Your Smile Crowned Our Hearts: A Eulogy for Zilla Edema
Greetings! My name is Michelle Asantewa. I am the daughter of Lucille Davis, who is Wendy’s elder cousin. Some people know me as ‘Shelly.’ It is an honour to be reading this eulogy for Zilla, better known as Wendy.
Details of her biography are recorded in the Obituary in the Order of Service, so I won't recount those here. I will give my eulogy and add the remarks by members of the family as I go.
Many of you will remember Wendy for her radiant, magnetic smile. Some will also remember her love for life and her liveliness at social gatherings and family get togethers. Still others, will recall her open-heartedness, her generosity and her devotion to her faith. Beyond doubt, Wendy was a peoples person, and someone who simply adored her family. I don’t recall knowing Wendy when I was younger, nor when I was introduced to her as ‘family.’ But when I met her, I immediately knew she was family; she had the essence of ancient people, our ancestors.
For this reason, I'd like to share what I consider to be behind the enchanting quality of Wendy’s smile – a smile that crowned all our hearts.
Although, we know that Wendy was brought up in a Christian home, the depth of her spirituality is perhaps less well known. As her daughter Melanie recalls, Wendy followed in her grandmother Susie’s footsteps by bringing her children up in the Church. Likewise, Melanie has brought her children up in the Church. This continuity gives us a sense of cultural identity, strength and spiritual connection. And, of course, if we marvelled at and appreciated Wendy’s well-turned-out, stylish appearance, it’s maybe thanks to those days she attended church with Sister Sears (her grandmother Susie) dressed in her Sunday best. She maintained this as a kind of rite – to always look her best.
Faith, however, is more than attending Church and ruminating on Scripture. A scholar, versed in ancient Egyptian or Kemetic spirituality writes that: ‘in the spiritual traditions that recognise the state of life after death as well as prior to birth, it is [evident] that consciousness, like matter, cannot be created nor destroyed. You may cease to be alive, to be able to act, but you still have life by the fact of your consciousness’ (Ra Un Nefer Amen).
It is this consciousness and her approach to spirituality that magnetised Wendy’s smile and leant that spirited, vitality to her life. Discussions on matters of spirit connected me with cousin Wendy in a deep way, where these considerations would cause contention with others. Wendy spoke often of her beloved grandmother and father James who had long been deceased. When she was in trouble, or in need of something she would dream them, and they would direct her about how she could resolve the issue she was having. This was possible because of a shared consciousness that prevails even after our death. Wendy trusted this aspect of her spirituality. She allowed herself to be guided and protected by the power of spirit – in a broad, unlimited sense. It was this power that directed her daughter Melanie on that fateful day of January the 12th to be by her side, so she would not be alone at the hour of her passing. And we can be consoled that the timing was Divine and precise, falling exactly six months to the day before her birthdate of 12th June. She would surely have celebrated being 70 in the grandest style, the following year.
As for the love of family, this stemmed from her childhood, growing up as part of an extended family that lived within close proximity. As she told Melanie, when she got told off by her mother, she would go across the road to her grandmother Susie and stay with her for a couple of days. All the children would play together and be in and out of each other’s houses. Wendy looked forward to visits by her uncles Clifford and Herwitt, who always brought a big bag of sweets with them. The number of sweets you received depended on how big your hands were, as each child was invited to dive in with both hands to collect their share.
Wendy cherished her childhood experiences and I’m sure this is why she was so young at heart, while at the same time being a motherly big-sister. Spirited people were often mischievous as children. Not surprisingly, Wendy recounted for her children that she would raid neighbour’s mango and guinnip trees on the way to school and that on one occasion she threw a rock at the wheels of one of her teachers’ bike and bent up the spokes so he could not ride it anymore. Of course, for these and other such mischiefs she was duly punished with the cane.
Each of us are saddened by Cousin Wendy’s passing, but we are so blessed to have memories we will cherish always. These are just a few from the family.
Her granddaughters Angel and Skye always enjoyed listening to her stories of her childhood. Their favourite is one where she ended up sharing a pineapple with a snake. There was a moral to the story, which is, as she would say in her Guyanese accent: “Back home when I was little and your mother shout for you to run! You would run. Not like nowadays where y’all would question, what where and why.” There was a storm and she ran up the stairs, with a snake in close pursuit. A thunderbolt hit the bannister of the stairs to the front of the house and the snake retreated.
Her sister Karen, says:
“My sister loved to entertain. She was in her element when she had family around her. She loved to cook, play games and wind you up.
Sister Wendy taught me how to skin and wash a whole chicken. Being young at the time, I was not too pleased; I could think of better things to do with my time. But I'm so grateful to her for pushing me to learn to cook. My favourite food she made were Guyanese patties.
My sister loved plants. She had green fingers and like Mummy if she went anywhere and saw a plant she liked, she would take a cutting or break a piece off. But unlike Mum, Wendy's plants would actually live and grow to be giant triffids.
She loved her children, but took great pride in being a grandmother. Of all the things she enjoyed, from cooking, entertaining and growing plants, I'd say she was happiest when she was with her grandchildren.
I always felt my sister would be around for much longer because she was always there. I never thought this day would come so soon. I will miss her laughter, infectious smile, and competitive banter at our family get-togethers.
Sister Wendy was kind. If you needed help and asked her to come, she would come. If you wanted anything and she had it, she would give it. I know I speak for all my siblings when I say we are going to miss her very much.”
One of her good friends said simply that he wished for Cousin Wendy to ‘rest in love.’
As for my Mum and I, we cannot stop talking about the glorious box of fruits Wendy sent us for Christmas. She had called to say we should look out for something that would be delivered on 23rd of December. We called to thank her and ended the call by telling he we loved her. The fruits seemed to be in exchange for a gift Mum had sent her the previous week. She had called Mum in tears, grateful for that simple gift of a set of inspirational healing cards.
It was an absolute joy to know you, my cousin. Mum and I will continue to call your name and remember your kindness. The vegan mermaid cake you had made for me for my 50th birthday was another of your many thoughtful gestures.
And finally, Wendy had an ancestral altar, moderate, though it was, for her grandmother and her father. When you, Melanie, Melissa, James, Jonathan and her grandchildren are ready, I encourage you to do the same for your mother. She is the latest among a host of your ancestors to enter the eternal home. Rest she will, but with your pouring of water and lighting of candles in her honour ever so often, she will rise and be your strong defence in all manners of adversity, and continue smiling with you through your triumphs and successes.
Such are the exchanges in consciousness I've had with cousin Wendy since her passing that this song, among others, keep playing over and over in my mind. These words I know she’d say:
“jump, and let me see,
love and unity,
one big family
The fussing and the fighting,
and the war must done; the war must done!
Come leh we live as one…”
I wish for you to be comforted by the fact that as Wendy continues the journey of her Ascension, her consciousness will expand and those of us who wish to continue experiencing the vibrations of her smile, and the vital energy that she shared throughout her life, would do well to learn from her broadminded approach to spirituality, an attitude that was fully expressed in the quality of a smile that crowned all our hearts.