The Eulogy for Cheryl Conti
July 10, 2009
(When I first came to Parsippany twenty years ago, I visited Cheryl in the hospital with her parents. She was 13 at the time.) Each of us has an eternal soul; each of us was made by the God who formed us in our mother’s womb, who shaped us with our unique combinations of gifts and vulnerabilities that distinguished us from all others. God created Cheryl Conti, giving her a remarkably beautiful, sensitive soul that blessed everyone she came in contact with, in spite of the fact that this beautiful, sensitive soul lived in a body and a world which caused her a good deal of suffering. Cheryl was the only child of her parents Lois and Wayne; who cherished her. At age 13 she was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease which would compromise her health throughout her life. She had a gift for art, for expressing beauty. She loved to draw. Despite her physical frailty, as a teenager Cheryl once painstakingly painted a mural on the ceiling of her bedroom, a marvel of perseverance, and an expression of the deep beauty that was within her. The mural consisted of a night sky, with stars and a quarter moon. The moon in the mural was evidently chilled out alone in the night sky, so Cheryl painted an intricately drawn blanket tenderly wrapped around the thin shape of the moon to keep it warm. Her mother Lois has never repainted that mural; it remains today in her home as a cherished testament to her daughter’s beautiful, sensitive soul. Cheryl was very bright, and loved to learn. Following high school she attended Morris County College where she got a degree in business administration. Following graduation she worked for Dunn and Bradstreet several years as a software training specialist. Cheryl’s father Wayne, with whom she was deeply connected, died in 2000. Within a year, Cheryl began to suffer the onslaughts of a biologically-based mental illness which made it impossible for her to continue working full time. The sensitivity of her soul found it hard to bear the all-too-common brutalities of this world. For instance, though she had no family or friends who died on September 11th, 2001, Cheryl found the horrors of that terrible day to be unbearable. She felt deeply in her soul the searing grief of thousands of others caused by the violence of that day. Despite the burden of her own suffering, Cheryl steadfastly sought to keep a positive attitude, intent on bringing goodness into her life; to cling to the light in the face of the darkness. She devoted herself to helping others. Cheryl was innately caring and loving, willing to go out of her way to help others in any way she could. She did a variety of volunteer work, including organizing a weekly anxiety support group, where sufferers could share the warming blanket of kindness with one another in their common struggle to cope with the threatening darkness with which life in this world so often presents us. In spite of her own sufferings, or perhaps in a certain way because of her own sufferings, people often experienced in Cheryl a comforting presence. The sound of her voice and her capacity to listen struck others as deeply soothing. She knew the truth that is at the heart of every great spiritual tradition; that it is only in love that we transcend the suffering of this life. The past two years brought some measure of peace to Cheryl. She was able to live on her own in an apartment in Long Branch, which enabled her to frequently walk by the ocean, an activity that brought her joy. Her mother Lois would visit, and together they would walk the beach. Cheryl found comfort in this well known poem, entitled “Footprints in the Sand.” One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints. So I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you.” Mary Stevenson In recent years, Cheryl was devoted to developing her spiritual self, regularly spending time reading the Bible in an attempt to draw closer to God. After her death, the land lord of the apartment complex where she lived made a point of telling Lois how well-liked her daughter was by the other tenants there; how sweet and kind she was to her neighbors. Cheryl died peacefully in her sleep. She reached the end of her life on earth knowing she was loved… by her mother Lois, who is so proud of her daughter; by her mom’s companion Gerry; by her Godmother Marie, and by her long-term dear friend Michael, to name but a few of the persons who blessed Cheryl on her journey through life. When Cheryl drew her last breath in her physical body, she entered into the warm, eternal embrace of God. She is whole now, and with her father, who is whole as well. There is no way to describe the beauty of what Cheryl has entered into. One day you will all be together in the place where all the tears are wiped away. In the meantime, we are called to embrace the gift of each day; to remember that in the end, love is all that matters. Find inspiration in the courage that Cheryl manifest in walk through life to choose light in the face of darkness; to offer herself in her frailty as a blessing of love.