Note: Many of you have traveled the journey with my mother and I on Rows of Sharon through the past several years. She died on February 22, 2015 and what follows it the homily I gave at her Memorial Service. Given at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, Connecticut on Sunday, March 15, 2015, it was based on some of the readings of the liturgy: 2 Corinthians 4:16––5:9 and John 14:1-6.
There was no question in my mind what lessons would be chosen for this service in which we remember Trinette. Whether we knew her as Trinette or Aunt Net, Grammy or Mom, I think we can each visualize some portion of her life within these readings.
Some context about the Gospel reading we just heard. Moments earlier Jesus had told the disciples that he was going away and that they could not go with him. This creates not only confusion in the disciples’ minds, but anxiety as well. What Jesus said first was not surprising. “Believe in God” – depend on God to see you through and trust God to care for you. But what he said next was powerfully new. “Believe also in me” – rely on me as you do on God; trust me to care for you. Jesus is asking the disciples to think of him in the same way they think of God. “I and the Father are one.”
Trinette believed in Jesus. I remember her telling me on numerous occasions (long ago when her mind was bright) that she had seen Jesus as a child, looking at her outside of her bedroom window one night. Whether she actually saw the physical presence of Jesus, we will never know. But I know her belief in a God of love sustained her through many difficult days of her life. I rediscovered this over the past two weeks going through some of her notes, and leafing through her bible. It was jammed with bookmarks with prayers on them, plus pieces of scripture and prayers that she had written on index cards and placed within its pages.
When Mom and Dad moved back to Norwalk from Maryland I used to drive them around Norwalk – to see how things had changed, and how things remained the same. She loved driving around Broad River, seeing the house she was born in, her elementary school, and the little chapel (now someone’s home) on Broad Street where she first went to Sunday school. That’s where she received her Bible in 1934, and it seems to have gotten lots of use, as its cover is now falling off.
But back to the Gospel. Jesus changes the subject as he talks to the disciples. He speaks of where he will be going, as he cannot stay on earth forever. The disciples – we – are to follow Jesus into his Father’s house, heaven, making Jesus’ departure not a desertion but a preparation. Jesus promises that there will be room for all when the time comes for the disciples to make this journey themselves, and he goes to ready those rooms.
Those rooms. I can imagine them now. Cliff – Dad – although he was never one to prepare for guests himself, was there alongside Jesus to welcome Trinette. She then proceeded to check out all the rooms. One for cooking – not that she was a great cook, but she loved to make sure we always had enough to eat, whether it was those hot dogs filled with Velveeta cheese and wrapped in bacon (not my favorite), saltine crackers with melted cheese from the broiler, Hamburger Helper or Shake ‘n Bake. And how many of us enjoyed her sour cream coffee cake that seemed to go wherever she went when visiting someone. “Mangia! Mangia!” was a favorite phrase as she went in and out of the kitchen. Brought up with German spoken at home, she spent her middle school and high school years living in an Italian neighborhood in Groton, Connecticut. She could swear in German, but she loved so say “Mangia.”
Another room would definitely be for sewing – a large cutting table, several sewing machines, the ironing board, and shelves for plenty of fabric, ribbons, buttons, and zippers. How many of us had to stand still in her sewing room in the basement at Weed Avenue as she fitted us in our prom dresses, wedding gowns, bridesmaids, and flower girl dresses? I never owned a store-bought dress until I was in college. Oh – and all the beds in heaven will be graced with a hand-made quilt – no sewing machine would touch an inch of those meticulously pieced and stitched shapes of fabric.
There will be a room for drawing. She was a remarkable sketch artist. From childhood she drew paper dolls and ladies in fashionable dress. She attended the Traphagen School of Design in New York City – many of her illustrations from her classes are in the area where you entered the church. Mom would be so pleased to know that the remainder of her drawings may be in an exhibit some day associated with Artist’s Market in Norwalk about fashion design in the 1940s. As we might give small children crayons and a paper placemat to color when we go out to dinner, in later years we would give Trinette some crayons and she would sketch the waitress, or whoever was sitting across from her. If she had lived in another era, who knows where her creativity could have taken her.
There will be a room for singing. The last few times she was here for worship she had trouble following the service, but when it came time to sing, she would mimic the sounds of the music, singing away without the words, but with the music. It was familiar and comforting. At other times and many places, I can hear her singing: “I love you truly, truly dear” to Cliff – and Becca, and Chris, and Jamie, and John, and Dave, and Caroline, and even me.
And of course – there will be a room for dancing – although dancing will occur in all rooms without warning. Trinette loved to dance, especially with her partner Cliff. I can remember what was probably their last “real” dance – at Nancy and Raz’ wedding just a few years ago. They were both in their element in that moment. Memory didn’t matter for them to dance together – just love. But she would dance with anyone who wanted to dance. The sound of music brought her to her feet, and even in recent years she was still inviting people to jitterbug with her, even at Notre Dame.
Trinette is now preparing all of those rooms in heaven for us, alongside her friend Jesus. For Trinette was the epitome of hospitality. Always with a smile and hug, she welcomed people wherever she went – at home, at church, even at the grocery store. Many of us were welcomed to our home on Weed Avenue. Whether it was the “TNTs” – a couples group of great friends, making angels and pine cone wreaths with gold spray paint and glitter for the Poinsettia Bazaar (Grace Church’s annual Christmas Fair), Dave’s Cub Scout pack learning how to use a hammer (including putting nails into the basement floor), thanksgiving day dinners (thirty and more), sleepovers in our basement of screaming girls throughout the night (only to be temporarily quieted by her stomping her feet on the bedroom floor above us to go to sleep), Dave’s college buddies from UCONN (or Coasties) descending on the house, and the years of 4th of July picnics in the backyard for softball and suds, she opened the doors wide for all to gather. Even in Denton, a Girl Scout troop of “granddaughters” were welcomed to “camp out” in the living room.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he asks them not to lose heart. For those who journeyed with Trinette over these past few years, it was easy to lose heart. The disease of Alzheimer’s robbed her of all recent memory, leaving her mostly with thoughts of her mother and what I assumed were childhood friends and family. Her body groaned, as it could no longer do things without assistance – dressing, eating, walking, singing, and dancing. Sitting with her, I would long for peace of her mind and would wonder: “What kind of life is this? Where are you? Why?” She had been swallowed up and taken to another dimension beyond our understanding. In my wonderings of “why,” I was often reminded by other visitors at Notre Dame that Trinette continued to have a ministry, despite her condition. On her good days when she was alert, she would still reach out to grab a hand, give a smile, seeking a hug and a kiss. Despite her ‘disability,’ she was able to be a presence of love to those who had lost communication with their loved ones. While not every utterance from her was of an appropriate nature, one phrase that remained with her in a whisper was freely given, even just a month ago: “I love you.” She prepared a space of welcome and love for everyone she encountered. She lived a life of radical hospitality, following in the steps of Jesus.
Trinette was love. She always had a hug, a smile. In recent years she would hug anyone who approached her . . . at the grocery store, church, even chasing small children in order to give them a hug or to play. It was hard to hold her back. She taught countless women on the eastern shore of Maryland how to quilt. The notes and phone calls I’ve received over the past two weeks have had a recurring theme – love, compassion, friendship, hospitality, and smiles – always smiling. She generously gave away much of herself throughout her life. That is what remains with us – her love of family and friends. That will never leave us. Caroline and John, she loved you like you were her own children. Rebecca, Chris – and even you Jamie – you were her sweethearts and sugarplums. Dave, she was so proud of you. She loved all of you, whether she knew you from seventy years ago or met you yesterday.
Though John’s Gospel seems much more concerned with the present spirituality of those who believe and with Jesus’ continuing presence within his disciples, the promise of a second advent in which the disciples are reunited with Jesus is also strong. Trinette left us a long time ago, not physically, but mentally. But she is now whole, reunited with Cliff, her mother and the grandmother whom she loved so much, and all those who we have loved that have gone before her. There is much singing, dancing, and words of love being shared this day in heaven.
Jesus is the life. Jesus’ life sustains us on the journey and imparts to us the wholeness that we yearn for as we are ushered into the Father’s presence. Let that give us peace this day and the days to come as we remember Trinette, Aunt Net, Grammy, and Mom.
Let us love one another. Amen.