The laughter was as abundant as the tears – and often both came at the same time – at a memorial service held Monday to honor Andrea Raphael, who died April 6, 2012 at her home in Florence at the age of 47.
NORTHAMPTON – It’s hard to forget the first time you met Andrea Raphael. For so many, it was at her and John Reily’s house in Florence at “family parties” that included dozens of cousins, neighbors, exchange students, teachers and a few people Andrea had just met. This was Andrea’s family: the world.
Visitors walking in the door would look around the chaos, and invariably find Andrea’s wide smile. She’d then get close and the conversation would start. Her questions were probing, insightful, personal. Her perspectives were deep, wide-ranging and global. You want to find a school for a teenager with special needs? Andrea knew the research – and a good family for you to talk to also.
This was classic Andrea. She had an amazing ability to connect with people – intellectually, instinctively – and with humor – on subjects as wide-ranging as fair trade, travel, sports, languages and music. “I love it,” she would say after a new conversation. “I just love it.” And she did. Andrea Raphael did not drink life. She gulped it.
When Andrea became ill with mysterious debilitating symptoms in January 2011, she attacked it with the same passion she did with life. She tried to find out everything about the “confusing and controversial world of chronic Lyme,” as she noted in a letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazette in August 2011. Her road to a diagnosis was long and difficult. Answers were temporary and solutions sometimes fleeting. Yet, she still battled for others even as she was suffering.
“In my life I wanted to create connections, to create that sense of purpose with other people, to work on behalf of values, causes and things that we feel are important,” Andrea said a few years ago, as part of a community dialogue group. “And all along to play, to dance, to make music, to celebrate in a way that makes and keeps my connections with people whose lives are important to me. Life is so hard, yet so magical.”
After a year and a half battle with crippling chronic Lyme disease, Andrea passed away on April 6. She left behind her husband, son Christopher, 11, and daughter Maeve, 9, and dozens of beloved family members. She was an amazing, loving mother who also had a wider family: the hundreds of people she met, connected to, and bestowed her kindness upon.
Added her husband John: “When she wrote you a postcard, she’d fill up the space with a message and then continue along the edges and up the side using smaller and smaller handwriting until you needed a magnifying glass to read her parting words. Even then she had more to say, more to give, such a powerful desire for connection and friendship.”