A beautiful life, well-lived, and lovingly remembered

Cross-posting this from my other blog, Self-Rescuing Princess Society.

Shelagh Gordon

If you don’t know who Shelagh Gordon was, you’re not alone. She wasn’t famous. I’d never heard of her until well after her death and funeral. But after reading Catherine Porter’s Toronto Star article about her life and the impact she had on nearly everyone she ever met, I wish I’d known her.

It’s usual that a death notice in the newspaper would create so much interest. That a writer for the same newspaper would read a death notice and feel compelled to attend the future and interview the mourners is remarkable.

But 55-year-old Shelagh’s death notice stopped me. “Our world is a smaller place today without our Shelagh,” it began. “Our rock, our good deed doer, our tradition keeper, our moral compass.” It stated she was the “loving aunt and mother” to a list of names, without differentiating among them. And it mentioned she was a “special friend” to two people — one a man, the other a woman. The secrets tucked here were intriguing. I called Shelagh’s sister Heather Cullimore with a request. Would she let the Star come to her funeral and ask the people gathered there about her life?

Years ago, when I was entering my 30s and worried that I hadn’t achieved anything in my life, a good friend gave me this to ponder: What if your purpose in life is just to be a good friend to the people in your life?

Sitting in the fourth row at her funeral, I could see myself in Shelagh. She lived a small life, as do most of us, untouched by war, disease, poverty. Her struggles were intimate. But the world she carefully assembled was rich and meaningful in ways she never grasped.

That was a new way of thinking about life and my approach to it. I may not be able to change the whole world, but I could at least improve my little corner of the world. I may not be able to help everyone who needs help, but I can reach out to those around me. Which is exactly what Shelagh did.

They all call her a second mother and best friend. Her sisters call her their epoxy. She glued together the gaps in their lives — arriving in the middle of the night when one kid needed to go to the hospital, picking their kids up from school in emergencies, hauling out their garbage when they’d forgotten to. She’d call from the grocery store to announce chicken was on sale and what else did they need?

We all spend a lot of time thinking about what will make us happier in our lives. We worry about what we don’t have, and how powerless we are. When we hear the phrase, “Follow your Bliss,” we think, Yeah, but that doesn’t pay the mortgage. We save our happiness for when we’re thinner, when the kids are out of diapers, when we go on vacation, when we retire.

But there are some people who seem to have everything they need, even without actually owning very much. They just exude genuine happiness.

Her living room was lush and creamy, her kitchen warm with wood floors, and treasures were scattered everywhere — a wooden birdhouse and rusted bell in her kitchen, two heart-shaped stones on the radiator by her bath, an angel-shaped knob above her mirror. Wedged into one corner of her bathroom, where the wainscoting of two walls meets, I found a small white stone with the word “strength” on it.

They seemed like totems, reminding Shelagh to not save life for the weekends, but delight in it here and now.

How often do we stop and think about what we do have, what we can change in our now? What can we add to each day to honor the preciousness of our lives? It’s clear that Shelagh’s life, even studied afterward, has already influenced even more people. Catherine Porter, the author, writes what many must be feeling after reading the article.

Wandering around her house one recent afternoon, I fished one of her mud-caked Blundstones from the closet and slipped it on, wondering “What is a life worth?”

In the past, I have often answered this question with achievements — campaigns, masterpieces, spiritual or literal changes to humankind and the world. The measure, I’ve thought, is Sophie Scholl or Charles Darwin or Nelson Mandela.

Shelagh’s life offers another lens. She didn’t change the world forcibly, but she changed many people in it. She lightened them. She inspired them, though she likely didn’t realize it. She touched them in simple ways most of us don’t because we are too caught-up and lazy.

Her life reveals that it doesn’t take much to make a difference every day — just deep, full love —and that can be sewn with many different kinds of stitches.

What a lovely reminder to work with what we have, be grateful for our blessings, and take each day like the gift that it is.

As her family and friends spoke of her, my thoughts kept pulling to my own life. Do I love as deeply as Shelagh? Do I exult in the small pleasures of life the way she did? How do I want to be remembered?

If you know someone like Shelagh, take a moment to tell him or her how much you love them. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone.

Read the whole article and see more photos, and a great video: Shelagh was here — an ordinary, magical life. And be sure to check out the click-able photo of her funeral.


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