The entry below is the text of a letter that was read on my behalf at a memorial service for Kendall Simon on August 29, 2014. Kendall was an excellent student and outstanding member of the Katz School community. I believe it is important to share these reflections with the entire Katz community.
On Tuesday July 15, 2014, the Katz community suffered a tragic loss when Kendall Simon died unexpectedly. Although we live at a time when senseless deaths are reported in the media each day, none of us was prepared for the loss of our sister Kendall. Her death hit us hard. Perhaps it was because she was outgoing, pretty, successful, and a natural leader. Perhaps it was because she was an important part of our community. Perhaps it was because of the great things we knew she would accomplish in the coming year. Whatever it was, there is no doubt that she was special. Her qualities were evident to everyone who knew her. She had a serious, yet quiet approach (at least with me) and she was absolutely dependable. We will miss her greatly.
Today, we are gathered to celebrate Kendall, both to recognize her and to overcome our loss. While the words we hear will offer consolation, the actions we take in response to this gathering are much more important to our community and Kendall. She was a woman of action. I am deeply sorry not to be with you at this memorial service for it is important for our community to stand together at times such as this. Please know that I am standing with you in spirit and my calendar is marked to offer a moment of reflection for Kendall as this letter is being read.
There are no easy words that will allow us to understand Kendall’s death or how to react to it. In struggling to prepare these words, I found help in insights from my college roommate, Fr. Tom Scirghi, now a Jesuit theologian at Fordham University. Tom noted that our gathering today is really a “reorientation for people shaken by a death” and he observed that “the reality of death and suffering – its grief, sadness and the heartbreak it causes – makes us wonder whether life is meaningless.”
“How could this happen? Why? The paradox is that we all know death is certain, but not now, not yet, and not to this person whom we knew and loved so much.” And death is final in that it “forces us to confront the pain of nonbeing,” disappearing, fading away, and edging towards nonexistence, which raises questions about everything and reinforces our powerlessness. Today we have more questions than answers.
The late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who was Archbishop of Chicago, wrote a book called Gift of Peace, which chronicled his battle with cancer. In it, he noted: “Perhaps the ultimate burden is death itself. It is often preceded by pain and suffering, sometimes extreme hardships.”
Yet, we are the ones who are suffering as a result of Kendall’s death. Her loss has created pain, questions and a void. And while people of faith will take some solace in God’s grace, individually we must accept the pain and fill the void. We will discover answers only by embracing Kendall and uniting in the effort of achieving what she stood for. As a community we must dissipate our grief by advancing a greater good – something that makes a difference. Although we could honor Kendall in many ways – through a scholarship, competition, or annual event at Katz in her name, it might not be enough. We must do something that captures her spirit, energy, and determination or future generations will not understand why Kendall meant so much to us.
To honor Kendall appropriately, we need to decide as a community on an action that will be carried out in testament to her memory. It must be consistent with what she stood for and be something she’d be proud of. It needs to be something you could see her doing. This is our task to complete. We will overcome our loss by doing what Kendall would do – knowing that in this activity we are always standing beside her – speaking for her given she can no longer speak for herself.
The Gospel of St. Matthew (5:4) tells us: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” May today’s gathering bring comfort to our community and Kendall’s family. In her short time at Katz, Kendall made a difference here that none of us will forget. We love you Kendall.