Thursday, October 12, 2017

Life Resembling Broadway Show Tunes

Over the past few weeks, well probably longer, some Broadway show tunes seem to be coming to life in front of my eyes. Here are a few examples from Bandstand, which closed way to early. I'm sure I'll think of more.

Right this Way

In Bandstand the cast dreams about taking first class transportation from Cleveland, OH to New York's Grand Central Station. In my world, it was taking the TGV first class from Paris's Gare du Nord station to Liege, Belgium. Well worth the few dollar difference in price.


I think of the lyrics "just breathe through the instrument" as I'm finding myself getting a little stressed. Life has been, well, just a little stressful lately. I find it calming.


"You know who tells me No ... nobody...." I need to keep reminding myself that no one tells me no. I need to follow my dreams in order for them to happen.

I Know a Guy

In the musical they are looking for musicians who served in World War II in order to fill their band. In my life I often say to someone "I know someone who can do that..."

Welcome Home

The lead is singing about the boys coming home from war. For me those words are what I was thinking when I returned to Belgium after nearly three decades -- I was home again.

For my mom she was thinking of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from Les Miserables. What show tunes do you find coming alive in your life?

Honey Bunny's Funeral

I know it is a lot of posts about death and dying, but as we are all too aware, that is part of life.

On Monday, October 9, 2017 we held a beautiful service celebrating my mother-in-law Joyce Pillsbury's life at Poulson & Van Hise in Lawrenceville, NJ. It was a lovely celebration of her life. The family arrived around 9:30 in order to say good-bye without everyone else. Of course I felt she did not look like herself. No matter what picture you give a funeral director, he manages to try to make her look better than herself. Honey Bunny was a simple woman who rarely wore make-up. I never saw her wear nail polish. She is greeting dad with beige nail polish fully made up. The hair was all wrong, too. I'd post a picture, but some people find that ghoulish.

Official viewing hours began at 10 AM. It was a non-stop group of people. A beautiful testimony to her life. We never gathered in a line, so instead our friends sought us out and talked to us individually. Somehow I was by the entrance to the room. Don was further in the room. Sue and Dave were in the lobby. I'm not sure where everyone else was.

At 11 AM the directors kicked us out of the room and rearranged the flowers as they closed the casket. On Friday when we talked about doing this we thought there were be mostly just us -- a dozen or so able-bodied people. I didn't anticipate nearly 70 people in various stages of ability to move. Still it happened. It is not traditional in a Presbyterian service, but it made Ashley and at least one other grandchild more comfortable.

In an effort to not forget the service, here is the order of service. The day of the order was rearranged, but in the end the different parts were included. Please follow the links to the scripture and music. All was carefully selected.

The Reverend Paul L. Rhebergen, the Transitional Pastor at Ewing Presbyterian Church led us in worship. My sister and brother-in-law, Melissa and Chris Clark played violin and string bass to lead us in music. I was told that is not normally done at a funeral parlor, but the funeral director was up to the challenge.

Call to Worship
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn #14: For the Beauty of the Earth (I don't remember which verses, maybe the first two)

Remembering and celebrating the Life of Joyce Pillsbury

  • Don's brother, Allen
  • Me
Remembering and Celebrating in Music: This is My Father's World
(This was her favorite hymn, especially verse 2)

New Testament Lessons
Witness to the Resurrection
Prayer of Thanksgiving
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn #649: Amazing Grace (verses 1, 2, and 5)

Then we gathered her pictures, and the photo boards, and ourselves, and went out into the pouring rain to gather at the graveside.

Graveside was mercifully brief as it was pouring. 

The afternoon concluded by hanging out at our house for lunch.

In age order: Sue, Ed, Al, and Don
Ed and Al are twins, Ed came out first

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Honey Bunny's Eulogy

On October 5, 2017 Don's mom, Joyce Pillsbury, passed away peacefully. This is the eulogy I wrote for her funeral. As I stood in front of the 70 or so mourners, the words changed, but I stayed true to the sentiment. At the time I was wishing I could add some pictures. In this format I can.


Thank you for all gathering today to celebrate my mother-in-law, Joyce Pillsbury’s life, a woman we affectionately call Honey Bunny. When our daughter, Ashley, was born mom called her Honey Bunny, which Ashley quickly repeated back to her in the same way I started to call my grandmother, Ta-Ta. Rather than call her Joyce or mom, I’m sticking with Honey Bunny.

For the past few months I have been carefully cleaning out Honey Bunny and Pop-pop’s (that is what we called Bob) house where they lived for 54 years. If you have never had the experience cleaning up someone else’s life, I highly recommend it. I learned a lot about my in-laws – many of which I will not repeat, but others I do want to share with you.

Honey Bunny, Shirley, and Carol
As many of you know, Honey Bunny grew up in Lancaster, Ohio. She met Pop-pop after the war as a student at Otterbein College. Pop-pop had served in the navy and was pursuing his college education. He and his bride moved to his hometown of Trenton, NJ where they eventually moved to Ewing and raised their four children. Those four children each had children and they have eight grandchildren.

Her parents on their 25th wedding anniversary
My first realization was they never threw ANYTHING out. This is typical among people who grew up during the Depression, but the project took on the aura of opening a time capsule. Included in the detritus of life was every letter she received. I learned she was an excellent pen pal. She wrote faithfully to her mother (who was still living in Ohio at the time) and her friend Shirley from Otterbein. Shirley died a few years ago, and she continued the correspondence with Shirley’s husband, Del, who died last summer. She kept every Christmas card and letter from everyone.

Through the letters I scanned and the numerous newspaper clippings I learned she was nervous about becoming a wife, a mother, and later a widow. She was a lifelong Christian who put her faith in God, even as she continued the tug of war as she took the worrying back from him. Oh how I can relate!

I learned she was a voracious reader of non-fiction. I knew she had many books (I’m estimating around 4,000 of them) in the three bedrooms, kitchen, living room, and dining room. Perhaps half to three-quarters were related to art – textile arts, knitting, crocheting, watercolor painting, graffiti art, cartooning, etc. It wasn’t just that she owned these books, she first labeled where she bought it, when she bought it, and how much she paid for it. Then she made notes in each book – which the knitters especially love reading because she noted which patterns she tried, what type of yarn she used, and how it turned out. As far as I could tell there was only one duplicate – a book by a local artist and friend we bought her for Christmas one year, but which she had already owned.  Each book was cataloged. My inner librarian is in awe.

We all know she was a self-taught water color artist. I brought a few of her paintings here. There are many more back at my house if you
would like one, two, or a dozen or more. She was quite good. She enjoyed learning from Joanne Augustine. I spoke with Joanne this week. She said they loved having Honey Bunny in their class because she was so sweet. There were secretly jealous about how quickly she could paint something so well. She was also incredibly modest about her art. She is missed in her classes.

I learned she loved her Bobby very much. Well, that wasn’t a surprise.

A few weeks ago I had a dream about Honey Bunny. She was at least 10 years younger wearing her ubiquitous blue jumper. She had taken an Uber to our house from Attleboro. Behind her was a shriveled up, mummified man I clearly identified as Pop-pop. She was asking for the keys to her house because she wanted to “go home.” I would not have been shocked to wake up the following morning to a phone call from the nursing home saying she was gone. Instead she thoughtfully waited until we returned from a family vacation. (I later found out, she also chose before another sibling was heading to Hawaii on a dream vacation.)

Don remembers her final words to Pop-pop as he was taking his last breath 13 years and 3 months ago were “Bobby please don’t leave me, I can’t live without you.” We take comfort that through their faith they are reunited in heaven together.

Thank you.

So Now What?

It has been a whirlwind of activity since my last post describing the odd dream I had about Don's parents. A couple of days later I left for a trip back 29 years to visit two of the three families who were kind enough to let me live with them when I was a Rotary Exchange Student. The trip was magical from beginning to end, and one I really do want to blog about soon before the aura fades away forever. That was followed by a few days in Paris, that were also special. I am hoping when I have a chance to study the pictures I took the feelings I had will come back to life. Don and Ashley joined me at Disneyland Paris (which we will always think of as Euro Disney). I ran three magical races, with Don running the half marathon with me from beginning to end. All special stories worthy of blogging about.

Then we came home. The next day I visited Honey Bunny (Don's mom) in the nursing home and could tell the dream from 10 days earlier would come true sooner rather than later. My brother-in-law told me she was doing much better than when he saw in her early September. Of that I don't doubt, but I could still tell she was not long for this earth. I don't know how I knew, but I did. At this point it was September 26, eleven days after that dream.

As I was at the assisted living side asking for Honey Bunny's mail, Christine came out to see me. Christine was standing in for Amanda, the director, who was at a week long conference. Due to my trip, I hadn't seen Honey Bunny in over a week, but when she said they decided she is not strong enough to return to her assisted living apartment, I knew she was right. We had a heartfelt chat about how to make the end easier. What should we do? Medicare would soon stop paying for rehab because it was clear she was not improving. A call to my BIL was tough to make, but I wanted him to hear it from me instead of via email from a stranger.

I went to visit Honey Bunny. From then until her death on October 5 is a blur. I made a number of visits. On September 28 we had our final Family Meeting where we discussed moving her "upstairs" out of the rehab wing to the long-term care side. A private room was selected. Don, Ashley, and I even checked out the room. It wasn't a bad room, but it was a sign the end was near. We had no idea just how near.

That weekend Allen and Ellen drove down from Massachusetts to see her. Though mentally prepared for what they would see, they admitted they underestimated the end was that close. While in town, they cleaned out her apartment (for which I am eternally grateful, I had no energy for that). We let her rest on Monday, figuring the long visits with Al and Elly would have tired her out.

When the three of us went to visit on Tuesday the third the staff was discussing whether or not to move her to the hospital. I told them in no uncertain terms, she was staying where she was. Fortunately we had just learned Don has Power of Attorney and could legally say what my gut told me. Fortunately I had just spoken with someone who said a trip to the hospital in this state would prolong her life on earth, but not her quality. There was no recovery in her future as death had started climbing into her veins, only a life of tubes and wires -- which she had stated for years she did not want.

We returned separately over the next couple of days. On Wednesday I could see her staring at the ceiling with clear blue eyes displaying only a pinprick of black. I asked her if she saw someone, but there was no answer. I held her hand, cleaned her mouth, and told her she was loved. 

On Thursday I left at 1:30. My BIL from Massachusetts arrived at 2 and stayed with her until she took her last breath at 4:07. I have no doubt she was instantly in dad's arms -- the place she has wanted to be for 13 years and three months.

The following few days were a blur. We met with the funeral director and the minister. Ed and Carol chose flowers and ordered food. Carol, Ed, and Al chose clothes for her to wear. Don, Ashley, and I cleaned the house for the post-funeral party on Monday (Columbus Day). Even yesterday was spent cleaning up from the party, dropping a check off at the church, visiting the grave, getting the house back in order, letting the siblings know who came to the funeral, getting the death certificates to Ed, etc. 

Today feels like a whoosh, and sort of a let down.

Now what? 

I wish I knew.

I was so busy with daily life stuff I forgot to get her life story. A life I am piecing together now through photos and stories. I am chastising myself for doing exactly what I tell others not to do. It happens to the best of us.

I'm getting through the day picturing her not as she was a month ago when she thought she was returning to her apartment for good (a place she had learned to call home), but as she was on her wedding day with her beloved Bobby.