On Monday, my friend Yevgenia died. She was wonderful. A year older than me and with a smile that could light up the whole planet. She was gracious, kind, well-organized, driven and recently we had talked about working together. She was a financial planner and she was going to refer clients to me. We had dropped out of touch for a month or two and I had just been thinking I needed to get back with her when I heard the news.
Her death was very unexpected and even though I thought I'd be okay, I found myself unable to stop crying at work the next day. I left early and took today off, too, since the funeral was in the middle of the day.
The funeral was beautiful and very, very sad. Yevgenia's simple wooden coffin was carried and set above her grave. The family stood and tore their clothing. The rabbi prayed and read Psalms. He spoke on her life and her willingness to live it fully. He said there were lessons to be learned from Yevgenia's life.
She had many serious struggles with her health throughout her life, but she didn't let that keep her from living. The rabbi spoke about her zeal for life and the way she exemplified gratitude in the way she lived. He told us that we should think of her example as we try to feel gratitude in the simple things we take for granted, like eating an apple. He suggested we thank God that despite all over which He has dominion, He has allowed us to be in the same place and time as this apple and enjoy the pleasure of eating it.
He told us to live in the present and keep moving forward. He said that despite what burned out comedians say, Judaism doesn't embrace the concept of guilt. He said that guilt is to morality what pain is to health; a sign that something needs to be fixed. We don't need to feel like we have to vacation in guilt--we need to fix what's wrong and move on.
Then he spoke about an act of true kindness. He said we don't often have the opportunity to do something for someone when they are completely incapable of paying us back in some way. He then offered us the opportunity to help cover Yevgenia's coffin with dirt when it was lowered into the grave. When I took my turn, I tried to shovel in the biggest load that I could because I wanted her to know how much of a difference she'd made in my life. I had known her since my first year of college. She was kind and generous, and felt like an automatic friend from the moment I met her. Every time I'd see her, she had a big smile on her face. She helped me through some difficult times. We reconnected at alumni weekend at Case last fall and spoke, e-mailed and met. She made me feel like I wasn't alone in trying to make a go of it, and in sharp contrast to my serious self doubt, she was consistently encouraging and made me feel like my success was inevitable.
Her funeral was held in a small cemetery. Every inch of the winding road that snaked through it was dedicated to parking for her funeral service, and by the time we arrived, we were diverted to park across the street, along with many others. There were at least 200 people there and given the short period between when she died and when her funeral was held, I know that was just a tiny fraction of the people that she inspired with her love, friendship, unconditional kindness and sharp mind. As I watched Brandon shovel a little more dirt into the grave after the service had ended, I felt a sudden surge of hope and I knew that while her body lay in the coffin below, her spirit lived on and her grieving family would see her again.
As much as Yevgenia's death impacted me, I know there were many people far closer to her. Her sweet husband, her family, her former roommates and her best friends. I feel like an interloper sharing my grief with theirs. But the lesson I learned from Yevgenia's life is that there is no contact so small that it can't make a great impact for good. Her implicit faith in me and her support as we exchanged infertility war stories meant the world to me, even though we only spent a few hours together in the past year. I am filled with gratitude for having known her and thank God for the knowledge that some day I will be able to tell her so face to face.