A lesson learned later in life: If you find yourself on the fence, it’s never a mistake to go to a funeral – ever; it is however, often a mistake to excuse yourself from one… You can take this to the bank. How many times have I passed on a funeral because I felt: too busy, didn’t really know the family, forgot and wasn’t dressed appropriately, had a meeting scheduled, a hectic day ahead, etc. etc.? Lame even at the moment, and I knew it.
I understand ‘not all funerals are equal’ relative to my sense of loss, intimacy with the bereaved, time and distance realities… I’m talking here about funerals within reach and primarily funerals of acquaintances: nodding neighbors, professional contacts, family members of relatives and co-workers, etc.: funerals I don’t ‘have’ to attend.
I just came from the funeral of , a woman intimately involved in the Central New York professional philanthropic community for many years, and someone who has always kept an eye on AIDS Community Resources – especially our two primary youth initiatives, the Teen AIDS Task Force and The Q Center.
Kathy was not someone I saw often or knew well. She was, however, someone I liked immediately and someone I always felt like I knew well, if that makes sense…? Cathy was the only foundation representative in my entire professional career that sought us out and announced upon her first visit: “We haven’t ever given you any money and it’s time to remedy that!” (I will never be talked out of believing in angels!). That visit resulted in us hosting 3 African teens, all HIV/AIDS educators, and their chaperones, from Zimbabwe, for an amazing/inspiring/sobering week-long 9 county experience culminating in a regional youth summit at the State Fairgrounds: a week and an event that changed lives on two continents. The ripple effects continue to this day…
Years later as we were looking to establish the Q Center, a safe space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth, and Cathy had risen to a position of leadership at the Gifford Foundation, I called and asked for a meeting. On the day of my appointment, as I sat with one of her staff, Cathy stuck her head into the meeting room and declared: “Give him what he’s asking for – we’re going to fund them…!” On she went and so they did..! We now have a library and group meeting room, both full of color, furnished courtesy of Gifford and Cathy’s commitment to the misrepresented and marginalized in our community.
All the reflections shared at Cathy’s funeral solidly resonated with my limited experience of her. She was the real deal with intimates and acquaintances: one face, one heart, one vision of how to be in the world, no matter who she interacted with.
I didn’t have to go to Cathy’s funeral, and I did forget, as I dressed that morning in ‘casual Friday’ attire. I did have a hectic schedule, and I didn’t know the family. I went. I’ve learned (mostly…), and Cathy left me with yet one more bequest: images of promise and possibility, of delight in doing good with good humor, of trusting intuition and common sense, of spontaneous generosity towards all. A mistake dodged and a blessing bestowed: I’ll never be talked out of attending a funeral or believing in angels.
Kathy Goldfarb-Findling is second from left in front row of this 2001 photo. She stands alongside three teens from Zimbabwe.