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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Brees

Donna's Eulogy

Updated: Jan 1, 2019

Written and spoken by David Bear.

David Bear reads the eulogy for Donna Nathan's funeral on July 21, 2018. David also lost his beautiful wife, Alma, to a recently purchased gun suicide. He had married her here at the Tree of Life in 2009. Photo by Josh Hailey.

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.

So said Leonard Cohen, one of Mama Donna’s favorites. All life possesses these breaks, these cracks, these hairline fractures, and it is through these small spaces in the fabric of being that we are able to witness the vastness of existence, in all of its tumult and beauty. And like most cracks and fractures, they are the result of accidents. 

Life itself is an accident.

We come into this world raw and chaotic, with no say in the matter, screaming and crying and needing everyone around us to help us survive. We are pushed forth into the world before we ever get a chance to understand what exactly it is we’ve been signed up for, and for this reason, it feels only natural to us that we leave in the same way: with no say in the matter. Us humans have never and probably will never find it acceptable when someone chooses to opt out. 

We’re programmed to believe that there is some unspoken agreement between us, that because we’ve all been dropped into this plane of existence against our will, that we have to stick it out together until the gaping maw of the universe swallows us back up just as chaotically as it spit us out. Because we don’t get to choose life, it only makes sense to us that we don’t get to choose death. 

But the truth is you can, for better or worse. You can choose life too, and you do, frequently. Nobody is more keenly aware of this than people who struggle with suicidal thoughts. It is far harder to live than it is to die. Life takes a lot of work: continuous breathing, growing more labored with age; a constant need for rest, and sleep, and hydration, and love, and warmth; constant upkeep and maintenance and repair; it takes a lifetime of avoiding all sorts of dangers that increasingly seem to hide around every corner. And that’s just the external world! If you’re one of the billions of people like myself or like Mama Donna, that struggle daily with some form of neurodivergence, then the dangers don’t stop at the flesh. Every day becomes a choice. When people take their lives, we quite understandably focus on that final decision, but we fail to see the hundreds, or thousands, or millions of times that these people made the opposite choice. Very few people commit suicide the first time they’ve thought of it. Most people who choose death have a long track record of choosing life.

Because life wants us to be happy. We want life to be happy. We want to trust life, and the twists and turns it takes us on. 

It wants us to know it, fully. 

Mama Donna knew this as well as anyone and she filled life, both hers and her loved ones, with as much happiness as she could find. In the relatively small amount of time I was fortunate enough to spend with her, through my time with Karina’s krewes, she exuded an ageless wonder and a capacity for joy rarely matched. If one were to guess ages based on pure youthful exuberance alone, I would’ve been hard pressed to distinguish mother from daughter. 

It is natural to focus on the pain someone was going through when they choose to take their own life. And we should recognize that, for it would be a mistake on our part not to see all of the faces of the gem that is one’s lifetime. But then it is also a mistake to ignore the fact that most people who knew the deepest and darkest depths of emotional pain usually were just as acquainted with the highest and most fulfilling forms of joy life has to offer. For this is the flux of existing in the universe: by attaining knowledge of one thing, you also become aware of its opposite. To know joy is to know pain. To know great joy is to know great pain. To walk in darkness is to swim in light. And Donna was a world class swimmer.

The best way to remember anyone is to carry on the parts of them they loved most. To emulate them at their self-described best. Its is impossible not to feel the gap left by someone who brought so much joy. But it is not our job as those left behind to mourn this gap. 

It is our job to fill it.

I ask you all to remember a few things today. Remember to check in with your friends and loved ones, especially those who bring the most joy and exude the most strength.  Ask how they’re doing and don’t avoid a difficult discussion. Remember enduring difficulty brings ease. I also ask you all, regardless of your political leanings, to consider the country we live in, our obsession with firearms, and the fact the most of the gun deaths in the US are the result of suicide. I ask you to think of your worst days and to question whether it is wise to have such a quick and final option available to most anyone. I ask you to consider if we’re doing our best as a society, and moreso, if we’re doing our best as individuals to create the society we want. 

I’ll leave you today with 2 quotes. The first is from Willie Nelson, another of Mama Donna’s favorites:

I take it not only a day at a time, but a moment at a time, and keep it at that pace. If you can be happy right now, then you’ll always be happy, because it’s always in the now.

And from Mama Donna herself:

Life wants us to be happy.

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