One of my friends who attended the memorial said, "When I came in the first words I heard were, 'Everyone is responsible for their own animal head,' and I knew that this was going to be a very different kind of memorial."
And it was.
Just some little highlights:
There were more people with disabilities who spoke or participated in some way than there were those without.
People with disabilities handled themselves with grace at the microphone and spoke passionately about Manuela.
Those who didn't speak clearly were able to participate by having surtitles on the screen - something they wanted to assist them getting their message across.
Every person attending got a small key chain with the three 'p's (providing safety, practicing respect, promoting community) represented by three small stars - this key chain was made by members of the organization - many donating all sorts of hours to the project.
The animal heads were part of a musical tribute of our members performing to the music of 'The Lion King'. Although the animal theme came up again as we all sang 'Little Bunny Foo Foo' near the end of the ceremony. (You had to be there.)
As I spoke, I saw people from all across the organization, members with disabilities, members of the board, members of the staff. They were joined by members of Manuela's family. Members of the ministry. Members of other organizations. We use the term 'member' as requested by our self advocate group to refer to those we provide service to - but here, we were all members together. Members, remembering.
There was a healthy mixture of laughter and sadness. There was an opportunity to be together, MC'd by our Board President, who introduced all the participants and kept the event on track, we listened to words from the Ministry of Community and Social Services, from Humber College and from those who live in or work for Vita. We even had, and this is important, a glitch. We lost our place a bit and stumbled around - what ceremony worth remembering runs entirely smoothly? As almost emblematic of Vita, we fumbled around till we got it right - all in good spirits.
I was the last speaker, but more activities followed my memorial to Manuela. I tried, as much as possible to remember her contribution by reflecting that her contribution continues. That though she is gone, I will see her again in the words and deeds of those who were affected by her spirit and her boldness. And it was true, I saw her again, at the celebration, reflected in the eyes of those who were there. It was comforting.
But what was really comforting was hearing those with disabilities speak, clearly, about their love of Manuela and their appreciation of the work we do together. They spoke, from their hearts, knowingly, about having their voices heard.
And they were heard.
Saying, 'Thank you'.
We all left tired. Sad at our loss, grateful at our opportunity to get together, and all looking forward to seeing Manuela again.