As presented at Grace Cathedral
San Francisco, CA--August 7, 2001
Thank you for being here. I want to acknowledge some people.
I'd like to acknowledge my mother, who tackled Mimi's illness in an extraordinary way by reading the right books - Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, Rachel Naomi Remen, Stephen Levine, and Elizabeth Kubler Ross - and by practicing meditation.
I'd like to acknowledge my father, who prayed constantly and who spoke in Quaker Meeting to keep Mimi in the light.
I'd like to acknowledge my sister Pauline, who had made a point of staying out of the public eye for her whole life, but who somehow through the events with Mimi, became bolder and became much more of a sister to me. I thank her for that. Bold enough that one day, when I was dashing across the room with Bonnie Raitt, Pauline stepped forward and put her hand out and said, "Hi, I'm the other one." And Bonnie knew exactly what that meant.
I'd like to acknowledge my son Gabriel, my niece Pearl, my nephew Nicholas, for being nearby and ready at the call for the last few weeks of Mimi's life. They were lovely and they taught us about youth, about bravery, and about some kinds of wisdom.
I'd like to acknowledge Skipper as well. Skipper Henderson, my cousin, was there at the very beginning of Bread & Roses, and was here at the end of Mimi's life for her during her whole illness.
Melita Figueroa cooked for us the last week, otherwise we probably all would have been dead. Thank you, Melita.
Gail Zermeno, a close friend of mine for many, many years, happens to be a nurse, and because of her, we never had to have an outside nurse come in, we never had to have anybody Mimi didn't know touch her, be with her, and nurse her. Thank you, Gail.
Paul Liberatore, whose unconditional love for Mimi before, throughout, and after her illness and death humbled us all.
I'd like to acknowledge Final Passages, an organization which led us to many things including home funeral, which I think everybody should know about. It allowed us to, in fact, do everything ourselves. We did everything ourselves, from caring for Mimi, washing Mimi, clothing Mimi afterwards, doing all the things that she had asked us to do, and delivering her body to the mortuary ourselves in Paul's truck.
I'd like to thank the prisoners and the people who are listening to this service live and remind you how much Mimi loved you and how much you meant to her, all of the people in the institutions who are listening today. Thank you.
And of course, I thank the staff of Grace Cathedral and Bread & Roses for today's service.
Just some words on Mimi's death and dying process, and the gifts and lessons that I received.
My greatest lesson from Mimi, who has been in my psyche for 56 years: I had never seen her the way other people saw her. I'd seen her always as my little sister, and I discovered she was so much more. She was everything more. And I got a chance, through, I think it was the photos, seeing her looking like an Italian movie star, looking like a dancer, looking like an extremely strong woman and all of these things she was. It was the scale of Mimi's stature and her greatness that I had never seen. It was a gift that Mimi gave us that she was around long enough for me to tell her, "Mimi, I didn't get it, and I do now." And sometimes I was thankful that Mimi couldn't even answer back or she would have told me to be quiet, because I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, how much people loved her, how many people would grieve her death. She really didn't like displays of emotion, and so we tried to keep ours down in her presence. One day I was on the telephone with her and I was looking over some of Jim Marshall's early photographs, and I'd called Mimi and said "These are so beautiful, would you like to see any of them?" She said, "No, not really." I burst into tears, and she asked me what I was crying about. I said I was crying because I loved her so much and because she was in pain and I couldn't stand it. And she said, "You know, I think you're really much more involved in this than I am." I'm sure it was true.
I don't know if you know the definition of a co-dependent... it's somebody who at the moment of death, sees somebody else's life pass before their eyes.
Lesson: I learned that Mimi needed her independence from me in order to love me, and I attempted to give her that. Mimi could and did handle her death and the rest of her life perfectly well by herself.
Gift: One day Mimi was very weak, she patted the bed for me to get in next to her. I crawled in and we put our arms around each other. And I sang, "I'm the luckiest sister...." She said, "...in the world." And then she said, "Reality." And I said "Yes." She said, "There's another reality, you know." And I said, "Really? Have you seen it?" She said, "No. It's a kind of an awareness, it's a kind of intelligence." And I said, "Is that where you're going?" She said, "Yeah." I said, "Do you need any help getting there?" She said, "No." A little later, she said, "I want to go, I want to go now." And I said, "Mimi, if it's any help to you, I'm ready to let you go." And she said, "No, you're not."
But I was, in fact, as ready as a woman brought up in the western world could be. I had done a vision quest in Colorado and I had spent two weeks in silent meditation at Spirit Rock, trying to let Mimi go. Trying to let Mimi go. I walked her trails on Mt. Tam and I would say out loud, "Let her go." And I had a little prayer. I would turn to the mountains and the ocean and that fog which some days was blasting at me, and I would breathe in Mimi's intimate companions, the hawk and the deer and the crow and the eucalyptus trees and the bay trees and the little brown birds, the lizards, the chipmunks, all of that beauty, and then I would turn and face Mimi's house, and I would breathe out, "Mimi, I send you my warmth, I send you my strength, I send you all of my love, and may your passage be like a shadow crossing the moon when the time comes."
Gifts: The coming together of the family in a way we really had never done before. Members of the family I didn't know very well, I came to know. In members of the family I knew quite well, I discovered layers of wealth. The widening of the family circle to encompass Paul.
And I'll leave you with a poem that I wrote after Mimi had died. It was the last poem I wrote.
If at storms end
the sun prances through your heart
as it does mine,
then all the catastrophic moments
of this life
past the here and now
to the trails of Tamalpais
where we walked
and where we will again find
the hearts calm,
the silent glade,
and a meeting place
for you and for me,
who came to know each other,
Click photos for larger versions.
Photo: David Gahr
Photo: Edmond Shea
I'm Paul Liberatore, and for the past four years, I have had the honor, privilege and great good fortune of being Mimi Fariña's partner, soulmate, caregiver, lover and friend.
I think it is absolutely fitting and proper that this celebration of her life take place in Grace Cathedral, because Mimi, above all, was the epitome of grace.
Grace was so much a part of her essence that she could transform the simple act of walking across a room into a moment of exquisite beauty. Whenever she passed by me, no matter what I may have been doing at the time, I always, always stopped to admire her every move, to pause and appreciate the great gift of knowing her and loving her and feeling her love in return.
Her grace and charisma and compassion revealed itself in all aspects of her life and her being; in the quiet and committed way she spoke her mind, in her lovely use of language, in her achingly gorgeous singing voice and masterful guitar playing, in the intelligence and sensitivity of her songs, in her social conscience and commitment to peace and non-violence, in her musical laugh and naughty sense of humor, in the kindness and selfless service she bestowed on so many people whose lives were brightened by her presence.
When Mimi was a very young woman, before she became a musician and long before she founded Bread & Roses, she was first and foremost a dancer. She studied ballet and modern dance in Paris followed by a brief but promising professional career. Later, she taught dance in Carmel when she was just starting out on her own.
Mimi was many things to many people, but I always thought of her as a dancer, and never more so than after she became ill with cancer. Mimi faced her disease with the dedication and the discipline and the focus of a prima ballerina. She had an open mind, listened to her doctors and medical advisers, and took advantage of the best treatments available in traditional and complementary medicine. In April, we spent a month at a cancer clinic in Switzerland, where she tried, often with great difficulty, the latest in alternative and conventional cancer therapies.
But of all the treatments over the past two years, the one that seemed to have done her the most good was dancing. Every week for as long as she was physically able, she attended Anna Halprin's Moving Toward Life class, using dance, drawing, visualization, poetry and other arts in her courageous effort to heal.
On Monday nights, I would pick her up after class in Anna's rustic studio in the Marin County redwoods, and I would marvel at the physical and spiritual strength and agility, the emotional courage it took for her to work so hard at healing her body and her soul. After dancing, her pain always seemed to be lessened, and that gave us both hope.
At the same time, Mimi and I had to deal with the terrible paradox of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. She had to accept the possibility that she would, in her words, have to leave the planet before she was ready.
One of the great lessons I learned during the long months of Mimi's illness is how desperately she and I and her incredible support system of friends and family grew to need and rely on each other. Mimi's Share the Care Circle became a lifeline for her and for me. And she gave a great gift to all of those who participated in it, a common bond of love shared only by them that will never be broken.
In one of her dance classes, Mimi drew a picture of a man and a woman leaning against each other, back to back. Under it, she wrote, "Strength without fear. Support one another."
In the last months, when Mimi could no longer dance, when it became clear to both of us that she would not survive her illness, we talked about death and dying. I had a hard time even saying the word at first, but Mimi assured me that it was OK, that it might even be a good thing for us.
In our discussions, I reminded her that she had always been a leader of her generation. She had been in the vanguard of the folk revival in the '60s, she had gone to jail to protest the Vietnam War, and she had invented and nurtured a humanitarian organization in Bread & Roses that was new and unique and fills a need so vital to the human spirit that it has endured for more than a quarter of a century.
I thanked her for being a pioneer, and I told her that I no longer feared death because she will have gone there ahead of me, lighting my way. She smiled knowingly at that. I felt that it brought her some peace.
After Mimi died, I found another piece of art work she'd done in her dance class and had left for me. This one is a drawing of a bold dancer, a tall, proud, grand woman in a winged robe and long flowing hair, holding a feather to the heavens. The drawing came with a poem she had written titled "Follow Me." This is what it said:
The wind, the eagle feather
Let me lead
Dance the cancer
Relinquish the fear
The sky will twirl open
The sky will twirl open
The sky will twirl open."
So, I'll leave you with that image to hold in your hearts, just as I hold it I in mine, a vision of Mimi, our brave, beautiful and graceful dancer, leading us once again, showing us the way, twirling the sky open.
Photo: Isago Isao Tanaka
Photo: Gerry Wainwright
Mimi was my friend. To have worked beside someone like her, who was loved and cherished by so many people far and wide, has been a gift and a blessing in my life. I'm honored to speak and share some of her words about the organization she nurtured for over 25 years.
Founded in her late 20's while searching for a new community and kindred spirits, Mimi's timing was perfect and Bread & Roses shot off like a rocket. She described it this way: "I didn't exactly have a vision. It was more like writing a song than making a plan. Some feelings popped up in me and I had a picture of what it would be like to bring pleasure to people."
In an interview, Mimi said, "I could see the need to bring music to people who are confined or suffering or not in touch with the outside world. You don't have to preach or say anything, you just have to be there and make the music. It gets through on another level than medication or punishment or whatever else people experience in institutional life."
Mimi always remembered those early years of Bread & Roses with great fondness. Those were the fun, creative years for her. Funding for a fresh new idea was forthcoming. The first major fundraisers at the Greek Theatre became legendary overnight. And artists kept coming and sharing music and compassion where it was needed most.
Mimi once said, "It wasn't until Bread & Roses that I felt I had come into my own, that I was finally doing exactly what I was meant to do." Mimi kept the mission of Bread & Roses alive with amazing perseverance through many lean years that followed those early days. She led by example. Her management style was to some degree by consensus and somewhat like a family. She surrounded herself with talented and generous people and she often liked to say, "My board and my staff, they comfort me."
Sometimes Mimi would get a call, maybe one of her old Committee buddies, and they would get her started - laughing. It didn't matter what the joke was to the rest of the office. The sound of her sincere and thunderous laughter would make us all stop and enjoy the moment together.
Mimi was a passionate seeker of truth, quality and beauty in both her professional and personal life. I think that was one of the things that attracted people to the organization and why they come back again and again.
She felt strongly that Bread & Roses was important for performers, a place to share their talents in a non-commercial, very real setting, and to get back to why they began music or performance in the first place. Mimi hoped that one day all performers would want their bios to read that they had "done their time for Bread & Roses."
She not only set an example for other artists, she encouraged a generation to discover the joys of giving and volunteering. And you didn't have to sing. Mimi could find a job for you, whether sitting on a committee or selling T-shirts at an event. And Mimi never, ever, missed an opportunity, especially in public, to ask for your support for Bread & Roses, whether it was your time, money, goods or services.
People have told me they were awed by Mimi's natural beauty, talent and celebrity; yet after she had spoken just a few words they felt an easy comfort around her. With informality, warmth and humor, she treated everyone equally, looked you in the eye and never failed to thank you in a most personal way. I know that Mimi's handwritten thank you notes are treasured by inmates, celebrities, donors and volunteers alike. Mimi understood the importance of little things - in this life.
Perhaps more visionary than ever, several years before she learned she had cancer, Mimi began to talk about her retirement, her legacy and passing the day to day affairs on to others. She gave us some time to prepare. This time with full blown strategic plans, a multi-layered Bay Area committee, and more dedicated volunteers and staff, Mimi led us toward her new vision. And even though the cancer was slowing her down, Mimi got her way.
A 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Opera House was a sold out, smashing success. A seamless transition from founder to new leadership has taken place. There's an endowment well underway to ensure programs in institutions for the next generation.
Mimi left us an important and enduring organization, with a following of volunteers and performing artists that exceeds 1000 generous souls willing to share music and laughter - so that many thousands more - will know they are not forgotten.
Mimi once wrote, "Bread & Roses is my way of interacting with people. I believe life itself is created in music and songs are a real language. To sing is to speak from the heart and to listen is to love." When asked about her life's work, she said, "When I look at the whole work of Bread & Roses-performing for convicts in prison, seniors who are isolated, children in kids wards who may never come back out again - I realize it comes from my deep, deep need to try and make some sort of community for them. I do it by bringing them music."
When further asked what she got out of it, she replied, "It's not that tangible. I think it's just so I have a place to be, that I'm proud of. And literally a place to go during the day, a place that I've created and that is meaningful to me." And then she confessed that she didn't really know why she was doing it and said, "It doesn't matter. I'm just thankful, so thankful, that I get to do it all."
In some inexplicable way Mimi's death has taken the essence of Bread & Roses to a new level of understanding and purpose. Words of love and sorrow have been pouring in steadily from all over the world. People as far away as Serbia are hearing about her life's work. People are being inspired, or re-inspired.
One of the many messages reads: "The positive thing about the burning out of a star in the universe is that you continue to perceive its light for, possibly, millions of years. I believe this is the case with Mimi, her work will span many generations from now ad infinitum. I would like to re-dedicate my willingness to perform and contribute to her work."
As Bread & Roses goes forward, setting the stage for human kindness, Mimi will be there. She will always be its shining star, its guiding light.
Mimi, your life will not be measured in years or time but by its quality. For all your Bread & Roses family and friends, we love you and miss you so. Thank you for Bread & Roses. Thank you for all you gave and shared with us.