In Loving Memory of Gabrielle Esther Lewis – A Note to Family
On August 26, 2016, my youngest daughter, Gabrielle Esther Lewis (pictured above), 22, died. As a family, we are in bits and pieces. Below is the eulogy that I read at her service. It doesn’t do her justice, but it was the best I could do.
If you’re here today, you’re family.
My name is Jordan Lewis, and I am the father, now and forever, of Gabrielle Esther Lewis. Gabrielle was born on Feb. 24, 1994, and she died Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, which happens to be the 9th birthday of her dog, Zahara Waffle, whom she named and loved with all of her heart.
I won’t pretend that I can make any sense out of what happened on Friday evening. We don’t have anything official – apparently it will be months before we do – but informally we’re told that Gab developed an undetected deep vein thrombosis in her left leg. A resulting blood clot escaped and entered her lungs, which killed her in a few seconds.
My job – and my honor – today is to, for a few minutes, talk about Gab. To try to show you the world through her eyes. Gab’s very special eyes.
When Gab was about 14, an MRI of her brain showed what was termed a “UBO,” or an unidentified bright object. She liked the sound of that. She told me that she suspected that maybe that UBO was the source of her special qualities.
There is no talking about Gab without talking about her strengths and her challenges, which are tied together as one. Gab was incredibly sensitive, incredibly soft, incredibly giving. So how did that manifest? It meant that she saw the world through the purest of eyes. Gab was so sensitive that she had almost no filter to tease out the nonsense from the meaningful. As an example, if someone honked at her while she was driving, she would come home shocked and saddened. “Why were they angry with me?” she’d ask. “I was trying as hard as I can.” She had no frame of reference to understand the harshness and crudeness found in of most of us.
This sensitivity was a curse. And a blessing. Gab delighted in finding the beauty of all things, small things. She had a boundless curiosity – she knew something about everything. The worst bet you’d ever make was to wager with her over some insignificant preposterous fact. She was never wrong, though in her younger years, she would cheat a little. She knew how to edit Wikipedia, and would do so and then immediately tease me with some obscure fact. When I challenged her, she bet me she was right, and for proof she would show me the brand-new Wikipedia entry. And so I paid up.
Gab’s sensitivity is reflected in her relations with others. She was completely, totally color-blind when it came to people. She didn’t see people as white, black, gay, straight, Democrat, Republic, trans, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim. All she saw was people. She took them on their terms. And she never, never, never took them for granted. She supported friends, held them and comforted them, and sweetly insisted that they see their own beauty. All the while she had dark doubts about her own.
This sweetness and softness showed up in a 1000 different ways. Gab, literally, could not hurt a fly. I watched her capture more than one insect and carefully carry it outside to liberate it. For that reason, Gab became the self-designated lizard rescuer in our house. She protected these visitors from me, and me from them. Here’s a story: One night when we were living in Minneapolis, we woke up at about 2 a.m. because we heard adult male voices coming from downstairs. I grabbed a bathrobe and found a policeman, and an unknown and rattled man, and Gab, in the kitchen. It turns out that the man had been mugged, and saw lights on from our house and rang the doorbell for help. And Gab let him in. She gave him water and called the police.
On the one hand, I was shocked that Gab had let a stranger into our house at 2 a.m. And on the other, I was proud of my girl for helping a stranger in need. And today, I know she handled that situation perfectly.
There’s something else about Gab that you should know. She was courageous, beyond belief. Super-human courage. Gab’s issues were real, and she never surrendered to them. She fought them every day, maybe every hour. In our house, we think courage is the most important human characteristic – everything else follows. Gab had the guts of 100 Spartan soldiers. She never gave up on herself, and she never gave up on anyone else – friends or family. She combined her courage with grace – somehow, while she always gave of herself to others, she never, ever, ever asked for help herself.
Gab’s courage had a different form – she had the courage to love her friends and family without fear, without reservation. Gabi held nothing back in her relationships. She was your friend for life. She didn’t qualify or moderate her relationships.
I’ve talked about her sensitivity and her courage. The last thing I want to talk about – the third part of her magical stew that makes up Gab – was her poet’s heart. This played out in all facets of her life. She was a writer. Though she rarely shared her work with anyone – she was afraid her poems weren’t good enough – I am so proud to share one with you now:
I know of a place with cozy warm snow.
It falls below the endless ebony rainbow,
Across the red night sky.
Sky scrapers can be found
Organized into random lines.
I’ve watched the music float in the breeze
And heard the flowers bloom behind me.
I’ve felt an old man’s poetry like a kiss on the cheek.
And I wonder: Why would I ever leave?
Her clothing, her jewelry, her makeup, her boots, her accessories – they were all part of her art. She endlessly created. She was, in a sense, her most beautiful and most fluid work of art.
And then there’s her hair.
When Gab was born, she had a shock of bright red hair, surrounded by thick black tufts. Within a few months, her hair had changed to natural blonde. But as soon as she was able, she started changing it, endlessly and mercilessly. She chose colors that aren’t found on land – these are colors that only exist in the natural world in the ocean, on brilliant coral reefs. Every color was vibrant and electric. It’s how she saw the world, and how she wanted the world to see her – in technicolor.
Gab and I once discussed whether superheroes could exist. Not the crime-fighting type. But people of unusual and spectacular qualities – different from the rest of us – who lived among us. She liked that idea, a lot.
I see now that Gab was a superhero. Special. Endowed with gifts that are different than the rest of us earthbound mortals.
Maybe someone who saw life so brilliantly; who loved so fearlessly; who worked so hard on herself – maybe they live life at a different speed. Maybe Gab gave us, and herself, all she had.
I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know: I’ve learned so much from my little girl. In 22 years, she’s given us a century’s worth of material. My family will honor and celebrate her life by taking what she gave us and trying to apply it in our own lives. By seeing through her eyes. Even if we succeed only by a little, we know we will have made the world a better place.
Gabrielle. Gab. Gabo. Gabi. Gob. Gobster. Rock gobster. G. Esther. Skittles. Daughter. Sister. Friend.
We love you. Forever and always.
Gabrielle volunteered at the Abandoned Pet Rescue, Fort Lauderdale’s largest no-kill animal shelter. If you’re so inclined, please honor her memory by donating to the shelter. Its website can be found here: www.abandonedpetrescue.org.