My attempt at a eulogy for my sister

I had a hard time with the eulogy for my sister. What do you say about a sibling? You want to be honest without dwelling on the parts of our lives where there were tensions or conflicts. I started with brainstorming notes, snippets of what came to mind when I thought of her. Then I tried to pull out the pieces that could be shared. I tried, Bonnie.

Here’s the result.

Eulogy by Ian Lind.
March 28, 2017

I think the can get through this.

I’ll begin by saying Bonnie was my sister, but I have no doubt that many of you knew her far better than I.

She was four years older than me, an eternity in small kid time. I had just finished the 8th grade when Bonnie went off to the University of Colorado at Boulder.

So we didn’t remain close enough for me to hear details of Bonnie’s marriage and subsequent divorce, her remarriage to Ray Stevens, or her move to Groveland, up in the mountains of California, where she lived and worked for the next 30 years.

In about 2005, Ray was diagnosed with lung cancer, and died in March 2007. After his death, Bonnie was lost. She locked the door of her house, leaving everything inside, and returned to Hawaii to help care for our parents, and build a new life for herself.

Bonnie and I had something in common. We inherited the pack rat gene from both of our parents.

Both of us have saved—should I say hoarded?—piles and boxes of stuff, letters sent and received,
newspaper clippings,
receipts,
books,
photographs,
research notes,
things we collected ourselves as well as those we inherited.

The challenge, of course, is justifying what would otherwise just be terminal clutter.

Bonnie did that by becoming a skilled genealogist and historian. All those papers became part of her data.

She continued our mother’s search for family roots here in Hawaii, and back across America and on to England and Scotland.

Bonnie would go all in when tackling a mystery of the past, whether tracing family, or as Historian for the Daughters of Hawaii, or during projects for the history museum back in Groveland, California.

Part of her reward was the rush of those periodic “aha” moments—when a last fact finally falls into place and you say, Aha, that explains it! The other part was the opportunity to recite her findings in excruciating detail to whatever captive audiences she could corral. Often repeating herself more than once, as I can attest from personal experience.

Bonnie privately regreted that we were not a closely-knit family. “Why can’t we act more like a family?” she once asked me.

But once back in Hawaii, she quickly realized she was home again. She told me that she found comfort being in and belonging to a Hawaiian community once again. It is different, she said.

You were part of that. And our family thanks you.

She was by no means perfect. She could be judgemental of others, and stubborn in her judgements, even when confronting contrary evidence.

We ran into that when, after spending years tracing our father’s Lind family back through generations in Scotland, she talked me into doing one of those DNA tests that trace back in the male line, son to father to grandfather and so on. But when the results came back, they showed an unexpected fork in the family tree—the DNA didn’t lead where her meticulously researched family history said it should.

I thought the reason was probably simple–that there had been some hanky-panky in the Lind family several generations back. Not so unusual. But Bonnie blamed the technology. The DNA tests must be wrong, she said, because they didn’t agree with her research.

At the end of her life, Bonnie left us with a mystery. She must have known for some time that she was very sick, but why did she fail to reach out to family and friends?
I don’t have an definitive answer, but she did drop a clue.
The last time I saw Bonnie before she finally called for help and was hospitalized, was to celebrate her 73rd birthday last April.
My wife and I had just finished renovating the old house in Kahala where Bonnie and I grew up, and that day we sat on our deck in the shade of the mango trees planted when Bonnie and I were born.

Bonnie took the occasion to point out the many colorful crotons still thriving around the edges of the yard, which she reminded me were from clipping collected by our Hawaiian grandmother from around the islands. That launched on the story of our grandmother, who self diagnosed her own cancer back late 1950s, and quietly decided she could not afford to go to the hospital for medical treatment.

Instead, she packed her bags for the trip of a lifetime. She rode a bus across parts of the mainland she had never seen, even when she had to ride in the back of the bus. She traveled to other Pacific islands, including Fiji and Samoa, and then she criss-crossed Hawaii from one end to the other, seeking out and renewing ties to friends and family, and finding those colorful crotons. And when her travels were done, she came home, and passed away.

Perhaps Bonnie was just talking about the plants. In retrospect, though, she may have been saying much more. But we’ll never really know.

I’ll wrap up with Bonnie’s own words, left on her “Life with Cancer” blog just hours after Ray died.

“Give thanks for the life which touched so many.”

And, as she wrote then, “Keep praying.”

I also set my iPhone on the podium and took an 8 minute selfie as I spoke. It’s a bit weird, and I really should just pull out the audio and trash the video. But for now, it will do.

And Bonnie’s “Life with Cancer” blog, written over 15 months as her husband battled lung cancer, has been preserved in large measure by the Internet Archive. Here’s a link.

Celebrating my sister’s life

March 28, 2017Tuesday’s gathering at Queen Emma’s Summer Palace in memory of my sister went so very well. Bonnie was Historian and a board member of Daughters of Hawaii, and the Daughters took the lead in organizing this celebration of her life. It was a beautiful morning. Our family owes them so much!

I made the mistake of trying to be both an observer with camera and a key participant. It didn’t work. I eventually had to abandon the camera in favor of dealing with the people who were there to honor their connections with Bonnie.

I did manage to get a few photos.

Click on the photo, above, to see a few more pictures of the morning.

And I also ran my iPhone through parts of the program, including several songs by the Emmalani Serenaders, the Daughters of Hawaii choral group that Bonnie had been a member of.

View the photos, watch a bit of the videos, and you’ll get the flavor of the morning.

Video:

Kaleleonalani, by the Emmalani Serenaders, Daughters of Hawaii. The song was written on the occasion of Queen Emma’s visit to Maui in 1892. 3 minutes.

Kanaka Waiwai, performed by the Emmalani Serenaders. 5 minutes. Click here for more background on the song.

A thoroughly entertaining remembrance of Bonnie by Makalena Shibata of the Daughters of Hawaii. 10 minutes.

It turned out to be a beautiful morning.

Yesterday’s memorial service for my sister went very, very well. It rained just enough to show respect, then cleared to blue sky and sunshine.

Bonnie wanted to be sent off in her Episcopal Church tradition, and she got that with a wonderful Hawaiian twist. She was a member of the Emmalani Serenaders, all members of the Daughters of Hawaii, and would have been there to perform with them yesterday if it hadn’t been her own service.

In addition to friends from the Daughters, there was a group from her high school class (University High Class of 1961), another contingent from her former church (Church of the Holy Nativity in Aina Haina), several of our neighbors and friends, and a handful of relatives.

I’ll have some photos and a couple of videos posted later today (hopefully).

In the meantime, there was one unexpected moment that gave me pause.

I was talking with a few of her high school classmates. One was holding the school yearbook from their senior year, 1961. He opened it and started to flip to the page with her class photo, but the book fell open to display a full page photo.

I looked down and did a double take. I was looking at my skinny 8th grade self. It’s a picture of me blocking a shot during an intramural basketball game. Out of all the pages it could have opened to….

Once I pointed out myself in the photo, everyone twittered about the coincidence.

As a reporter, I generally didn’t believe in coincidences.

So this one just hangs there in my mind when I think back over the morning.

More later.

8th grade Ian

A long morning ahead

We’re celebrating the life of my sister, Bonnie Pauahi Stevens, later this morning with her friends and family.

I’m on the program to give the eulogy.

I had to look up what that means, and seek advice on how to do it right. I ended up finding an excellent article, titled simply: “How to Give a Eulogy

The author’s style was easy to read and thought provoking. It gave me hope that I could do it.

I have no idea if what I’ve written will come close to the mark. I’ve only read it through once out loud, but several times silently as I edited and fussed over words and phrases. My challenge will be to get through it without getting lost, or letting emotions well up suddenly out of nowhere.

I’ve got a large print copy, legible from a distance, to get me through.

Sending off my parents was easier. They were both nearing 100 years when they died, so dealing with it was more arms length, although that sounds weird and callous. This is more of a “it could have been me” moment. It’s more existential. There’s a feeling of vulnerability and mortality. I can hear the time clock ticking away.

Bonnie believed in a life hereafter where she would be reunited with her late husband, Ray, who died ten years ago. I think that gave her some personal comfort at the end, and who am I to argue?

Bonnie had blogged Ray’s 18-month battle with cancer. Just hours after he passed away in early March 2007, she returned to her keyboard and wrote:

“Give thanks for the life which touched so many.”

That’s what we will do again today.