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Eulogy for Sue Weiland and The Meaning of Her Gift to Me

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As I shared in a recent post, I received a very humbling — no, it was more than that, I have to say it was life changing — I received the most profound e-mail of my life from Patrick Weiland just hours after the murder of his sister, Sue.

You know, they say if you touch one life in the course of your own lifetime, that's all you have to do to have meaning. Now I've been a "helping professional" for 25 years and was one of those teenagers who did all kinds of volunteer work through high school. I've led a service-oriented life and if you would have asked me if I thought I'd ever made a difference to someone my brain would have made me reply, "Yes." But I never really felt it before. Felt it in my bones. Felt it in my heart.

Patrick's line in his e-mail to me about how Sue fought to save her life, landing her assailant in critical condition even though she ultimately lost the battle (and I read the police reports and can assure you it was a truly brutal scene) — we'll never know if she did, in fact, fight so hard because of the conversation that was spurred by my article — that isn't the point for me. The point was that the conversation was had.

That connection that I want so badly for people to be able to make with each other, even when we don't understand each other and are driven half crazy by the choices we see each other making, that connection was made. One week later would have been too late.

The reality of it, and it doesn't get more real, hit me like a medicine ball in the chest and it is shaping everything I do now. For the first time in my life I feel the truth that what I do matters. What you do matters also. I'm just saying this went from my head to my heart and it's caused me to take myself much more seriously. Not that I am becoming a serious person. It's not a morose seriousness.

It's self respect.

I think for the first time in my life I understand on the deepest level what self respect really is. What self esteem really is. It's having reverence for one's own life. Having respect for one's gifts, for what one is adding to the world. It's feeling the fierce beauty of what it means to have just one fleeting life.

Life is not for the weak of heart. Love is not for the timid.

Patrick was gracious enough to send me the eulogy he wrote for his sister.

Just sit with that fact for a minute. Imagine having to write a eulogy – and deliver it – after the brutal murder of a loved one. And, of course, since her body is evidence, it will be a long time before her family is permitted to bury her.

Patrick's words are beautiful, touching, sometimes he even managed to make me laugh in the middle of all this pain their family is experiencing. I asked if I could share this with you and he generously granted his permission.

How are you? In case you’re confused, I’m the only brother of Sue; she was my little sister. Always will be. [The minister introduced me as Sue’s ‘favorite’ brother.]

Before I begin, I have to confess to traumatizing several complete strangers this past week who had innocently greeted me with, “Hi How are you today…” but it got me a free lunch and an upgrade. And I know Sue would have gotten a big chuckle out of that. So I hope I’m forgiven.

This is devastating news, a devastating loss. And so we gather to grieve together – to celebrate Sue’s life, remark on our good fortune for the time we had with her, and bask in her light. If you didn’t know her you must be thinking 'funeral clichés' —  ‘bask in her light’.

But seriously, the girl’s light was bright. Sunscreen bright.

And we grieve under the most trying circumstances for we know this is no ordinary loss. It’s profound not only because of the incredible person Sue was, but in the way she was taken from us.

There’s a saying I picked up a few years ago that Sue really liked, that resonated with her and it is this:

Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for people who’ve been there.

Which is why — after the week we’ve all had — I’m confident this room overflows with spirituality. For surely, we’ve been through hell. I believe Sue liked that phrase because her life was at times NOT an easy one. She struggled — at times mightily. At times she suffered I think more than was humanly bearable. And yet in her eyes and in her smile I could see her spirit was never diminished.

Oh, she was well aware that she lacked in the virtue of Grace; but she more than compensated to overflowing with the virtue of Charity. Am I right? My sister Sue was spiritual.

I know Sue believed in God because we talked about it. And saw how she practiced in her daily life the basic principal that is the core of all religion — that every person, no matter their place in society and despite their transgressions or past — that every person deserved equal respect. Every person.

I’d like to say I’m the same — but I’m not. You may have detected a little anger in me this past week. Some of it comes from my inability to understand some of the decisions Sue made precisely because I’m not as understanding a person as Sue was. Sue could have sympathy where I had none. And this made her not only vulnerable but difficult to protect.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an investigative journalist — which when you boil it down is this — I tell the stories when bad things happen to good people. It’s my job to ask why. And over the years that process has given me a unique view on the very best and the very worst of human behavior.

This scene here – the horrible events of this entire week – and indeed this grieving family is not unfamiliar to me. Seen it a hundred times. But not from this side. And never carrying the burden of this profound and agonizing personal loss. For me today, it’s like trying to navigate using a map that shows no elevation; I know where we’re headed, but I have no idea how high the mountains, or how low the valleys. In other words, it’s like being given just enough information to scare the hell out of you.

And you thinking, gee Patrick — thanks for sharing.

This is tough stuff. Even the words are scary. But we can’t be afraid to talk about this. We have received a terrible blow — may not yet quite even understand just how much yet. But as the hours and days stack up and put some distance with that horrible moment, we’ve discovered strength in ourselves we never knew was even possible. And we’ve witnessed incredible feats of strength in those around us.

If someone told you one week ago that you would endure what you have this week you’d have said, "Impossible" — there’s no way you would have made it to today. To this moment. Here. In the days and weeks and months to come you may have a moment where you feel you can’t handle the pain, that it’s too much. A moment where you think you can’t endure the pain or loss.

Remember today. This moment. This week. We’re stronger than we think. And we’ve all got a new angel on our side – she’s stubborn and a little loud – but our angel is stronger than hell. Sue is still taking care of us. And this is where I find hope; it’s here – in this room.

This service doesn’t mark the end, it marks the beginning. The start of our grief. The beginning of life without my Susie in the flesh and blood. And I don’t know how to live in that world; I didn’t want to be here. But I’m here. We’re here. And we are able to remember Sue. We got here because of the people in this room.

There is no way I can ever describe, much less repay, the support and love and compassion I’ve received. And I’ll make a deal with you — I’ll keep trying as long as you keep trying with me. And I invite you now for my entire family — please keep it coming in the weeks and months ahead. These are scary, awful subjects to bring up. When in doubt, drop in for a visit or call. Don’t be shy. As my mom said Sunday night, the worst has already happened to me; nothing anyone could ever say could be worse.

On behalf of my immediate and extended family I’d like to extend a sincere thanks to the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office as well as the Somerset Police Department and the Wisconsin Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. I, along with my Aunt Carol and friend Julie Kramer, spent some time with them; they’re doing a terrific job under difficult circumstances. Please support them; there is a marathon ahead, but justice will be done.

Justice will be served. Sue deserves that. And so we will wait. And grieve. And we will never forget. For we know God did not take our Sue; this was not God’s plan. But we pray for his guidance, his strength — for comfort.

And still we ask, why? Sue had an incredible tolerance for pain; and because her motorcycle crash at Sturgis is familiar to most of us in the room, I’ll use that to make my point. My sister Ann Marie was riding on the back – or as they say, ‘riding bitch’ on my father’s Harley. Sue – who for as long as I can remember was more than capable of handling a motorcycle on her own – was on a second Harley at the annual rally in the Black Hills when she laid down her heavy bike and slid it into a guard rail in order to prevent a much more serious crash.

She suffered a compound fracture — the bones snapped through. It was 45 minutes she said before ambulance crews reached them — and she got no pain medication until she reached the hospital at least two hours later. And throughout this her biggest concern wasn’t the unimaginable pain. Sue’s concern was for her father. She worried more about his feelings than her own.

And perhaps that explains her tolerance for pain. Her focus was always on someone else. On making their life a little better. Sue loved to ride, and most of all she loved riding with the Chief — with her dad. Sue was always her own woman. She loved and she cared and she was a part of many people. But she never belonged to anyone.

Sue never rode bitch.

People have said to me this week that Sue is in a better place, a peaceful place free of pain. And I’ve thought if she has gone to such a place she would surely leave it, to go somewhere less perfect, to someplace she could make a difference, where she could help make someone’s life a little bit better — someplace a little brighter. And it is in that imperfect place where Sue finds peace, because she creates peace.

Last week I was in Wisconsin visiting, and before I had left Los Angeles – for whatever reason I can’t explain – I had put into my briefcase a short article I had printed off the Internet months earlier. It was an article by a wellspring coach, and for whatever reason it touched me and I’d saved it. So Sue and me and my mom were sitting on her porch having coffee – a beautiful sunny morning – and it occurred to me to go get this article for Sue. And I asked her to read it right there, on the spot; very unusual for us.

So my mom and I sat silently as Sue read this article — and she was moved by it. I know this is probably the last thing Sue read. I have printed this for you and there are copies in the back of the sanctuary if you’d like to read it. You might have a hard time getting past the title of this — it’s “Life is Empty and Meaningless”; an odd choice, right? But the point of this is much deeper, and in fact, as in our case whether you agree with anything in here or not — it’s not important. It wasn’t for Sue and me and my mom.

I want to read a short section of what Sue and my Mom and I shared that morning:

We live in a world that is doing it's level best to keep us occupied so we forget about our choices and forget to live. (I mean, what would it do to the economy if we were actually content and fulfilled?)…. It's VERY easy to go on automatic pilot, filling our lives with all the clutter, the TV shows, the stuff we have to buy because it was on sale, the junk mail we stack up that clogs all kinds of space.

So why do we embrace clutter? (Yes, I said embrace.) I think it's because it protects us from the fact that life IS empty and meaningless. (Note: I didn't say YOUR life or MY life. I simply said LIFE.)

It keeps us safe from the responsibility of really living consciously and deliberately and making this trip worthwhile. We keep ourselves distant from ourselves and from each other with our busyness and stuff.

You used to be an empty vessel. So did I.

You, and I, have been filled to overflowing with many, many messages about what it takes to make it in the world. What we need, what we should want, what is appropriate, or not for our behavior, for our goals, for our needs, for our desires. It's VERY hard to clean that stuff out. I don't know how possible it is to clean it ALL out. Some of us have a hard enough time keeping the tops of our desk clean!

So, if my friend was right, and I tend, at this point, to think she was–if life is empty and meaningless–it is up to you to create something with the portion you have given.

Make sure that you exist. It matters.

What mattered to Sue and our mom and me was that it prompted five short but real minutes of talk about the big picture — about the stuff in life that really matters. It was one of those rare moments of conversation where you ‘get real’ and relate to each other, fully engaged without baggage or argument. We reaffirm to one another how important her life was to us, and how much we meant to her. I know those five minutes will comfort me forever.

Sue existed. Her life mattered. And to be honest, there were times I couldn’t understand the life Sue chose. My little sister and I lived very different lives — so dramatically different that if you were to describe basic facts about each of our lives to someone they would find it difficult to believe we were even related to each other. Yet anyone who saw the two of us together immediately could see that we were brother and sister.

I never questioned the bond I had with Sue. And I know she didn’t either; she never hesitated to end a phone call – even when we’ve argued – with ‘I love you.’ And indeed last Friday that was the circumstance and those the very words she last spoke to me after I’d returned to Los Angeles; “I love you, Pat.”

And there she gave me one last gift – one that will comfort me always – the opportunity to say back to her, “I love you too, Sue.”

That was how our parents raised us, and they did a terrific job. My mom and dad have always been there for us, and they continue to be. And they instilled in each of their kids unique traits. For me it was curiosity. For Sue, it was compassion and the love of the open road. Sue, like all of us, always knew she was loved. Being a middle child and Sue being the youngest, I would complain she was the most loved. But I think you can understand why I thought that. Because despite her stubborn, bullheadedness, Sue was easy to love. And now, it seems far too soon; our time together passed too quickly — it’s unfair to have to now say goodbye.

I had a sister — a cheerio.

French fry my baby sister.

I had a sister who loved the mountains, the streams, the lake. The trees.

I had a sister who cared for creature’s great and small, nursed and cuddled and loved.

I had a sister who loved me, who I loved in return.

I had a sister who was loud, who laughed, who was strong, yet so tender.

I had a sister who shared her spirit, who gave her light when it was dark.

Whose spirit could never be touched.

And her name was Sue — tootie. My tootie bear.

And I still have her spirit, always will; for it can never be extinguished.

And she will never be forgotten.

Sue, you will never be forgotten.

Your life mattered; it still does. It always will.

I will always carry you in my heart until my last day on this earth.

And I share Sue’s spirit with all of you – release her spirit – find comfort in her presence. Bask in her light. For she was never really ours alone. Sue would want that. Look for her on the open road.

I love you, Sue.

Your brother, Patrick

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About Laura Young