Eulogy for Mickey Vassallo
For Mickey Vassallo
November 10, 2016
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
They say that you’re supposed to be eminently relaxed in front of family, but for the first time in over two years, I decided to sit down and put down on paper the thoughts I hope to share with you this morning.
So let me start with my own experience of knowing Mickey. I can’t remember the first time I met Mickey, but I can say that it must have been at Bethesda. I can’t remember any one conversation with her that stands out. What I have are simply images imprinted on my memory.
And the image that stands out among them is set in the Kitchen on Washington Street, where all of us so often enjoyed each other’s presence and company and shared our lives with one another. Here I was, an early twenty something want to be priest, welcomed into the extended Rectory family. And there was Mickey, with what I think is a glass of white wine, talking to me, truly engulfed in our conversation as the hustle and bustle of the Rectory family swirled around us. Allison there making lunch, no doubt something organic with which she will later use to challenge my palate. The Crawfords doing whatever it is they do, which never was, nor is nor ever will be, below the level of 180 decibels. And Tracy, of course being her just come from church bubbly self. And Tom there, somehow holding us all together.
And there in the midst of the whirlwind, was Mickey, focused and centered, asking me about my latest adventure. What struck me the most, perhaps, about any memory of our conversations with her were two things. First, the softness of her demeanor, her gentle spirit. She, like me, had been no doubt been thrown headlong into that cacophony which we call the Rectory Family. But even as the scene raged on around us, she never lost that focused and gentle spirit. And secondly, the genuineness of her questions. She never made me feel like she was just asking questions for the sake of making conversation. It always felt, and I think was the truth that, she truly wanted to know, that she was truly interested in what I had to say.
In an email Allison wrote to me saying “It’s so hard to sum up 90 years of her life.” Perhaps no more greater tribute could be given to someone than to say just that. Here was a person who had such an experience of life, the good and the tough mixed up and tumbled together, that no words would be enough to say we’ve captured the essence of it. Obituaries tell us where a person has lived, the things they liked to do, the organizations of which they were a part. Mickey had no small list of accomplishments there. From Tennesee to England, to North Carolina, to Vermont, and Saratoga; she loved golf, and gardening clubs; collecting Wedgwood and antiques; UFOs and ghosts; and oh, let’s not forget the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter.
But an obituary can only tell us so much. “It’s so hard to sum up 90 years of her life” Allison wrote to me “And in the end it’s not about what someone has ‘done’ but what qualities they brought forth into the world and how they affected others.”
How can one really put into words what it truly means that Mickey will be remembered for her warmth, free spirit, humor, and sense of adventure? It’s hard to sum that up because those are the ways she affected the world. Those are the images she has left implanted in our hearts.
I want to share with you another little anecdote from my time in the Rectory in Saratoga. One which really has nothing to do with Mickey. It was sometime, between January and March, I found myself there in the bedroom with Jane and Tom. In the midst of the conversation, Jane said to Tom “even now, you have so much more to teach us about the Kingdom of God.” I’ve never forgotten those words, and in a real sense, they have over these last 5 years shaped how I understand the latter and end stages of life for those who I am privileged and honored to minister to, and it something I share with them and their families. We never stop teaching others, showing others, the Kingdom of God. CS Lewis of Chronicles of Narnia fame wrote in another book “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
One of the things which Allison said to me is that as Mickey’s dementia continued to run its course, it became more and more difficult for Mickey to interact with the world around her as she once did. But she said one of the blessings she saw was the worldly anxieties of an accumulated lifetime, which we all have, began to fall away. And the way that Mickey began to respond to the things around her was as a pure soul, simply with love. When all that other stuff had disappeared, what shone forth from her was love.
The response that came to mind was that’s God shining through. As she decreased, God increased. The Church teaches that the goal of our lives, above anything else, is union with God, to be one with him. We gather here today to offer our prayers and remembrances, and to make our communion with him. And in a beautiful way, the more and more we are united with God in his life, the more and more his qualities shine through us
I said to Allison, that in his letter, the Apostle John, when he was trying to find a way to talk about God could find no better word than Love. He said, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love come from God… God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
You see, even as the disease of dementia ran its course, Mickey, in a most wonderful way taught us about the Kingdom, showed us God. And as everything that we thought mattered, what she thought mattered, fell away, what really and truly mattered eternally, remained: Love.
And so today, as we gather here, we do so to remember and to give thanks for Mickey’s life. Not so much the things she did, where she lived, or the adventures she went on – those were for her.
Rather, we are here to give thanks for the qualities that she brought for into this world which affected us, which showed us God: that warm, gentle and free spirit, that sense of fun and adventure, that genuine friendship, the humor and most importantly, Love.
We offer her life back to God in thanksgiving for the opportunity to have known that life and to have been touched by it. For the gift of having seen God working through it for indeed, God is Love; whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God in him. Amen.