24 Feb The Worst Stuff of Life…Saying Farewell
My children and I all gathered in Cincinnati this past weekend to say goodbye to Willa Baldwin, who died of a heart attack on route to the hospital. In May we celebrated her 80th birthday. In February she was gone. Another goodbye. Another reminder that our Stuff of Life is fragile and unpredictable and precious.
Willa has known me since the day I was born nearly 54 years ago. She was a grandmother to my own children—a mother—a best friend—-and “a wise old bird.” That’s what she used to tell me.
I was honored to speak at her funeral—standing room only at Friendship Baptist Church. It didn’t matter if you were white or Jewish or Baptist or Buddhist or black —the power of our human spirit —all loved Willa and all joined in the power of prayer —-and the powerful soul of Gospel music that helped heal our broken hearts and celebrate the beautiful life of Willa Baldwin.
I wanted to share my words—and remind all of us to cherish the “good stuff.”
Eulogy for Willa Mae Baldwin
“The year was 1967. Location: 1207 Westminster Drive. I was five years old and went to morning kindergarten at Bond Hill Elementary School.
The best part about being five years old was coming home in time for lunch with Willa. I am pretty certain my mom had no idea what we were up to.
Willa must have known I was coming home for lunch because on those days she slid two bottles of Pepsi into the freezer in the morning—thawed them to slushy perfection just in time for our afternoon programs. That’s what she called them, ‘Our Programs.’ Channel 9—1 pm sharp. It was 1967—no DVR—1 pm meant 1 pm.
I curled up in those big loving arms—in those big loving “boobs” and we were on our magic soap opera carpet ride. Just the two of us and “As the World Turns.”
I was always very dramatic. We loved to act out the parts in the center of the kitchen. I loved the fake death bed hospital scenes. Willa preferred the steamy bedroom drama. And this is where our own love affair began.
For 49 years we have acted out the best of life and the worst of life. We danced and laughed and sang so loud that Willa told me I was going to wake Mrs. Goldman next door.
We shared the imperfect—the impossible—-death and despair and grief so unimaginable we thought it would tear out our guts.
But it did not. It seems that “As the World Turns” had nothing on us. We, too, kept going, season after season.
On this day, I am forever grateful for the world of Willa. I am even more grateful for the life she has given my four children—lessons learned and lessons taught:
- Kindness was expected, always.
- Swearing was unacceptable. She said G-d was listening.
- Judging others. Don’t do it. You never know what shoes someone has walked in.
Her footprint is forever etched in all of our lives.
My 18 year old son wrote these words in her memory.
“You were a fighter wanting to make the world a better place. You always remained strong, selfless and unfettered when obstacles hindered your life. Even on your worst days a shimmering light still radiated from your broken knees, flawless skinned unrelenting mind.”
My 21 year old daughter Lily wrote, “Willa showed me that richness doesn’t come with money and that love is unconditional.”
Willa lives on in all of us—may her memory forever be a blessing.