A dear friend of mine from Church passed away this week-end.
Sandi Gross was 71 years old and an incredibly open hearted and caring person.
She had, in the short time she had been a member woven herself into the fabric of our beloved community and the shock waves from her passing are still rippling and settling.
She was one of my first friends at 1st Unitarian and my pew buddy before I discovered that with the hearing assist devices the Foyer of our Sanctuary becomes a marvelous adult wiggle-room for the A.D.D. blessed amongst us, including yours truly!
I’ll introduce my friend in her own words, from when we joined the Church in the same membership class in February of 2010…
“I was born in Ohio, raised in New York, got married and lived in New Jersey, Wisconsin and then Florida. Moved to the Melbourne area in 1964 with my family – husband and three sons. Fast forward to the mid-eighties – now divorced, children grown and on their own and I moved to Orlando to be closer to my middle son. My oldest was in California with his family and my youngest was in the military and stationed in Seattle.
In the mid 90’s I decided on yet one more move – I went to California to spend some time with my granddaughter and get away from Florida and difficulties I was encountering here. Much was diametrically opposed to my beliefs and I was finding it difficult to have conversations about daily events with people that I knew…those that I worked with and also those that I knew on a more personal level. The gulf between our ideas seemed to be getting wider. I definitely needed to be able to ‘think out loud’ and engage in deeper discussions that I wasn’t able to find here.
I lived there for 10 years and in that time, I spent a good deal of time exploring and examining, listening, reading and asking questions. That, in turn, brought me back to where it all started. And as luck would have it, synchronicity seemed to lead me to the right person, at the right time, in the right place, who suggested that I might want to come and listen to a Sunday service at First Unitarian Universalist…and they had me at the lighting of the chalice.”
The Chalice lighting which Sandi mentions is a Unitarian Universalist rite that begins and ends many U.U. Services and meetings. A candle in a chalice is lit, and a short prayer or statement of intent is spoken, in 1u’s case the words are…
“In the light of truth and in the warmth of love,
We gather to seek, to sustain, and to share.”
Sandi had some health issues, but knew here limitations and showed determination and perseverance, participating in many activities at the Church and working her way around the limitations of her age and health challenges. She was never, in the time that I knew her, without her sense of humor and a joyful spark.
Once at a Church event, I was helping coordinate things in the Kitchen and doing some cooking and set up and she asked if she could help me with anything and being a bit flustered and scattered I started to show here what I needed done and she stopped me, putting a hand on my arm….
“Honey, if you are going to learn to manage situations like this you are going to have to learn to tell, not show…” delivered with firm yet amused emphasis that stopped me short….
“Yeah, I guess it would help your ability to do this if I actually let you do it huh?”
“Yes…” and we smiled at one another and after a brief exchange were off in our separate directions…
She always had time to say hello to you or, to check on how you were doing, or to share a kind (and sincere) word or two. She was always willing to laugh at herself and with others. Her hair was dyed a fabulous dark reddish color she always had a pop of color on her. She was involved in many aspects of our Church and was one of those people who is genuinely curious and open and willing to learn. She had found her peace and was more than willing to be there as a friend to those who were seeking theirs.
I had gotten to know her better the last few months working the District Assembly with her on the Foods and Planning committee. I had also recently resolved to be in better touch with my many friends locally and the far-flung ones, which I had been doing good on and had talked with her a few different times in the last few weeks… nothing major just a dear friend who could listen as well as she could share…. someone who could inspire with their experience and example someone who possessed a true spiritual grace that I can only hope to find in my own journey.
Sandi had had some difficult times in her life, and at a point where she had a lot of doubts and fears she spent a lot of her spare time at the sea-shore watching the Ocean. She was nourished by the beauty of the ocean, and the wind and the waves and the ebb and flow. The Ocean did not fret or worry, it is what it is. Which was a piece of wisdom she shared with me a few times and I had begun to appreciate.
I received the news Monday and called a few folks whom, like me, Sandi had given her friendship to and welcomed into our community. I stopped by the Church on my way across town that evening, and offered a couple handfuls of barley in the memorial garden area of our Church Campus, offering to the memories and spirits of those members of the Congregation who have gone before and asking them to welcome Sandi into their company and the afterlife should she choose to journey on, and paying my respects should she choose to remain in the world.
I should note, U.U. doesn’t have any specific beliefs or dogma about the afterlife, the above is my own influenced by my Paganism.
I will carry her memory with me as I work with the Membership/Fellowship committee and as I attend Church events and functions, and any time I find myself getting cynical or defeatist I will remember her example.
I will make the time for the things the nourish my soul and the souls of those around me, sometimes it is the simplest things we do that can have the most profound of impacts.
Thank you Sandi.
Pax / Geoffrey