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Funeral Eulogy for Elizabeth Buckley

July 28, 2016 ~ George Strohmeyer

11073553_902927286425506_2289370689002931_n-X2 When I last visited Elizabeth on June 2, I was excited to share with her some poetic psalm verses translated by Zen Master Norman Fischer:

Psalm 27: “I wait only for you with strength and good courage.”

Psalm 144: “God bend the sky down till it fills the earth. Caress the mountains till they burst into flames.”

Psalm 154: “I will stop and consider your burning beauty. I will stop and remember your tender mercies. Wash the world clean so that everything is drenched in gratefulness and those who love you bless you with every breath and converse always of the brightness of your presence.”

As we left the Swiss Chalet restaurant last night where Elizabeth and I used to go for lunch, we saw the hugest rainbow I have ever seen. What a beautiful image, the rainbow as the sky bending down to fill the earth and igniting the mountain tops. Did Elizabeth have something to do with this, and with the skies opening soon after to release an extended flood of rain moments after? Why not?

If Elizabeth were alive and with us here this morning, she would be sitting quietly in the last, last row of the church. She would be interrupting me with stories of her own memory and experiences, and she would slip out of the church a few minutes before we finished our liturgy.

Well, she left us. But not early, She left us right on time. We talked of her death last month, and how ready she was. My bags are packed, she said, and I want to be buried up the road with my l’Arche companions. She said that many times to all of us, but in June she added with a thoughtful summary of the entire span of her life: “I am at home here. This is my home here.” Even as she was surrendering her capacity to read, to knit, to manage the computer easily, even then she was at home here, in the l’Arche community, in the present moment and in this hermitage!

She certainly did not slip away quietly. She has interrupted each of us with her life. You and I are not left only with the mysterious circumstances of her death as some unfortunate tragedy, or with some sense of deep loss. She has rather invited us to join her in gathering up of the entire mystery of her life and the richness of her aging, the depth of her literary mind, and the mystical awareness of her spirit.

Elizabeth was clearly a person of complementarity, living as a hermit yet intimate with so many; away from her family yet passionate in her loving affection for her brothers, living and deceased, and their families, nieces/nephews, great nieces/nephew; founder of the l’Arche communities in Scotland and Massachusetts while aware, sometimes with very painful consequences, that she did not have the gift of administration; sometimes analytically critical and yet unconditional in her positive regard for all

On June 2, at the end of our last visit, I remember saying “well, I’ll see you again, either here, or in the hereafter.” I said that easily then, and I meant it, in the context of our talking about death.

For the last three years Elizabeth and I would meet with students from my university who come to Daybreak as part of a week-long service trip week to L’Arche Hamilton, Toronto and Daybreak. True to form, Elizabeth would surprise students and rock their world, blending deep insights of l’Arche, while reading their hearts, inspiring them, confirming them, and all of this usually accompanied by joyful and tearful affection. Lee, for one, spent most of that day working alongside the core members in the Woodery. Despite the giant earmuffs and the deafening hum of machinery, she felt the quiet, with no need to talk, as she hummed to herself. She herself says “At the same time I don’t need to say how emotional I was at this point. When we went to a reflection later on l’Arche, Elizabeth Buckley began by saying, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to live in the present moment, now I’m there. I can’t remember what happened ten seconds ago, and I don’t know what’s going to happen ten seconds from now.” She said it with such grace and calm confidence and a crinkly-eyed smile. Something about my happy peacefulness and her wonderful presence, combined with my discovery of that deep, ineffable L’Arche love, moved an ocean of tears to burst from me. l’Arche had shown me that everyone is broken, and at the same time, inherently beautiful. Elizabeth Buckley is the one who gave that gift to me. She made me see that “everyone” includes me, that I, too, am broken and that I, too, am worthy of love. What a beautiful spirit and wise soul!”

The other night at supper in my l’Arche home in Erie, PA, we recounted: “Elizabeth liked watching Linda from our house plugging away at doing something, while reminding us all of Linda’s rough and tumble life with its unforeseen challenges and mishaps. She admired Linda for that, for taking everything in stride and for moving forward no matter the challenges.

Jessie, staff member in my university’s Center for Social Concern, mentioned to me “in case you forgot, there is framed artwork in the CSC that was gifted to us from her. The Thomas Merton quote in my office and Sojourners quote in our hallway carry on her memory in a tangible way in our office!” She was so appreciative of everything and, just as surely she would give everything away, treasuring the one to whom she gave it more than keeping it for herself. You no doubt have some things I gave her, if so congratulations! And I thank you for your gifts to me!

One of her favorite waitresses, Mary, in a local Richmond Hill restaurant, was so moved to hear of her death last night that she failed to bring our complete order. Mary said “She is a lovely, lovely lady, and her goodness pours out of her. She is in my heart.” She also confessed as she left our table, “not everyone is like that.”

She is unique because she considered her every other person as unique, met them so, treated them so, and often revealed them so to themselves. Is it any wonder she was attracted to families, to children, to communities like Tony Walsh and the Labre House in Montreal, and l’Arche across the world? She never seemed to leave the communities she entered so much as to grow from them and through them. This is very evident in that she continued to live the consecrated life she began as member of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax.

But do not mistake her for being completely unaware of the contradictions of life, of L’Arche, of herself, or hesitant to say exactly what she thought! In fact when I first met her I found her a bit scary. Thin, quiet, pale, curled up in the corner of the Cenacle retreat house chapel in Warrenville, Illinois in 1971. In meetings she could be very outspoken and very critical. And I really did not get to know her until a heart to heart experience during a North American meeting in Montreal some years later.

And did I say it was difficult to get a word in edgewise with Elizabeth? I used to get impatient and frustrated with that, especially when I wanted her to listen to me. Elizabeth was one of the only persons I know who would recount a story backwards so that there was never an ending but rather an unfolding beginning. I learned how to receive her in all that she was and somehow learned how to listen deeply and find a way to bring her back to the present moment. But that is only half the equation. I also learned to listen to her and the way she gathered some deep lessons and insights within her story telling. If she was quick to want to explain the present with the past she was able also to speak passionately of the story of her, my and others’ lives blooming into the future.

Such a bright, soft and beautiful face, even with her wrinkles that my Gannon students found so attractive! Wrinkles come with the territory of softening in spirit and body. Perhaps when the ego no longer puffs us up we deflate a bit and our faces show it. That is why older people look wrinkled. The puffy sense of our superiority or anxieties fall away as we age, especially as we weep at the contradictions of life.

Elizabeth cast a wide net. She was a knitter after all. Imagine huge, unending knitting, symbolic of an immense net of stitches, each one depending on every other one. If one stitch is cut, the entire piece will unravel! What a realization that all life, all creation, all people, all circumstances, all hopes, all dreams, all inspirations, are interrelated and interdependent, all life affects all other lives. We support each other, need each other, belong to one another. It is as well the net of Christ, who loves all others, who invites us to love all others as he loves. How many more knitting stiches Elizabeth formed with her prayerful and mindful heart than with her agile fingers.

Hazel Bradly, from l’Arche in the UK, recounted yesterday: “One day I emailed Elizabeth: please pray for this (particular) l’Arche community, it is so difficult for them and so difficult to resolve their issues. I forgot about my email to her but weeks later I received a package with a card and a beautiful knitted scarf. It was from Elizabeth. I’m sorry, Elizabeth said, I can’t hug you in person, but here is a comforter for you. And every stitch of it is a prayer for this community that suffers.”

How far and wide the human spirit has the capacity to stretch. I loved the length of Elizabeth, the depth of her, the height of her and the width of her. I fall on my knees at this, realizing that this is no more than the love of Jesus, who loves us and stretches us to love long and deep, to love high and wide!

We have been visited, blessed and now one of the mirrors in our life is gone from us, she who worked with Jesus to reveal our own simplicity, beauty and prayerfulness. We will miss this reflection. What will we do? What would Elizabeth say to us about that? She would say “Suffer the loss, find life at moments like these to be tearful and sad, embrace this condition of life, but keep moving. Keep believing in beauty, in simplicity, in prayerfulness and that you are capable of living it all, and of passing it on.” Yes, we can, each one of us and all of us, just as lovingly and joyfully as did Elizabeth, each in our own way.

I am sure she is listening and is not finished loving me or you or so many of us, yes, especially Dennis and her entire family. She loves her family passionately without having seen them often. In her present and perpetual state of awareness, filled now only with Christ, she finds you, she finds me, she finds us even more lovingly than even she had imagined.

For all her wisdom and affection, for her fine words and encouragements for us we can do no more than to say “Thank you Elizabeth, we love you, we are better for having been companions on the journey!”

In Elizabeth’s prophetic spirit, let me close with lines from the New Testament reading 2 Peter: 1: 19:

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart.”

~ George Strohmeyer

Elizabeth died peacefully on July 24th 2016 in her apartment due to circulatory complications. She was 84 years old.

Elizabeth was born and brought up on the North Shore of Boston. As a young woman she joined the religious order Our Sisters of Charity of Halifax. Elizabeth served as schoolteacher in Montreal and in the Boston area. In the 1960s, in the very early years of L’Arche, she joined the original L’Arche community in Trosly, France. Elizabeth went on to found L’Arche Inverness in Scotland and L’Arche Irenicon in Massachusetts where she served as Community Leader until 1989. Elizabeth joined L’Arche Daybreak in 1990 as a member of the Dayspring team. For most of the last twenty years, she devoted herself to a life of prayer. Elizabeth had a cozy apartment at Daybreak’s Big House which she called “Buckleyham Palace.” Elizabeth served as spiritual director to countless people over the years, and remained an involved and much loved member of L’Arche. Known, as the “Queen Mum” to many in L’Arche, Elizabeth had a royal stature in L’Arche and she will be dearly missed.

Elizabeth is survived by her bother, Dennis Buckley, her sister-in-law Marie Buckley, and many nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews.