The following is a speech given during the Luminaria Ceremony at the Relay for Life event held at Governor Livingston High School, Berkeley Heights.
It is difficult for me to say in words how much I love my three children. I just knew that I was going to be the mother of some very extraordinary people. I have always felt grateful and extremely fortunate to be the mom of each one of them. While I may have been the means in which they entered this world, each were special, unique beings on their own. I had no part in making this happen. I felt my purpose was to love them unconditionally and enjoy watching their lives unfold. I knew from the very beginning it was a privilege. It continues to be one. Tonight, I am here to speak about the life of my middle child, Isadora Johanna Seibert.
Dora was born with an incredible depth of kindness and empathy for others. She understood what it meant to be a friend, a sister, a daughter, a person. It meant love. It meant compassion. It meant that the happiness and comfort of others were more important to her than her own. She maintained friendships from her first days in pre-school through those made in public school, college, and beyond. She was a role model throughout her life. Even her passing, she did with grace, courage, and love, in March of 2014, when she was just 25 years old.
Three years prior, Dora became a very appreciative, enthusiastic, and busy member of the Governor Livingston High School community as a science teacher, advisor, coach, and friend. She was welcomed here with much love. As her mom, I will forever be grateful to her GL family for bringing her so much happiness. Dora could not do enough for her students, her colleagues, and for the school in general. Whatever the need, she volunteered. Because Dora was such a shining light of what is good in the world, she was loved by all. True to whom she was, Dora could never understand why. She never understood just how very special she was. We are so humbled and grateful to those who created the beautiful garden in the front of this school that honors her. I know that she is amazed, deeply touched, and still wondering “Why? What did I do?”
I miss my daughter every second of every day. Our world changed forever when she and I went, on a whim, to the ER one Saturday morning because Dora had a couple of weeks of some severe headaches and a bloated stomach. Just like that, after a CAT scan, the world as we knew it ended. Dora was told that she had terminal cancer. One of the things Dora said at that moment was “I always knew there was something different about me.” Unfortunately, being diagnosed with cancer was not what was different about her. It is abhorrently common these days. Being a warm, loving light in a sometimes very dark world is what made her different than most of us.
The night before she was diagnosed, Dora had attended an event honoring all the teachers in Berkeley Heights who had achieved tenure that year. She was so proud and so relieved that Governor Livingston would be her home. She had her whole life ahead of her and was so excited to live it.
Dora’s particular cancer is unforgiving. It is called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a very rare form of liver cancer. There are only 200 new cases per year on the entire planet. It is considered a childhood cancer because most people diagnosed are in their teens or twenties. There are no symptoms to speak of. There is no test for it other than a CAT scan, which is never done routinely. There is no treatment. There is no cure. If fortunate enough to somehow be caught early, the affected part of the liver can be removed. However, within five years, this cancer almost always reappears, not only in the liver but elsewhere in the body. Dora’s had already metastasized. It is a relentless cancer. Because it is so rare, there is very limited funding for research. I do not know why my daughter had to be one of the 200 that year. I only know that this epidemic of all types of cancer is our modern day plague and must be stopped.
Our beautiful family is now missing its center. Dora does let us know, however, with very clear signs at just the right times, that she is still with us and loves us. Even death cannot stop my Dora. Please know that death is not more powerful than love and never will be. If you have lost a loved one, ask them for a sign to help you with your grief. Be open to the possibility that they are still with you. Know that you will be together again one day but in the meantime, you can still share love. Don’t ever allow the exchange of love to end. It never has to. This is yet another thing my beautiful daughter has taught me.
I know that for everyone who knew her, their lives have grown a little dimmer since her passing. But, the luminaria ceremony is an example of life itself. The light of each candle, lit for someone we loved, is placed within something else. This is not a coincidence. We, too, can illuminate from inside something else, our very own bodies. You are all shining by being here tonight.
The Isadora J. Seibert Foundation shines as best as it can by funding research into fibrolamellar and by awarding college scholarships to graduating seniors of this wonderful school each year. By being here tonight, goodness is illuminating from each of you. We shine when we help others, when we are open minded, and when we share love. Kindness really does count. I ask that each of you continue to be beautiful reflections of my Dora and make this world a better place simply because you lived. I am inspired by your presence here tonight and appreciate all the light that you are shining and the difficult fight that you are fighting.
I would like to close with a quote which is posted on Dora’s Foundation website from a teacher of peace, Prem Rawat, who inspired Dora greatly. It describes her life so perfectly.
“When there is a person who’s happy, who is clear, they are a pleasure to be with. When you are lit, you’re giving light. You’re giving light. And if you walk into a dark room, and there are fifty people in that room, and they don’t have candles but you do, all of them will benefit. All of them will benefit, because you will bring the light into the room. It’s not like you can say, ‘Oh, no, no! This is my light only.’ But when you bring it in, the darkness will be gone, and all fifty people will benefit."
Thank you for being a light tonight. Thank you for trying to end the darkness of cancer. Thank you for this opportunity which allowed me to speak about my beloved daughter.