A year ago, Los Angeles experienced its hottest day on record, and in it the world lost a gifted, creative artist; her family lost their world; and her friends, who loved her well, began to hold on to wonderful memories that comfort them still.
I worked on this for days through the chaos and the fog……because I needed to get it right, and I edited right up until we left for the service…..
The most beautiful aspects of life transcend words. Attempts to describe them limit their meaning. Like great art or exquisite music or The Divine, some things can only be experienced. These ineffable forces affect us deeply; they move and change us. Our words lack the chi that is the essence of life, but that essence lives on in each of us who have been touched by Sally. She gave of herself. These gifts will help us carry on as we attempt to live as she did, full flowered.
We learned from Sally that the most valuable things in life are truly not things. The intangible cannot be bought or sold – only freely given. And that life. is. difficult. – a cycle of intense beauty and deep despair. It is our job to embrace it fully – in all its mess of emotions – for fear of losing will keep us from fully enjoying the riches of love and friendship. To love and be loved is an act of trust and courage. Fear often holds us back, keeping us from sharing ourselves and our gifts with the world and loving like we’ll never get hurt. Sally lived it to the full. We honor her by living out what she taught us about a life well lived.
To the rest of the world she was Quentin’s enormously talented editor. But to us, she was home…….in all the ways that home should be. We were always proud of her work, cheering in dark theaters when we saw her name in the credits. A gifted, creative spirit – yes, but equally a remarkable mother, wife, friend, and human being.
I met Sally and Dean at our wedding 16 years ago when I joined the Menke clan. They are a matriarchal group. When Scott lost his mother, Sally’s oldest sister, eleven years ago, Sally became a dear friend and a surrogate, filling the enormous hole that was left by Scott’s mom when she died so young and unexpectedly before grandchildren had joined the family. Sally did what mothers and grandmothers do: sharing recipes, sending care packages, and loving our children. We loved her back.
We have shared as many or more holidays with them as we have with our own immediate families. I have watched how she has been the glue that often held the family together. We have learned a great deal about unconditional love by observing her compassion and grace in action.
She and Dean have become synonymous with our sense of home and comfort. They are generous and kind people who have taken us under their wing and insisted we stay close and be not merely relatives, but a part of their lives. They are amazing parents. Much of what we learned about rearing healthy, well adjusted, breathtaking children we learned by watching them.
Holidays often began with Dean picking us up at the airport. It would be perfectly normal to come in the driveway side door and find Sally standing at the Viking caramelizing onions, most likely because she had awakened with a craving for a favorite soup or had found a new recipe she wanted to try.
So many fond memories involve food and cooking together. Like the Christmas she made beef wellington, and I made Grandfather’s famous sticky buns. Or the Thanksgiving in Banff when we cooked all day in our pajamas, she attempting to rescue the overexposed turkey that had been brining and defrosting at room temperature for far too long prompting an emergency run to the grocery store by the men to find a replacement on Thanksgiving morning. Which, in theory, might be tricky, but not impossible, had we been in LA. But we were in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies where it wasn’t Thanksgiving and twenty pound turkeys are not a common weekday meal. We laughed and talked and shared.
She introduced us to things like Joan’s on Third and the Getty. Peet’s coffee and Jamba Juice. We learned from them that showers and hair combing before leaving for school and work are completely optional. She taught us how to make cappuccino. She said we helped keep her grounded. We griped about family and grumbled about politics. We shared joys and sorrows. We kibitzed about raising children.
A few years ago, one of the things I realized I had learned from the experience of losing Scott’s mom was that life is far too short to continue on in the WASPY ways of my youth. So I began to tell the people in my life that I felt a fondness for, how I felt: that they were important and how they made a difference. Sally was one of those people. Just over a year ago, I wrote to her following a phone conversation about shallots:
Just wanted to say thanks for letting me call you with my cooking questions the other day. I’m grateful that you let me do it, but part of me is really sad that I have to ask you questions like that. My mom hates to cook. I used to call Scott’s mom with these questions…..and then your mom….and it feels a lot like being adrift not having someone to turn to for woman wisdom like this. Ungrounded and wobbly. Maybe you know what that feels like too…..
You’ve been through more than you should have had to endure these last several years….and yet you press on. I admire your determination. Weaker souls would have given up long ago.
We appreciate you more than you know. And we love you too. Thank you for all that you do to give us a sense of bearing in our lives and to help us feel not quite so lost.
What a lovely letter. Thank you. I don’t know quite how to respond, except to say I have a lot of cooking tips and it is essential you call me. But, seriously, thank you. Having just walked into my house from exercising and thinking, of course, thinking… that dreaded thing I try to avoid, I realize I too feel adrift. It’s very hard to incorporate this last year of tragic, god-awful events into a calm, resolved life. So your thoughts mean so much to me. To know that you are there, is plainly and simply wonderful. It seems that with my accumulation of years, I always demand that I be stronger, more stoic. But really it is such a burden, cause it’s just too hard to be stronger all the time. Something has to give, and I think the idea of going alone – to quote a politician I really can’t even believe was our president – is a stupid idea and has to go.
So thank you for being there for me, and I always want to be there for you. I also understand the different ways to slice garlic. =) It’s important to know there are people who love you and will support you without conditions. So, ditto.
I was certain that in her accumulated years and wisdom, she had learned quite a bit more than the various ways to slice garlic.
A life interrupted reminds us we must not forget to live. The creaking in our knees and the aching in our hearts are reminders that we are alive. It is not a warning to stop. We must make them creak everyday, for the most despicable thing about the unforeseen is that it gives no warning.
Sally and I often spoke to one another about dealing with grief, as it had become such a frequent and unwelcome visitor to this family. “Grief is the price we pay for love.” The deeper the love, the more vivid the pain.
There is a phrase from the book Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos that I have come to love for its vividness. She writes, “I am poured, I am poured out, I am poured out like water.”
Gordon Livingston knows the grief that only a parent who has lost a child can. Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart is a book that Sally and I shared. He says: “To lose that which means the most to us is a lesson in helplessness, surrender, and survival. To experience fully the sadness and absurdity that life so often presents and still find reasons to go on is an act of courage. To cope with inevitable loss, to face life in all its confusion …… and still retain the capacity for joy, laughter, and a belief that our struggles have meaning – this is to prevail.”
We were last together in March. It was a short visit, but most of what is good in life is best measured by quality rather than quantity. I sent her a note of thanks when we returned home. In it I finally told her what we had been feeling for so long…..
“If we have never told you before, or even if we have, being there with you all…..feels like home. Safe. Warm. Comfortable. Nurturing. Loving. It’s the way home should feel, and it does. Thank you for letting us feel that with you.”
Much of our relationship was lived out over holidays, phone calls and email. In one of my last personal notes to her I wrote:
“You said you had a lot to talk about. Let’s get a glass of wine and sit on the back patio and you can do the same…..it won’t be the same as being together, but it’ll be pretty darn good.”
We come together today to remember a friend and hold her close – to celebrate a life well lived. Sally was a gift and we loved her well. To surround ourselves with those who know and love her best, to share her gifts of compassion and patience and love with each other and the world – will not be the same as being with her, but it will be following her example and it will be living well.
Copyright © 2011. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.