08 January 2011

Remembering Yvonne

This post consists of a revised account I wrote on Facebook of the memorial gathering held for Yvonne; the obituary that her daughter read out at the gathering; a reminiscence written and read out by her sister Robine (Robi), and some thoughts from Nikos Colias.

Notes on the Memorial Gathering for Yvonne Andrau

by Kendra Crossen Burroughs

I read in a book about the yogic view of dying that “the last moments of a saint reflect his entire life.”

The report of Yvonne Andrau’s death in a road accident on Wednesday, December 29, in the local Sun News newspaper said that she ran off the side of the road and lost control of her vehicle. It did not mention that she had swerved to avoid hitting two dogs who were fighting on the road. Whether or not Yvonne was a saint, her final moment was a selfless act of seeking to protect two living beings. In addition, Yvonne was alone in the car and it was a one-car accident, and her daughter, Christina Riley, said, “It was so like my mother not to involve or hurt anyone else.”

The final words of the article were: “Andrau was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.” No mention of the fact that Yvonne had medical permission not to wear a seat belt because of her dialysis port. (She was on the way to dialysis at the time of the accident.)
Christina explained these details to a huge group gathered on Sunday, January 2, 2011, in Briarcliffe (Myrtle Beach). I tried to count those present in the living room and stopped at 60; there might have been nearly 100 present, mainly from the Meher Baba community (nearby residents and Meher Center guests) and Yvonne’s family, including her son, Demian Riley, and her two sisters, Maya and Robi.

The youth who was the sole witness apparently had said that the accident was over in seconds, and according to the police it was believed that Yvonne was dead before the vehicle even came to rest. This fact had caused some unease in Christina, who was concerned that Yvonne had had no time for any thought other than surprise. But something happened to Christina that answered this doubt: while she was driving, a deer suddenly jumped out into the road in front of her. The incident made her realize how much time there actually was for her to think — “about anything I wanted to.” Tearfully Christina said she now felt confident that Yvonne had taken a moment to remember Meher Baba before she breathed her last.

It was touching that among those at the gathering were the boy who witnessed the accident, along with his mother. He had called his mother, a nurse, to the scene when it happened, and she told us that she had reported to the EMT’s that the victim was in her 30s or 40s. During the sharing of memories of Yvonne, many mentioned the timeless quality of this woman who, at 76 years, seemed so young and vital. The funeral director was said to be shocked when he learned her age.

It was recalled with fondness that Yvonne was very proud of her hair, which she had never dyed. She also had pride in her considerable ability and knowledge in many areas, such as construction, electrician’s work, repairs, and other skills requiring strength and skill. Not only was she handy with power tools but she was also a beautiful, feminine woman who performed with a belly dancing group in full costume. Yvonne was always learning about new fields and the latest findings in them. After many people had commented on this point, citing anecdotes about Yvonne’s superior know-how (not to mention that she often proclaimed her know-how to be superior), Bob Cushman brought down the house by calling out to someone, “Didn’t Yvonne do brain surgery on you?”

Yvonne was warmly remembered as a loving mother, grandmother, and caregiver (e.g., to Gladys Spratt in her last illness), and last but not least as a mystic. Ira Shader shared one visionary dream she had told him, in which, on parallel staircases, she came face to face with lionesses whom she knew to be Mehera and Mani, and a massive lion who was Meher Baba—and when they roared at her, she roared right back!

More details about Yvonne’s adventurous life (which included the traumatic experience of being held in a Japanese internment camp during the war, along with her two younger sisters and mother, the latter having written about it in a book titled Bowing to Fate) are given in the obituary below, which Christina read out at the gathering.

I conclude with this memorable comment from Robi’s reminiscence (which follows the obit below): “In her own mind, she could swallow the world.”

Yvonne Judith Andrau

Yvonne Judith Andrau, 76, died in a car accident on December 29, 2010. She was born in Dortmund, Germany, in 1934, the oldest of three children, and was already a world traveler at the age of seven, having lived in Germany, Hungary, Sweden, India, and Indonesia. She, along with her family, spent World War II as a prisoner of the Japanese military in Indonesia. After being liberated in 1945, she came to America. She lived in Texas, California, and Illinois until she finally settled with her family in Woodstock, NY. She was educated at Wheaton College and the University of Aix-en-Provence in France, and then Columbia University in New York City, where she earned her degree and started her career as a physical therapist.

Her life was to change significantly when she discovered the spiritual master Meher Baba in 1955. Shortly after, in 1957, she married Thomas Riley. Hers was an entrepreneurial life, including a highly successful antique store and a land development and custom home building business. Wherever she lived, she was hostess to countless people who were becoming newly acquainted with Meher Baba. She and her husband acted as an informal center for gatherings in New York State for decades.

Meher Baba gave Yvonne and her husband permission to live on his Spiritual Center, located in Myrtle Beach, SC, and to design and build their home there. It was not until 1976 that she and her husband moved to Myrtle Beach, to expand their building business. Yvonne remained there for the rest of her life. In Myrtle Beach she had an active involvement in the community focused around the Center.

Yvonne is dearly remembered by those associated with the Center, and in the greater area community as a selfless, practical, active, adventurous, and determined lover of God. She was a self-taught electrician, house designer, gardener, and belly dancer. She was a fearless maverick and tackled all projects with gusto. She leaves behind her daughter Christina Riley of New Bern, NC; her son Demian Riley, his wife Heather, and their daughter, Alexandra, in Loris, SC; her two sisters, Maya Andrau of Asheville, NC, and Robine Andrau of North Scituate, MA, as well as four nephews and nieces, and countless friends worldwide whose life she has touched in so many ways.

My Sister Yvonne

by Robine Andrau, 12/30/10

My sister Yvonne died yesterday, the victim of her kind heart. She was trying to avoid hitting two dogs that were crossing the main highway. She swerved to the right, overcompensated when she swerved back, and lost control of her car as it spun around like a whirling dervish. In a blink of an eye, the metal monster snuffed out her life.

And what a life she’d lived. A rich one when you tally up the experiences she’d had, the people she’d gotten to know and befriend, the many countries she’d traveled to and lived in, the jobs she’d had, and the adversities she’d encountered.

I remember her twisting her thick, long, dark hair into a coil and pinning it on top of her head as she talked about her experience roughing it on a mountain in Ojai.

“I was a real gypsy,” she said with relish, enjoying the hardship of no running water, of peeing in the scrub vegetation, of cooking over an open fire. “I should have been born a man,” she told me, taking pride in her strength, her ability, her prowess.

And then, when she’d moved back to Myrtle Beach, she was not shy about expounding on her skills in wiring, plumbing, designing houses, gardening, building, nutrition. She had done it all and could do it all. We knew it was true, but wondered why you would want to.

She was a fearless maverick, taking pride in her uniqueness. In her own mind, she could swallow the world. When some plan didn’t work out, she didn’t beat her head against the wall, but devised another plan. And always there was the shimmering idea of what she would do to fix up her mobile home. Each aspect of the fixing up hinged on some previous step that had to be accomplished first.

In the telling, her tongue savored the steps to get from A to Z, Z being the acme of perfection, which was to add another bathroom and living/kitchen area with its own entrance, a separate wing that she could rent out. And then, with that assured income, she would finally be able to breathe a little easier financially. Unfortunately, she never got beyond Step A.

Although those of us stuck with our heavy feet in the solid dirt of reality might try to point out to Yvonne some more doable way of achieving her goal, she was her own person and insisted on doing things her way. And who can blame her? When you don’t have much, the one thing you do have is the ability to say NO and to retain control over how you envisage your own destiny.
And that is exactly what she did when we clucked around her this past summer and fall, pushing her to work on the necessary repairs to make her mobile home habitable for the coming cold of winter. She dug in her heels because what she wanted to do was work in her garden.

So she did and perhaps that is for the best. She enjoyed the last few months of her life doing what she loved to do. By saving the dogs she sacrificed herself but also, ironically, she avoided facing the cold of winter in her impossible, beloved mobile home.

May she know that despite our exasperation with her at times, we all loved her and wished her nothing but the best with our suggestions and advice.

And may the irises, and tulips, and lilies bloom profusely in, and the weeds know to stay out of, her heavenly garden.

A Remembrance of Yvonne Andrau

by Nikos Colias

I've known Yvonne since 1967, though saw her infrequently the past several years. My main memories of her center about many wonderful conversations. Her rapid-fire mind would cover the whole map from survivalism to UFO's, from gardening to community, with hardly a pause. Her enthusiasm for these and related topics was evident, and she was always eager to share the latest developments. This contributed to quite a speedy delivery that could be hard to keep up with at times.

But when Meher Baba was talked about, her enthusiasm was boundless. She would be completely focused and single-minded. She was fully anchored in her Beloved, rock-solid and wholehearted. A wonderful atmosphere would often be evoked, and these are my most vivid memories of Yvonne.

Several times lately, when thinking of Yvonne, I can see her smiling, extremely happy. I've had the same feeling of that atmosphere we shared in some of those past conversations. I'm sure she's experiencing that inner community of souls converging on the Beloved's garden.

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All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.