Monday, February 14, 2011

A Friend's Funeral

Over the weekend, I attended a friend's funeral.  Jean's death was sudden and tragic - after a long battle with cancer, she appeared to be in remission.  The last time I saw her for dinner over the Christmas holidays, she was laughing and quaffing wine and showing off her new shawl.  She told me about her most recent trip to Argentina where she'd bought five pairs of boots (she had extremely long, narrow feet and usually had to get boots custom made, she said, but Argentinian women had her kind of feet).

A woman who fears being on the cusp of death doesn't buy five pairs of boots, I thought at the time, with a sigh of relief. 

At her funeral, I found myself thinking about those unworn boots and how naive my assumption had been.  Her show of living life to the fullest and carrying on in her delightfully showy manner was a means of trying to put others at ease, as she always did.

Before the eulogy, her best friend - also named Jean - read Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman."

I came home from the funeral and stared at my bookshelf for a long time.  I pulled out a book that Jean had given me a couple years ago, My Maasai Life.  Tears filled my eyes as I realized I'd never even bothered to read it and now I never would be able to read it and discuss it with her.  It was a memoir written by her friend whom she'd met while doing volunteer work for Free The Children.

Jean, see you back in Kenya one day??! read the handwritten note above the author's signature.  (Had she  meant to give me her own copy?  Perhaps she'd only been lending it to me and I'd misunderstood?)

Last year, when I'd told her I was writing my own memoir I recalled how excited she'd been, and a couple years before that, I recalled how supportive she'd been when I told her I was leaving academia to do my own writing.  "So creative writing's your passion," she'd said somewhat quizzically (an Iowa farm girl by birth, and an entre preneur at heart, she was amazed by how little pay writers will work for). 

I could write more about Jean, for she certainly continues on in my imagination - her candid advice on men, her funny stories about travelling home and running into her old high school boyfriends, her incredible ability to draw others out and make an impression.  Maybe one day I will write more about her.  But right now writing more would be too sad.  


Naomi said...

What a lovely remembrance of your friend from Iowa! She must have been interested in your having attended Brown University in her homeland. She sounds like a great role model, a woman who supported other women's dreams and accomplishments.

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

Yes, Jean was great! (How it saddens me to use the past tense to describe her). Not only was she a strong role model, she was also a truly unique, idiosyncratic woman who never held back on what she was thinking or feeling....

B.H. said...

I'm sorry you lost her.


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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.