In Memory of Donna J. Trottier

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birthday. She passed away in 1992, but her memory will always live on in our hearts. In honor of her I’m re-posting the sermon by Reverend Charles King, written for her funeral service:

Donna J. Trottier
by Reverend Charles King
First United Methodist Church, Kenosha, Wisconsin
March 5th, 1992

Yesterday my wife and I went out for lunch and, as usual, we discussed what we had done that morning and what we planned to do in the afternoon. I mentioned to Nancy that I had spent time at the Trottier home talking about Donna and this service. Then my wife asked, “Do you have a theme or an idea for your message tomorrow?” And I said, “Not yet. In fact there is so much to share I’m not sure right now what I’ll say.” Later in the afternoon an idea came to me. Donna was a great collector and compiler. She put together many scrap books and photo albums. In fact she made albums for all the family members, and wanted to make sure there were pictures for every occasion. And it occurred to me that what I had on paper and in my head was a series of pages from a scrapbook of her life. So let’s open that book now and talk about what is there:

On my first page are memories of Donna and her sisters–growing up both in Kenosha and in Iowa. Five girls in one house. Just saying that can lead one’s mind off in all sorts of directions–the teasing that must have gone on; arguments; discussions; sharing of belongings. The hours that they spent playing with paper dolls; listening to the radio–not so much music like teenagers today, but the dramas–Inner Sanctum, the Shadow, and so on; and can you visualize a room whose walls were entirely covered with pictures of movie stars? Her’s was. And of course there were responsibilities around the house. As a teenager Donna hated to cook and so she traded off with one of her sisters–“I’ll do your ironing if you’ll take over my cooking assignments.” All those experiences created a real closeness which has continued through phone calls, visits, and a regular Round Robin Letter among the sisters.

Another section of the scrapbook would include travel photos. In childhood there were trips–both on foot and on bicycle–out to Petrifying Springs Park; trips to pick apples and strawberries; later as the family scattered there were yearly trips to the family reunion and, in one of those facts that causes a lump in the throat–an unfulfilled plan–she had her airline ticket for an April 23rd trip to see Charlene and Mary Ann in California. And the recent purchase of the van by Harold and Donna opened up all sorts of travel possibilities for them. That usual sparkle in Donna’s eyes was especially brilliant some months ago as she told me about the new van and some of their plans for its use. I also heard sadness and regret in her voice last week as I stood at her bedside in the intensive care unit and listened as she spoke of illness this winter which had kept her home more than she wished, now that they did have the van available to use.

Do we prepare a page in which we address Donna’s physical weaknesses? I think so. Even as a child her health was often precarious and knowing the handicaps which she overcame makes her life and witness–her spirit–even more remarkable. A word that came to mind this morning was”courage.” I wondered what I might have collected in my files on the subject of courage and found an article bemoaning the absence of heroes in society today. There are heroes around, but most are nameless. And then the author proceeds to describe who are the courageous: “That person who, in spite bitter disappointments, still praises God as the Giver of all good gifts. All those who stand by promises and commitments made in good faith, who remain loyal to friends, who are truthful in conversation, who are alert to opportunities for helping others–especially the small and the weak.” According to those criteria, Donna was a courageous hero. And I think she was, don’t you?

This album of memories will contain a section for her husband, and their children, and the children of those children. Donna and Harold went to school together here in Kenosha and when the family moved to Iowa, Harold managed to cross Wisconsin to continue to see Donna. He was considered by Donna’s sisters, “Almost a part of the family.” But they had to wait until Donna was eighteen and had graduated from high school before they could get married, and so they did.

Obviously Donna loved her family, and I know that you who are here can fill in the blanks with example after example of her love and forgiveness and patience and the cheer that she radiated and which was kind of contagious. You are the ones who can share with each other sentences that start out: “Do you remember the time we. . .” I grew up in a very small family and when I was a child that was fine–one sister was even too much at times. But when I witness the support that larger families provide one another and all the interaction that takes place, I know that I missed something–like traditions at Easter and the entire family around to decorate the Christmas tree, and waiting until midnight and the start of Christmas to open presents. So there will be a large number of pages in this family section.

Should the next page be titled “hobbies”? I’m not sure. I want to mention that Donna was a collector–maybe even a pack rat as one of her children put it. There is her collection of angels, plates, and bells. The many books she read. And there is evidence all around of her work with plastic canvas. She was skilled at crocheting, but the arthritis eventually put an end to that. How many of you here have received one or more gifts “Made with tender loving care by Donna Trottier”? What I have is her gift to me and Nancy at the time of our marriage. And I used to have but have given away the little squeeze boxes with candy inside. Now can you imagine making favors for all the children who would show up at family reunions?””~year after year?-­Donna did that!

Let’s include one more section in this album, one in which we highlight her Christian faith and life. At the funeral home on Monday Harold handed me this key and key chain. As I looked at it, my face wrinkled up. It is Donna’s key to the chair lift here at church. And it is attached to a plastic holder which says, “I Love Jesus.” She did. We started Saturday evening services here in the fall of 1990 as an experiment. We didn’t know if many would attend; well they did, and do. Donna was able to get out to these late afternoon services, and I remember the statement that Pastor Hintzman made one day. “Even if Donna were the only one attending these Saturday services, we’d have them for her.”

And when she was unable to attend, she still participated because she listened to the services on cassette tape–singing along with the congregation as they sang, from her own hymnal–a hymnal, incidentally which I discovered had bookmarks noting three hymns: “He Touched Me,” “He Lives,” and “Because He Lives.” There is another entire message possible in an examination of the words in those three hymns and matching the lyrics with the life and faith of Donna.

Yes, Donna loved her church and her Lord and the Lord loved her! Via cassette she listened to gospel music as well as to the Bible itself. Years ago she was active as a kindergarten Sunday school teacher and I understand the teaching went on at home, for she was someone that her children could turn to in trying and difficult times. Her children could say something to her and know that it would be held in confidence; they knew that their ides would be heard and respected.

At the end of the month I will be preaching a Lenten sermon about ageing. I started my reading on this subject at the beginning of the week. Always in the back of my mind was Donna’s death and this service, so several times that which I was reading got put aside for possible use this afternoon. I want to share three of those things which spoke to me, in hopes that you, too, will find help and strength in these words for this time of grief.

The first is a single sentence: “No one should die before his life is over.” There are people walking around who are merely existing; something in them died long ago. Now often an illness or accident will create that condition–death before actual death. But we gather today to celebrate the life of one who, even from a wheel chair or hospital bed, expressed life with all its joy and excitement.

Next is a statement made by the Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen at the time of his fiftieth birthday: “Within a few years I will no longer be on this earth. The thought of this does not frighten me but fills me with a quiet peace. I am a small part of life, a human being in the midst of thousands of other human beings.

It is good to be young, to grow old and to die. . .God became flesh to share with us in the simple living and dying, and thus made it good. I can feel today that it is good to be. . .What counts are not the unique accomplishments in life that make me different from others, but the basic experiences of sadness and joy, pain and healing, which make me part of humanity. The time is indeed growing short for me, but the knowledge sets me free. Mourning and joy can now both deepen my quiet desire for the day when I realize that the many kisses and embraces I received today were simple incarnations of the eternal embrace of the Lord himself.”

And the final thing I saved out from my reading was this passage from a devotional booklet: “[Al suggestion for coping with growing older is to acquire or possess a meaningful faith. . .We need the faith of the psalmist who testified in Psalm 71 to the strength and help God gave him in his youth and who knew that even as the years went by he never would be alone because God would be with him. Yes, the older we become the more we need to hear and take to heart the words of Helen Keller: “˜A simple childlike faith in a Divine Friend solves all the problems that come to us.. .Difficulties meet us at every turn. They are the accompaniment of life. . .The surest way to meet them is to assume that we have a friend who slumbers not, nor sleeps, and who watches over us and guides us–if we but let that happen.'”

Donna had such a friend, and so it is in confidence that we commend her now to that friend in heaven–to the eternal embrace of the Lord himself.