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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Etter

My eulogy for my niece, Kaylee Joy Lusher, 1999-2024



Me and Kaylee at the hometown launch for my fourth collection, The Weather in Normal, September 2018



Today we are here to celebrate the short life of my niece, Kaylee Joy Lusher, only 24 years. I’d like to share a couple memories of my own relationship with Kaylee before talking about her character more generally. Anyone who’d like to share their own memories of Kaylee please feel free to do so when I finish or come talk to me afterwards. I want to hear your Kaylee stories, too.


On account of the pandemic, I was unable to visit for 3 ½ years–I had some bad luck with Covid-struck flight crew–which means I only met with Kaylee in person as an adult a handful of times, though we also kept in touch via Facebook chats. Since my mother’s death in 2011, whenever I come to Bloomington-Normal, I’ve stayed with my friends, Mike and Rachelle Stivers, and their favourite bar is Fat Jack’s in downtown Bloomington. When you stay with friends, you go where they go much of the time, and hence it is the location for both of these memories of Kaylee. 


Before I come to visit, I reach out to family members and friends to tell them when I’ll be there and ask when we might meet, and before one visit Kaylee said she wanted me to meet her boyfriend. I suggested meeting them alone, but I think Kaylee liked the idea of joining me and my friends, making the introduction both more and less of an occasion. Kaylee, boyfriend, me, my friends, and their friends, were a group of ten or so at Fat Jack’s one early evening. Kaylee and her boyfriend sat at the end of the two tables closest to the door, their own island. 


They stayed for hours there, drinking soda. I can see Kaylee’s face. Even though she wasn’t participating in the general conversation, she leaned into it as though toward an open fire. I think she enjoyed the general friendliness and warmth at that gathering, the ease everyone enjoyed in one another’s company, and so she lingered, often grinning.


Another memory: I had a hometown launch for my last book, The Weather in Normal–given the book’s focus it seemed appropriate to do something in town for the occasion, and I held it at Fat Jack’s, in their back room. I gave a short reading and sold and signed copies. Kaylee came, by herself, and we sat and talked after the reading about everything from poetry to religion to love. 


I’d like to take you back, for a moment, to another celebration of life, that of my mother’s in August 2011. Given the race to get as quickly as I could from England to Illinois and the many arrangements I undertook in sorting the funeral and her affairs, I had little head space or time to reflect when composing her eulogy. As both a writer and a daughter, I was disappointed in it and could see it didn’t seem to resonate with the audience the way my father’s eulogy had. 


Then my brother-in-law Scott Cummings spoke, and he used a word to describe my mother I’d never associated with her before: grace. I’ve thought of that word and my mother often since that day, and I’ve come to think of it as describing Kaylee as well.


One of grace’s many meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘The quality of being pleasing; attractiveness, charm; esp. (in later use) refined elegance of manner, expression, form, or movement, esp. regarded as natural or effortless; gracefulness.’ Now I’m not suggesting that either my mother or Kaylee exhibited ‘refined elegance’; rather they had that quality of being naturally, effortlessly pleasing. Neither of them were quick to find fault with others or criticise. Kaylee possessed an easy warmth, easy to please with the possible exception of the time she grumbled that I’d undercooked her ramen noodles (I’d followed the package instructions). She never held herself as superior to anyone else, never exhibited any arrogance or meanness. She was sensitive and even vulnerable, she was hurt easily, and I think this may be part of the reason she was so generous with her affection to others. 


In this world, there are people whose company I enjoy, and then there’s a much smaller group, people whose company makes me feel not just at ease, but valued, special. Maya Angelou once said, ‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ Kaylee’s generosity of spirit, Kaylee’s grace, made me feel not only loved in her presence: she made me feel cherished. While I mourn her loss, the memory of Kaylee, her irrepressible warmth, will nourish me the rest of my life. 



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