Two weeks after her death on September 29, 2004, Myrna's corporate law firm in Manhattan held a memorial service. Several hundred co-workers and friends attended. (The "y" in Myrna's name is pronounced like the "i" in mirror. Part of her magic.) The following is my eulogy for Myrna:
I buried Myrna in her U.S. hometown, Salem, Oregon, a week ago last Wednesday. Salem is about 60 miles from the Pacific Ocean. That is where Myrna belongs.
Myrna’s motto was: “Tiny, but mighty.”
My wife stood barely five feet tall, and never weighed 100 pounds… but she was a giant. Myrna was the most glamorous, beautiful, wise and spiritual woman I ever met.
I am the only person on this earth who knows just how extraordinary Myrna really was. I know you all had glimpses of her greatness. She was a beautiful gem. I also gave her eulogy in Salem. There, I spoke of how much Myrna and I loved one another, and how devoted we were to one another. Today, I want to speak about Myrna’s outlook on work and friends.
Myrna traveled from the Stone Age to be with us. She was born, and spent the first seven years of her life, in a grass hut on the edge of the Pacific. Many of us talk about re-connecting with the tribal mind. Myrna actually experienced life within the tribe. She told me about it. One day I hope to adequately relate the story of those years in the book she asked me to write about her life. The world of the spirits was not abstract to Myrna. She spoke to the spirits and heard them. That was one of the sources of her wisdom and strength. Her family always called her an “old soul.” She was a fully evolved spirit.
Her life in the South Pacific might seem idyllic, but the Second World War did not end in her homeland in 1945. It continued throughout her childhood in the late 50s. She grew up in the midst of violence, cruelty and terror. Without going into the details, I will tell you that she suffered torture and brutality that would leave most of us unable to function. This did not produce cynicism or despair or complaint in Myrna. It produced the opposite -- the most loving, optimistic and passionate spirit I have ever encountered.
“People are always telling me I look at the world through rose tinted glasses,” she said. And she did. She was determined to continue doing so.
Myrna’s family suffered and struggled to bring all her siblings to the U.S. Myrna’s mother and siblings stayed home in the Philippines for a year while her father worked his way to Guam and then to Oregon. Myrna worked hard almost from birth. She was surrogate mother to her siblings while her mother and father worked long hours to succeed in America. I just spent a week with her two brothers and two sisters. They felt as if they had lost a mother.
The woman you knew as a college educated software trainer began her journey through this life in the humblest circumstances possible, born into tribal life in a tiny village on the edge of the Pacific in the midst of war. You must evaluate all her achievements in light of the enormous distance in time and space that she covered.
When a great teacher passes on from this world, we are left to ponder her lessons. Myrna was my teacher, too. Her wisdom was deep, always related to me in mind boggling parables and wild stories. She was a great story teller. I will try to tell you, as best I can, the essence of those teachings.
Myrna believed in action. She was a whirlwind of action, at home and at work. I could never get her to sit still. She viewed work as a sacred obligation, an obligation to be performed with joyous abandon.
When Myrna was suffering through her last days in the hospital, I had to take the hospital phone off the hook to quiet the avalanche of well-wishers. They still managed to find me on my cell phone.
You don’t know how many of those conversations began: “I only met Myrna once or twice, but she touched me so deeply.” Many who called had hoped to console me, but I usually found myself consoling them.
If you took a class with Myrna, or if she stood at your desk to instruct you, you encountered much more than a software instructor. You encountered a spiritual teacher. She gave everything she had to give to every person she touched. We live in a cynical world, a world in which it is assumed that people give as little as possible to their neighbor. Myrna took the opposite approach. Her entire being radiated generosity.
This was partly due to her training as a very traditional, Christian, Filipino woman. Myrna remained old world even as she adapted to the most modern city in the world. She was truly grateful to her employer for her job, in a way that only a kid who had experienced desperate poverty can be. Her sense of obligation to her employer was profound. She felt an equally profound obligation to the attorneys and support staff she served, and that was the obligation to tell the truth. She always told the truth.
The truth of work was the paramount truth to Myrna. She didn’t judge people by what they said, but by what they did. When I first met Myrna, I lived in a world of ideology and abstraction. She cured me of this. “You’re a musician, not a politician,” she repeatedly told me. “You’re job is to make people feel good.” Her first job was always to make people feel good. She did, too.
“Be a trooper,” was her catch phrase for what she expected from herself and her co-workers. And right after that came one of her favorite expressions: “No whining.”
In addition to being sacred, work was supposed to be fun, in Myrna’s world view. We worked as professional musicians in our lives away from the office. Myrna struggled mightily to become a great jazz and blues singer. I am sorry that so few of you were privileged to see and hear her in this guise. She had become by sheer force of will a great chanteuse, a great diva.
She was also a teacher in this arena. She had prepared herself for her role as a diva so that she could instruct us in the eternal mysteries of love, sex and marriage. She also did this because she was furiously determined that my work as a musician be heard. She believed in the power of love. I am left to try to explain these teachings on my own, and I am woefully inadequate. She was a sage. She knew how people can make themselves, and one another, happy in love, sex and marriage. Filipino culture provides some wisdom here that many other cultures lack.
“Marriage is like two fighters standing side by side, each one protecting the other one’s back,” was her most often repeated quote. I do not know how I will make it through life without Myrna guarding my flank. She was a bulldog when it came to protecting her man.
Myrna leaves behind a phalanx of broken hearted friends, particularly girlfriends. Her passionate friendships with women spanned the continent. Once you became friends with Myrna, you were hooked for life. She was a vast repository of advice for the lovelorn. If a girlfriend needed to think about improving her job skills, Myrna would be the one who gave her firm and correct guidance. One of her girlfriends took on the job of booking and managing our music act, just so that she could spend more time with Myrna.
Men fell in love with Myrna at first sight with stunning regularity. I can’t blame them, because I did, too. I got used to the crowd of heartsick suitors after a few years, but it was tough at first. Myrna was a master at making every one of those men feel as if she loved them, too. In fact, she did. Myrna just loved men. She thought that men should always be honored and respected. She had tremendous grace in the midst of her constant swarm of admirers. She loathed the idea of hurting even one of her admirer’s feelings. I don’t think she ever did.
Our first date was Myrna coming to hear me perform at Kingston Mines, the greatest blues club in Chicago. I had had enough of life on the road, I wasn’t making the kind of money or impact I hoped to make, and I had two children at home to raise. I buried their mother after a horrible car accident. I had told Myrna before hand that this was my last performance. I left the stage with the club in an uproar.
“That was fantastic,” Myrna said.
“Well, I’m hanging it up,” I replied. “I’m finished.”
“No, you’re not,” she insisted.
This was my introduction to Myrna’s iron will. Once we were married she embarked on a relentless campaign to encourage me to continue singing and performing. She became my spiritual teacher, too. Despite my misgivings, she enlisted herself as my partner. I tried to tell her she was too old at the age of 36 to start a new career as a singer, and that she suffered a decided disadvantage since she was a native Tagalog speaker who still carried an accent.
“I can do it,” she assured me. “I’m more worried about you. I don’t know if you can keep up with me.”
She turned out to be right. I was the problem. She humbled herself totally as a student, and took whatever instruction I would give her for hours on end, day after day. She was a trooper. She listened intently to my stories of my legendary friends in the music business, some of whom she met. She studied the masters of blues and jazz with a devotion and a determination that was just plain awesome. She always outworked me. She was as devoted a student as she was a teacher.
She overcame my doubts bit by bit. She became my artistic partner. This became the spiritual center of our lives, singing in harmony.
At the time of her death, Myrna had mastered the craft of the blues and jazz singer. She had become an elegant chanteuse, a brilliant diva. And you would not believe her grace and skill as a dancer. She was such an astonishing character. She always amazed me.
Our last public performance was in Chinatown, in Manhattan. We played for an audience of young people, mostly Asian and black. The club had a live feed out to TV. I don’t think it will surprise you to hear that Myrna was a smashing success. A standing ovation.
The audience should have convinced her that she had finally arrived as a singer, but she always valued my opinion first. As her teacher, I had had to be critical of her singing and performing. Besides, she always had an exquisite sense of hierarchy and obligation. Her teacher and her man always came first, as a matter of principle.
“What did you think, honey?” she asked. “Did I do OK?”
“Sweetheart, you were absolutely wonderful,” I told her. She was, too.
“You mean you don’t have any criticisms?” she asked me.
“No, I don’t have any. You were just great,” I told her.
Myrna really was a giant.
She died just as she was about to fully flower. I cannot explain this to you. I do not understand why God has taken Myrna’s brilliance from us.
We have lost a great teacher who was still in her prime. The pain of her death is so severe because, I think, we felt her impact so keenly in our lives, or we had not yet fully heard her message, or we had not fully received our share of her love. I will endeavor for the remainder of my life to attempt to deliver her wisdom in my music and writing.
My Myrna was a goddess of love and a fount of giving. In Oregon, I commended her spirit to God. Her spirit soon returned to me, and lives inside me. We see now with the same eyes, just as we did when she was alive. God bless you, Myrna. We will be re-united on the other side.