Misty Memorial Comments by Alice Lieberman

Good afternoon, and welcome to our afternoon of remembrance honoring our friend and colleague, Misty Gerner. My name is Alice Lieberman. Shortly after her death on June 19, Phil made a decision, in concert with friends and family, to hold this remembrance in the Fall, when everyone returned to school. Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett and I had been friends with Misty for many years, and were honored that Phil entrusted us with the task of putting this day together. As you can see from the program, we envisioned this afternoon to be one of memories of, and tributes to, Misty, from colleagues, friends, and family, punctuated with prayer, and music. After the program is almost complete, we will ask you all to share your memories of Misty if you wish.

Before we start, Kathleen and I would like to especially thank David Brown and Mary Klayder, Sarah and Doug Crawford-Parker, Caroline Jewers, Joane Nagel, Beth Schultz, and Steve and Harriet Lerner. Steve and Harriet have kindly offered their house as a gathering place following the service for anyone who would like to come by. They live in Phil and Misty's old house at 1509 Crescent Rd. We also want to especially thank those of you who came from afar to be with us today.

Misty is very sorry she could not be with us today. I think about her a lot these days, and I think about all the experiences we had over the last 18 years. I met Misty and Phil when they first came to KU. It was at a lunch for new faculty, hosted by the Provost. We were each asked to stand up, say our names, and something about hobbies. Here is what Misty said: "I'm Deborah Gerner. I also go by Misty. You can call me either one, but do NOT call me Debbie. I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science, and my hobbies are traveling and contra dancing." And then she smiled and sat down. I could not imagine being friends with a contra dancer back then: I had an 18 month old baby, and my hobby was REM sleep. But that smile, that 10,000 megawatt smile was just unforgettable. I thought about that smile through the most difficult times this year, and it is what I think of still.

Like all friendships, ours was complicated. Both of us like to be right, and some of the geopolitical arguments felt like Vulcan death grips, even when we agreed more than we disagreed. But the friendship was important enough that we eventually came to a silent rapprochement over that which was intractably conflictual.

When Misty became ill, though, all of that sort of fell away. Shortly after her first bout with cancer, in 1996, Misty, Mary Klayder, and I were able to take a short trip to San Francisco. It was a turning point trip, in some ways, because we were all in recovery over something. Mary had been widowed some months earlier, I had lost a dear friend, and Misty was now living with a cancer diagnosis. While we were there, we went into a store that sold very beautiful, very expensive capes. The cost made me very hesitant, but given what we had all been through, we decided, "Carpe Diem!" We should go for it.

So, for all of you who got the periodic updates on Misty's health, always signed "Carpe Diem," its origins are in that trip.

Carpe Diem became the mantra, and Misty lived it to the very end. Until the day she died, she exerted her incredible will to have as much life as she could, even when the world was going dark for her.

I cannot forget an experience that came within days of the end of her life. Misty was by then, at home, in her bed, which had on the wall next to it a beautiful carpet that she and Phil had brought home from the Middle East. My friend Harriet Lerner and I were with her. After making it clear that she wanted to get up, we helped her to her feet. And with great effort, with us on either side, she walked to the wall and rubbed her face up against that carpet, and then went back to bed. She must have done it 25 times that afternoon. It was as if she was trying to capture her trips to the Middle East in the feel and smell of that carpet, trying to take one more trip in the only way left to her.

Thinking about that day breaks my heart. But it is so emblematic of both her life and death. Her profound knowledge of her impending mortality saddened her, angered her, scared her. But giving the process over to others was never an option. By the end, Misty could not see with her eyes, or talk with her mouth. But she remained who she was, a scholar, a life partner to Phil, a traveler, until the moment she no longer remained on this earth. I know nothing about the hereafter, but Misty, I hope you are traveling, first class, and that you know how much we all miss you.