September 29, 1983 – November 2, 2009
Good morning. On behalf of my family, let me simply say “Thank You.” Thank you for the prayers, for holding us in your hearts, for the flowers, for being our supporting friends. It truly means a lot to us and is helping us get through this trying time.
I am the kid from Michigan, the big brother that occasionally appeared in pictures, that might show up in discussion through email, who was often heard about in stories.
She was the kid sister who lived in California, the girl I would occasionally ask my Father about, the little lady who sometimes sent a holiday or birthday card, the girl who sang “Happy Birthday” to me when I turned 18.
We were/are related.
We were/are family.
But we were mostly strangers.
That is why I am blessed to be here with you today and was as equally blessed to be at her memorial service last week in Atlanta. I am blessed to be here because, finally, I get to know Jennifer. I had hoped that we would have more time to know each other, as she had recently found me on Facebook. I was looking forward to communicating with her, but alas time has run out on that wish.
I do want to thank all of you again for sharing your stories of Jennifer with me. It has helped me gain a picture of her smile, her laugh, her sense of humor, her wonderful ability to care for other people in her heart. I understand that she and I shared a love of restaurants, especially P.F. Chang’s. Allow me to give this gentle warning to my father – like Jennifer, I too am very protective of my left-over rice. So hands off!
I have also learned that she and I have inherited, successfully, that legacy of leadership that our father has given us. I think that’s the meaning of the word “Worthams“. To be a Worthams is to be a leader.
My sister was a Worthams.
My sister was a leader, as evidenced by all of the young people who are here in this church today to celebrate her life, by those young people who spoke today about how she set a shining example for them to follow.
Yes, my sister was a leader.
26 years is an amazingly short amount of time to be on this earth. Our cousin Michael remarked earlier this week that we should not concern ourselves with the quantity of those years, but with the quality of those years. I must say that our cousin Michael is a very wise man.
I flew to Jennifer’s memorial service from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, arriving at the airport two hours before the flight was scheduled to leave. Instead of just listening to my iPod to pass the time, there was a voice in my head that said “Stop by a newsstand and buy a book to read on the flight down.”
As I walked into the newsstand, the first book that caught my attention was the latest book by Mitch Albom titled “Have a Little Faith”. The book is about Albom’s quest to fulfill his hometown rabbi’s request to write the rabbi’s eulogy. During the eight year effort, Albom came across a sermon the rabbi gave shortly after the death of his daughter.
The rabbi said:
If you ask me, and you should, why this wonderful, beautiful child – who had so much to give – had to die, I can’t give you a rational answer. I don’t know.
But in a commentary to the Bible, tradition tells us that Adam, our first man, was supposed to have lived longer than any man, a thousand years. He didn’t. Our sages, in quest of an answer, related the following:
Adam begged God to let him see into the future. So the Lord said, “Come with me.” He took him through the celestial chambers, where the souls that were to be born awaited their turn. Each soul was a flame. Adam saw some flames burn purely, some barely flicker.
Then he saw a beautiful flame, clear, strong, golden orange, and healing. Adam said, “Oh Lord that will be a great human being. When shall it be born?”
The Lord replied, “I’m sorry, Adam, but that soul, as beautiful as it is, is destined not to be born. It has been pre-ordained that it will commit sin and tarnish itself. I have chosen to spare it the indignity of being besmirched.”
Adam pleaded, “But Lord, man must have someone to teach and guide him. Please, do not deprive my children.”
The Lord gently answered, “The decision has been made. I have no years left to allocate to him.”
Then Adam boldly said, “Lord, what if I am willing to bestow on that soul some of the years of my life?”
And God answered Adam, saying, “If that is your wish, that I will grant.”
Adam, we are told, died not at 1,000, but at 930 years. And eons later, there was a child born in the town of Bethlehem. He became ruler over Israel and a sweet singer of songs. After leading his people and inspiring them, he died. And the Bible concludes: “Behold, David the King was buried after having lived for 70 years.”
My friends, when sometimes we are asked why does someone perish, someone so young in age, I can only fall back on the wisdom of our tradition. It is true that David did not live long for his day. But while he lived, David taught, inspired, and left us a great spiritual legacy, including the Book of Psalms. One of those Psalms, the twenty-third, is read sometimes at funerals.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul …
Is it not better to have known my daughter for four years, than not to have known her at all?
My father has said numerous times that he struggles to find the good in Jennifer’s death. It seems that the sun does not shine as brightly as it did a month ago. How can it when an angel no longer flies among us?
I think, however, our angel is still here. I think our angel tapped my shoulder in Detroit and got me to pick up a book, a book that helped me write this speech.
I think our angel flew to that kid from Michigan and reminded him that while she is gone from this earth, there is still two kid brothers to look after, a sister-in-law, a sister-in-law to be, a brother-in-law, and there is still a father to learn from, there is still family to be with.
There is still good to be a part of in this world and Jennifer would want us all to be a part of what is good, even though the sky is dark.
Is it not better to have known our angel, my dear little sister, for 26 years than not to have known her at all?