I had the honor to speak at the funeral service for our first, and long-lasting nurse, Ms. Edith (Bunny)Toussaint, last Monday. It’s been said that “every person’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how they lived and how they died that distinguish one person from another.” (Hemingway). Well, Edith Toussaint lived and died in a distinguished manner that was an inspiration to me…and we’re all now at a loss and a bit poorer because she is no longer with us.
As a friend of our camp for over 40 years, I could write a very long blog with stories that would bring you to laughter and tears. But Edith and I made a vow to each other several years ago. She promised me would preside over my funeral if I died first, and that I would preside over hers if she died before me. I am regret that she won the wager. But we discussed what we both wanted and did not want said and done at our funerals. We both agreed that the services should be brief, sincere, celebrating the life of the other, and giving honor to God.
I celebrate all that made her special and beloved, to me, her boss for 19 years, but I was also a boarder in her home while I went to seminary and her close friend after she retired from the camp. I am heartbroken that she is gone. To me, she was more than just a person. When I was around Edith, she became a place where I finally felt “at home”. She was always happy to see me, encouraging, inquisitive of my comings and goings, and genuinely glad that I called or visited. Edith could make you feel very special. She helped me believe in myself when many did not.
Fiercely loyal to others, she was not easily intimated, fooled or convinced to do what she did not want to do. If you really knew her, you know that she had a mind of her own, and she could be quick to let you know it. Some might have tried to “play her”, or convince her to listen to a business schemes or donate to a cause, but she was savvy and unimpressed with doing things just to please people. She loved, deeply, but never seemed to have any regrets about saying “no”, no matter who it was. She would often tell me exactly what she thought of the solicitor, development director, fund raiser or investment manager. I believe that she as smarter and savvier than all of them. Except when it came to snakes, she was always courageous—-and that was one of the secrets to her life and outlook. Shakespeare said that “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” She did not taste death till last week—-she lived life to it’s fullest.
But I also recall how funny and absolutely entertaining she could be. During Easter week at the camp she dressed up as the Easter bunny, hoped around, helped hide the easter eggs, and during a skit confessed the the campers and staff that her real stage name was Bunny Toussaint, and that after WWII she danced at the Moulin Rouge in Paris!
All of us that were with her during the summer recall her passion for making bread and butter pickles, blackberry jelly and, more importantly her famous pickled watermelon rind. It’s funny, but she was always generous when we called her annually for capital drive, but the one time I asked her for the recipe of her pickles, she pursed her lips and made it clear that one does share such things. I never got the recipe.
She began working for me when she was in her seventies! Now think about that, those of you that have retired from life or from working with your own hands. And when she was in her mid-70s’ told me, in front of other campers, she told me that she had to go home that weekend to see her mother. The campers exclaimed: You have a mother! To which she sardonically responded, well of course I have a mother, where do you think I came from?
Edith was a devout following of Jesus Christ, but in some regards a lapsed Methodist. She loved wine, and was convinced that whiskey and honey could cure most all the ills that she encountered. At her 100th birthday, I brought her a bottle of red and a bottle of white. When I left and said good-by, she asked me to come close, and whispered to me, “Where did they put those bottles?”
There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone like Edith, and one should not even attempt to do so. We are charged to simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it.
And it is wrong to say that God will fill that emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve—even in pain—the authentic relationship each of us had with Edith. I don’t want to stop hurting or missy Bunny Toussaint. Instead, I want to hold onto those great memories and hope to create similar memories for my sons and those that love me.
Bonhoeffer once said that the “gratitude of the life of the one we loved transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from his prison cell to Renate and Eberhard Bethge on Christmas Eve, 1943, fifteen months before his own death by execution)
With the death of someone we love, like Edith, who was so full of life, mirth and laughters, “all happiness seems to settle, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappears. And we may find ourselves noticing there was also a certain portion of security and snugness that she afforded to us that is now gone.” (C.S. Lewis) We find ourselves lost and a bit less confident because we must say adieu to one so significant in our lives as Edith Toussaint was.
But I do want to give encouragement. Edith is quite happy —-right now— and has no desire to come here, despite her love for each of you. And soon, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” It’s coming. Jesus said these words, and Edith has first hand knowledge of its veracity: 'I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.' Jesus has promised us this: “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
I have lost four of my closest friends in 2022. I hate death. It’s not supposed to be this way! It’s not the natural cycle—-it’s a perversion of what God wanted….and if we know Him intimately enough, we know it! She should not have died—-neither should a child, our pets or anything God has given life to.
But because of Jesus, we can proclaim, as Isaiah did: "He will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” So “do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
As Paul said: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
We will miss you Edith Toussaint. No one will ever take your place. But now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! We commend, Lord God, Edith Toussaint. Amen.