My Eulogy for my Dear Friend Dianna Barrett

March 7, 1956 – December 1, 2008

Dianna hated winter. Correction. She hated Canadian winters…but loved winters anywhere south of, let’s say, the 25 parallel! So, knowing this, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised to see she chose to depart this earthly plane at the start of the month that heralds the official season of ice and snow. I bet right now she’s saying, “See ya…wouldn’t want to be ya!”.

So here we are, then, today…gathering to celebrate Dianna’s escape from yet another Canadian winter but, more importantly, appropriately and joyously, to celebrate her fabulous life.

We come together on this day to remember the life, both temporal and eternal, of one heck of an amazing woman that we have loved so dearly. As the littlest sister– affectionately called by her family, “Baby D”-as a friend, as a lover, a colleague, a tireless community volunteer, as a teacher…as a person, Dianna lived in our hearts and shall live there forever more.

We release what was, and make room for what shall be, as we testify within our minds that Dianna’s life does not end, but merely transmutes; that today we say a good-bye to the physical focus of our relationship with Dianna, and greet the relationship with her soul that now begins anew. Through the grace of God, the dead do not die. They live forever, in God’s mind and in ours.

And so it is that our service today is two-fold: We are here to release what has been, the very human dramas of our love for Dianna, our shared stories, our histories. Yet we also open our hearts today, that our continuing relationship with her might be reborn with newly defined parameters.

Some 25 years ago, one of the earliest sayings I recall Dianna sagely imparting to me was, “Behold the tortoise, who only makes progress when she sticks her neck out.” Among so many other pearls of wisdom, Dianna lived her life by “sticking her neck out” and daring to do things–time and time again-in ways others would never dream. When I think, in that David Letterman sort of way, of my top 10 words describing Dianna, my knee-jerk first set includes:

  1. authentic
  2. honest
  3. loving
  4. loyal
  5. empathic
  6. funny
  7. eloquent
  8. learned
  9. reflective and
  10. deeply spiritual…

And I just bet your 10 would only expand on mine. The truth is, 10 words just aren’t enough to describe what Dianna brought to each and everyone of us, nor to the world.

My 11th word to describe Dianna is, FEARLESS. Not that she didn’t experience fear on occasion, I’m sure, but she always found a way to move forth, regardless.

She also championed the philosophy of, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” And that she did! Her way. And, yet another saying I can still hear her sharing: “Better to make a mistake with the full force of your being, rather than carefully avoid making any errors all the days of your life, and not really living at all.”

To be fearless requires trust and courage, and these qualities, too, Dianna demonstrated in abundance.

She came to Canada, under the loving and watchful eye of her surrogate mother and biggest sister, Mearle, when she was only 16 years old…and to university, then, at that! The plan was, she would stay until the end of her studies and then return home to Jamaica. That was the plan…the agreement. But it wasn’t to pass. When graduation day came and went, Baby D wanted to stay…and although her mum and dad vehemently protested (she told me that her dad was ready to hop a plane and drag her back home!), in the end, what “Baby D wanted, Baby D got!” And so Dianna stayed…and, blessed fortune for us, made our lives all the richer for having done so.

This was a woman who had such power, such charisma, such eloquence and authority of voice, that she could charm the pants off just about anyone…and could, most every time out, turn “no’s” into “yeses!” with relative ease. No wonder we all wanted to be near her! She was magic. Case in point: Just an everyday sort of story, but with a Dianna/Dyavati twist…one day, not too long ago, she was traveling eastbound, mid-block, on the Queen Street Streetcar (no where near the next stop). All of a sudden, through the window, she spotted two old friends on the street that she hadn’t seen in ages-Hazel and Danny. Without a moment’s hesitation she jumped up, and in front of everyone, hollered to the driver, “Stop the street car, please stop the street car!…I see two dear friends I haven’t seen in ages and I’ve just got to reach them!” Well what do you think happened next? The driver stopped, mid-block, just for our Di! That was our Dianna…our Dyavati…a woman with enough chutzpah and personal power to halt a downtown, fully packed, rush-hour street car, cold.

Although holding a special place in her Barrett family’s heart (as “baby” of the clan), Mearle shared that, as a child, Dianna, oftentimes, had to make do with her own company for play. That didn’t stop her one bit! In fact, it may well have informed Dianna’s early and life long sense of independence. She didn’t have any playmates? No problem. She created a whole classroom of them by playing teacher in the garden and declaring the plants her pupils! And, if any of those plant-students got out of line, she made sure to give them the good whipping they deserved! Mearle said it was quite the funny spectacle seeing little Dianna smack plants into shape! See? Dianna was a teacher even all the way back then…and not afraid at all to “call” her friends up on the carpet over their “stuff” when need be. Not afraid back then, nor afraid throughout the rest of her adult life, to play it straight and honest with her friends, with her family and with her loves…whether about herself or about what she intuitively heard, saw or read-in between the lines-about others. Dianna always shot from the hip…and she always landed on her feet.

A line from an old song says, “Ain’t got no trouble in my life. No foolish dreams to make me cry. I’m never frightened or worried, I know I’ll always get by.” I never worried about Dianna. I knew what she knew…that she’d always get by. And she always did. I’ve never known anyone to land on her feet as consistently as our Di did! Lose a job? No problem…the next came by within days, out of her wonderfully connected network. Need a new place to live? No problem! What did Dianna do? What did she say? “I’ll just put it out to the universe and something will come up.”…and something always did. That was her trust. That was her courage. That was her faith in the provider…working on her behalf. My own belief in, “putting it out there” and “trusting”, over the years, has been accelerated by Dianna’s committed example. And, perhaps, your trust in the universe has grown too, as Dianna showed so many people how to do it…just by doing it herself and being such a superlative walking, talking example.

Years ago an old friend named the pair of us “Windy” and “Stormy” because we blew into events and stirred things up, like a gust of new air. Dianna wanted to be, “Stormy” and so it was. And that was so appropriate…anytime Dianna showed up, anywhere, things moved along; got stirred up, like a benevolent whirlwind storm blowing things through and clear–especially at a party! When she put on her “dancing shoes” and went out-on-the-town weather with her darling Anthony, or just a bunch of girls, she was some kind of hottie…and willingly danced up a “storm” the entire night long!

Dianna was all those spiritual, reflective, quiet and contemplative things, but she was also-when she wanted-a wonderful celebrant of the “cause d’jour!” Just ask old friends like Jo and Norman, Dale and David, Maureen, Lorna, Cindy, Teresa, Alise, Savetri, and her family here today: her sister Mearle and brothers Dalton and Stan, and all the rest of her nuclear family, too, for that matter. They all know, as do you, that Dianna had a celebrant’s energy and spirit.

Remember one of your own stories of Dianna’s energy and laughter at a particular event? Bet you’ve got scads of “howling-with-laughter” tales to tell. Dianna always like that word: “Howling”…she used it often: “howling” with laughter. I can just hear using it right now. “We just howled!” She was always the life of the party; wherever she was…that’s where the party was! Di could be at a big dinner, positioned at the far end of a rectangular table-seemingly out of the hub of the technical heart of the group, yet, where Dianna was, was where the party ended up being, every time! And it didn’t even matter whether or not she knew a soul at the table to begin with…by the end of the night they’d all become fast friends, thanks to Dianna. Even on her last day and night, while in her hospital room, unconscious, but still emanating her powerful presence, Dianna was the conduit for bringing fine people together in joy, laughter and authentic spirit, for the very first time, And right here–right now-as we congregate to remember and celebrate her life, she’s doing it yet again!

Dianna was a princess, in the nicest sense of the word. She was regal and welcoming and, indeed, full of inner grace. And she had a regal sense of how to complete on household chores, too. Although no stranger to rolling up her sleeves and getting the job done when absolutely required, just this past autumn she sent me a little email joke (one of 87 I’m so glad I archived), saying, “her idea of cleaning a room was sweeping it with a glance”. She had a wicked sense of humour, for sure, and I know that each one of us here, at some point or another, has, on multiple occasions, been double-over with laughter and left gasping for breath, thanks to Di. There’s nothing so joyful, so wonderfully free, yet rich, as a good belly laugh…and there was nothing like our Dianna to deliver the guffaw goods.

And speaking of knocking the wind right out of you, with rascal delight, Dianna learned to do just that quite early in her life. Picture this: brothers Dalton and Stan, 9 and 10 years her senior-big, strapping mid-teenaged boys-being chased around the yard by this little, skinny waif of a 5 year old thing, while her big brothers sincerely begged Dianna for mercy, crying “UNCLE! I give up!”, so that they could catch their breath. They’d had enough, but Dianna was like an Every Ready battery and never burned out! Dianna may have been a water sign–a Pieces, as she so often liked to remind–but she was a fire ball of energy to her brothers, at 5 years old, and even at 50! To this very day, the Barrett’s all marvel at where on earth did she get all that energy??? And maybe the answer is, it wasn’t from earth at all, but, rather, from her eternal spirit.

From a lifetime of professional work devoted to the Ontario Public Service– through days with the WSIB, MBS and MOH–to her many years of organized charitable work with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, community radio station CJRT Jazz-FM, to her passionate, multi-yeared service to Toronto East End Literacy and, of course, to her devotion to her sanga…to her chosen faith and to her sanga members, Dianna gave it all. Always.

A smart, sassy, learned and supremely literate woman who loved the English language so much she MAJORED in it! No one could turn a phrase like Dianna. No one I know demonstrates such wise, insightful or provocative opinions about just about anything and everything, as consistently as Dianna did. As a matter of fact, Monday night, just about the very moment of her passing, our Canadian government was being shaken up in a most historic fashion. My first thought was, “I knew Dianna wouldn’t leave on just any old bland and bleak near-winter day.” My second thought was, “I wonder what Dianna would have said/I wonder what she would have thought about all of this?” And, if she was here, I’d have been on the phone, toot suite, to find out…and we’d have probably talked for hours about it all. You know, one time, many years ago, we got talking so passionately about topics of the day, while sitting in our favourite restaurant of the time, enjoying a Sunday brunch, that we ended up staying clean on through the dinner menu, too! Never before in my life, nor since, nor probably ever again, will I sit with a friend so long, talking, in one restaurant, at one time, that we end up ordering lunch and then Dinner, too!!! That was one scary bill come evening’s end! When two chatty people get together…lookout! But that was Dianna. She loved great conversation and could stand up with the chattiest of ’em, and also bring out the most meek and mild.

Dianna attracted an amazing assortment of souls, and called a wide diversity of people, “friend”. She had left wing and right wing friends, over 80 and under 20 friends, and everything in between friends; she had Birkenstock friends, and blue jeans friends, Lulu Lemon Yoga-Wear ones and nose-ring ones, friends in designer suits with la-di-dah expensive and important looking jewelry and sanga friends; frontline worker friends and president-of-the-organization friends, too. And the one sure thing all these seemingly different people had, and still have, in common, is that we all valued Dianna and will treasure her time spent with us, whether 30 years or 30 days, forever.

She fit in everywhere! And don’t we just know–knowing how devoted Dianna was to her spiritual studies–that her very BEST, her most rewarding fit of all, is where she is RIGHT NOW, in the love of God and in her life hereafter. Our Dianna’s landed on her feet, yet again! Everywhere Dianna made the difference. She makes the difference still. She made the best kind of success of a life on this planet, and for that, we are all eternally grateful.

These words of Emerson’s sum up Dianna’s stellar life success so succinctly:

WHAT IS SUCCESS?

To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the approval of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self without the
slightest thought of return;
To have accomplished a task,
whether by a healthy child,
a rescued soul, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
and sung with exaltation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier because
you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

Think of all the lives that have breathed easier and been made more joyous from having interfaced at length, or even merely once, with that spiritual being having a human experience, named Dianna/Dyavati Barrett. She was truly a most successful woman, indeed. We’ll love her forever…we’ll love her for always.

And, in closing, I share with you this little blessing I dug up, that Diana shared with me oh so many, many years ago. As she wished it for me then, I know she wishes it for us all, today, so hear her voice I share it, now:

May the blessings of God be upon you.
May his peace abide with you,
May his presence illuminate your heart,
Now and forever more.

Our Diana will live forever.

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