Last weekend, the world lost one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. Yesterday I attended her memorial service and was reminded of house fortunate I am to have crossed paths with her.
Ashley Osment was a civil rights lawyer, a mother, a musician, and a friend to many. She was always an inspiration to me as a woman who didn’t just balance community activism with parenthood but truly integrated the two, and succeeded at both fantastically. She was so brave that after her ovarian cancer returned (with a vengeance), she responded in part writing a column in the Chapel Hill News about her experience. She knew she was dying.
I was fortunate to get to see Ashley a few months ago at an event organized by some women friends. I introduced my son to her (but kept him and his germs at a distance). We had so much fun that we thought we might all get together again, but then Ashley took a turn for the worse.
Ashley had been sending regular health updates and personal thoughts to friends, but at this point others started posting the news for her. I wrote this to them about a month ago:
Thanks to Janey, Al, Eli, and others who have helped get Ashley’s updates out. It must be especially hard given how bad the news has been lately.
Ashley, I’m so glad to read that you are finding some peace with what’s looming ahead. The only thing worse than dying has to be going out unhappily kicking and screaming. Not that you aren’t fighting, but you do it with the skill, grace, and strategy of an effective civil rights lawyer. When you let go, it will be the right thing to do at that time.
You still inspire me with your strength even now. I know Sunny will remember and feel blessed to be your daughter.
A truly wonderful obituary (by Ashley’s husband Al McSurely) is posted at the blog of Curmilus Dancy. I excerpt some of it below. I also recommend the profile of her published in The Carrboro Citizen in March. The
Ashley Osment, Sr. Attorney at UNC’s Center for Civil Rights and columnist for the Chapel Hill News, died in her sleep on Friday evening, May 28th. Since July 2007, Osment had been trying to hold off the inexorable progress of a rare type of ovarian cancer. She was determined to put her life over the cancer, so she could enjoy her daughter, Sunny, her job, and her family and friends as long as possible. She refused — to her last breath — to let the cancer control her life.
Osment was a student activist and history major at UNC. She helped coordinate solidarity educational actions with indigenous liberation movements in Central America and Iran. After graduating from Carolina in 1987, she worked in the Washington, D.C. office for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She tried to educate congressional staff members about the negative aspects of the Reagan-Bush policies in Latin America. In 1990 she returned to Chapel Hill to resume her studies in history. But in February 1991, Bob Sheldon, owner of Internationalist Books on Rosemary Street, was murdered and Osment quickly became the unanimous choice of Sheldon’s friends and family to manage the new cooperative they had formed to keep alive his progressive bookstore. Osment met Al McSurely, a civil rights lawyer, who had been asked by the Sheldon family to help them honor their only son’s legacy. Osment and McSurely clicked.
McSurely and Osment married in 1995, and in September 1996, they settled the Housekeeper’s case and Quinn Soleil ("Sunny") Osment was born.
She was in great pain, after the cancer spread to her hip, and she had to use crutches to get around for the last six months. But, as readers of her Chapel Hill News column know, she remained direct, honest, and exquisitely graceful in her efforts to deal with cancer, and its ruination of her life and hopes. She was able to enjoy many good times with Sunny over this last period, when she knew she was dying. She was also comforted by her three step-children’s unqualified commitment to their sister and their father, McSurely, during the terrible suffering she endured the past few months.
I posted a similar version of this message at http://orangepolitics.org/2010/05/ashley-osment-yall