“Don’t Be Afraid”: Laure’s Funeral

This article is for those in the U-32 community who were unable to make the trip through the snow to Burlington, on Sunday, February 12th, for Laure Angel’s remarkable funeral.

For the mourners who filled First United Methodist Church, weary and still in shock a week after Laure’s death, the service proved to be more than a chance to come to terms with our grief.

A series of speakers celebrated Laure in all her complexity, bearing testament to her inner struggles and her perseverance. And in the end, Laure’s mother, Francoise Hatfield, offered a lesson to Laure’s students, and a way for us to take meaning from the tragedy.

Laure As We Knew Her

 

“Clothes — styling.

Shoes — fabulous.

Hair — the best.

Attitude — of course.”

                            – Orlando Grant

 

 

“Take the bull by the horns.  

 Throw caution to the wind.   

A rolling stone gathers no moss.  

Spitfire.  

Damn the torpedoes: full speed ahead.  

A whirlwind.  

Full of piss and vinegar.  

Hell on wheels.”

                                     — Bodo Carey

 

 

As soon as she got in my car, she rolled down the window, undid her massive blond bun and put her knees up on my dash.   I looked over at this chick next to me: long blond hair flying in the wind, sandaled feet kicking to the song on the radio, oversized purple sunglasses on….. The nose ring, the tattoo on her shoulder and the fact she was French solidified it for me: she was officially the coolest.

                                                                                                                     — Abby Kalman

 

 

The first tributes came from two of Laure’s TA’s, who are Seniors this year. Emma Curchin performed Bach’s “Arioso” on her trumpet; Orlando Grant expressed anger, bewilderment, love and admiration in an emotional, poetic speech.

Then two of Laure’s colleagues, fellow middle school teachers Bo Carey and Abby  Kalman spoke, telling stories, revealing more of Laure’s rowdy, profane side, but also reinforcing the picture familiar to all of us who knew Laure from school: self-possessed, fiery, entirely committed to her work, always laughing, winking, light on her feet, sincere.

Abby included a message to Laure’s students:

“I hope you know just how much Laure believed in each and every one of you, no matter what challenges you brought to the classroom, no matter what you are up against in life.  She saw the big picture for you.  She believed that each one of you could and would find your place in the world, no matter what.”

Watch Abby’s full speech here

Laure’s Struggle

 

It became clear, with the second group of speakers, that the Laure we knew at school, who had such inspiring faith in others, had struggled for many years to have the same faith in herself, and that it was only in the last ten years or so, in Vermont, that she was able to find her own place in the world.

Many of us knew that Laure did not drink, and she had spoken with colleagues about her struggles with alcohol, but few of us at school knew how defining the issue had been in her life until the funeral, when two women spoke who had known Laure through Alcoholics Anonymous.

In AA, a person who has made progress in recovery becomes a mentor, “sponsoring” someone who is just starting out in AA’s twelve-step program.  Laure’s own sponsor, Syd, described Laure, in the period when she was just beginning her work toward sobriety, as hot-tempered and (at least in Laure’s own estimation) anti-social:

“It was an open meeting… a gratitude meeting, and people were talking about what they were grateful for.  And next thing you know, this hand shoots up and it’s this little firecracker off to the side who I never met before, and she starts in on ‘F*** this! F***that!  F***! F***! F***!’  …I couldn’t believe it.”

As Laure made progress in her own recovery, she in turn took on sponsors.  One of them, Michelle, spoke at the funeral, describing a more familiar Laure, sober, “…capable of immense love,” who, “no matter how ridiculous it made her look, was authentic and genuine and honest.”

The two women, together, gave an insight into the crucial period of transition in Laure’s life, when she was becoming the Laure we knew at U-32.

 

A Lesson in Dignity

 

The last speakers were Laure’s closest family.  Her sibling Finn read a favorite passage from Laure’s pop-up copy of  The Little Prince:

‘And when you’re consoled (everyone eventually is consoled), you’ll be glad you’ve known me. You’ll always be my friend. You’ll feel like laughing with me. And you’ll open your window sometimes just for the fun of it… And your friends will be amazed to see you laughing while you’re looking up at the sky. Then you’ll tell them, “Yes, it’s the stars; they always make me laugh!” And they’ll think you’re crazy.’

Then Laure’s mother, Francoise Hatfield, took the podium.  She said she had been reluctant to speak but was moved to do so by the overwhelming show of love from Laure’s friends, colleagues and students, in the week since Laure’s death.

“Thank you,” she said, in a heavy French accent.  “You have no idea.  No idea what you gave to my daughter.”

Francoise described Laure’s transformation as fueled by her relationships with friends, students and colleagues from her new life in Vermont:

“You were the force, the strength, the resource,” she said.  “You gave her [the strength] to flourish.”

Francoise described coming to the U.S. from France in 1994, after remarrying. Laure, at fourteen, “absolutely didn’t want to come here, didn’t want to live with us.

“I would say I came here with a wild cat,”  Francoise said.

Laure attended the French international school, where “she absolutely did not want to belong to anything,” playing sick, avoiding class. In this period, Francoise said, Laure had been “troubled.”   This was also the time in Laure’s life when alcohol began to play its role.

Francoise looked out at the audience to make the lesson clear.

“I just want to say to the students — because we have this glorious, radiant, shining person — I want to say to the students that Laure’s road to become this person was difficult. And don’t be afraid.”

She quoted from a facebook tribute from one of Laure’s friends, who had hiked the Appalachian trail with her.  

“Laure was wild and funny and had a huge sense of personal responsibility,” he had written.  “But she also had demons.  She wrestled with powerful emotions and trauma and she faced them with amazing courage.”

“She found her place in Vermont. She found her love.  And you all fulfilled her life.” Francoise looked up from her notes and tapped at the podium for emphasis. “Her happiness, her experience, wisdom and love — everything of that was earned.”  

Watch Francoise’s full speech here

The service closed with everyone singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” then Laure’s casket was carried, by her Fiance Kevin and five others, out into the snow, down the church steps and to the hearse.  

It was a fitting funeral for  a great teacher: a profound lesson in faith, perseverance, and dignity.

*****

The poem Bo Carey read to close his eulogy.