was soon cleared up by another more understanding priest. 

Some of you might also remember that i was invited by a girl three years older than I to the prom, reportedly because she wanted to get me drunk and conceive a child with me. When my sister could no longer go to the prom because of injuries sustained in her track and field accident. Claire served as my and my date's chaperon at the prom.  The only way any child could have been conceived that night would have been had the sperm been able to jump through my clothing, then a  full twelve inches before making its way into the intended mother's clothing. Claire took her chaperoning duties that seriously.

Claire loved her family -- her parents, grandparents , and siblings -- dearly. Her family wasn't much different than most of ours in terms of inevitable conflict, but there was never any question of the love she felt for all of them. 

Claire loved Jesus. Many aspect of religion she had yet to work out in her own mind, but her love for the Baby Jesus and for the grown-up jesus who died on the cross for our sins were not part of any doubts she may have had.

Claire was known in the high school orchestra for stopping the group because the intonation was off. The slightest deviation from standard pitch drove her to distraction. 

Claire was not overly obsessed with neatness. She liked having a  clean house, I've been told, but didn't have similar standards for the state of her bedroom. Before she wore them, her clothes were hung neatly in a closet, or put away carefully in a drawer. Once she had worn them, however, she saw no need for putting her clothes away neatly, nor did she have  any use for laundry hampers when she had an entire floor of her bedroom onto which to throw previously worn clothing.

Claire loved the outdoors -- particularly the mountains. What she didn't love was camping. She read once that TV chef Bobby Flay's wife Stephanie march, also known as  Law & Order SVU's ADA Alex Cabot, had actually put into her wedding vows that she would never go camping. Claire planned to have the same thing written into the vows her wedding someday. Hiking through the wilderness, fording streams, reaching summits -- all of these  were things about which Claire was passionate. At the end of the day, however, if she couldn't have the comfort of her own shower and bed, she wanted the comfort of a four-star hotel at the very least.

Claire loved her pets and everyone else's  (dogs, cats, and rabbits, anyway; with anything more exotic, she preferred to keep her distance).  She had  several years  ago expressed a desire to be buried with the family's dog and cat.  At the time, non one really gave any thought to the idea that both would outlive her. she now lives in part through them. 

Claire thought babies were cute, but preferred to enjoy them from a distance. She didn't, she would tell anyone who tried to hand her a baby, enjoy being drooled on.  She took more pleasure in children who were old enough to control their swallowing reflexes and who knew how and when to use the bathroom more or less independently. Children liked Claire as well. She had a way of communicating with them on their level without talking down to them. I remember once hearing her discuss global warming with a three-year-old. The child was one I knew, and I wouldn't classify him as being of unusual intelligence, yet the conversation was almost adult in nature. Perhaps Claire would have ended up in the field of education.

Most of us can only guess as to what Claire might ultimately have made of herself. She planned to pursue a master's degree in zoology, with an emphasis in animal behavior. Beyond that, she hadn't decided in what direction she wanted to go. Her cognitive ability would have allowed her to study whatever she wanted, and presumably wherever she wanted to study it.  Watching to see what education she ultimately pursued and what she did with it would have been fascinating. 

The Church has its ideas about where Claire is right now. Some of those present may have different ideas. All I can really add is that, wherever else she may be, I believe she is here with us as well.  I believe she's present whenever someone requests that a group of musicians tune their instruments more precisely. I suspect she's there whenever anyone reminds a child to cover his mouth and nose when he sneezes. I suspect she is near any freshly melted snow forming a mountain stream, and also at the nearest four-star hotel. Wherever a cello is being played well, Claire is probably not far away, particularly if the work being  played was composed by Bach.  Claire is with kittens and puppies. 

Claire is wherever she is, but she's also in the hearts of all of us who have ever loved her.

Rest in peace, Claire, and rest in our hearts and minds and souls.
I was wrong when i said the other picture was our last. this would have been taken in January, right after I lost braces and before she lost any hair.


  1. What a beautiful eulogy. Claire was obviously much loved.

  2. Thank you for letting us get to know Claire.Remember that even though we are hidden friends,and a great distance, we still feel part of your life.

  3. Lovely. So glad he included the earthquake story.

  4. Memories may not always be enough, however you have had some great ones with Claire. Do not feel badly for sharing. It is through your memories that she lives on.

  5. You really were sisters, weren't you?

    1. I guess Claire was the closest thing I ever had to a sister.