The Eulogy for Rachel Marie Weiss
(March 20, 1995 – September 8, 2020)
All childhoods have their hard times; Rachel’s did as well. But for the most part, Rachel’s childhood was one that was soaked with love.
She born to parents who loved her, with a four year old big sister named Heather who adored her. Less than a year after Rachel was born her brother Michael was born. Rachel couldn’t say the word “brother” — what came out instead was “Bubba” — thereby giving Michael his lifelong family nick name. His nieces now call Michael their “Uncle Bubba.”
The three children grew up as constant playmates and best friends, as close as sisters and a brother possibly can be. They were fiercely devoted to one another. Throughout their lives they have shared what is at the very deepest level an unbreakable bond of love.
There was also a beautiful extended family that cherished her, including her wonderful grandmother and grandfather whose house Rachel called home for the majority of her life. Her younger cousins Vinnie and Danielle came to live there as well for a while, becoming more like a younger brother and sister. There were also deeply loving aunts and an uncle close at hand, as well.
Later two half brothers, Austin and Jonathon would join the family.
So Rachel grew up with a lot of people loving her.
According to her mother Anna and her sister Heather, as a child Rachel was always sweet and snuggly, continually clutching a blanket or a bear. She was joyful, bubbly and enchanted with Tinkerbell.
Rachel had a sweet tooth, and after Halloween was over Heather and Michael would inevitably find some of their candy missing, and they learned early on where to look for it: stowed away in Rachel’s pillowcase.
Rachel was something of a social butterfly. Wherever she went, she made friends.
God gave Rachel a big heart and made her very sensitive. Such sensitivity is a gift, but the gift comes hand in hand with vulnerability, because such sensitivity opens that big heart to pain.
Pretty much everybody who lives through high school knows that along with the good things that this period of time can include, there is inevitably a dark side to the experience related to the ever changing social cliques and the cruelty they sometimes express. Along with the good things Rachel experienced in high school, she also experienced at times the sting of rejection.
Sometimes when life wounds us we end up passing the wound on to others. The recipient of cruelty ends up being cruel to others.
But sometimes something else can happen with our wounds — we can let what we have suffered deepen our compassion towards others.
Such was the case with Rachel. Throughout her life she was always sensitive regarding the person on the outside, and would go out of her way to make that person feel welcomed and included.
Some people can experiment with so called “recreational drugs” when they are young and it ends up just being a phase through which soon enough they safely pass.
Others, however are genetically predisposed to addiction, and what seems initially like nothing more than a little adventurous fun ends up triggering a potentially deadly disease that has up until then lay dormant – the disease of addiction. A demon is awoken.
Such was the case for Rachel. At the age of 18 Rachel quickly found herself struggling against this disease – engaged in what ended up being a seven year battle with the demon.
There were times when the demon had the upper hand. But throughout the seven years, the vibrancy that was Rachel continually re-emerged.
I can’t describe that vibrancy better than Rachel’s mother Anna and her sister Heather put it in her obituary, so I will simply quote what they wrote:
“Rachel had a vivacious spirit, an infectious laugh, and a smile that could light up any room. She could be the silliest goofball or your most trusted confidant. She had the most generous, kind, selfless, caring, and compassionate soul and was able to connect with so many people throughout her life.
She loved children and aspired to become a deaf/special education teacher. Rachel was dedicated and hard-working whether at school, work, relationships, or recovery.
Her nieces were the light of her life and brought her immense joy. Her love for her family and her furbaby, Lady was immeasurable.”
Elsewhere Rachel’s mother Anna posted these words of tribute to her beloved daughter:
“My beautiful daughter Rachel struggled with addiction. She battled courageously and was a warrior. She was determined to overcome and full of hope to live the life that she deserved…. She was an amazing light in a dark world. She was a gentle soul who felt deeply and loved fiercely.”
Rachel had a gift for friendship, and in her years of recovery she forged many friendships with women who shared her struggle for recovery.
When a new girl would enter a program she was in, Rachel would always be the one to welcome the newcomer – help her not feel so all alone.
The girls Rachel befriended came from all kinds of backgrounds – many quite different from the one out of which Rachel had come. These friendships were a great blessing to Rachel. She was humbled by the fact that except for the common bond of recovery Rachel probably would never have had the opportunity to get to know and love them.
In some of these relationships as Rachel got to know something of the hardship and neglect the girls had endured it made her all the more grateful for the blessings she had received. She felt deep compassion towards them. Rachel would give away some of her clothes to the girl who arrived at rehab with only the clothes she was wearing. She would notice when a girl never had family visit her, and would ask her mom to bring a special gift for the girl when she visited.
I was Facebook friends with Rachel. I spent a couple of hours this week going through some of her Facebook page.
(If you were her Facebook friend, I would encourage you to spend some time doing the same. For me, it felt like a way to commune with Rachel’s spirit.)
There’s a lot there. Most recently what you will find are all the tributes written by friends pouring out their grief and their great gratitude for having known Rachel.
Just a few examples:
A woman named Destiny wrote, “You always ALWAYS were there if I needed someone. Our talks meant so much to me.”
A woman named Sara Marie wrote, “Thank you for being just as goofy as I was and always making me feel like I fit in. Making people smile came so naturally for you.”
Arlene posted, “You were such a beautiful woman, inside and out. You had an amazing soul, so humble and sweet. You were so intelligent.”
Ginger: “Rachel, thanks for listening to me during my dark times.”
Sarah: ‘You were such a great soul in this world… You were such a good friend.”
I also found on Facebook posts from the quarantine about visits Rachel made with her mother to her sister’s house, where socially distanced they’d leave love notes and gifts to each of Rachel’s three beloved nieces on their birthdays.
I also found multiple posts in which Rachel expressed gratitude for the steadfast support and love of her mom.
If you are familiar with Facebook you know how unfortunately it often becomes a troubling, divisive thing. People rant and rave; there can be a lot negativity spewed forth online.
The striking thing for me reading through Rachel’s Facebook many posts was her persistent commitment not to add to all the negativity in this world – to consistently post something positive – something life affirming.
There were moments when gratitude would just burst forth from Rachel. I came across a post from about a year and a half ago during a window of time during which Rachel was experiencing freedom from the demon’s grasp. She expresses such joy in little things, appreciation for things most of us would easily just take for granted.
“This is living life. This is what life’s about. Spending the day with my baby (lady — my pups), my three nieces, my sister and her husband… I get to take my nieces on bike rides and a walk down to the lake. I get to go to Walmart with them and buy them ice cream cones, and bring them massive amounts of candy. I get to just enjoy the moment… It’s so beautiful, this amazing, insane, crazy, hectic life I have. I love my life, and every part of it.” (April 28 2019)
Mostly on Facebook Rachel would post quotes or videos that contained little nuggets of wisdom inviting those of us who read them to join her in self-reflection, inspiring us to be our best selves — words you could spend quite some time pondering.
There are a whole lot of them. Here’s just a small sampling of these quotes:
Build someone up. Put their insecurities to sleep. Remind them they’re worthy. Tell them they’re magical. Be light in a too often dim world.
Be that girl who roots for the other girl, who tells a stranger her hair looks amazing, who encourages others to believe in themselves and their dreams.
Always help someone. You might be the only one who does.
If we could look into each other’s hearts and see the challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other with more love, kindness, compassion and patience.
People change for two reasons. Either their mind has been opened or their heart has been broken.
Your job is not to judge. Your job is not to figure out if someone deserves something. Your job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and to heal the hurting.
I am across this little story she posted three separate times from the Winnie the Pooh stories.
It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.
“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,” said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice.
“We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”
Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.”
Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.
Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?”
“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.”
“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.
Because Pooh and Piglet were There.
No more; no less.
(A.A. Milne, E.H. Shepard)
Rachel aspired to be that friend who would sit in silence with the friend in their time of darkness.
The gift of life that God gives us is both exquisitely beautiful and excruciatingly painful. There is one and only one way to truly protect ourselves from the excruciatingly painful part and that is to harden our hearts. The problem with hardening our hearts is that while it blocks out the pain that comes from loving, it also blocks out all the beauty that makes life meaningful.
One extraordinary — I would say courageous thing about Rachel is that although she knew a great deal of pain in life as a result of her addiction, she never made the choice to harden her heart.
I was surprised to come across one posting on Rachel’s Facebook page from ten months ago that simply a short paraphrase of a verse of Scripture: Romans 8:18. What surprised me is that I’ve referred to this verse in pretty much every funeral at which I’ve ever officiated. The short paraphrase read: “The pain you have been feeling can’t compare with joy that is coming.” I suspect it was an expression of her hope that she would beat her addiction, and find the kind of joy she had hoped for in this life.
The fuller version of this scripture reads like this: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Paul got a glimpse of “the glory that is to be revealed to us” when he was on the road to Damascus and was blinded by the light of the glorified Christ. Having witnessed this heavenly radiance – this ocean of unconditional love – he was convinced that the sufferings of this life – as awful as they sometimes can be – will seem but a drop of water in comparison.
Rachel now floats in that ocean of divine love. She has a new body. All the barriers presented by her addiction have been taken away. Rachel loves you unconditionally. She’s rooting for you, wanting only what’s best for you. Rachel doesn’t want you to live with regrets. She wants you to embrace the gift of life in the present moment. Even as you carry the ongoing sadness of missing Rachel’s physical presence in this world, she wants you to open your heart to the joy that can be found side by side with the sadness. She wants your heart to sing with the laughter of three little girls.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in the reading we heard earlier from 1Corinthians 13 that love is the only thing that never ends. Love is our sole purpose for being here. All of us – we constantly lose track of this truth – thinking life is about all sorts of other things – being a success in this world the way the world measures success.
Rachel was sad – you are sad – that Rachel didn’t get to achieve her dreams for this life. But Rachel knew how to love, and that, in the end matters most. Jesus said, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but to forfeit their soul?” As testified to by Rachel’s recovery friends, Rachel never lost her soul, she never hardened her heart. A bright and shining soul shown forth through all the darkness she grappled with, a love that never ends.