By Dan Freeman, Brother
August 2nd, 2014
Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking all of the speakers and performers; our MC and dear friend Dorothy; you, our family and friends; the Unitarian Church; and especially Jillian Kohl, without whom this gathering would’ve been beyond our ability to assemble. In addition, I want to extend our gratitude to the many people who could not make it but sent their condolences, memories, photographs, and support from all corners of the world. We have been astounded by this outpouring of love, and it is a tonic to our broken hearts to know how many people Abby touched and inspired.
My sisters, my idols
Abby was an anxious child, afraid of dogs and ‘piders, and would be terrified to return to school each fall for fear that she couldn’t do the work or would no longer fit in socially. She kept a roll of masking tape by her bed, and would stick it against her face when she went to sleep because it felt like kisses.
Growing up, I thought the two most perfect women in the world were my sisters Cynthia and Abigail. While each of them was very distinct, they each exuded heaps of intelligence, ambition, beauty, kindness, and sass. In many ways, they set the bar to which I measure up the loves in my own life – perhaps that’s why I’m still single.
Never one for the performance classes that my sisters, and especially Abby, excelled in, I nonetheless lived a vicariously dramatic life through Abby’s success in high school plays; her forays into weird off-off-off Broadway performances in New York; her hard-won and career-defining casting in De La Guarda; her travels to strange and foreign places such as Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Beijing, Bregenz and… Orange County.
To live through another person is one thing, but I think many of those closest to her can understand the feeling of wanting to in some way actually “be” Abby. In the fall of 2002, while I was a student living in Japan, I went to visit Abby in Seoul, South Korea, where she and Merlin and some other folks in this room were on tour. As luck would have it, I would be there for Halloween, which, being such a quintessentially American holiday, is a special experience when living abroad. I didn’t have a costume, so Abby took me to the Namdaemun shopping district to look for something suitable. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything either in my size or that seemed appropriate. Then we spotted a long blond wig, and we had an idea. I would don Abby’s outfit from the show – bright red jacket, blue miniskirt, eyeshadow, lipstick, and all – as my costume. The blond wig completed the picture. That night, I was the rockstar performer Abby Freeman, madly flying and singing around Korea’s capital late into the night with the rest of her band of merry pranksters. It was a night I – and quite possibly the residents of Seoul, sleep interrupted by bizarre costumed foreigners, some in drag – will never forget.
Center of our solar system
In the solar system of my family, Abby was the sun. Her gravitational pull kept us all orbiting happily along: the planets of parents, siblings, spouse, children and closest friends. The moons of nephew, niece, grandparents, and cousins. The asteroid belt of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
To know and to be loved by Abby was to have some sense that all was right with the universe. Any moment spent with her was one filled with warmth and light, and even when we were separated by distance or time, her energy in photographs, letters, phone calls and e-mails was a reassuring force. She was someone we all felt lucky to know.
Now that she’s gone, we are left adrift in space. There is an imbalance at work. The light is a bit dimmer and the breeze a bit colder.
But the laws of physics tell us that energy is neither created nor destroyed – it only changes form. Abby, your spirit is still among us, your energy is something that we will just have to relearn how to recognize. We will find a new balance by each doing our part to honor the space created in your physical absence.
An inspiration to live fully
One small solace that we’ve had is our knowledge that Abby lived an incredible life in her short 37 years. She told us herself, even in the face of the abyss, that she did not have a bucket list. She danced, she learned, she traveled, she loved, she embraced joy, and shouldered sadness and depression. Despite her anxieties and the challenges she faced, she succeeded at achieving her dreams, and she did so with grace and composure.
One reflection on this life-well-lived is that there could have been so much more of it. Indeed we’d all become so accustomed to Abby’s feats of personal strength and perseverance of character that we believed cancer would be just one more demon she would slay. We all couldn’t wait to see what she’d do next.
But what’s been made clear is that there might not be a “next” and that love is a hostage to misfortune. Let her life and death be a reminder that all our time is limited and not to be wasted. Fill it with good people, with personal development, with love and with caring, with eyes looking forward and not back, yet leaving enough quiet space for reflection. Fill it with soul. Like Abby, let us not be afraid to examine the depths of our hearts and to be guided by them.
Our eternal promise
In our last few weeks together, we reassured Abby that she was loved and was not to blame for her condition. We talked to her, sang to her, recited poems, cuddled and read to her from her favorite books and the many comments and memories you and others sent.
She was our daughter, sister, wife, mother, and best of friends. She remains our shining star, and we promised her that her soul could fly off into the next world free of worry or regret.
I want to reiterate those promises here today:
Abby, you were and always will be loved dearly and truly.
We will live a full life, with our heads held high in honor of your grace.
We will make you proud by challenging ourselves to overcome anxieties and self-doubt.
We will bask in the light of your smile by being true, by being happy, by finding love.
We will reflect the warmth you exuded through caring and compassion for those near and far.
Your husband is my brother; for him I will always be “on belay.”
We will cradle your little family in love and care; don’t you worry one bit.