“Cindee was always talking about you, and it’s the strong women like you who will carry on her legacy.” Even a year and a half later, these words still rest heavily on my soul. I may not have realized it at the time, but this was no simple statement…this was my call.
But I guess I should give some background first. Cindee Taylor was the mother of my best friend throughout high school. Michael and I spent so much time together that each of our families sort of adopted the other, so she was basically another mother to me. Cindee was a “supermom” of epic proportions. Not only was she a single mother with four kids (if you can call them that…Michael was the youngest, and the two oldest were already off on their own by the time I really got to know the family), but she was also ridiculously involved in our high school (if I recall correctly, it was primarily through the boosters and her kids’ activities). My first memories of Cindee were the phenomenal VBSes she planned and co-led for our church with her best friend (the speaker of the opening line of this post), and either shortly before or shortly after I got to know the family well, she became our church’s Director of Children’s and Family Ministries (or something to that effect).
She welcomed all the children who came to our church activities with open arms and a huge smile, as well as plenty of fun activities for them to enjoy. Likewise, she was always incredibly welcoming to her biological kids’ friends at the house, hosting cast parties for musicals and other parties and casual hang-outs. Almost immediately once I got my driver’s license, I perfected the art of driving to their house and back. I knew exactly how long it would take, which lights I’d get stopped at, how to avoid those lights, etc.
Her love, welcome, hospitality, and energy and enthusiasm for life were contagious. Even after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she battled for several years, she continued doing as much in the community as she possibly could, as long as it wasn’t a day when she was worse-for-the-wear from chemo. I loved and admired Cindee for her strength and courage, among other things, so it came as quite a blow when she finally passed away on May 13, 2010.
Her best friend said the opening quote of this post to me at the visitation dinner, so I’m sure you can imagine how heavily it weighed on me at the time. How was I supposed to do that? How could I carry on Cindee’s legacy?
Her loss hit me once again a year ago yesterday, when we were celebrating All Saint’s Day (a day early) in church. We were invited to light candles for loved ones lost in the past year, and I realized that, for the first time I could remember, I had been connected to two major losses in the same year. Cindee’s was the one that came closer to me personally, but there was another; the other was one which was an enormous blow to my DePaul community.
On Halloween night 2009, Francisco “Frankie” Valencia was shot and killed while at a Halloween party. He was a prominent campus leader, a resident advisor, very involved with University Ministry (particularly in our community service office), an excellent student, and a friend to all he encountered. I didn’t know him all that well personally, but many of my close University Ministry friends did, and it was not an easy blow for our community to suffer.
But through it all, we stood by each other, supported one another in our individual and collective grieving processes, and reflected on how we could carry on Frankie’s legacy. Time has passed, we have sought healing individually and collectively, and we have allowed life to go on, carrying with us the memory and legacy of Frankie in the DePaul community, the Chicago community, and the global community.
I remember that growing up, All Saint’s Day always felt like the liturgical holiday for those little old ladies and men who had lost their husbands and wives in the past year. Sure, I’d had some deaths in my family (like my 102-year-old great-great aunt), but most of them never felt all that close to home…I guess because I never saw them, and/or because they never felt very tragic. But a year ago, All Saint’s Day took on a new, deeper meaning for me. Because it really meant something to remember and honor those who had passed away in the previous year.
I remember I had a difficult time maintaining my composure during the morning worship service (luckily I had a friend sitting next to me who knew what the cause of it all was, so she was there to comfort me), and during the evening service, I found it almost difficult to light the candle in honor of Cindee and Frankie. In a way, it was almost an acknowledgement for me of what had happened over the course of the year. But as I lit the candle, another flame sparked, though this one was metaphorical.
This flame rested in the depths of my soul, warming and comforting me and reminding me that even though these two saints had passed away, their spirit and legacy was far from gone. It lived on in each of us who loved them. I truly could be a part of the group of “strong women”, many of whom I probably didn’t know and likely never will know, continuing to live out Cindee’s legacy. I could be part of that group of DePaul students, continuing to live out Frankie’s legacy, remembering, claiming, and acting on his own words that live in our hearts:
”We ARE the future. How will you make it better? How will you be remembered?”
This All Saint’s Day, and every day, how will we remember and live out the legacy of the saints who have gone before us? I encourage you to join me. Honor the Cindees and the Frankies in your life, and together, we can radically change this world.