Eulogy for Heather Faeo
Laura Faeo, July 25,2003
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience."
This is one of my favorite quotes, though I'm sorry I can't remember who originally said it.God brings us all into this world to have that human experience and learn from it what we need for our spiritual advancement. At the appointed time, He calls us back, to be part of His light and glory again, when we have fulfilled our purpose here.
Heather didn't have a long time here for her human experience; God gave her 14 years, a span that seems cruelly short to us. I ask myself how she could have fulfilled the purpose He had for her in such a short period of time. She was a smart, creative, imaginative girl with enormous talent and potential. She had friends and family who loved her dearly, and a good home where she felt safe and happy. She had plans for the future.
She wanted to be a language teacher because she loved to write, and an artist, because she loved to draw. She wanted to have children of her own someday. She wanted to win first place at the track meet by the time she was a senior. She wanted to be the first woman to win the Iron Dog snowmachine race. She had every reason to live.But God's angels came early for her, and why they did is a mystery none of us living can ever answer.
Her life was a gift to me and to her father, and to everyone else who had the pleasure of knowing her. For me, she taught me first to love unconditionally, to be patient and forgiving (although the patience part was often a hard one for me!) She gave me her childhood experiences to share with other mothers, and brought new friends into my life through that sharing - friends who became like sisters to me, and who are here now to help me in my grief.
She taught me how to live in the present - here and now - to cherish what happiness we have at any given moment, to see the world through fresh new eyes; full of wonder, to take delight in little things like dragonflies and dandelion fluff and special pebbles, and feathers. I made up a rhyme for her when she was little - Heather, Heather, my little feather, I'm so happy we're together.
Whatever the reason for her death, I thank God for the years I had with her, for the gift of her life, and all the ways she touched me and the things she taught me. Her spirit is still with me, in my dreams and in the house where she lived, and the small objects and treasures she cherished, and left behind.
In Praise of Heather Faeo
William Barrett, 2003
In writing about a child, one seldom thinks in adult terms. Terms like “loyalty”, “compassion”, “determination”, “reserve”, “unreserved love”, or “spunk” are rarely applied to children.
Most of the children I’ve met are rather the opposite – self-centered, often brattish, conceited, looking for advantages, or given to anger at the slightest refusal of a potato chip or a Krispy Kreme. You know who they are—you see them every week in the aisles of your favorite supermarket.
How can one describe a girl of 13 as having “spunk”? For those of you of less age than I am, let me rephrase that as “courage in the face of adversity”. I can think of no such children in my acquaintance. None other, that is, than our late, dearly departed Heather, daughter of Laura and Larry Faeo of Nikiski, Alaska.
Let me spin three stories that illustrate these qualities of character that I’ve discovered in my dear grand-daughter, wherever she is now.
Story one opens in a restaurant in Nikiski, two years ago. I decided to treat my daughter Laura and grandchild Heather to a dinner at a local restaurant. Laura had separated from her husband and was still feeling the pain. As we approached the restaurant, Heather noticed a sign in the window advertising a waitress position. She said nothing about it at the time.We enjoyed our meal. Heather was on her best manners and brightly observing everything that went on in the restaurant, from how the silverware was placed, to the folding of the napkins, to the questions asked by the waitress, and how the bill was presented.
When we arose to leave, she approached the waitress and asked her about the advertised position. The waitress said, yes, we need another waitress to help us with the night shift.
Heather spoke up, “I’m not doing much at night. Could I be a waitress here? I’ve seen what you do and it doesn’t look that hard.”
The waitress smiled at her and asked, “How old are you, honey?”
“Twelve”, said Heather.
“Well,” said the waitress, I think you need a few more years before we can hire you here. The minimum age is eighteen”.
Heather was crestfallen about that, but accepted the situation for what it was.
I was waiting for something like “Oh, shoot, what stupid rules!”, or “Why can’t I grow old faster?”, but that never came.
Gentle people, that is a rare combination of sweetness and resolution. If you find that in your child, do treasure it.
Story two starts in the Nikiski swimming pool on my same visit. As with most of the children there, Heather mixed with her friends. She knew how to swim and enjoyed the two-story curving slide down to the bottom, running back up to do it again and again.
What escaped my attention was a boy about her age who approached her in a menacing way. I don’t know his name, and would prefer not to name him if I did know.
He said something like this to her: “See this little chain, girly”.
He showed her a length of bicycle chain he brought into the pool, a few inches long.
Now all the children are inspected when they enter the pool area, and are normally required to leave such implements behind. This rascal managed to sneak it through, probably by palming it at the gate. He clearly wanted to bully some girls.
“See this little chain, girly? This is what I like to use to beat little girls like you.”
I don’t know what Heather said to him. Maybe nothing. The boy was about her age, but I caught a glimpse of him after I heard about this, and he looked to be at least twenty pounds heavier than Heather.
What would be your reaction to this sort of threat, given that you were under 100 pounds, with a sweet disposition, female, in a bathing suit, and twelve years old? Mine would be abject terror. I would be too frightened to tell this to anyone, even my parents.
Heather was built of better stuff. She walked away from the kid, then went straight to the swimming guard and told her story exactly as it happened. The next thing she noticed was the kid being yanked out of the pool, given a lecture and being locked in the guard’s office until his parents arrived.
Heather told me later that she was concerned about entering school in a few weeks, since the kid would obviously be laying for her. I told her that her Mom would relate the incident to her teachers and the principal and they would make sure that she wouldn’t be molested by him.
That is spunk in anyone’s book.
Story three occurred in Monterrey, California, at a Mexican restaurant near the Monterrey Aquarium. Heather loved the Aquarium, perhaps because of her long association with fishing as taught by her parents on their treks to inner Alaska.We were seated in a corner booth and enjoyed a good meal. Toward the end of the meal, a balloon merchant appeared at a table next to us. He was making little hats, dogs, fish and other things from balloons by blowing them up and folding them up.
Heather was fascinated by what was going on. It happened to be about a week before her birthday. None of us had said anything about a birthday party for Heather, but I could tell that was what was going through her mind.
Someone at the next table was having a birthday party.The staff brought a little cupcake with a candle in it, and the birthday child blew it out to the accompaniment of a rather bad rendition of “Happy Birthday”. I was watching Heather with great interest. Here’s a child with a birthday coming up. We’ve had a good time at the Aquarium, but no one said a thing about her birthday. What would you expect a child to do in that situation? I think most would whine about being left out. Some would want to join the party at the next table. Others would make some not-so-obvious hints that they deserve a nice birthday party, too.Heather did nothing. She followed the affair with considerable interest, but never showed the slightest sign that she felt left out.
I couldn’t stand the tension, so I made some excuse, found the balloon man, gave him a tip and told him there’s a little girl from Alaska who would love to have a doggy balloon and a few magic tricks. He was delighted at the prospect, and so pleased to find someone who wasn’t jaded or an ingrate about such affairs.
She had a wonderful little birthday celebration and a balloon doggy to take home.
That is my definition of reserve.
A strange incident.
Heather was struck down by an automobile on May 11. She lingered on in a semi-conscious state for over a month before passing away through a heart attack.
This incident happened in the early morning of May 13, at 2:15 am precisely, California time, in our bedroom in San Jose, California.
I know the time very well because both my wife and I were sound asleep then. We were wakened by a noise of something falling on the floor, rattling. I jumped out of bed and found the light switch, wondering what had happened. I checked our alarm clock, which is why I know the time.
I looked around the room. Everything seemed normal, except – a little silver-framed picture of Heather was on its face on our bedroom dresser. It had flopped over on its face at that time in the morning. In flopping over, it flipped a little perfume bottle onto the floor. That was the rattling I heard.
I know this actually happened, because my wife was also awakened by the rattling sound and recalled the incident the next morning.
I stared at the perfume bottle on the floor and the picture on its face. What could possibly have made this happen?
I must explain that I’m an engineer and a scientist. Things like this don’t happen unless there’s a force of some sort to make it tip over. No other picture was tipped over, and there were several on the dresser. We found nothing else in the house tipped over the next morning. We had some problems with mice, so I imagined that a mouse had found its way upstairs, into our bedroom and onto the dresser. But that was unlikely.
I noticed in the paper the following day that we had had a small earthquake, a Richter 4.0, near San Jose, at about that time. Could that be the reason?
Regarding the little perfume bottle, that was clearly in front of the picture frame, and would be slid off the dresser when the frame tipped over. But what could possibly have tipped over her particular picture, and no others?
I rather like to think that Heather knew that her end was near, way up in the Providence Hospital in Anchorage, fighting for survival in their intensive care unit. She found some way to come to Grandpa’s house and say goodbye by tipping over her photograph.