Homeless Memorials

"What, honey?" Deborah Edie would ask when she hadn’t heard what you’d said. Everyone was "honey" to her, which is one of many reasons her death, just four months after she finally moved into permanent housing at the Wintonia, shook the community to its core.

After years of wrestling with her addictions and the streets, Deborah had laid some of those demons to rest; had found a resting place. She was nesting. "I’ve moved up from the Dollar Store to Walmart," she said, as she began buying accoutrements for her new-found place. Days later, she died in a taxicab on the way up to Harborview Medical Center. The cause of her death is unknown. Two memorials were held — at the Wintonia and at Church of Mary Magdalene — to honor and say goodbye to Deborah.

"We got clean together," said Linda, at the Wintonia service. "She was so proud of herself. We were all proud." Perhaps the greatest poignancy was that Deborah’s death occured just as she made that proud journey out of the prison of her addiction.

"She was the cutest person on the planet," said Mary Lou, a Wintonia staffperson, who’d quickly grown to love Deborah and the different, declarative T-shirts she’d wear every day. A short, slight woman with a raspy voice, Deborah had a core of pure sweetness, but she could effect a tough exterior when she needed to. When she heard Mary Lou was being hassled by someone, Deborah told the hassler, "Don’t you be messing with my friend, or I’ll kick your ass!" "If she had your back, she had your back," explained one of Deborah’s friends.

Deborah lived for her two grandkids, and couldn’t wait to get down to Centralia to see them. Her daughter, Robin, broke down in tears several times during the Wintonia memorial, and thanked the 35-40 people who’d gathered to remember her mom. "As mother and daughter," she said, "we had a knack for laughter. She always had a smile on her face" no matter what. Robin began to cry, again, and stopped. A man in the crowd stood and said, very strong, "You need to know she always said how much she loved you and was proud of you!"

"Don’t worry, we’re a Christian group!"

"None of us had a chance to say goodbye," began Reverend Pat Simpson at the Church of Mary Magdalene memorial. For an hour, women lit candles and prayed and shared their memories of their friend whom they’d loved. The smoke of an outdoor barbecue, where burgers and hotdogs were being cooked for a memorial feast, wafted in and blessed the room.

"She was my campadre," said Colette Fleming. Arnette Adams said, "When I came to services here, Debbie was a light. She hugged me and I felt loved. I thank God for giving me a chance to know her, because she was a sister to me." A formerly homeless woman named Marilyn said, "Just knowing her was a gift. She was such a generous person, she was always giving, giving."

Marilyn continued: "She was a shining jewel, even in her struggles. I met her in 1992. In the past few years I let her into my heart, where she will always be." As she made her way into being clean and sober, "it was like she dropped some things behind her and started to grow."

Marty Hartman and Vicki Gruger of the Lakeview Free Methodist Shelter got up and told the story of one of Lakeview’s now-infamous Christmas field trips to Candy Cane Lane. As the Lakeview Shelter van slowed and then stopped in the surreal, snowless terrain of Christmas lights, Santa statues, candy canes, and toy trains, passersby in the Lane stared into the open van door at the 10 homeless women oohing and aahing at the wonder. "Don’t worry," Deborah shouted, "We’re a Christian group!"

(I believe this is the same Lakeview Shelter field trip where we stopped at Dick’s hamburger stand before Candy Cane Lane for burgers and shakes. While we waited for our order to be filled, sitting in the van with the radio blaring, the Rolling Stones’ "Satisfaction" came on. One by one, homeless women in the van joined in the refrain, "But I try, and I try, and I try… I can’t GET no…." I fell out of the van laughing.)

After Deborah’s unexpected death, Mary Lou of the Wintonia heard her voice late one night before she fell asleep: "Don’t worry about me, honey, I’m in a better place and my legs don’t hurt now."

"She was so magnetic; she just touched all of our lives and we’re all going to miss her," said a friend at the Wintonia service. Deborah will be missed beyond all measure. Her kind of immediate offering of love — what, honey? — is hard to come by. Of the unconditional love we learned from her, another friend said, "It’s like something in your hand, like a robin’s egg, that you just want to keep and hold in a special place."

— Memorial by Michele Marchand


Homeless Memorials