We come together to celebrate Elizabeth’s life, to express our grief and sorrow and to acknowledge our deep loss.
Elizabeth did not have an easy life. From childhood on she suffered physical pain – as a young girl she struggled with Crohn’s Disease. She suffered emotionally – the pain of learning disabilities and of being a target for bullying at school – the pain of having to struggle to develop relationships with others.
A spiritual pain – looking for answers to the questions of purpose and meaning in life, answers that she found hard to find. I know that she looked at and became involved with a number of faith groups but never found the answers that satisfied all the important questions she was raising.
Despite her disabilities and her pain, Elizabeth achieved much in her short life, in her work with people with mental illness, in her advocacy for those who, like her, faced pain and distress and prejudice in the world.
Elizabeth was capable of great creativity – just read her poetry. At times, she was able to enjoy life – think of her relationship with horses. Wherever it was possible, she took charge of her life and was able to make lemonade from the lemons she received. Even to the end, she was in control – and we all need to understand and ultimately accept the incredibly difficult decision she came to.
Some of the questions Elizabeth asked we have no answer to. We cannot comprehend why such pain and distress exist. Yes, we can speak of chemical imbalances in the brain, we can hazard guesses about genetics, but in the long run, these answers are palliative – they take the edge off the suffering. Pills, medication are able to dull the pain; they do not make continuing life possible for some people. But they don’t address the “Why” – the deeper spiritual issues around the meaning and purpose of life.
Elizabeth, in her life, was able to make it meaningful and purposeful, even if it proved too daunting a task in the end.
She leaves family members and friends with a great sense of loss and sadness, a sadness that we could not do more to ease her journey, that we still know so little about mental health issues.
I would caution you not to take more responsibility than you should in her death. Many of you, especially her family and close friends, worked long and hard with her in encouraging a fulfilling and happy life. But it was Elizabeth who made the adult decisions. She fought the good fight and needed to rest. She chose her path, a choice we must respect and honour.
To be fully human means, above all, to be in a relationship of love and care with others. Elizabeth had that relationship with her family, and with close friends – but like all relationships, the road she traveled was at times rocky and difficult.
I am convinced that those of us who suffer from mental illness do so because of our incredible sensitivity to relationships, to how we respond to others, and they to us. How this sensitivity comes about I have no idea. But I do know that it leaves mentally ill people extremely vulnerable. Some of us deal with this vulnerability by shutting out the real and difficult world, hiding in a world of our own making. Others of us simply withdraw and distance ourselves from people. Elizabeth did neither. She faced the world squarely and did her very best to make that experience meaningful and worthwhile. She deserves our highest praise.
In the Bible, the Book of Job is a fictional story written in narrative form to address the problem of suffering. Pain and suffering come to all of us. It is an integral part of being human. In facing pain, we often ask the question “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”. That is a natural response, but perhaps a more helpful question might be “How can I best handle this pain”? How can I make use of my situation for the benefit of all?”
Despite all his sufferings, Job faced these questions. He remains convinced of the goodness of God and his purpose in life, and he is ultimately rewarded. Faced with unrelenting pain, he could still say “I know that my redeemer lives and he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. Though worms may destroy this body yet in my flesh I shall see God”.
Perhaps a little differently from Job, Elizabeth answered these questions with courage and creativity. Elizabeth, in her journey and relationships, affirmed that her life had meaning and purpose, despite incredible suffering.
And we too here affirm for Elizabeth that her life was of the utmost value, that she fulfilled an extremely important purpose here and we recognize the profound meaning she offered to us all as she lived her life on earth.
So in our sorrow and our loss, we can also rejoice – we are thankful for her life, for what she has taught us, and for what she has achieved for those who are mentally ill. We give thanks for these gifts, given to us all so freely. Thank you, Elizabeth, that our paths have crossed in this journey of life, and that we have indeed benefitted from that meeting. Thank you, Elizabeth, for the gift of your life, and for the blessing of having known and loved you.