Eulogy for Stacey Ahern by Kate Ahern, March 26, 2008
At just 29 years old it is hard to believe how many lives Stacey had touched but it is true. No matter who I speak with they seem to tell me of Stacey’s humor, her intelligence, her determination and her generosity. Of course sometimes they call it her attitude and her stubbornness, but they are the same thing. Sometimes Stacey touched lives one at a time and sometimes Stacey touched lives a roomful at a time, but she always made a difference.
Many of you remember that Stacey walked everywhere and that she was unafraid to engage in a conversation with anyone she met on the street, whether it was a small child or an elderly homeless man everyone was an equally worthy conversation partner for Stacey and if anyone one needed anything she would hand it over, no questions asked. Recently Stacey stopped and talked to a woman who was pan handling outside a grocery store. The woman said she needed diapers for her baby. Stacey went into the store and purchased diapers and then was chastised by the woman because the diapers weren’t good enough. Stacey didn’t care much because she knew if nothing else the baby had diapers and she got a good story out of it. That was the kind of person Stacey was, she lived on a very tight budget but wouldn’t think twice before buying diapers or anything else for a stranger.
Many times Stacey didn’t even know the lives she touched. She did a lot of public speaking both as part of her commitment to sobriety and as an activist in the disability rights movement. Friends of Bill W. from New Hampshire to New York, and perhaps beyond, have been inspired by Stacey’s story of recovery and she would want all of you to know that she passed away clean and sober, in fact almost eight years to the day of her sobriety date. One of my favorite stories, a story I make my father retell often, is of how he overheard one man telling another man about a courageous young woman with blond flowing hair speak at an AA meeting one night and how that young woman had touched him. The young woman was, of course, Stacey.
When speaking in the disability rights movement Stacey’s most frequent topic was maximizing potential of people with disabilities. I think it can be safely said that nobody had maximized their own potential like Stacey had following her brain injury. In fact, perhaps the most telling fact about Stacey is that after her brain injury, when the doctors said she would not speak again, her first words were, “thank you”. I’m not sure “thank you” would be my first words if someone else just shaved my legs, but that’s Stacey for you, full of gratitude, even for the little things. Of course her next word was “zipper” and I have no idea how to make that meaningful. Years later Stacey spoke to high school students about disability awareness and to people learning to work with children who have developmental disabilities about potential and independence; giving of herself, even when she was self conscious of her speech disorder which sometimes made her speech sound slurred or as if she had an accent.
During her speeches Stacey would talk of her seemingly endless occupational, physical and speech therapy sessions and the potential power of people in lives of individuals with disabilities to never give up and to insist on independence. Stacey had been told she would never walk, talk or use her hands. She ended up doing all three - her message in her speeches was clear and people heard it. As a special needs teacher I could always tell when someone working in my classroom had been to a session Stacey spoke at from a change in his or her approach the very next day. Stacey had that power - to give of herself through her words and make others want to do the same through their actions.
Even in her passing on Stacey gave of herself and touched people’s lives. I am sure most of you remember Stacey’s devastation at losing her hair during her brain injury in 2000 and her dedication in growing that long blond hair back. After she lost her hair we would all tell her that it was growing back and she would respond, at first by spelling on her communication board and later, once she learned to speak again, by curtly saying, “not fast enough!” In the months before her death Stacey had been talking about cutting her hair and donating it to Locks of Love. Stacey wanted to help a child whose hair was not going to be growing back “fast enough”. During one of the last meetings our family had with the wonderful staff of the critical care team at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, Stacey’s beloved boyfriend Gilbert suggested that we make sure that this wish of Stacey’s happened and we did, Stacey’s hair has been donated to Locks of Love.
Stacey was a young woman who experienced a lot of pain and difficulty in her short life, but in spite of that she never stopped caring about others and never stopped touching the lives of everyone around her. Perhaps if each of us here today can take this lesson Stacey gave us, to try to give back or at least to try to give a smile every day we can make the world a less painful place, a place full of the kind of love Stacey shared with us all.