Sarah Giffen, SI librarian
By Christina Wenger
Director of the SI Library
In November of 2015, Sarah Giffen, reference librarian for SI’s Wilsey Library, emailed her coworkers to let the community know that her doctor had diagnosed her with a recurrence of ovarian cancer to her lungs.
Direct as always, she wanted us to know the facts rather than hearing second-hand stories. One particular paragraph from that email stands out. She wrote the following: “I would like three favors from y’all. First, keep me in your prayers. Second, and I mean this tactfully, please don’t tell me stories of friends [or] relatives who died from this disease or any warrior [or] fighter metaphors. I am just sick. Third, I am totally available for laughs, high fives, fist bumps, etc., anything to do with fun. It helps me better than anything else.”
This paragraph rings with her personality. Sarah, funny, curious and rich with passion, died in the early morning of Feb. 7, 2017.
Sarah taught our community much. She loved working with students, helping them find books, teaching them how to access good information in our databases and, more than anything, encouraging them through their tough times. She had a knack for building rapport with teenagers; she called them her “little pumpkin pancakes,” while taking the time to learn their favorite sports teams and the names of their dogs.
She knew each student — and all of them come through the library — as an individual. This love stretched to her coworkers, too. Sarah and her husband, Cliff West, so often had an extra place or two set at their table for us, especially when she learned that we may be struggling through life in some way. Eating at that big table in her dining room was joyful and healing. She modeled generous love.
She taught us how to accept her challenges with style and sass. When she lost her hair to chemotherapy, she rocked a series of fantastic scarves; when her hair grew in after a change in medication, she chose to let it stay gray in a punkish fauxhawk. Her outfits were always impeccable, jewelry matching her scarves, and she wore heels even if she felt a little wobbly. The students and community knew she was sick — she wanted them to know the honesty of sickness — and she showed us how to live with disease.
The greatest lesson I personally learned from Sarah as her coworker and friend was how to die. She really lived until the end, cracking jokes, keeping up on the details of the lives of the many people she loved, reading everything she could get her hands on, talking to and about God and enjoying football, her friends, her family and time. Grace and gratitude: blessings she left us.
Please keep Cliff West, Sarah’s husband, and their daughters, Laura West Fischer ’09 and Sydney West ’09, in your prayers as they learn to live without Sarah’s physical presence. Sarah may no longer be around, but we will live and die better because we have known her.
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