Two Eulogies for Lisa 10/19/10
It is a year since my sister Lisa Baird died. I did want to do something to honor her memory. I am posting two lovely eulogies that were given at her funeral. The first is from my brother Rob. The second is from Rabbi Leonard Gordon who presided at the funeral.
Robert J. Baird
Eulogy delivered at the funeral of Lisa Baird
Since Lisa’s death on Tuesday night I have felt a wrenching sense of loss – bereft of my big sister’s love I can hardly come up with words except this is “so, wrong-so, wrong- so wrong.”
56 years young Lisa was cruelly ripped from the world when there should have been so much more life in store for her. The loss which is so overwhelming for me and my family is magnified by the grief of her dearest friends and all of those many people touched by her. For someone who could share the same size sneaker as mine – Lisa’s footprint – her impact on the world – was enormous. Lisa did not view her work as a job – she extended herself in ways that go beyond what jobs normally demand. Yes she was always motivated by social justice and her commitment never wavered but Lisa loved what she did because of the people and her connection to their lives and stories. Everyone here who knew Lisa knew she loved recounting the stories of her clients. Many times I would call her and she’d pick up the phone and say “I can’t talk now. I have to meet a client” but would still begin a story and 45 minute or even an hour later she’d say “now I really have to go but I’ll call you later”. This was classic Lisa.
But today most importantly my message is for Molly and Lou, your mom’s love for you was at the center of all her decisions -your family – Josh, Eric, Samira, Amelia and your extended family of your mom’s friends will be there for you – we cannot replace her love but we can care, love and help you as you build your lives and just be there for you when you need us.
My only comfort today is that Dad was not here to see Lisa in these last days but for Mom even though you are so strong – Jon and I are there for you – we will backstop you whenever you need us. To Lisa’s friends, especially those who were with her constantly over the last weeks – thanks are inadequate you were and are amazing – Debra and Miriam – Jon and I are blessed to have you especially now.
To Lisa – the pain is over but your departure has left an emptiness in all of our worlds. But as you would want us to do – we’ll be good to each other and move on with life – joyous in good times and like you always resilient and alive.
Rabbi Leonard Gordon
Eulogy delivered at the funeral of Lisa Baird
These past days, those who were close to Lisa have been repeating the stories of her incredible dedication. Even on the day she died she was pushing forward on behalf of a client, calling the INS office and leaving plaintive messages for case officers. Lying in her bed, in hospice care, she was giving solid immigration advice to the health care worker who had come to care for her. Just a few days ago, Lisa and her brother Jon drove to court to meet another client as Lisa worked through her pain and growing weakness to try and bring one more case to closure. When asked why, why not pass these cases on to others, why not step back and hold on to your strength, her response was simple. Referring to one particular case that was on her mind Lisa said: “if this guy gets deported, his life will be over.” Lisa was passionate and devoted to caring for others, in the psychological language of our day, she did not have good boundaries. What was heroic about Lisa and what we all so admired about her, also meant that she did not care for herself and protect her time and her energy. In the words of her nephew Josh, she was not a material person, she was all about love, Lisa was warm, friendly, genuinely caring for others, she was active all the time. When I saw her to say my goodbye our conversation was about her children, about their future, about taking care of loose ends. I needed to remind Lisa that loose ends are how we make connections, they are the signs of an engaged life. In Jewish terms, loose ends are symbolized by the tallit, the ritual garment that ends in loose strings of wool, pointing us away from ourselves and towards the world around us.
The world around us is deeply in need of repair and Lisa seemed to have taken on the burdens of the world community on her shoulders. The Chinese boat person, the victim of female genital mutilation, the man who had been tortured, the Ugandan child soldier; for the past years these have been her clients.
This afternoon, i want to say a few words on everyone’s behalf to frame Lisa’s life and we will hear from members of her family. i want to acknowledge, however, that there are many other voices that should be heard and in addition to the words that will be shared today and over the weekend, everyone will be invited to a memorial gathering at the Germantown Jewish Centre a month from now, on Sunday, November 22nd at noon.
Lisa was born in Philadelphia and her father Donald, who died only this past May, was committed to her education and sent her and her brothers to the finest private schools. She and her father always maintained a close and special relationship and we remember him as well today.
From those early years, Lisa was an activist and even a rebel. She advocated for minority students, for enhanced scholarship support and for creating shared spaces for boarding and day students. In an era of political engagement she was especially active in the major causes of the time, the emerging feminist movement, civil rights work, and protesting the war in Vietnam. She began college at the University of Texas – Austin and completed her studies at Temple before beginning turning to start work in community organizing. Lisa lived her politics and she inspired those around her, most notably her brothers.
In the 1980’s she graduated law school at Rutgers Camden and Lisa worked for Lehigh Valley Legal Services, for the City Council of Philadelphia and then as the first staff attorney for HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, where her attention turned to immigration law. Immigration law would become the passion of the rest of her career. When members of the immigration bar gathered over the past weeks to review her caseload, they came across dozens perhaps over a hundred open cases on which Lisa was working and which many of her colleagues will now take over.
In addition to her work which engaged her around the clock, Lisa found time to be active in TAG, the Tenants’ Action Group, the CW Henry School home and school association during her years as a Henry parent, and she would volunteer with the American Immigrant Lawyers Association to help people fill in forms. In the recent election, knowing what was at stake, she served as a poll watcher.
But, of course, work was not the totality of her life. Lisa was a runner, she wanted to do a triathalon. She rode crew and dragon boats, and she was a creative writer. And Lisa was a devoted friend to many and a loving parent to both Molly and Louis. Molly, you said that you and Lou were the center of her world — what an amazing gift.
You and your mother shared music, you were amazed at how many lyrics she knew, and you loved to hang out with her. Recently, she visited you in Mexico where you were studying. You also spoke about a memorable trip years ago to Armenia, where your dad Roger, had a Fulbright, and where Lisa taught, Lou ran around and you were in 2nd grade. Without any language in common with the local population, Lisa connected, found someone who also knew Spanish, and discovered the local Jewish community.
Louis, you spoke movingly of your gratitude for the freedom and opportunities your mother gave you. The way in which her support for who you are, her belief in creative expression, has empowered you. I know how much she loved you and wanted to make sure that you were still having your senior year in the midst of her illness.
In 1992, around the time of Lou’s birth, Lisa was diagnosed with cancer. This was followed by years of good health and energy until the cancer recurred in December of 2007. Lisa fought for her health and she was supported by so many.
Deena, i want to especially mention your loving and devoted care, you opened your home and your bedroom to your daughter, you nursed her and cared for her, during this year when you were still dealing with the death of your husband Donald. May you be comforted by your memories and by the presence of your family and friends. This is the loss of a second child for you and no one can really understand what it means to a mother to watch her daughter face a fatal disease. You responded with grace and love.
Molly and Louis, your mother was so proud of you both and so concerned that you continue on your paths as students, friends and very special young people. Know that that special community that has gathered around your mother are still there for you. may your memories of your mother, of her love and of her commitments, continue to inspire you both.
Along with the family, there are many friends who are in mourning today, and I want to mention a few who were especially close with the understanding that so many of you were part of Lisa’s circle of friends and colleagues who stayed in close touch over the years and especially during these past two years.
Tish Fabens has done so much both as a medical and personal support. I also want to mention Bob Rhoades, Bob and Kate, who is remembered today, helped Lisa immeasurably. Friends John and Sherri and Eva as well as nephew Josh, you also made such an impact through your patient and loving presence. To all of Lisa’s friends and extended family we offer the consolation that her memory and her values will endure through you all.
Eternal One, giver of all life, you give the gift of your spirit and we are born. You take it in return and our bodies return to the earth. We are grateful today for the many blessings in Lisa’s life. And we now turn to you, and to one another, for comfort and light. Master of compassion, grant us solace and strength;reinforce our connections, for you are our Rock and redeemer, and we say AMEN.