Monday, November 05, 2007

This week I heard that a woman at my former church passed away after having a stroke. She was only a couple of years older than me. I read her obituary online, and it led me to consider the impossible task of summarizing a loved one's life in a few short paragraphs. I began to ponder what my own obit should say and what it would say, depending on which family member writes it. I think it's better if I write my own. Trouble is, I'd better allocate a generous sum to pay for a full page.

Galen G passed away on _________________. She was born in Fort Worth, Texas on May 19, 1952. She was fond of saying that she was part of the last generation to have a real childhood. As a child, she adored horses, reading, playing Indian, riding her bike, and going to Girl Scout camp.

Throughout her school years, she was an excellent student, making only two "B"s in 12 years of schooling. She taught herself to read the summer before entering first grade. In junior high, she first became interested in the Russian language, after seeing the movie, "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." This interest was something of a turning point in her life, as it led her 30 years later to adopt 3 children from Russia. In high school, she was interested in history and politics and protested the Vietnam War. She graduated valedictorian in 1970 and delivered a controversial address at graduation, which the local school board recognized by passing new rules for graduation the next spring, penalizing commencement speakers who deviated from their approved texts.

Galen attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, graduating magna cum laude in 1974 with a BA in History. At Rice, she finally had the chance to study the Russian language in earnest. During the summer of 1973, she spent 3 months in Yugoslavia as part of a summer study program.

Armed with a BA in History and no marketable skills, in the middle of a recession, Galen found a job as an attendant at a state institution for the mentally retarded. This came to be another turning point, as it was her introduction to people with disabilities and to occupational therapy. She fell in love with the children under her care, eventually taking one of them home as a foster child. She attended Texas Woman's University to pursue a Master's degree in Occupational Therapy, which she obtained in 1978.

Galen began working as a pediatric occupational therapist in 1978, spending 25 years in the public schools before moving to pediatric home health. In 1981 she adopted her first child, Jesse. Over the course of the next 15 years, she adopted 9 more children who were considered "hard to place" because of their disabilities, race, or age, wanting simply to give them the chance for a family and a normal life. She saw them through more than 25 surgeries or hospitalizations and advocated for them at school. Together they enjoyed concerts, museums, state parks, and the beach on Padre Island.

Galen's spiritual journey led her through various churches, including Methodist, Unitarian, Friends, and Lutheran, but she lost her faith when she watched her dear Aunt Jing lose everything to Alzheimers. She was unable to reconcile a belief in an omnipotent, loving God with such cruel suffering.

In later years, Galen's passions were her dogs, her horse, gardening, exploring state parks, writing poetry, and the internet. As a child of the 50s, she never lost her sense of wonder over the power of the internet to provide instant communication and information and to connect the world.

Galen is survived by the four sons who remain part of her life: Jesse, Marcus, Gabriel, and Tevis.