Celebrating Ellie Sanchez

Aug 26, 2012 | 0 comments

Ellie and Robert SanchezWhen Ellie Sanchez’s intriguing obituary drew me to her memorial service, I didn’t know she had been a neighbor who lived two blocks down the street from me. Here’s what the obituary said:

SANCHEZ — ELLIE was born on February 16, 1934 and raised in Whittemore, Iowa. She passed away on August 17, 2012. She graduated in Interior Design from the University of Iowa. She worked in Chicago with Heuer Interiors. That is when she met Robert, who was a dental school student at Northwestern University. After Robert’s graduation, they married and immediately left for his tour of duty in Germany. They returned in 1960 and moved to Albuquerque, NM.

Ellie and Robert have five children. Their names are Dr. Robert Sanchez and wife, Lianne, Linda Sanchez, Dr. Gary Sanchez and wife, Julie, Dr. Greg Sanchez and wife, Kate, Dr. Leslie Sanchez-Goettler and husband, Drew. Their grandchildren are Jasmine, Reed, Bella, Jacqueline, Ben, Will and Jordan.

Her pride in life has always been her family. She was that mom you could count on to be at every event and every recital supporting and encouraging each child and their friends. When the children were grown, Ellie decided to start a Real Estate career. She earned the distinction of Albuquerque’s Realtor of the Year. She had that innate ability to connect with people and her success came from making all of her clients feel very special. They became more than clients – they were her friends.

Ellie loved playing the piano. She was an accomplished pianist and loved entertaining others. Later in life she played the piano at the Albuquerque Veteran’s Hospital three days a week for two years. She had a following of patients, nurses, and doctors who would come out into the hall to thank her as she left.

Ellie is the best friend anyone could have. She always put everyone else first. She was the ultimate planner and organizer who always got everyone together and made things happen! Ellie would run into friends wherever she went. She is loved by everyone! A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 04:00p.m. at Netherwood Park Church of Christ, 5101 Indian School Rd. NE. In lieu of flowers please make donations to the American Cancer Society or Alzheimer’s Association.

Recorded piano music played over the loudspeakers as more than 200 people filed into the sanctuary of the church and a stream of family photos flashed by on the screen at the front. Ellie Sanchez plays on in this lifetime, in more ways than one.

Minister Walter Lane opened the memorial service saying, “Your presence today confirms the impact this remarkable woman had. Though we are sad at her passing, this will be a celebration, with laughter and tears. There is no tragedy in a life so well-lived.”

After the minister read the obituary, Ellie’s children and husband each spoke about her via a video recording prepared in advance. It was a brilliant way for each of them to speak about her without the stress of actual public speaking at the memorial service.

One story involved gift giving at Christmas. Mom’s love language was giving gifts. As the family grew, with five kids, then grandkids, presents from everyone to everyone became a substantial expense. The family decided to reduce the number of gift-giving obligations by doing a drawing for individuals to give to individuals within the family.

Well, come Christmas morning, there’s this huge pile of gifts for everyone all around the tree! The labels indicated the gifts were from celebrities like Patrick Swayze, Robert Redford, and Barbara Streisand.

She loved taking her kids on trips across the country and around the world. When she won big in Las Vegas, she took her daughters on a girls-only trip to New York City for shopping and Broadway shows. She took her youngest Leslie on a cruise.

She was giving to the very end. Even as her memory failed, her music memory lasted. The joy she brought to the veterans in the VA hospital was evident by the many doctors, nurses and staff who came to the service. She helped so many people and she was all about contributing to others. She made people feel better and excited to be with her.

“She is the woman I admire most and I’m thankful her wild spirit is free again,” said Leslie.

At the end of the video, husband Robert spoke and requested the song “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Michael McDade, a pianist who used to play with Ellie, performed the song live, prompting many to reach for a tissue. Then granddaughter Bella Sanchez played “Up Where We Belong.” Judging from her graceful and beautiful rendition, Ellie’s love of playing piano lives on in her children and grandchildren.

Then granddaughter Jacqueline shared a poem she wrote about her grandmother’s changes because of Alzheimer’s disease. She agreed to allow me to share it with you. It’s titled “Please Remember Me.”

She looked at me
Like I was her favorite grandchild
She locked me in her chestnut gaze
And the rest of the world ceased to exist
Her milky-white smile surrounded me with warmth

Her fingers danced around like acrobats on the piano keys
Creating such beautiful melodies
And a beat that even a stubborn hummingbird could sing along to
She laughed lightly
As I danced and twirled to the music

But soon enough
The piano keys started to weep.
One by one her fingers, graceful as a swan,
And her smile became only a smudge on her ivory face

She looked at me
Like I was a familiar person
Though who she could not say.
The only thing that kept me going
Was seeing glimpses of her smile
Flickering brightly every now and then
I could tell that she was pushing so much
An then her brow would furrow
As she tried to find the alphabet that was no longer there

And then she looked at me
Like I was a stranger
In the silence of her gaze
I grasped her frosty hand
And she squeezed back, giving me hope
That she might find me in her memory
That she might remember me one last time.

Flowers and Ellie at piano photoDuring the open comments period, colorful stories emerged. An old friend from childhood related how she was part of a synchronized swim team and encouraged him to dive off a 10-meter springboard. That’s really high up when you’re five years old. “She told me that I could do something I didn’t think I could,” he said. “She also taught me that some days are better than others, and all days are good.”

Daughter-in-law Kate related how early on she wasn’t sure if Ellie’s son Greg was the right guy for her. She lived in Colorado, and in advance of a visit to Albuquerque, called the family home. Ellie answered and immediately launched into all the great things they would do while she visited. They went all over and had a fantastic time. Upon her return to Colorado, Kate told her mother, “I’m not sure if I’m in love with Greg or his family. I’m just glad it was Ellie who answered the phone.”

Daughter-in-law Julie shared a piece of wisdom from Ellie: It’s not quantity of life that’s important, it’s quality of life.”

Ellie’s hairdresser said, “Ellie was the most positive, kind, upbeat person I’d ever met.” She would go to the VA hospital with Ellie to be a page turner for her music. When she accidentally skipped a few pages, she discovered Ellie knew how to play the songs even without the sheet music.

Close family friend Sam Fresquez played guitar and sang “Danny Boy,” which brought more tears and sniffling in the audience.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.

And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Grandson Reed provided a pastoral message keyed to First Corinthians: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

“That was so much my grandma,” he said. “That love isn’t over. It has passed into her husband, children, grandchildren and it is still being passed along. She loved and was loved and showed me what it means to love God.”

Early Ellie photos

A photo slide show set to Ellie playing “As Time Goes By,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and “When I Fall in Love” showed Ellie and the family over the years.

Minister Walter Lane commented, “How do you sum up a life in an hour of time?” He pointed to Galatians Chapter 5: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “Ellie wasn’t much of a theologian, but how she treated others with these qualities was preaching through her practice. We celebrate a life well lived and the impact of a life lived well.”

Everyone was invited to the social hall immediately after greeting the family, to share a meal and more memories of Ellie Sanchez. In the closing prayer, Rev. Lane said, “Father thank you for being with us in this service. Continue to be with her family in the days to come. Bless each of us and give comfort and strength to the family.”

May Ellie Sanchez’s positive impact continue on through all the lives she touched. If you have thoughts to share, please post in the comments section below!

Ellie Sanchez Life Celebration
A Good Goodbye