Monday, August 24, 2015

Requiem Eucharist for VFH

The day was beautiful and over 300 people filled the church for a service of Burial and Holy Eucharist. 

My mother read a letter written by my grandmother to be read at the funeral. I will try to post the text here.
In addition both my uncles spoke and I am placing my Uncle Brad's words below.
I am Brad Hastings, the youngest and favorite of Jinny’s and Brad’s four children.
On my mother’s desk, I recently found a quote of theologian, Dietrich Bonhoffer that Jinny had noted that she had read it at a friend’s funeral in 2002.
His message resonated with Jinny then it does with me now. Bonhoffer compellingly identifies how I – and maybe you – feel as I live without Jinny. I quote:
“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. He doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain. The deeper and richer our memories, the more difficult is the separation. But, gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves.”

Jinny Hastings was a remarkable gift in so many ways, and thus, we have a multitude of fond memories of her qualities and the ways in which she affected us. I will comment on just a few:
her generosity, straightforwardness, athleticism, kindness, thirst for reading and learning, competitiveness, faith, upbeat manner, being a good friend and strength in coping with adversity. These personal characteristics all complemented her expertise in horticulture, sun tanning, needle pointing, skinny dipping, lawn mowing, story telling, chain sawing, tickling, making Thanksgiving gravy, cheerleading for her children while simultaneously berating referees or umpires, being a model spouse of a parish minister and a bishop – the same guy, playing bridge at a high level, and being a tennis and golf champion extraordinaire.
The fact that she spelled her nickname with a “J” says something about her uniqueness or her independence, maybe.
As children, some of my siblings and I called her “Jinny” rather than “Mom.” We held her in such high regard that doing so respectfully felt natural to us and she reinforced it by not being phased and she was comfortable with our choice of address.
As many of you will remember, back in the 1960’s, I won a few under-13 tennis tournaments at the Sakonnet Golf Club. And, Jinny and I came very close to winning some parent and child tourneys. (Unfortunately, she and I kept running in to the Eddys or the Thayers or the Smalls.) As an adult, my game improved measurably - as I recall - and I was able to hold my own even with some prep school Varsity players. I played during the summer and won a few tournaments on a small island in Maine. Even so, when Jinny and I would play singles, she won our matches year after year. She was so deft, smooth and calculated; she anticipated my shots while psyching me out in the process. Finally, when I was in my mid- 30’s and Jinny was in her mid-60’s I beat her for the first time!  She told me that I “got lucky.”
The real truth is that I got lucky to have Jinny in my life.
Over her 94 years, she experienced more than her fair share of emotional and physical suffering. Yet, her resilience, belief in God and sincere interest in others kept her from doting on her own ills and she dissuaded us from focusing on them, too. In moments when most of us would have been overwhelmed with grief or self-pity, Jinny was tough, optimistic and deflecting of inquiries about her particular situation. I would ask: “So, how are you doing, Jin? And she would respond: “Oh, just fine, Dearie. More importantly, how are you?” She did not want to burden anyone else with her problems. Independence was her highest priority.
Betsy and I regarded her, with Brad, as our biggest supporters when they would visit us at our home in Boothbay, Maine. For many years, in the summer, they would leave their beloved Little Compton and travel downeast with their gloves, gardening tools and work clothes to help us tackle many home improvement projects.
Together, we laid oak flooring, cleared trees, built gardens, painted walls and took brush to the dump. Inevitably, Jinny would gash one of her Betty Grable legs and it would require bandaging or a run to the emergency room, but she’d be back at work the next day. The best medicine, she claimed, was vodka and cranberry juice with not too much cranberry juice. She was amazing!
Now, in her instructions for this service, she told the speakers to be brief. It was difficult for me to abbreviate my reflections about such a fine person when considering her amazing legacy and her loving impact on our lives. But, as I rarely did as a kid, today, I will do what I have been told by my mutha.
Again, Bonhoffer’s thoughts:
“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love. The deeper and richer our memories, the more difficult is the separation. But, gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. “
Thank you, Jinny, for so much. With great joy, I will always love you.
                                BH       08-21-2015




Monday, August 17, 2015

The End of an Era: Death at a Ripe Old Age

For the past few days, I have been waking up and feeling like I have forgotten something.  As my mind begins doing a mental checklist, it slowly occurs to me that the thing I lost was my grandmother—not my silver watch under my bed, not my thyroid medication or not my son’s ongoing misplacement of Pokemon cards.  I had lost Mee-mee and soon visions and voices have become a part of my daily mind wanderings—not those kind of visions or voices, just an avalanche of memories arguing for a spot inside my mind.

In many ways, Mee-mee was larger than life. She was a strong, solid frame with a deep voice and booming laugh who often greeted me and others with the name “Dearie.”   As a young child, I remembered being surprised to find out that other kids didn’t always like to go to visit their grandparents.  For while going to my grandparents involved chores like pulling weeds or deadheading flowers, it also involved rides on Mee-mee’s lap on her lawnmower, Charlie.  Once one of those rides went so awry that my big brother and Mee-mee tore through a pricker bush while enthroned on Charlie. I still remember gazing out the second floor bathroom window at my big brother who climbed off Charlie scratched and bleeding, while my grandmother still had an intact smile on her face.

Visits also included games of tennis, in which I never won against her, trips to the beach complete with Pepperidge farm cookies, many evening croquet games, which were always sources of arguing and cheating, games of Scrabble against a highly competitive partner, and drinks on her back terrace while looking out at her wide open field framed by her stone walls and carefully tended flower beds.

Mee-mee loved to read and we spent many a day talking about books or politics or church.  When I lived in Tanzania, she made a pilgrimage with the rest of my family to come and see me. And four years later when I was ordained, she gave me my grandfather’s pectoral cross and a handwritten note of her pride in me.

I still feel like I missed something by not tearing up to Rhode Island in those last few days to hold her hand and whisper one more good-bye. In some ways, the obligations of three children and a job and being a wife made it much harder for me to be in relationship with her over the past few years. But, last year when I saw her I made sure I told her how much I loved her and it was then that she asked me to officiate at her funeral. I promised her I would and I also told her I could never deliver the homily.

In four days, I will commend her life to Almighty God, not as if it hasn’t been commended to God from its inception, but to mark this change from mortal life. While everyone has been urging me in kind ways to cherish the memories, I find myself ruminating over them all so that I won’t forget a single one. Her death, while not unexpected, has been surprisingly harder than I imagined. (After all, death is not a new thing in my life.)  But, my husband reminded me that Mee-mee was like another parent in my closely-knit family when my father died at 34. Mee-mee was one who took me shopping for my mom’s Christmas presents and who sat in the bleachers at many a soccer game. She and my grandfather, Pop, were a part of the routine fabric of my life.

Now that I am middle-aged I ponder my own death in a different way. I have always lived with an awareness of the reality of death as a part of life, but now I feel that death can be so potentially physically close.  And I believe what has called me up short is that I feel no more knowledgeable about death than I did when I was a kid, theology education and all.  When I was little, I used to lie in bed and dread the nothing-ness of death. And that’s the uncertainty that I don’t like about the thought of death.  For my faith tells me nothing of what it feel like to be dead, or how long we have to wait to be reunited with the ones we love, or how long we have to hang out in heaven with the flies in the ointment of this life. But, with all my heart and with all my breath, I do believe the words I will proclaim as we bear Mee-mee’s ashes into the church before we mix them with the soil of the earth.

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. 
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies. 
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, 
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession.

Dearest Mee-mee, you were so alive in the Lord in this life, may you not rest in peace, but may you live in peace with God.