A SIBLING’S CELEBRATORY REQUIEM: Balancing Sadness and Gladness
Funeral service of Holy Communion for Victoria Ruth (nee Bartling) Bouman was observed on the Fifth Day of Christmas, December 29, 2011, at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Illinois. My sister Victoria, eldest of six siblings, was born January 14, 1923 and died early morning Christmas Day.
How to frame a eulogy for my sister? Really, very simple and straightforward . Victoria was gentle, kind, soft-spoken, most supportive of her younger brother, when reaching young manhood most kindly complimentary. There is no instance that I can’t recollect any harshness or sibling rivalry or anger in our relationship. Later years when each of us were raising our own family each of which became large extended families our occasional meeting at reunions, email exchange, phone calls were all characterized by supportive sibling connectedness and affection. Victoria was beautiful. I recall as teenage young men, some five years younger than Victoria, at Concordia College in Milwaukee on one occasion at an event my buddy pointed to Victoria seated somewhat in front of us pointing toward her remarking how attractive she was. My response: “That’s my sister”. She was very bright, articulate, with an element of humor added. Certainly for me, and perhaps Victoria, it was a disappointment she never pursued higher education. The times, it seems, made that not possible. In its place she used wisdom and acquired knowledge in supporting a professionally renowned husband – organist, choir director, choral setting and choral arranger and composer. Paul and Victoria nurtured five exceptionally accomplished children. She was the beloved matriarch of a large clan where all “rise and call her blessed.”
Having written the paragraph above on Dec. 30 I went to pick up the mail. Among the cards was an envelope with Ms Victoria Bouman return address sticker, post marked 2:30 pm Dec. 23. Needless to state I was deeply moved having already bidden her formal farewell at her memorial service the day before (12/29). Her Christmas greeting to Ruth and myself was quintessentially Victoria. As eulogized above her lifelong relationship with her younger brother remained constant to the very end: “gentle, kind, soft spoken…kindly supportive of her younger brother”. She wrote in part, “ever since your note and clipping (MetroLutheran: Fred Bartling: Grace, History and the Civil Rights Movement) arrived in early December I wanted to let you know how proud I am to be related to you! In your quiet way, with Ruth’s support, you have earned much, not the least of it the love of your students.” She continues to describe her husbands rehabilitating from a serious fall. In closing she speaks matter of factly regarding herself. “I”m OK, have arthritis in my lower back, so walking is difficult. Our family and Grace (church) folks are a great help. Enjoy your honors, it’s time. Love you both. Vickie and Paul” Her final words serve as a benediction and earthly farewell.
The death of a third sibling leaves one bereft in grief and sadness. How comforting that in faith sadness finds balance in gladness. For me the key to her Memorial Service, carefully crafted by Paul, came at the very beginning of the service. The organ prelude from Bach’s Cantata #106 declares: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God’s time is the very best time). This was followed by Bach’s Aria from Cantata #106, Ich habe genug (I have enough). This aria has always profoundly moved me and resonated constantly in my consciousness traveling home. Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen, Fallet sanft und selig zu! “Fall asleep, you weary eyes, Close softly and pleasantly! World, I will not remain here any longer . . . But there, there I will see Sweet peace, quiet rest.” Sister Victoria, then, along with brothers Walter and Paul celebrate the faith with us but “on another shore and in a greater light.”
ADDENDUM: An email from niece Janet (Bouman) Peterson – 3 pm, 1/2/2012.
“I put it all together and realized something. A lady in the building talked to my sister (Helene) in the lobby a few days ago and said she met my mother at the mailboxes at 10ish on Thursday night (22nd), and she had one last letter she was getting in the mail. This lady talked about them “cavorting” down there. We’ve been wondering who got that last letter. I’m so glad you shared and wrote of it.”