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Abiding memorials (05/30/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns
Once one has experienced a tragedy of loss firsthand, it becomes a part of who they are. From that time on, another’s grief can fan the flames we carry. By understanding and reaching out, we can be a source of comfort and strength for one another.

Emotions are rooted in one’s capacity to feel, to empathize. Some fragile hearts break at the sight of a starving child on television, or by cutting words directed at them in the heat of the moment. Tenderhearted individuals can weep when an old song stirs unbidden feelings.

Keen observers of life, as it passes before their sight, take note of things that might seem peculiar and insignificant to others. In fact, those who partake of all that stirs their senses, with ravenous appetites, seem to consume moments in gulps and years in leaps and bounds.

Love can be the greatest risk of all. When it comes to their children, parents can spend an entire lifetime letting go. When young lives are cut short, the loss can seem overwhelming to those who mourn them. In the bittersweet wake of each passage, their eulogies are embedded in hearts and entrusted to memory.

I recall, as I helplessly stood by while my beloved mother’s health slipped away due to cancer, how my heart went out to her. At the sight of the nape of her neck, gaunt and deteriorated, her vulnerability gripped my emotions. With her reassuring, warmly smiling face turned away from my sight, her death held me in its clutches by what she could no longer disguise. The dreaded disease was on a mission to vanquish her once strong and vibrant body.

No life should ever go unnoted. There have been, and will always be, people in the limelight, whose elaborate funerals and lavish memorials make news stories and headlines. Some die more famous deaths than others, but at the end it’s just you and your maker. There are as many ways to say good-bye as there are ways of dying.

No one would wish their young son fame for the simple fact that he suffered and died a horrendous death from a newly discovered disease. Born with an affliction called hemophilia, which isolated him from common activities, a 14- year-old Kokomo, Indiana, boy, named Ryan White, would come to touch hearts all over the world.

In 1984, battling pneumonia, Ryan contracted AIDS from tainted blood. Out of ignorance and fear, the young man was banned from school and harassed by other students. Ryan’s hope was his courage and faith in God that he and his family clung to. He dedicated the five years of life he had left as a spokesperson for AIDS patients, though there wasn’t a day he didn’t suffer pain.

Ryan White died of AIDS on 4/11/90 at the age of 19. Rev. Dr. Ray Probasco delivered his eulogy. In part, he said, “It was Ryan who first humanized the disease called AIDS.” “Ryan had little time to waste. He learned even then to make the best of every day.” “He was prayed for by his church, and then one community after another, until there was prayer that circled the globe.”

Ryan White is not a hero because of the way he died, but by the way he lived. When children asked Ryan if he was afraid to die, he responded, “Everybody is going to die. If I die, I’m going to a better place.”

It is not so much someone’s birth and the occasion of their death that is remembered long after they are gone...it’s everything in-between. The legacy they leave, however brief, however humble, abides with those who loved and knew them best.

Janet Burns is from Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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