Angela Christine Shilling Byers
Oct 29, 1969 — Sep 28, 2014
by Reed Byers
Thank you all for being here. Before we begin, I want to tell you how much I appreciate the support and kindness you’ve all shown me this week. Angela was the love of my life, and I could never have faced this loss, without the strength I have received from my friends and family here in this room.
Despite her constant health problems, Angela and I never thought it would come to this. She was always so cheerful; so full of life. No matter how much she suffered, she bore it with a smile. We were convinced she could survive anything.
And now I have to find out how I can survive, without her.
There was one promise she forced me to make, that I cannot fulfill. She told me many times that, if she were to die before me, she wanted no tears at her funeral. She wanted a big party, with people laughing, joking, and celebrating her life.
I’m not strong enough for that. I cannot lose the one person I’ve dedicated my whole life to, who I love above all else, and smile about it.
As part of this hypothetical party, there was one very particular song that she wanted to be played. This song is her personality in a nutshell, and I cannot deny her this. Angela, this one’s for you.
[“Walking on Sunshine” is played]
by John Dearing
A poem by Joyce Grenfell speaks for Angela:
If I should go before the rest of you,
Break not a flower, nor inscribe a stone,
Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must:
Parting is hell,
But life goes on
So… sing as well!
We are gathered today to celebrate the life of Angela Christine Shilling Byers, our dear granddaughter, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, wife and friend.
In the midst of life, we are in death. We are deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life. Truly, “For dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return.” For us all, the inevitable hour comes.
Angela lived life to the fullest, and never valued it the less because she knew her life, like all life, would come to a natural end. I believe that Angela’s view of life and death are well-expressed by the following writer:
Bertrand Russell, British mathematician and philosopher, wrote:
“An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past boulders and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and — in the end — without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man or woman who, in old age, can see his or her life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things they care for will continue… I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do, and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.”
Death is permanent. It is right and proper, then, that we should mourn the death of our dear Angela. May we all bring to her family, and especially to her husband, Reed, the consolation of our love. Surround them with your love, that they not be overwhelmed by their loss.
A period of mourning is natural and appropriate, but then we must return to the life of joy, good works, and fulfillment, for life cannot go on otherwise. Life is for the living. Angela herself wanted her memorial to be a celebration. Hence this gathering is both a memorial of our loss and a celebration of her life.
I am John Dearing. For twenty years, I was president of Corvallis Secular Society (CSS), “A Humanist and Freethought Society for all nontheists of goodwill.” Humanism is a non-religious worldview based on reason and compassion. Humanism is dedicated to the use of free inquiry, critical intelligence, reason and the scientific method in acquiring all knowledge, and in providing meaning and values for individuals. I formed the group in June, 1994. Two years later, I ran across a well-written letter in the local paper, and wrote the author asking him if he’d like to attend one of our meetings. After some hesitation, Reed decided to come, and quickly became a member. He was soon vice-president and newsletter editor. In 1999, after Angela and Reed met, Angela, having found her intellectual, philosophical and ethical home, joined CSS as well.
The greatest moment of happiness in the lives of both Angela and Reed was their marriage on Saturday, July 27, 2002, at the Senior Center here in Albany. Angela and Reed were as perfectly matched as any two people could be. In spite of Angela’s many and growing medical problems, they had a wonderful married life. How sad that it lasted only 12 years. How precious our days are! Live every day as if it could be your last.
In a few moments, I will be asking audience members to share their thoughts and memories of Angela. But first, Reed wanted to share a special memory of his own…
by Reed Byers
Late in 1999, when I first saw Angela’s online personal ad, I thought it had been written specifically for me. She was very close to my age, she loved science fiction, she was a total computer geek like me, neither of us were interested in sports… and on top of everything else, she lived only a couple of miles away!
And then there was her photo. She was so beautiful, so happy, so COMFORTABLE with herself. I simply had to meet her.
As soon as I worked up the courage, I replied to her ad, and told her about myself. She told me later how impressed she had been with my initial response. Most men just wrote a sentence or two. One man had actually said “I like… STUFF”.
But I had written a whole page, describing who I was, my interests, my hopes and concerns. I had even warned her that I was an atheist, and that if she was strongly religious, to let me know up front, and I would apologize for wasting her time.
As it turns out, my saying that was a huge relief to her. She was not religious either, and didn’t want a man who was.
Then it was her turn to warn me. She was on Disability, due to a condition called Kienbach’s Disease, which meant that the lunate bones in her wrists were dying and dissolving. She had very little wrist strength, and couldn’t drive or use her hands for extended periods, and she wanted to know if that would be a problem for me.
I told her it wasn’t, and we spent the next two days trading emails at a furious pace, getting to know each other better and better.
It was late on Friday evening, and we definitely wanted to meet the next day, but it so happened that that particular day was completely booked for me. I was committed to attending a Secular Symposium in Portland, that my group had helped to put on. And then I was going to have to leave early and race back to Albany, because I was running sound for a musical at Albany Civic Theater that had a performance that night.
I told her over email how busy I was going to be the next day, but offered to bring her along with me – the entire day could be our first date. There was a brief moment of nervousness on both our parts; if it went badly, we were pretty much stuck with each other for at least most of the day. But we were already getting along so well, she couldn’t refuse.
We decided that we should at least talk on the phone once first, just to hear each other’s voice and break the ice a bit more, so I called her, and we started to talk.
And talk. And talk. And talk.
We wound up talking practically the whole night away, only giving ourselves time for around two hours of sleep, before having to get up and start getting ready.
I showed up on her doorstep wearing a newsboy cap and a black trenchcoat; she thought I looked very handsome.
We spent the whole ride up to Portland picking up right where we’d left off on the phone, talking nonstop about anything and everything. It turns out we were both huge fans of Transformers growing up. We probably spent half the ride recalling all of their names and other obscure Transformers trivia.
It was all we could do to behave ourselves and be quiet during the Symposium. Angela met all of my secular friends, and of course, all of my friends instantly adored her. It was obvious to them that we were a perfect match.
We attended several lectures, in which she was clearly as interested as I was, and then, the time came, and we had to leave early so I could race back to Albany for my other obligations.
The show was called “Return to the Forbidden Planet”, and it was billed as a rock-n-roll, science-fiction, Shakespearean musical. Angela had to sit in the audience, while I was up in the sound booth running things. She later told me that she had enjoyed the show very much, although it had been hard to stay awake due to her lack of sleep the night before.
After the show, we joined the cast and crew at Riley’s. We gabbed with everyone at the bar for at least a couple of hours or so, and that was how she first met my theater family. And just like my secular family, they all adored her and congratulated me on finding such an amazing woman.
By the time I finally got her home and she stumbled off to bed, our first date had lasted practically 24 hours. And in the years to come, we never stopped talking about our amazing, perfect, 24-hour first date, where she had met practically all of my close friends in one fell swoop.
We spent the next several months spending as much time together as we possibly could, until we realized that it was pointless to continue living apart. For the amount we were spending renting two apartments, we could easily afford a mortgage on a new house.
We bought our house together in 2001, and in mid-2002, we had our wedding. We rented the Albany Senior Center for the occasion. My theater family arranged and decorated the “wedding set”, and then did the “set strike” when it was time to convert the space for our reception. My secular family performed the ceremony, and did the readings. As “sound guy” for the theater, I ran my own sound for the wedding, by means of CD player and remote control.
It was a beautiful wedding, and the best day of our lives.
Over the course of 12 years of marriage, we never took our love for granted. I never left the house without stopping, holding her tightly, giving her a long kiss, and telling her, EARNESTLY, just how much I loved her. We always did everything we could to support and take care of each other.
As her disabilities grew worse, I took on more and more of the physical tasks, and she took on more of the intellectual work. She took calls, made appointments, handled bills, made plans.
She was also the emotionally stable one. She was the social butterfly, always cheerful. No matter what the problem, she was the one to take it in stride, and to try and shield me from the stress. With all of the pain and suffering she experienced, just in day-to-day LIVING, she was the one protecting ME from grief whenever possible!
I love her so much. She was my strength, my confidence. She was the center of my world, the person I’d dedicated my life to.
Last year, in the dreams of a brighter future together, we had our house majorly remodeled, to make it both more beautiful and handicap-accessible. Everything was changed with her in mind; her choices, her needs. She was so happy. But due to a year full of accidents and health problems, she never got to truly take advantage of her new dream house. And now, I find myself living alone, with a cat, in a house designed for someone else.
I can’t make myself believe that this is real, that she is gone. Everything feels WRONG. This isn’t the way it was supposed to work out.
I hate change. I don’t deal well with change. I never have. And now it’s all different. Nothing’s the same anymore.
Angela would be holding me right now. Comforting me. Telling me everything was going to be all right. She would ignore the very fact of her own death, to try and help me learn to be happy without her. For her sake, I will try.
by John Dearing
One might divide Angela’s 44 years of life into two parts: BR and AR – Before Reed and After Reed. I hope those who knew her BR – as a child, an adolescent, and a college student – will share anecdotes with us, and those who knew Angela AR – as an adult, after meeting Reed – will share their memories of her.
To that end, I would like to open this portion of the memorial to members of the audience. This is your chance to share your thoughts and memories of Angela.
[Audience memories are shared]
by John Dearing
Thank you all for attending Angela’s memorial here today. This gathering is a diverse group, because Angela had wide-ranging interests and made friends easily. She touched many lives. As diverse as we are, we are united in our love of Angela. Please take the time to greet and share your love with her family.
A reception and celebration follows this service at Ciddici’s Pizza. Ciddici’s is at 5th and Lyon (133 NW 5th Ave). Just loop around 9th Ave one block to Lyon St, then turn left (north) four blocks. We hope you will join us.