July 19, 2015–interment of ashes, Olmsted Falls, OH (Mother’s 100th birthday)

The visitation and interment of ashes was scheduled for Friday, June 19. I had sent notices to my second cousins (grandchildren of my grandmother’s four older sisters) and the few remaining friends on her Christmas card list. Rev. Ron Dauphin, minister of Olmsted Community Church where I grew up, agreed to lead a brief graveside service and gave me permission to use the church’s fireside room for the visitation. I would have held it at the funeral home, but they didn’t allow refreshments and I wanted this to be a hospitable celebration of her life, not a solemn funerary occasion.

My dear friend Helen offered to fly up with me, and we decided to stay for several days so I could bum around my home town. Bless her!

49Tina,Helen

We arrived Thursday afternoon, picked up the rental car, checked into a hotel in Middleburg Heights about 4 miles away, and met with Ron at the church at 4 p.m.  I had sent him a couple of prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that I wanted incorporated, and he was more than willing to do so.

Our meeting was brief, so I took time to show Helen around the church. It was fun looking at old photographs on the walls, recognizing people from long ago and probably boring her with more stories than she wanted to hear.

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We drove over to the cemetery, just half a mile away, and ran into Dan Hill, the superintendent. I had enjoyed meeting him when my father was buried there, and we had a nice chat about the plans for the next day. I told him my knees won’t allow me to get down on the ground, so he said he would put the container in the hole. He also agreed to provide a trowel so each of us could throw some dirt on top—something I have found meaningful as closure.

He also pointed out what he had done for my father’s grave marker. My father is buried in one of the few spots between a narrow drive and the escarpment down to Rocky River, an area covered with myrtle. Dan had raised the marker up 4” so it would always be above the growth. What a thoughtful gesture!

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The cemetery is small, old, under huge trees, and was originally for Union soldiers.

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My stillborn sister and little brother, Tommy, are buried just across the drive from my father. Mother wanted her ashes in Tommy’s grave, so that’s where they were to be.

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(after I got home, I found this poem on the internet. There had been five pennies scattered on and around Ruth’s grave)

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We met my cousins Bill and Lil for dinner. Bill was especially close to my parents and we have stayed in touch over the years.

43Bill,Lil

Friday morning we went to Heinen’s, a nice grocery store nearby, where I had ordered a large tray of cookies and bought some fruit and drinks for the visitation.

My sister Becky and her husband, Willie, had driven from Iowa (almost 12 hours). We met for lunch, then went across the street to the church to set up the refreshments.

44Willie,Becky

The visitation was scheduled from 2:30 – 4 p.m., and people started arriving promptly.

One of the first was an old playmate of mine, Emery, son of one of Mother’s best friends from high school. I hadn’t seen him since we were about nine years old! His much younger sister, Shari, (whom I don’t remember having ever met) had been faithfully sending Mother little notes on hand made stationery for five or six years. She did it to honor HER late mother’s dear friend, but was out of town, so Emery came in her stead and even went to the cemetery with us.

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All but one of the second cousins and spouses were there. Some former neighbors who had seen her obituary in the Cleveland Plain Dealer came to pay their respects. Becky and I were each surprised by having one of our respective high school classmates show up. The older brother of one of my high school friends, for whom my father had worked part time after he retired, was also there and came to the cemetery. Though we only saw a couple of Mother’s friends (she had outlived most of them), I was pleased that about 30 people were there to honor her.

We car pooled to the cemetery, since parking was limited and we cousins were going to have an early supper together at a restaurant next to the church where we all had parked. Rev. Dauphin had started the service when I suddenly realized that my sister and brother-in-law, who were riding with one of the second cousin couples, weren’t there.

How could they get lost in half a mile?

Karl was driving and hadn’t realized the cemetery had two sections. He had gone to the newer one up the hill and around the bend. His sister-in-law, Marcia, called him on his cell phone, then handed the phone to Dan Hill so he could give directions. I later learned that Karl wears hearing aides, and what with trying to listen to the phone and the chatter in the car, was getting more and more turned around.   It was actually rather funny listening to our side of the conversation.

“No, keep going away from the railroad tracks. Right, not left.  No, AWAY from the tracks!  Now left and down the hill.”

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Finally we saw their car pull into the far side of the cemetery, and Karl delivered the last of our group.

The service was brief and meaningful. Both Becky and I spoke.  Then Dan handed me the container, removed the cover to the hole, and I handed it back to him to put it in place.

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We each put a trowel full of dirt on top and it was over.

After saying good-bye to the non-family members, we went back to the church where Helen, Becky and I took turns cleaning up and visiting with relatives.

Walking across to the restaurant brought back memories for Bill, Becky and me, since we had all grown up in Olmsted Falls. The restaurant was in the old fire station. The two jail cells had been in the basement and the one fire engine on the ground floor. The second floor had had three rooms—the mayor’s office, the police chief’s office, and the village council chamber. The top floor had two rooms, one was the village library, the other was my kindergarten classroom!

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I’ve sent photos to the family members, but those present were Becky and me, granddaughters of Ruth Schmidt, the youngest of the five Schmidt sisters, plus Willie and Helen; Bill, grandson of Alma, the 2d oldest sister, and his wife, Lil; and three grandchildren of Lillian, the oldest sister: Barbara, Harvey, their spouses Karl and Eileen, and their sister Marcia, a widow. JoAnn (Raki) Rupert, my last U.S.A. second cousin on my father’s side, and her husband, Bob, were with us, too.

46Karl,Barbara

48Eileen,Harvey

47Marcia

45Bob,JoAnne

We enjoyed a nice supper together.

Becky and Willie left early the next morning for their long drive home.

I had carried Mother’s ashes on the plane in a silk tote bag. Back at the hotel, I tucked it, empty, into a corner of my carry-on, suddenly aware of the finality of her absence. The other time I nearly lost it was during church Sunday morning at Olmsted Community Church. Rev. Dauphin mentioned Mother’s service in the prayers, and one of the hymns we sang was “The Old Rugged Cross.” It was another of her favorites.

Helen and I spent the next three days exploring Olmsted Falls.  I pulled into the drive to the house where I had grown up and saw a man mowing the grass. Thinking I should explain why we were just sitting there, I got out, introduced myself, and told him my parents had lived in that house for 45 years and that my father had built the barn in the back as his woodworking shop. We got to chatting, and he invited us inside.

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We spent nearly an hour talking about what I remembered, seeing what changes had been made, and walking through the yard. Major nostalgia! The clothes line hooks my father had installed outside on the house and garage were still there. “Ah HAH,” he said. “I told my wife that’s what they were, but she didn’t believe me!”

The garden—which had taken up half the lot—was long gone. They had made some nice improvements on the basement bedroom and bath my father had installed. And I told him the fruit cellar story, about when my father had made root beer, bottled it, and stored it with other canned goods in the basement space under the front steps. He had used too much yeast, and the bottles exploded. What a mess! They had to clean it up, but I was secretly glad. It was foul tasting stuff.

Mine had been the last class that had spent all 12 years in the same school building. It was now divided up for use by various city departments, but it was fun to find a photo of myself as a high school freshman playing clarinet in the band. The mayor chatted with us, and got one of her staff members to take us up to the third floor. It has been gutted to the bare brick walls, forlorn, and looking like it might collapse down on to the offices below.

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At the end of the hall was what they call the “historic room.” Actually, a junk room, filled with old desks, band uniforms, yearbooks, and a model of the covered bridge my father had made and donated to the town in the mid-1990’s. Here is the bridge, built long after I left home, and his model.

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The night before we left, Helen and I had supper with the one second cousin who had been out of town, Sandy. She is three years older than I, the granddaughter of Emma, the 3d Schmidt sister.  Emma’s widower, Reuben Parker, married my grandmother, Ruth. Sandy’s mother was Phyllis, my mother’s older first cousin/step sister, the one she often mistook me for.

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Mother was buried in the grave of my little brother, Tommy. I have ordered a brass marker similar to the one for my father. I’ll leave Tommy’s grave marker where it is, and have hers placed over the spot she was buried.

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Posted in 2015, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Memorial service: Mikko’s letter

It was some day in July 1967 when I (Mikko) came home and my wife (Tuula) said: ”Your cousin Jack and his wife Esther and their children Becky and Ted from the USA are coming to visit us”. I said: “I don’t know those relatives”. Anyway they came and Jack had the genealogy with him. He had studied the family Lehtisalo from the year 1735 and he told that my grandmother Justina Mäntysalo (Lehtisalo) and Jack’s mother Serafia Lehtisalo were sisters. It was so nice to meet them, a very friendly and happy couple.

Next time we met him in the year 1981. We were tutors of CISV-organisation for young boys and girls visiting Troy, Ohio. Jack came there with his pick-up and we drove together to Olmsted Falls and visited their home. Esther took care of us like we were their best friends. It was interesting to see all Jack’s work and things he had designed. We still use the vegetable drier he has made. Esther and Jack arranged a family reunion. Then we had a nice opportunity to meet many of our relatives, who lived in the USA.

In the year 1989 (Mikko’s 50 years birthday year) we spent a month in the USA meeting many of our relatives. Jack and Esther drove us to meet Jo-Ann and Bob and Lilian. After that we together flew to Wausau, where was again a family reunion arranged. We met many people whose parents had immigrated to the USA from Finland. We had a very nice time with them and it always reminds in our minds.

We are so thankful receiving your mails so often about Esther’s life since Jack passed away. Her life was very long, full of happiness. We are very proud and happy we got to know her. We miss her.

Naantali the 4th June 2015

Mikko and Tuula

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Memorial service: Tina’s homily

I’d like to thank all of you for coming, for your effort to honor a woman you didn’t know very well.

She was a little old lady when she moved in with me ten years ago, and she just…kept getting older!

I’ve tried to plan this service to reflect who she was.

She was a woman of great faith.

Today’s music is the music she grew up with and loved.

The flowers—thanks to Jennie Granrose–reflect her openness, love of green                            and growing things, and her family, including the five children she bore.

Many people here in Athens cared for her.

Several doctors who took special interest in her include                                                                              Dr. Philip Morris,                                                                                                                                     Dr. Steven Lowman                                                                                                                                 Dr. Scott Linder                                                                                                                                         Dr. Baker Hubbard.

Al Hester visited her faithfully for years.

The staffs of Whispering Pines Assisted Living and Quiet Oaks nursing home treated her well.

Mary Wade was a friend and caregiver off and on for a long time,

Linda Zacker, her Hospice nurse, literally saved her life in 2008.

Did you know she was a Hospice patient for two years?   Discharged in 2010.

She’s been hospitalized half a dozen times since then, and kept bouncing right back.

When they called me Tuesday morning, May 19, to say she was unresponsive, one of the things that went through my mind was the story from our Gospel reading.

I half expected her, like Lazarus, to yet again “Come forth.”

She did, but more about that in a moment.

My mother was a farm girl from a small village near Cleveland, OH.    Her father died before she was born, so she was especially attached to her  own mom.

Grandma Ruth not only “worked like a man,” quote/unquote, on the farm, she also played piano for the silent movies.

Their house was always filled with music.

Mother was her only child.

I never knew Ruth – she died before I was born.

They lived in her grandfather’s rambling “old brick house” that meant a lot to my mother.

Several years ago she and I spent weeks at my kitchen table while she  described                   the two story, two-winged house in great detail and had me sketch out the floor plans.  For some reason she wanted me to know the arrangement of every room, where every door       and window was, where the furniture was placed, and especially, where the piano was.

I think it was her place of refuge, where she felt the safest and most  loved.

She never went to college, but had a keen mind and intense interest in the natural             world.  When I was little, she’d take me walking through Metropolitan Park and                     point out and name all the wild flowers and trees.

Have you ever heard of Bluebirds and Camp Fire Girls?  They’re sort of a Yankee version of Girl Scouts, and actually pre-date them.

For years Mother was a leader. I remember the odd and unusual  trips she took us               on, exposing us to things young girls back then wouldn’t necessarily know about .

I was her oldest.  When I was three, she had a stillborn daughter.

A son followed the next year. When I was eight and he was four, he died in her arms of a botched tonsillectomy.  I don’t think my parents ever got over that.

Two years later my late brother Ted was born, and when I was fourteen, my sister, Becky.

So she really had two families—me, then this very big gap, and her two little ones.  She was 60 when my sister graduated from high school.

Having an empty nest seemed liberating.  She and my father started traveling in their little camper all over the country.

Acadia National Park in Maine                                                                                                             Florida                                                                                                                                                         the Grand Canyon                                                                                                                                     the marvelous National Parks out west:  Glacier, the Badlands                                                   —you name it, they were probably there.

Her favorite was a cruise to Alaska.

She made two trips to Finland with my father to visit his relatives.

In 1988 I took her on a nine week trip traveling around western Europe, showing her           the places I loved best  from all the times I had lived there and chasing after her as she indulged her interest in genealogy.

The following year, she and my father went back again, exploring spots I had missed!

Somewhere along that time, when she was in her early 70’s, she became intensely         interested in “rock hounding.”

I had to look this up:

“Rock hounding is an amateur geological study of rocks and minerals, both in                           their natural environment and as specimens that can be cut and polished.”

She would research their trips, and locate places along the way where there were known “rock fields.”  She could tramp around, look at a stone, and be able to tell the likelihood of there being a geode inside.

They often come home from a trip with 300 pounds of rocks in their camper.

My father, a retired mechanical engineer, built her a rock saw and a polisher.

She would cut and polish slabs, and make wind chimes, clocks, and desk accessories that she’d sell at craft fairs.  You’ll see some examples over in the Parish Hall.

After 56 years in Olmsted Falls, OH, where I grew up, my parents moved to St.             Charles, MO to live with my sister and her family.  A series of unusual and unfortunate circumstances led her to accept my invitation to come live with me in 2005.

I will always admire the courage it took for an 89 year old woman to leave 3                           of her four family members, her church community, and her doctors, to                           move half way across the country to start a new life.

We had about three good years together.

Twice we flew out to California to visit Matt and Jill, and once we took a  three week             driving trip back to Ohio, where she was able to reconnect and visit with many of her old friends and family.

Her health failed suddenly in 2008 and she was admitted to Hospice.

After two years with her hospital bed in my dining room, they “discharged” her!

However, she was showing early signs of dementia, and I had neither the strength nor the resources to care for her on my own.

She spent a little more than five years in assisted living and nursing home facilities.

The decline in her mental faculties continued.  What was real to her was what was right in front of her, or what had  happened when she was a child.

These last 18 months or so she often talked about her mother.

“Mom was here today, did you see her?                                                                                               She’s probably still around somewhere.                                                                                               Be sure to say good-bye to her before you leave.”

“No, I can’t go back to my room with you to hang up those new tee shirts.                                 Mom’s on her way and she won’t know where to find me.”

And, teary-eyed:  “I haven’t talked to Mom in a long time.                                                             Will you help me write a note to her?                                                                                                   I think they’ve moved, can you find their new address?”

This last year she seldom knew who I was, and often confused me with Phyllis,                       her older step-sister.

What didn’t change was her knack for wise cracks and one liners.

During one visit last February, I again asked her if she knew me.

“Sure, you’re Phyllis, Rube Parker’s daughter.  (Rube Parker was her step father)                   “No, I’m your daughter, Tina.’                                                                                                                There was a pause, she looked at me, then blurted out:                                                                 “Why’d you change mothers?”

Cracked me up.

Three weeks ago I got the call from the nursing home that she had lain down for a nap after breakfast and had become unresponsive.  They were pretty sure her end was nearing.

She died 48 hours later.

It has been my limited experience that when a person dies, “they” don’t leave immediately.

It’s sort of a hovering feeling.

So I sat with her body for quite a while, still aware of her presence, just being with her.

After about an hour, I experienced a decidedly “warm” sensation, as if someone wrapped a light shawl around my shoulders.

I have no idea why, and it sounds weird, but at that moment I absolutely knew what was happening.

Her mother had come to get her.

I found myself smiling and mentally waving good-bye, knowing my  mother was being carried off by the one person she most longed for.

And then the sense of her presence in the room was gone.

Esther was a woman of great faith.  I knew where she was being taken.

Rest in peace, dear one.  I shall miss you terribly.

NOTE:  After I spoke, at the point in the service when we exchange the Peace with each other, I was presented with a hand knitted shawl made by one of the women in a group that calls itself “Threads of Prayer.”  We were all speechless and overwhelmed at the coincidence.

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Memorial service: Al’s homily

Although St. Gregory’s was not a church of her denomination, Esther was pleased by the warmth and hearty welcome shown to her when she was able to attend our services. She regularly partook of Communion with us and enjoyed coffee hour. and lunches.  St. Gregory’s members and our priest included her in their caring and love which so many persons feel.

I began visiting Esther in assisted living facilities, Hospice care (from which she recovered to live years more), and finally at Quiet Oaks Center at Crawford, Georgia. I also visited with her on several of her July birthdays. In all these situations I found her to be a deeply spiritual person, although she didn’t parade it around. Her good sense of humor was often in evidence.

As  we grew to know each other, I asked if she would like a prayer. She was enthusiastic and we usually had some prayer time. But Esther always wanted to respond with an extemporaneous prayer for me and for others.

She was appreciative of small gifts (licorice candy with sparkles) being one of her favorites). She liked the flowers I brought, although her sight was limited.  During Christmas about three years ago, she gave me one of her most precious gifts: a beautiful clock she had personally made of gorgeous jasper semi-precious stone. It represented a happy time during her rock-hunting days in the West with her late husband, which she talked about a lot.  I treasure that jasper clock, made from the desirable stone mentioned in the Bible.

I was very grateful to be a part of the final rites for Esther at Quiet Oaks. She was non-responsive, but it was a peaceful and special time for all of us and the staff members who came to share Communion with us.

Her life was one of fulfillment and meaning, and it was revealed to all of us who knew her. Thank you, Esther, for sharing yourself with us. I would like to end this with the prayer I believe Esther lived by.

PRAYERS FOR USE BY A SICK PERSON (From The Book of Common Prayer)  Esther and I used this prayer several times. She had a deep faith and trust that God was a loving God. She would say, without fear  as she said it: “It is what it is.”

 In the Morning

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand up bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus, Amen.

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Memorial service: Matt’s homily

Memorial Service for Esther Ruth Freeman

Scripture Text: John 11:17-27

June 8, 2015

The first time I recall meeting Esther Ruth Freeman was at Jill’s and my wedding some 23 years ago now. And though I would see Esther on occasion after that, the most consistent reminder for me on a daily basis of the woman whose life we remember and give thanks for today was having on my desk one of the rock crafts Esther had made. It was a thin cut green stone with a polished smooth top and rough, almost jagged sides so you knew it was made from a genuine rock, not from wood or plastic. You knew it by the weight as well. It had heft. You knew it wasn’t an object of plastic or wood. And after cutting and polishing this stone, Esther had attached to it a large gold paperclip to make the stone into a desk accessory that could then be used to hold letters or the like, which is what I used it for.

I kept this on the desk of the first church I served as a pastor in Greenwich, Connecticut, and it travelled with us when we moved to Pasadena. I found it an intriguing mix of earth and nature on one hand, and human crafting and utility on the other.

It was a form of art I understand Esther got into late in her life, in her 60’s and 70’s.   She took trips with her husband Jack to find just the right rocks for her crafts, searching for geodes and other stones. After collecting pounds of these rocks she would load them in her camper, and bring them home to have them cut and polished just so.

Her supplier said Esther had quite a talent with stone crafts.   Intriguing, I thought looking at that desk accessory daily, how the stuff of earth and stone and dust can be taken, and re-crafted and reshaped in an artist’s hand.

Today’s gospel passage speaks of man named Lazarus whose breath of life had departed from him. And so he had been placed in a stone tomb, his body to become one with earth and dust and stone. From dust we come, it is said, to dust we return. And yet, according to Genesis, into the stuff of dust and earth God breathed the first breath of life, making humanity.

And in today’s gospel reading we are reminded God can still take the perishable stuff of earth and dust and breath new life into it. God can take bodies that have returned to the earth, and refashion those bodies into something beautiful and new. For today’s gospel text lifts up the promise of resurrection.

Resurrection—the notion that one laid to rest in a tomb of stone could know new life in a day to come—this was not unheard of in Jesus’s day. In fact, we read in the New Testament that the Pharisaic branch of Judaism taught precisely such a doctrine. The pharisees taught it, over against the Sadducees, another Jewish school of thought in Jesus’ time that did not believe in a resurrection.

And so we suspect that as John’s gospel tells the story, when Jesus first tells Martha “your brother, Lazarus, will rise again,” Martha thought he was simply offering standard words of comfort popular in their day.   It was like saying today “well, at least you can rest assured your loved one is in heaven” or “your loved one has gone to be with the Lord.” Yes, Martha replies, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

But the kind of transformation God was up to in Jesus, the kind of resurrection power that fills bodies long returned to the earth with new life, that power was present in Jesus, we read. Life, life in God, life eternal was not just a future promise but a present reality once the divine logos entered the world.

Resurrection was not just a future promise. It broke in with Jesus, most vividly and unforgettably that day Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

And so Jesus responds to Martha’s words not by simply reaffirming the promise of a future resurrection. He asserts instead that life had infiltrated the world already. Jesus tells Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” The eternal life Jesus gives is available now to the living, a foretaste and promise of a resurrection yet to come. And to prove Jesus’s point, he says to Lazarus, lying in a tomb of stone, “come out.”

And the stuff of stone and earth and dust is given the breath of life. For that is what Jesus gives, John’s gospel proclaims, life.

Esther was one touched by this life one can know in God, life in the present, life, in the day of resurrection.   Esther was one who sought in her own life to know this life in God more deeply, to hear and follow the one who says to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Esther was a part of churches throughout her days, from a community church in Olmsted to St. Charles Disciples of Christ church, ever seeking the God made known in Christ. This spiritual journey led her to finally joining Tina here at Saint Gregory’s church in Athens.

And along the way, she gave ear and attention to various perspectives on the Jesus of resurrection, both orthodox and less orthodox.  But throughout her spiritual journey, Esther held the deep unshakable conviction God was leading her step by step.   God directed, Esther believed, and she was called to follow.

In her later years especially, Esther endeavored to place her fears and anxieties more fully in God’s hands, to let go and let God, and trust in life and in death she belonged to God.

And so it is a woman of faith we remember today, one to whom our savior would say today, like he did to Martha in John’s gospel, “Esther, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”

And so we trust that sure as Esther could take a stone in her hands and transform it into something beautiful and new, so she will one day know transformation and resurrection herself at the hand of the master craftsman, the one who made the heavens and the earth.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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July 12, 2015–final comments #1, memorial service

Shortly after the experience I last described, her face changed. Up until that moment, it was still her body, silent, lifeless, but her. The change happened within a few minutes. It is hard to describe—sort of a hardening. What was lying on the bed became “a body,” scarcely recognizable any more as Esther.

The hearse from the local funeral home/crematory arrived a few minutes later. I did not wait in the room while they wheeled her out, but I did follow it all the way to Athens, mentally saying good-bye again as I turned off onto my street.

I called my son-in-law, Matt, who is pastor of a Presbyterian church in CA. Mother was fond of him and had said long ago that she wanted him to officiate at her funeral. We decided on June 8 for her memorial service.

The interment of her ashes was to be in Olmsted Falls.   My friend Helen had volunteered to fly up with me if we could plan to go after she returned from a trip she was about to take. I called the minister of Olmsted Community Church and we decided that Friday, June 19, would be the best date.

With those times settled, I spent the next two weeks dealing with the unacceptable work of a contractor, and putting my house back in order after months of having everything from the living room and foyer stored either in the garage or boxed up in my dining room.

I also made the difficult decision to put down my dear 17 year old cat. Poor Jameson—I have hardly had time to grieve for him.

The memorial service was beautiful and well attended. I had asked that the flower arrangement be open, airy, with lots of green and five red roses for the five children she bore:

altar flowers

I am attaching copies of the service bulletin.  Click on them to enlarge.

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The hymns were ones she had picked several years ago and the readings were my choice for particular reasons. The choir music was beautiful, and Jill’s solos brought tears to my eyes, they were so exquisite.

Her ashes were placed on a stand near the altar, so as to be included one last time as we gathered around it for the Eucharist.

I am adding Matt’s sermon, Al’s comments, and my homily as separate posts following this one.

Anita Brannen, Mother’s hospice volunteer, decided at the last minute to add a few words. She remembered coming a couple times a month in the afternoon so I could attend meetings. Though I had emphasized that Mother needed her afternoon naps, often she would just pretend to be asleep until she heard me leave. Then she’d sit up and chat while I was gone!

One other post-to-follow is from Mikko Mantysalo, my second cousin in Finland, whom I have never met but who had kind words to say about my mother.

The Parish Life Committee outdid themselves with food for the reception. I had prepared a revolving 30 slide PowerPoint presentation of photos of her from the age of five to last February, which people seemed to enjoy. We also set up a small display of her clocks and desk accessories.

The service had lasted an hour and a half, and people lingered at the reception until almost six p.m.

Jill, Matt and I went out to dinner. We had lunch at home the next day, and they flew back home that afternoon—only about 24 hours in town.

 

Posted in 2015, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Esther Freeman: July 19, 1915 – May 21, 2015

Her passing was peaceful.

I was out-of-town for a week and got back in time for the QO spring BBQ picnic last Thursday, May 14. The food was good, but I was surprised how much difficulty she was having. I’d put meat on her fork, but she couldn’t get it to her mouth. Then she would chew and chew and chew, as if she didn’t know what to do with it–spit it out or swallow. That was so much trouble that I tried taking small slices of ham and cheese out of a biscuit, rolling them up, and letting her eating it that way with her fingers. Taking tiny bites, she took ten minutes to finish probably a tablespoon of food. Same with a chocolate chip cookie. She couldn’t seem to find her mouth.

She didn’t say anything, and struggled to follow my prompting. I didn’t think to tell her to swallow. She did drink a lot of iced tea through a straw, and wanted to help hold the glass.

I asked her several times if she knew who I was and other simple questions that could be answered with one word.  She was silent.

They had a band playing outside, so I wheeled her out on the patio and we sat and listened. It was a lovely evening, and I noticed her tapping her foot in time to the music. Really in time to the music!

She complained that her belly hurt, and when I rubbed the spot she indicated, her abdomen felt hard as a rock. I asked the nurse if she had been constipated, but that wasn’t the problem. I have suspected for some time that she had breast cancer and thought it may well have metastasized. At her age, she was not a candidate for surgery.

I’d been there almost two hours, so when the band took a break I told her it was over and time for bed. Wheeled her inside, kissed her forehead and said, as usual, “I’ll see you in a few days.”

“Do you have to go so soon?” she whispered.

It was the last thing she said to me.

The day before yesterday, Tuesday May 19, I got a call at 8 a.m. She complained at breakfast that she didn’t feel well and didn’t want anything to eat. The nurse tried to give her a spoonful of milk, but it dribbled out of her mouth, so she thought it best to stop and avoid asphyxiation.

They put her down for a nap and she quickly became unresponsive. Over the next two days her breathing became more and more shallow and her blood oxygen level, even with the oxygen concentrator going, kept dropping. Her temperature would spike to 102, then drop to slightly below normal. However, this lady who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure 20 years or so ago maintained an “acceptable” blood pressure until almost the very end.

Tuesday night they moved her to their “dying room.” I spent the night with her on a cot. Yes, they came in every two hours to tend to her and I got no sleep, but I did see how tenderly she was being cared for. They kept her dry, gave her under-the-tongue Tylenol to reduce her fever and small amounts of a morphine derivative when she exhibited restlessness.

Yesterday morning they even gave her a bed bath.

In the afternoon I arranged a brief, impromptu “Last Rites” service with the priest from our Episcopal church, my friend Helen, who has sung with me a couple of times at her birthday celebrations, and our old friend, Al, who has visited her faithfully over the years. I also invited any of the staff what would like to come. Six of them showed up.

We started with Helen and me singing “Daisy, Daisy,” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” the two songs she had regaled the staff with so many times. Then we all sang “Amazing Grace.”

Al read some beautiful Celtic “circle prayers” that were very inclusive. Helen and I read a psalm responsively. Then Beth (our rector) read the prayers for the dying and anointed her with chrism.

We all participated in the Eucharist, said the Lord’s Prayer, and I bent over and sang her a lullaby. We were all close to tears. It was a beautiful send off.

I sat with her until nearly dark, then drove home to get some sleep. Workers were coming at 9 a.m. and I had to be here to get them started.

I called at 9:20 a.m. to see how she was. The nurse said she thought the end was very near. I left immediately and got there in half an hour.

She died at 9:26 a.m. this morning.

I sat with her until noon. It has been my limited experience that though the body may be dead, the person “hovers” for a while. I definitely felt her presence in the room.

After about an hour I felt a strange warmth–hard to explain, just a pleasant, hugging sensation. It may sound strange, but I knew at that moment her mother had come for her. I never knew my grandmother–she died before I was born. I’ve seldom even thought of her.  But I could not be more certain that at that moment, Ruth had come to take Esther home. I found myself smiling, mentally waving good-bye, knowing that my mother was being carried off by the one person she most longed for.

My mother was a woman of great faith. I know where she was being taken.

Rest in peace, dear one. I will miss you terribly.

Posted in 2015, Uncategorized | 4 Comments