a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...
oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I was asked to help with an article the University of Washington's daily newspaper was writing about Celia; a tribute, I was told. Of course they could not use everything I wrote. I wanted to put the rest out there in the universe. I can't say this to her, but perhaps putting the energy out there where others can see it... if someone else reads this, maybe she'll feel how proud of her I am... Maybe not. But I'm willing to try.
She came to me in a dream yesterday. I have a friend, had a friend, I guess, is the better terminology, Robert. He died in a car accident a few years ago. When things aren't going so great, he comes to me in dreams and with just his presence I know everything's going to be okay. Well, Celia called me up in my dream yesterday and she asked if I could do her a favor.
-Of course, I replied. What is it?
-I need to you watch the children, she answered. Please. While I'm gone.
-Watch the children?
I had no confidence in my ability to help keeping watch over loved ones.
-Please, she urged. You can do this. It will only be for a short while.
I drove to her house and walked into a living room full of laughter. There before me was Omari and a little Sheena, a little Jacqueline, a little Melissa. A little Rose and a little Erin and a tiny Emma. Some of them babies, some of them toddlers, all of them full of life. I was absorbed by their happiness, captivated, could not take my eyes from their smiling faces, and when I finally turned around to say goodbye to Celia, she was already gone.
I'm still unsure what this all means, but I know it has something to do with us learning, not from her death, but from her life. It may not be much, but behind this heart is the tribute I wrote, from my own heart, to my little cousin. May you rest in peace.
(for grandma & grandpa, that means click on the little heart here to see the full post with the rest of what I wrote...)
I was told the other day that the name Celia means "Sweet One". While my own research can only find "Heavenly" or "Musical" or even "Blind", there could not be a more simple, pure or accurate description for my late cousin. As someone said at the service the other day, one could not meet Celia without forming some kind of relationship with her.
I am sure everyone she touched has their own version of the story of her life. Here is mine:
Celia was born in Spokane on November 4, 1986, a rarely-fussy bundle, often calm, always smiling. As her older cousin (I was born in February 1985) I was fascinated. I didn't have any other siblings at this point, and considered her almost a little sister.
Though she was born in eastern Washington, she spent most of her life in Seattle, attending Mt.Baker/Lakewood Co-op Preschool, Whitworth Elementary, Meany Middle School, and Garfield High School, where her love of the ocean truly began. This is how most people know her today: an avid science-lover and conservationist, enthusiastic about marine science and driven to help educate others not only about the wonders of the deep blue sea, but also about people's own influence on the environment. In fact it was cause and effect itself that drove her research at home, during study abroad in England, on the R/V Thomas G. Thompson research cruise to Hawai'i last fall, and on the same ship again this March in New Zealand.
Of course how I remember her is long before her love of the ocean began; riding bicycles through the evening sprinklers at Washington Water Power in Spokane, trying to catch minnows and crawdads in the Spokane River, collecting smashed pennies and bits of aluminum along the train tracks near our grandparents' house. Our families used to go to Spokane every summer for a few weeks vacation, and Celia and I always got to go for a week or two by ourselves before everyone else. I always looked at her like this little sister. I was almost two years older than her, and back then that counts for something. Always felt the need to protect her, look after her. She was just so... little.
I still remember her face the first time we caught crawdads in the river. We were young and awkward, maladroit, and it took us hours to collect exactly three in an old rusting Folgers-style coffee can we had borrowed from our grandparents' house. We ran home ahead of our grandpa (the "supervisor", if you will, but more like the "instigator", really), excited to show our grandma our discovery. Of course now we all know about Celia's love for anything that comes from the water, so I can only imagine her reaction thinking back on this day. Our grandpa was a kidder; every day was April Fools' Day. He would joke about everything; how he wanted to eat us for dessert, how if we kept making those faces it would freeze that way, etc. But he was so damn convincing you never really knew if he was telling the truth or not!! So we run in through the back door and put the can on the kitchen counter, run upstairs to change or wash up or something someone told us to do. We come back down the windy stairs towards the kitchen and something smells good! Something indeed! Imagine the horror on little Celia's face when she realizes that Grandpa is cooking up the very crawdads we had just laboriously collected from the river.
She was always thoughtful, little Celia. One day we went out, as usual, to ride our bikes in the cool late evening air, over to Washington Water Power where their sprinklers came on every night just before dusk. My grandparents had been yelling at me to put some socks on, that riding with shoes & no socks was dangerous, but being the stubborn little girl I was, I did not listen. Celia didn't say a word, but she had that look. She didn't really care either way, I don't think; just wanted to get on over before the sun set and we couldn't see anything anymore. But she gave me that look like I should just listen to my grandparents, as if she truly believed they knew best. I didn't listen to anyone back then, so sock-less I stayed, and we sped off in the Spokane dusk, knock-kneed and ragamuffin little girls we were, arriving at the sprinklers just in time, riding and running and soaking and laughing all the while. Soon enough the sprinklers turned off, the street lights came on, and it was time to head home. Being the show-off I was, I wanted to impress my little cousin by jumping my bike off a high sidewalk curb. What a mistake that was. My slippery shoes slipped on my slippery pedals, all wet from the sprinklers, and my foot slid right off that pedal with my ankle sliding right in to the wheel of gears. I still have a scar just above my right ankle, and I still remember Celia, sweet as ever, helping me home and helping explain to Grandma what happened; didn't even say "I told you so" once.
She was thoughtful in other ways, too. We used to walk up and down the section of train tracks a few blocks from my grandparents house almost every day. Sometimes with Grandpa, sometimes not. Always searching for treasure. We used to pick up all the little pieces of junk that had fallen from open train cars, or had been put on the tracks and then forgotten by other young souls. Flattened pennies. Cool looking rocks. But our favorite was little pieces of aluminum that had fallen out of passing cars as they went over switches or rough spots of track. We collected them daily and kept them safely hidden somewhere in the house. And every day we'd dream about how some day we'd be rich. You see, most little girls and boys have lemonade stands at some point in their life. Of course we participated in those, too, but they never really proved to be as lucrative as we thought they would be, and we were determined that our other innovations would be a true success. You see, instead of lemonade, we wanted to have a stand selling all that we collected in our daily walk up the tracks, "treasure" we would call it, but of course it was nothing more than junk. And I remember trying to come up with a name for our stand. "Celia & Chelsea's Stuff." "CC's Silver." And we finally agreed upon "C² Train Treasures." Of course who wants to buy little bits of dirty aluminum? And we never got around to it anyway. That old can of "treasures" is probably still in a dusty corner of that house somewhere. But I'll never forget those summers back when we were young.
Then you grow up, you know? You get to high school and family isn't as important. For me at least. I was always busy with a million sports and clubs and after school activities. We still saw each other; she was deeply involved in theater for three of her four years at Garfield and her junior year was the Stage Manager of the school musical. If you know anything about theater you know that the Stage Manager is by far the most stressful and difficult job of the production. By God did she do an amazing job.
I still remember sitting in the audience after the curtain fell. All the cast members came out and took their bow. And then they called her to the stage. I didn't even recognize her. She looked so... luminous up there. Brilliant. Radiant. Confident. Absolutely thrilled with the outcome of the event. She looked so grown up. I realized that my baby cousin was no longer a baby. I had never been so proud.
Drama was certainly a passion, of course. She was a member of the Garfield Drama Club, and was also involved in productions with a technical theater club called StageSoc when she studied abroad last year as one of "the first of hopefully many students to cross the pond and learn in a different country" (her words) at the University of Southampton in England. But her true love was the ocean. Hundreds upon hundreds of hours of her adolescent life were spent within the walls of the Seattle Aquarium, first as a volunteer in the Teen Naturalist program and then later on as an adult volunteer. She spent six years of her 22 years with us donating more than just her time, and touched the entire community so deeply that the Seattle Aquarium itself donated the facility and staff to put on the beautiful celebration of her life this past Thursday.
This past fall she participated in a research cruise on the R/V Thomas G. Thompson to Hawai'i, and upon her return to the Great Northwest she would not shut up about her excitement for her trip to New Zealand this coming March! The nature of the trip was to collect samples and aid in research for her senior thesis project. Each person on the ship had come up with a different topic, had created a project and proposed research that would be accomplished on the ship in the waters to the east and north of New Zealand. The ship left from Christchurch on the east side of South Island, and headed north, bending around the northern tip of North Island, and allowing Celia (and a few others on the ship) to focus their research and collect their samples in the Kermadec Arc, which is a series of volcanic islands near Tauranga (just off North Island) in New Zealand. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kermadec_Islands) Specifically, she designed her project to research the levels of iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn) in the water near the volcanic arc, focusing on iron. Celia explains in the topic summary of her proposal that iron is very important to the ecosystem of water habitats as it is "limiting on biological productivity". She goes on to explain that this biological productivity is important to understanding the carbon cycle, and therefore crucial to understanding acceleration in global warming and climate change. (http://students.washington.edu/celiak/topicsummary.shtml) (http://students.washington.edu/celiak/generic.shtml) After collection of water samples, Celia planned to analyze them through onshore analysis conducted by the Murray Lab after the ship's docking in Auckland.
As Celia says herself in her post on the UW Oceanography blog of this research cruise: "Now for the next adventure: actually writing a paper! However, we need a little break to recover. At least for now you can find us exploring the wonders of New Zealand. See you back in Seattle!" The plan was to spend some time with her great friend Marie Salmi, also a UW Oceanography student on the New Zealand cruise who also studied abroad with Celia in England and the University of Southampton, doing a bit of site seeing on the mainland. The plan was to meet up with an acquaintance from the UW who was currently studying abroad in Auckland, Jessica Gowan, who could hopefully show them the town.
The last two posts on Celia's Facebook wall (I know it sounds lame to use Facebook for research, but what can you do?) before she died were from Jess and are as follows:
hey celia, my campus is off symmond street. its not too far away from the main city centre. we were thinking about leaving on the 13th after our classes, so sometime around 4 or so, and then heading out to taupo. we were going to rent a car, which are quite cheap ($49/day) and if you split it it can be really cheap. we were thinking beach at first, but we all decided on going to taupo instead, which is really really close to rotorua. you guys may as well start your road trip earlier and then cool off in auckland before you fly out? some of them were going to go skydive (i've already down it) out there. you should give me a call when you get into auckland, my number is xxxxxxxx. talk to you soon!! March 11 at 3:51pm
hey celia, yes 1:30 sounds pretty good! i'm on campus now, i missed a phone call earlier today and i had a feeling it might've been you.. so sorry, i had it on silent! we actually have not made any arrangements to go to taupo for the weekend, as of yet. we still need to find a rental car and stuff... i don't know if we'll end up going this weekend afterall. hopefully we can work something out soon. looking forward to seeing you/hearing from you soon! March 12 at 4:44pm
The accident happened mid-afternoon on Sunday, March 15 north of Taupo on State Highway 1 in New Zealand, which translates to mid-afternoon on Saturday, March 14 here in the States. We were notified Saturday evening of her death.
The cause of the accident that left Celia dead and seven others critically injured is still "under investigation" by the police in New Zealand. This is as much as we (as family) know about the accident:
The car, a rented Toyota, was driving on a long, straight section of the highway with Celia, Marie, Jessica, Jessica's boyfriend, and one other passenger. The road was dry and the weather was fine. It was the middle of the day. A Honda with three men approached coming from the other direction. The Toyota (Celia's car) momentarily lost control, veering into the lane with oncoming traffic (remember that in New Zealand they drive on the other side of the road, and that the driver is located where our front passenger is). This means they veered to the right. The driver then over corrected, veering sharply left, trying to get back into their lane. Celia was located behind the driver (which would be the back right seat in the car) and therefore when the Honda hit the Toyota, it was literally a direct hit, just behind the driver's seat, killing Celia instantly.
One of the cars then caught fire. A car passed just after the accident and a father and son pulled some of the other passengers from their cars in an effort to keep others from dying due to the car fires. Jessica and Marie, as well as the other girl passenger, were airlifted to Rotorua Hospital. So was the driver of the Honda, a 28-year-old man from Putaruru "where he was in intensive care in a serious condition". Jessica's boyfriend was treated on the scene. The two passengers in the Honda were taken to Taupo Hospital with moderate injuries.
Marie is still in the hospital with a fractured pelvis as well as a few other pretty serious injuries. Last I heard she was able to take a few aided steps with help from nurses, but I'm not sure if this is true of not. Her mother flew over sometime last week, but we haven't heard from her yet. We are hoping someone can provide us with more details as to why the car suddenly lost control, to help us better understand Celia's death. Was the car defective? Did an animal run in the road? Was someone on a cell phone? Was the road in poor condition? The police haven't provided us with anything that can help us make sense of it all. I physically understand why she died: she was unlucky enough to be sitting exactly where the other car hit. But why did the accident happen? The problem with serious accidents like this one is severe head trauma can cause loss of memory, and as far as the girls in the car remember "the car lost control, we woke up in the hospital". This is our waiting game. We'll see if anyone ever follows through and finds out the truth of the matter.
Celia's death (and young deaths like this in general) are tragic for many reasons. Seeing someone with such potential, with such talent, at the prime of their life, doing what they love to do, pursuing their dreams, to see all of that taken away in an instant, it's tragic. It's unjust. It's unexplainable at times. And it seems incomprehensible.
I heard a quote once from an episode of Six Feet Under where a child dies that goes something like this: "When your spouse dies you are a widow. When your parents die you are an orphan. But what do you call it when you lose a child? I guess that's just too awful to even have a name."
Celia will be greatly missed. She was one of the kindest, honestly gentle souls I had ever met. She was brilliant beyond words, deeply innovative and inspired almost everyone she interacted with. I only hope she knew how proud I am of her, how much her family and friends love her.
Someone wrote on her wall:
in africa they believe (and i believe this too) that you don't really die until everyone forgets about you. and for that reason, they keep your skull after you pass as a way to be reminded of who you are. well, that's a little much for us but i don't think anyone is going to forget about you, Celia, ever. i think you are going to live forever.
It's true. From the hundreds of posts on her Facebook page and blog, to the 300 plus people who showed up to celebrate her life at the Seattle Aquarium on Thursday, there are many many people who have been touched by her life. And we will not forget her. Her death is tragic, yes, but her life is inspiring. As Sue Donahue Smith, Association of Zoo & Aquarium Volunteer Administrators (AZAVA) Mentor and Celia's first "boss" said at the memorial on Thursday night, we should all look to Celia's life for inspiration. "If you go doing what you love most, you were a success," she said teary-eyed during her tribute. May we all follow in Celia's footsteps and chase our dreams...
Links to articles and information about her life &/or the accident:
article from a new zealand news site
article in the seattle times
new zealand blogger's blog about the accident and the danger of new zealand roads
article in the pi
article in the uw daily
obituary on the funeral home website
the uw oceanography research blog (celia's post)
celia's oceanography homepage, with links to her research and project proposal
some random thing on urban dictionary that pops up when you google her
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