You know that great song from “The Lion King”? It’s been running through my head lately. Might be because it was part of the opening for the Tony Awards last Sunday. I didn’t watch anything but that really. But, anyway, the past few weeks have been particulary poignant for me. And, on Sunday night as I watched performers on TV run around in animal costumes, singing “The Circle of Life”, I cried. Because one of the world’s best women and one of my best friends was about to journey Home.
Lulie Blackham passed away early Tuesday morning with grace and acceptance of the Lord’s will. I first met Lulie over 25 years ago. She was called to serve as the president of my LDS Young Women’s organization. This was the second time in her life that she agreed to serve in this capacity, and at the time, I just didn’t realize how fortunate and blessed I was to have her in my life. I learned quickly how much she would mean to me though, and my love and respect for her has deepened so much more.
Lulie always had a smile for me when things were tough, a quick wit when I needed to laugh, and such a grasp of common sense that I never could find a reason not to take her advice. The most important thing that Lulie shared with me though was her love of Jesus Christ; her knowledge that He is the Savior of the World, and of individuals like me and her.
When I first met Lulie, I had recently moved from California. It was tough moving right before I was to start high school. Most of the girls in my neighborhood and school treated me as an outsider, and sometimes worse. My academic plans were turned upside down, because the Utah schools just didn’t believe I should be in advanced classes, and they didn’t teach the variety of subjects that I had been interested in. I felt like I had been taken back 20 years into the past, didn’t know the language, and had some sign on my back that said, “I’m not like you”. As an example, on the first day of school, I wore my usual Levi Strauss cords, with my khaki-green M*A*S*H t-shirt and a comb in my back pocket for my long blonde, California hair. I had white Reeboks on, and I stuck out like the sorest of thumbs.
I didn’t realize that the pre-requisite in Utah for social acceptance was to wear buttoned shirts with little ribbons around your neck, and have your hair-bangs stick out like a shelf. I will admit though that if I had known, I would have done all I could to stay away from that style. It was like a mix of pioneer-bonnet-like hair and a calico shirt. Anyway, I digress.
I had one friend in high school that welcomed me that day. I had one adult mentor that loved me for who I was, and more importantly who she knew I could become. The mentor was Lulie Blackham. The friend was Susan Olsen, but I’ll write about her another time.
I couldn’t understand at the time why so many of the kids two to three years older than me were paying attention to me. They invited me to hang out with them, to go to the dances, ball games, and other high school events. Since then, I have suspected that Lulie played a part in all of that. Her daughter was part of the slightly older crowd, and I found that I had new friends who took me in and made me feel welcome. I was clueless as to why they took such an interest in me. Probably better that I was. I’m so stubborn I would have refused to do anything with them if I knew they had been encouraged to include me. They were so genuine though that I never knew what precipitated their friendship.
I can’t really sum up Lulie’s influence in my life in a single blog post. There are so many memories that I have of her, that have meant so much to me. Some are personal and not something I want in cyberspace. The reality though is that there are just too many to mention. I understand now that Lulie was able to be who she was because of her loving family and a strength of spirit that she possessed before this life. Her sweetheart, Gus, is also one of my heroes. They were and are a team like no other that I have seen.
I have learned so much about life and the purpose of life from this woman. She wasn’t perfect. Sometimes she was wonderfully imperfect. But, she was the closest thing to perfect in a person that I have known in my lifetime. And, probably for the rest of my life.
I know she has had a wonderful reunion with her parents and other family, and with her Savior whom she loves so much. Those who knew her are coping with a big hole in our hearts though. I haven’t cried this much since I was little and skinned my knee. But, I keep hearing that deep, uniquely-Lulie voice saying, “Come on. Buck up. I’m fine. The last thing I want you to do is wallow in this. The Lord knew what he was doing.”
And so, I’ll echo that. The Lord knew what he was doing. I can’t promise that the floodgates of tears are going to end anytime soon. I can tell you that I have a renewed sense of purpose and a love of life and loved ones. No regrets. Lulie knew where she stood with her friends, family, and most importantly, the Lord. And, we knew where we stood with her. She never missed an opportunity to hug you, tell you she cared and that life is good. There is so much more I could say about her.
God bless us all to live so that she can continue to be proud of us. And God bless Gus, her eternal companion, the partner and friend that she loves so much.