A Celebration of Life

Today my sister, Elizabeth Swift Timms, would have turned 37. For a long time I’ve known that today would be a very difficult day so I felt it was appropriate on her birthday not to mourn but to indeed celebrate her remarkable life.

Exactly 2 months ago we held her Celebration of Life in Houston, Texas. The amount of family and friends that showed up was truly amazing. It was so special to see how many lives she had touched in her much too short time on Earth. I know there were many of her friends who were unable to attend the celebration so I wanted to share the program and some of the wonderful words spoken at the event.

ORDER OF SERVICE

PIANO MEDLEY

Played by Tim Holder, Director of Music Ministries

 Pines Presbyterian Church

WELCOME & INTRODUCTION

 Steve Kosub, uncle of Elizabeth

SPEAKER:

Jennifer Kaifesh, childhood friend

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve known Eli since we were eleven. I’m an only child, so she was not just my best friend, she was my sister. We were pretty much inseparable through middle school and high school, spending countless holidays together. Depending on the situation, she could be a good influence or — her personal favorite — a not-so-good influence.

A large part of our adolescence was influenced (or inspired!) by her ardent desire to grow up faster — to be older or cooler than we were. To be fair, this may have had something to do with the fact that whenever we’d go out to lunch, servers would often comment on how nice it was of me to take my little sister out to eat. When we were seventeen, a waitress even brought her a kid’s placemat and crayons to color with (which she almost chucked at the waitress’s head). So I guess, in hindsight, I understand why she wanted to grow up so badly.

We celebrated nearly every Halloween together. Once Eli decided we were “too old” for trick-or-treating, she convinced me that haunted houses would be a much “cooler” way to spend Halloween than begging strangers for candy. Keep in mind that I hate scary things, but still, her logic seemed sound…so we decided to go to Splashtown, the local water park, which hosted a haunted house. When we got there, there was a long line, and we watched as older teens streamed out, screaming bloody murder, wiping tears of terror off their cheeks, clearly relieved that they’d survived the whole ordeal. An hour and a half later, we got to the front of the line. The gatekeeper beckoned us to go in, but Eli didn’t move. After a few moments, she took a couple steps backwards and just shook her head. “NOPE.”

Not long after, she was determined to overcome her fears and try again. We’d heard about a haunted trail nearby, and we went with my mom and my mom’s best friend, Miki. When it was our turn to enter, Eli squeezed her eyes shut and wrapped her fingers around Miki’s belt loops so tightly that she nearly tore them off, burying her head in Miki’s butt so deeply that I suspect she left a permanent nose print. But she made it through, and I even developed an unexpected love of haunted houses, thanks to her.

This dynamic was pervasive in our friendship: she’d convince me to do something we were both terrified of doing, whether it was haunted houses, swimming with stingrays, or telling our crushes how much we liked them. When we were sixteen, she even convinced me that sneaking into a nightclub on a cruise ship — and risking facing my parents’ wrath — was a good idea. She was not without fear; she simply overcame it to do what she wanted to do.

Similarly, we watched her battle cancer these last six years with so much strength and so much bravery, it was simply incredible. I am still in awe of her refusal to let this disease slow her down or keep her from seeing the world and experiencing new things. She faced this thing head on, eyes open, determined to keep moving forward — never letting fear keep her from doing anything she wanted to do.

Who knows…maybe she was always in such a rush to grow up because she somehow knew she had to fit a lifetime of experiences into a shorter span than the rest of us. But while her life may have been cut far too short, I like to think it was condensed, not abbreviated — after all, she lived more in her 36 years than most would in 100.

Thank you, Eli Cheesecake, for memories that will last a lifetime — and for showing us how to maximize our time on earth.

POEM:

To Laugh Often and Much by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Read by Alison Timms Mitchell, sister of Elizabeth

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

SPEAKER:

Anita Pilling, Elizabeth’s High School history teacher

READING:

Excerpt from Sojourns Near & Far: Summer Adventures of the Timms Family

Read by Sarah Rogers & Megan Bulsara, college friends

It had been seven years since the Timmses had taken an extended road trip together when Mom and Dad arrived at Prude Ranch to pick us up and head off on a grand tour of California’s national parks. As we girls approached adulthood it had become progressively more difficult for us to fit family trips into our hectic lives. Alison and I both traveled with friends to Europe after graduating from the John Cooper School, and summer employment, no matter how sporadic, had precluded extensive summer travel. The fact that this trip materialized at all is a testament to the pivotal role family vacations, especially camping trips, played in all our lives. In a sense it was a last hurrah. I had just graduated from Claremont McKenna College and Alison had completed her sophomore year at University of Redlands. Perhaps as a salute to our sisterly bond and for one last chance to spend meaningful time together, we girls decided to spend six weeks working for low wages at a dude ranch in West Texas. When Mom and Dad told us they were planning a camping trip to northern California, we just assumed we were included, and of course they were eager to have us. It was like old times, and we were not disappointed.

The itinerary was ambitious, even by Mom’s standards. We were to head northward from Fort Davis, through New Mexico, across Utah and Nevada, and then into California. From there, we would dip into Oregon, work our way southward, then turn eastward once we reached Arizona, a distance of at least 5,000 miles. The parks we visited offered a kaleidoscope of natural beauty, each with its unique features. We immersed ourselves in ancient Puebloan history at Chaco Canyon, saw our first glacier at Great Basin, climbed a cinder cone at Lassen Volcano, viewed North America’s deepest lake at Crater Lake, gazed up at the world’s tallest tree in Redwoods, hiked to the top of two waterfalls in majestic Yosemite, and survived the searing heat in Death Valley. In between we did our laundry in a casino in Reno, watched the abysmal Legally Blond II on my birthday in Crescent City, CA, and strolled the Vegas Strip without gambling a single cent while enduring 100-degree temperatures at midnight. We had bumped and rattled sixteen excruciating miles along a washboard road to share a campsite with a 10th century Chacoan ruin, driven the loneliest road in America paralleling the Pony Express Trail across Nevada, surprised a man sitting naked in the snow on Wheeler Peak, and walked in the footsteps of the Jurassic Park dinosaurs in Fern Canyon. The trip was spectacular, a fitting end to childhoods well spent.

MUSIC:

Old Irish Blessing

Sung by Tim Holder

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand
And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand

May the sun make your days bright
May the stars illuminate your nights
May the flowers bloom along your path
Your house stand firm against the storm

And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand
And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand

SPEAKER:

Chris Fender, college friend

Like everyone here, I have exceptionally fond memories of Eli.  When Ali extended me the honor of speaking, I wrestled with the right words to summarize our friendship, so I beg your forgiveness if I get lost along the way.

You would think Eli wouldn’t be able to go drink for drink with a bunch of Neanderthal college football players; and congratulations, you’d be right.  But that didn’t stop her from trying.  I’d never seen a regulation basketball look so cartoonishly large in a legally adult human’s hands; but that didn’t stop Eli from playing in intramurals.  Those anecdotes to me sum up what was so clear outwardly:

Eli never gave up.  She was regularly outsized by other college soccer players, but that never deterred her pursuit.  She had the  determination to follow her career in education across the country and indeed across the world.  She had the courage to leave her comfort zone and explore parts of the globe I’ll probably never see.  She had the strength to add years and rich texture to a precious life doctors told her might end any moment; and she had the fearlessness to be honest with us about her hope, despair, and irrepressible humor.

That’s what Eli put forth for all of us, probably for our benefit as much as hers; that mighty resolve.  What made her so special to me though was the warmth and depth of her soul.  She was that friend that would just listen without judging me.  College was not always an easy time for me with regard to my self confidence and insecurities, and she would just let me talk.  She wouldn’t try to solve, she wouldn’t tell me what I should do, she would just listen. I tried to be that friend for her, and I truly hope I was.  About 10 years ago, my first wife told me over Thanksgiving that she was leaving me.   I have to tell you, I’d never felt more ashamed or worthless.   Eli happened to be visiting Ali up in Portland at the time.  Taylor sent up the Bat Signal, Eli deviated from her precious time with her sister, and she and Ali swooped down to save me from my self-destructive thoughts. Just being there with her at a time when I didn’t much care for myself helped remind me that I mattered to other people.  Seeing her took me back to times when I was happy.  We could reminisce about this one person, or that one time.

That kind of dynamic happened time and time again as we got older.  Not long after that, Eli went off on her world-wide adventure. Not long after that, I began sprouting roots and raising a family and a career.  It got harder and harder for us to see each other.  There were actual oceans between us.  But whenever I got the chance to see her, it was ever the same.  That smile, that eye freckle, the way she’d try to say “stop” through that staccato laugh, I would instantly be flooded with memories.  I’d remember what the north quad dorms smelled like, or how that Flaming Mo she bought me at the Simpsons Bar in Salamanca tasted.  Our friendship was like a time capsule that never disappointed.

Some of you may be familiar with the concept of the butterfly effect.  Apart from being a forgettable Ashton Kutcher movie, it’s actually a component of chaos theory; a phenomenon  whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Essentially, it’s the notion that something as insignificant as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can lead to a tsunami half way around the world.  Eli wasn’t perfect, as none of us are.  She had a tendency to run behind schedule sometimes, and she could get frazzled.  Both of these quirks affected her when she tried to take the LSATs senior year in college.  Yes, at one time, she thought she might want to be a lawyer.  Unfortunately, on the day of her exam, she was late, couldn’t find the examination room, and came back in a devastated heap to campus.  She took it as a sign that she wasn’t meant for law school, so she pursued the family business of education.  That one day of heavy traffic led Eli to become Ms. Timms, the teacher known around the world.  It led her to China.  It led her to Jon.

It’s amazing, if you really think about it.  If you can have a positive impact on one person’s life, that one person can go on and have a positive impact on other people’s lives, and those people can change even more lives; and the pattern can spread exponentially.  Eli, through her destined path as an educator to children literally all over the world, from far east Asia to the Andes, has without question made that impact.  Those students will go on to wherever their lives may take them and apply her knowledge, both in what she taught and how she lived: with a smile, dignity, and strength.  She impacted still other people with her blog.  Colleagues in my office who have no other connection to her have read her entries, been sincerely moved, and shared them with others in their lives. My son would wear his Team Eli shirt to daycare, and his teachers would ask me about her, and I would get to share her story with them.   Eli is one of those incredibly rare people of whom it can be said actually made the world a better place.

The last thing I’d like to say is a movie quote.  Eli would give me a really hard time for always quoting movies, so I suppose this is only appropriate.

I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.

POEM:

Instructions by Arnold Crompton

Read by David Timms, father of Elizabeth

When I have moved beyond you in the adventure of life,
Gather in some pleasant place and there remember me
With spoken words, old and new.
Let a tear if you will, but let a smile come quickly
For I have loved the laughter of life.
Do not linger too long with your solemnities.
Go eat and talk, and when you can;
Follow a woodland trail, climb a high mountain,
Walk along the wild seashore,
Chew the thoughts of some book
Which challenges your soul.
Use your hands some bright day
To make a thing of beauty
Or to lift someone’s heavy load.
Though you mention not my name,
Though no thought of me crosses your mind,
I shall be with you,
For these have been the realities of my life for me.
And when you face some crisis with anguish.
When you walk alone with courage,
When you choose your path of right,
I shall be very close to you.
I have followed the valleys,
I have climbed the heights of life.

EULOGY

Sara Timms, mother of Elizabeth

Thank you all for coming. I am humbled by the show of support that our family has received since Elizabeth’s diagnosis nearly six years ago, particularly within the last month. As I look out over this gathering I see family, colleagues, and friends of her husband Jon and the Timmses.  Some of you met Lizzy in her formative years at the John Cooper School, others at Claremont Mckenna College in California, and still others after she started her chosen career as an educator. Some of you have never met her but know her through other members of the Timms family or through her blog which she began writing in October 2012 as a form of therapy to deal with the psychological trauma of her disease. The one common thread among you all is that you are here because her friendship, loyalty, or zest for life has made a lasting impression upon you, one worthy of celebration.

I wrestled with the best way to encapsulate the life of Lizzy in a meaningful way. Many of you knew her as the diminutive scholar-athlete with the musical bent who also happened to have, not one, but two teaching parents. Those of you from college days knew her as a roommate, teammate, or a loyal friend who was always eager to have a good time. After several dry runs I chose to use her as a guide – to approach her life as she saw herself, as a World Traveler, Foodie, History Nerd, and a Stage IV Cancer Survivor.

Lizzy as World Traveler started at an early age and mushroomed over time. Living in Rhode Island and North Carolina with grandparents in England and Texas meant that long-distance travel was essential if we were to see family. Because both David and I are teachers, we had the luxury of spending summer months on extended road trips traversing the United States and visiting Europe. Lizzy loved these trips. With a Coleman Camper in tow we saw a good portion of the western national parks and historic sites. Alternate summers were spent in the UK. When she and Ali were old enough, we began to take them across the English Channel to see the rest of Europe. We created a monster! Evidently, Lizzy caught the travel bug and nothing could keep her from getting on a plane, although she was acutely afraid of flying, and going abroad. No doubt her decision to get an International Teaching Certificate was primarily so she could see the world. And see the world she did – three years in China and seven years in Chile. She found Jon, her soul mate and fellow traveler in Dalian, China and the two of them would plan another trip the day after they returned from the current one. Noteworthy trips include taking the trans-Siberian Railroad from St. Petersburg to Lake Baikal, then south through Mongolia to Beijing, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, spending three glorious weeks in South Africa visiting game preserves and traversing the Garden Route, and seeing the beauty of the Patagonian Wilderness and remote Yunnan Province, China with David and me as appreciative companions.

Being a foodie also has deep roots. She learned the basics of cooking in Providence from her baby seat on the kitchen counter, watching me cook and bake. Her first real foray into food preparation was in high school when we lived in Oak Ridge North. I was teaching and coaching at Awty International School at this time and had a hellish commute, so was not home early enough to prepare dinner. Because she felt she could improve on David’s lack of culinary skills she volunteered to cook. She found she enjoyed the challenge and began to experiment with more complex dishes. She became my sous chef for dinner parties and our annual New Years’ Day brunches. She interrupted her teaching career while she lived in Pasadena, California in order to attend Culinary Arts School. She got her certificate with the highest score in her class. Oddly enough, her previous school, Chadwick, asked her if she would like to practice her skills by catering for the school’s week-long in-service in August of that year. She really wanted to, but she needed help. I received a call the next day, and she very sheepishly broached the subject of me coming out to California to help her. The timing was perfect as I had just made the decision to get out of teaching and try my hand in non-profit management. I said, yes, and the week was the most exhausting week either of us ever spent. We prepared breakfast, lunch, and evening barbecues or wine and cheese afternoons for 160 faculty and staff, for five days on four hours of sleep a night and adrenalin. Soon afterward, she decided to head to Dalian, China and resume her teaching career. Although she was a very picky eater in her youth, she became adventuresome in adulthood. Travel and tasting different cuisines helped in this transition. Jon got her interested in becoming a wine connoisseur. No dish was unapproachable and no restaurant unaffordable. Sometimes I think they studied the restaurant scene in a particular city before committing to adding it on their itinerary. Food and drink became a joie di vivre, and she very enthusiastically shared her culinary talent with her friends who never once turned down an invitation to dinner or a party.

Lizzy as History Nerd got me somewhat perplexed, so I looked up “history nerds” on Google. It said, History nerds, “read way too much and way too late at night. Their Netflix queues are filled with documentaries and PBS specials.” I also found a list of 11 things you never say to a history nerd. I was annoyed by all of them. Finally, I knew how to approach this topic, since the traits seemed to describe every excellent history teacher I know. Lizzy never said she planned to go into teaching. She thought she would go to law school and see where that led her. But after failing to even find the L-SAT testing center on the Laverne University Campus she realized that perhaps the Law was not her best option. Instead, she got a job teaching United States History at Episcopal High School in Houston. She had found her calling. Her principal at Chadwick Academy in Palos Verdes Estates wrote, She is innovative, but not at the expense of traditional skills; she is fun and interesting, but not at the expense of content; and she is kind and caring, but not at the expense of standards. At our celebration of Elizabeth’s life at her school in Santiago, several of her former students came up to talk with me. They had loved her class and had also participated in Model United Nations of which Lizzy was the sponsor. I told them that I too was a teacher and worked with MUN. Their response, “Are you a History Nerd”, too?

Lizzy as Stage IV Cancer Survivor is much more difficult to talk about, but since Lizzy was a survivor for one-third of her adult life it is indelibly linked to her identity. October 2, 2012 was the Timms family’s 9/11. Like America after the twin towers fell, that fateful phone call from Santiago changed the way all of us would look at the world. Our innocence was shattered. We were forced to deal with the unimaginable. In order to deal with the emotional roller coaster she was riding, Elizabeth turned to writing. Her blog became her outlet. She wrote with honesty and courage – the gory details of life in the hospital, her fears of an unknown future, her frustration in losing her physical capabilities. But she also wrote about the joys of the seemingly mundane things in life –  seeing a field of wildflowers, watching children play in the park, lying on the coach with her two canine warriors, Ghengis and Kublai Khan. She found strength in continuing to live life doing what she loved to do – travel, entertain, and surround herself with family and friends. In the past six years she did some amazing things, and I had the privilege to be there for most of them – celebrating her first remission in the Atacama Desert, rejoicing at her marriage to Jon in the Yucatan, traveling to Easter Island days after receiving brain radiation, celebrating Ali and Dustin’s wedding in Costa Rica, even braving the earthquake in Mexico City. Through it all, Jon did everything possible to assure her that he was with her for the entire ride. His devotion and love for his love bug was unwavering and remarkable.

A mother’s heart aches today, but behind that ache is a smile beaming with the knowledge that Elizabeth, in her condensed life brought joy to those who knew her and did indeed meet all the conditions Ralph Waldo Emerson felt necessary for a successful life, with laughter and love.  I would like to end with words from Elizabeth’s blog written in July, 2014, entitled, “Saying Goodbye”. She is reflecting upon the in-transient life of international school teaching, friends leaving, and the concept of home.

When you live outside of the country it is difficult to define the concept of home: is it where you grew up?  Is it where you currently live?  Is it where your family members reside?  For me, home is that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you are surrounded by people and things you recognize and love.  For the past three years, Santiago has been that home for me.  Home has been me, lying on my couch, wallowing with Chingy in front of the TV in our terracotta living room.  Home is trying out a new recipe in our kitchen, preparing for some gathering or barbeque or party on a Saturday as Agustina does the laundry. Home is watching the sun peeking up over the Andes mountains covered in snow as Jon drives us to work.  Home is me, trying desperately to fit my car into the miniscule parking spaces in the basement of Clinica Alemana, where I have unfortunately spent many a day in the past two years.  Home is watching Chingy chase rabbits and birds in the park near my house as Jon and I walk around the path, catching glimpses of the Costanera Center when it is not obscured by smog.  Yes: all those things have been home for me.  But mostly it’s been the people.  The most amazingly strong and supportive group of friends a person can ask for.  And it breaks my heart to have to say goodbye.  However, that is life.  Things change, people change, and all you can do, is cherish the memories of the time you were able to spend together.  Instead of being sad, it is best to smile, laugh, and vow to see each other in the future.

VIDEO TRIBUTE

Created by Alison Timms Mitchell

CLOSING & REMEMBRANCE

Moment of Silence

 

I hope you all enjoyed the stories and memories shared. As I close out this blog post I want to say “Happy Birthday” to my sister for a sister is love never outgrown. In the words of  Jennifer Kaifesh I end this post by reminding us all that ‘she lived more in her 36 years than most would in 100.’

Lizzy, we miss you and love you always!

 

5 comments

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  1. texasslingers

    Thank you for sharing this today. We think of Eli often and reading this has made me realize why. Love to you and all the family.

    Like

  2. Kate E

    Ali, thank you for sharing this! I’m crying as I read all the beautiful tributes to Eli. But I do love how they help me remember certain things about Eli that were so HER–and so fun–like how she always tried to say “stop” through her staccato laugh. Again, I appreciate your sharing this for those of us who weren’t able to attend her celebration of life. Sending love to your family.

    Like

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