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A flaming tribute to a bright light

It was time to say goodbye to our beloved Sandi.

We gathered at the back of the houseboat that has been our refuge from life's storms every June on Lake Shasta for nearly two decades. We call our annual revelry "Love Boat": six couples, four days, too much food and way too much alcohol. No stress. No rules. Just fun.

Crew members have floated in and out over the years, divorced and remarried, moved away. But there are 12 of us who are the core — founders, friends and shipmates for life. Outsiders ask us how we could stand each other's company for that long, but to us, Love Boat is never long enough.

Then, one day, there were 11.

This month, as people all over America wear pink to raise awareness of breast cancer, I think of Sandi Lucich, the brightest light in our lives. Breast cancer took her from us last November. Obituaries often say "after a brave battle with cancer," but none of us really understood what that meant until we watched Sandi defy death many times over 10 years. We never heard her complain. Some years when she boarded the boat she had hair, some years she didn't, but she'd just laugh and tease the rest of us whose locks looked progressively lackluster as the weekend wore on.

By her side, always, was her husband, Ron.

Ron is a millwright and home brewer whose lusty ales have sustained us on many a Love Boat. He fought Sandi's battle every step of the way with her. I don't know whether we've been able to fully express to him how much we love him for that. I hope we have.

To help him through his grief — and ours — Ron spent many months carving the beautiful model Viking ship on which we were about to give Sandi a proper Norse send-off.

We had docked the Love Boat in a quiet little cove, where the water shimmered like glass under the moon. As if on cue, the crickets began their chorus, heralding Sandi's final journey on Lake Shasta.

Ron sat on the back deck putting mementos of Sandi inside the ship he'd carved, complete with dragon masthead and tail, 10 sets of oars and an American flag as the sail. The rest of us brought offerings, too, that reminded us of our time with Sandi: photos, the crazy margarita glasses she used to wear, a wild-card tile from Rummikub. Then, finally, Ron put in Sandi's ashes.

"You know, you guys, this is very hard for me," Ron said as he readied the ship. Loaded with gunpowder, it would be pulled by a tiny remote-controlled boat out to the middle of the cove and left to burn in a flaming tribute. "But I want to tell you that we shared the same things you guys share today. We shared a passionate love, but we also shared a compassionate love. Which for me are the things that bring people together.

"She loved you guys," he said, choking back the tears.

"And we loved her," someone said.

Then, as "Con te Partiro" ("Time to Say Goodbye") played in the background, we watched the brave little remote-controlled boat tow the flaming Viking warship out to sea.

When I'm alone

I dream on the horizon

And words fail;

Yes, I know there is no light

In a room where the sun is absent,

If you are not with me, with me.

The ship burned brightly for some time as we watched, mesmerized. Then there was nothing but the moon, the still water and the taste of our tears.

We sat around in the dark, talking about nothing in particular, just clinging to the moments with each other that we know can be too short. Then the conversation, as it invariably does, returned to Sandi. All of a sudden, in the distance, the flame on the ship reignited for a few bright seconds.

It was Sandi's farewell to us.

Reach City Editor Cathy Noah at 541-776-4473 or cnoah@mailtribune.com.