Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reading by a granddaughter-Isaiah 61

Carole Purcell was a main caregiver the last year of her grandmother's life. She read from Isaiah 61 (New King James Version) at her grandmother's memorial service:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified....”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"You Were Our Focus, Mary Helen"

Mary Helen was our focus intently for one year. Her needs and emergencies came first, and through knowing her in this way we all grew closer to her and to each other during the past many months.

When she first came to make her home with us, she was almost 80 years old.

That was over 10 years ago, and even then we realized that we were taking on a big responsibility that could take us into unknown territory for a long time. Thanks be to God we had His assurance of His help and presence.

What a vital Christian she was! How her expressions of love and affection increased through the end-of-life months! How she continued to share, laugh, inspire, and befriend, and everyone who entered our home came to know and love her.

Jim and I remain amazed at the grace of God to our whole family through her life and love. We are amazed at how much we had to rely on the strength of God, not our own. We are amazed at the faithfulness of God.

What a great privilege each one of us had in different times and ways, through this mission we believe God gave us. And now her caring needs are over, for she is well with the Lord. We remain, full of memories and deeper understanding--yet also not knowing what lies ahead. We thank God for whatever He will make of this, to His glory! The late and sleepless nights she had, the adjustments to changing medications to help relieve her pain and difficulties, the caring by strangers who became part of our daily life, in and out--the medical professionals and the volunteers, such as her reader, Ruth. We remember the shopping her granddaughters did for her, the Maryland Blind Services books on tape, her milkshakes and prunes with coffee (!) toward the last, and special hair cuts and manicures given by granddaughters, the love of grand-son-in-law, and all great grandchildren...the stories shared, the love unspared. We remember now too the kind medicine delivery people from a local pharmacy, the doctors and staffs. So many people we came to know through her needs and her determined value for life.

From Jim and me, and our entire family, whatever load you now carry, be not afraid. God's grace and help are available to all who call upon Him. For us, we believe that one day all good will be revealed.

Dear friends

Dear friends and fellow Christian writers,

Thanks to all of you who have sent e-mails, cards, and/or flowers to us and also contributions to Gilchrist Hospice or elsewhere.

Your faithfulness as a Christian includes such outpouring of comfort to those in mourning. We rejoice, also, for we remember that "to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord," as Mary Helen's health aide reminded us on a recent personal visit.

May each of you, whatever you are going through, also know that our prayers are with you, too, for your mission and calling from God, as His child.

In Christ,
Jean Purcell, editor

E-Mail re: Mary Helen Purcell, 1919-2010

" am so sorry to hear of Miss Mary's passing. I remember when you shared with me that she was coming to live with you and I have offered prayers for all of you since then...wanted you to know I was praying for you at this difficult time.

E-Mail from Asia re: Mary Helen Purcell, 1919-2010-"This is not yesterday!"

This from a Christian friend, Gerard Seow, in Singapore:

"She lived during epic changes in world history, a witness to the entire scope of 20th century events, signs of the end times that changed the boundaries not only of the nations but also of the fulfillment of Scriptures in regards to the Jews to their land.

"Hers was a generation that began on foot but traveled to the moon and back through development of jet/rocket propulsion and computer simulation. My present Ford and every other vehicle on the road has her generation to thank.

"Though times have changed along with the winds of doctrine - at every moment and at each turn of the page, there has been answers to her prayers and great fruit arising from a determined race of spiritual mothers that knew their God and did exploits.

"We saints in Asia salute the passing of Mary Helen and pledge to continue the work of watching and waiting for His appearance. As authors, editors, bloggers and related literature evangelists from the very fringes of a lost and lonely world to the very centers of worldly wealth and prestige we rededicate ourselves to our task of preserving a testimony of Jesus as a burning and shining light in the darkness.

"Thank you for sharing your sorrow through this announcement and also the offer for consolation and a listening ear for those going through trials of like character. We rejoice however for the freedoms we presently have of communication, grace and joys as we combine our faith with yours for completion of the works of Mary Helen in our day and for our generation.

"This is not yesterday!"

New beginnings-Opinari editor

Mary Helen Purcell was my husband's mother and a dedicated Christian. She was a fan of Opinari.

Sincerest thanks for the comforting words of many Opinari subscribers and those who have contributed over the years. Sincerest thanks to those who sent memorial gifts to Gilchrist Hospice as well as other Christian activities such as conferences and workshop centers and Gideon Bibles.

Jim's mom, also a pastor's wife, was one of the most well-balanced and emotionally healthy people I have known. During her 11th year living with us, she was in in-home hospice care. Love flowed from her increasingly with every emergency.

To all who have given the family comfort, may God bless you richly for what your thoughtful acts and words mean to us now and on-going. She is with the saints who cheer on every believer in Christ on this earth. That is our great hope.

Blessings to you from Jim and me,

A Blessing in Time of Grief

In times of mourning, those who have also suffered deep griefs come alongside to be with us and to be part of what is going on. This is our family's blessing also for you, given first to us at this time by a long-time family friend.

Numbers 6:24-26 (King James Version)

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Scripture read by sons Charles Purcell and James Purcell

Psalm 139

New King James Version

1 O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
5 You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall[a] on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[b]
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20 For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.[c]
21 Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24 And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Reflections of a son-Sacrificial Love

Mary Helen Purcell—In Memory - by Jim Purcell

Mary Helen was my mother. Reflecting on her life is difficult and complicated because she resonated so many valuable qualities in her life. Let’s see: there’s strength, courage, perseverance, loyalty, patience, tolerance, stubbornness, kindness, toiling, forgiveness, acceptance, forbearance, to mention just a few.

Here’s what two of her many friends said:

“She reinforced my belief that, while loving people is a wonderful goal, allowing them to love you is an even loftier aspiration. She made herself a very loveable person, and it was my pleasure to know and love her.”

“Even though this message made us feel sad and grieve the death of Mom Purcell, we want to let you know that our family from abroad are joining your family to celebrate Mom Purcell’s exemplary life which taught us so many important lessons.

“How wonderful it was to witness Mom Purcell’s peace, serenity, acceptance, patience, tolerance, kindness to us, showing appreciation and praising others around her. We never doubt that Mom Purcell’s faith in Jesus as our Savior made her the marvelous human being she was.

“Mom Purcell has left a legacy among us on how to be a special child of God holding an immense amount of peace and joy in her heart in complete contrast with her situation.”

That’s so true. For the last few years of her life, Mom was totally blind and suffered from many physical ailments. Yet, she never lost that spark, that spirit, that enthusiasm, that endurance that was her trademark.

Today, I want to concentrate today on one of her life qualities: sacrificial love.

Let me demonstrate that love in very personal way.

By the age of 18, I had attended three high schools, graduated, and was a major breadwinner for a family struggling with illness and uncertainty. I had visions of a future, but they were quickly vanishing. I was concerned about my family’s survival without my continued work and support.

I was at the point of giving up the notion of advancing beyond the present. I felt like George Bailey in the movie, It’s a wonderful life: I’ll never get out of Bedford Falls.

Mary Helen sensed my sagging spirits and came to me one night and said: Jimmy, the Lord has a plan for your life and it is my mission to help you get there. With few employable skills at the time, she vowed to support my next stage. And, she did.

Together, we took the first step: college. For me, that was a break-through step. Many succeeding steps followed, each building on the other. Eventually, I ended up, not too surprisingly, I guess, like my mom and dad, helping the less fortunate: refugees, migrants, and others of the least among us.

Over time, organizations I worked with assisted many millions of the less fortunate throughout the world. Several colleagues who worked with me in these endeavors are with us today.

As I look back now, the building blocks, starting with Mary Helens’s sacrificial offering to me, led, in large part, to these outcomes.

This reminds me again of “It’s a wonderful life”. Clarence, George Bailey’s angel, decided to show him what the world would have missed without him. In the same sense, I can now see what would have been missed if Mary Helen’s dreams and desires for me had not been there and had not led to the next building blocks.

Dear Mary Helen, you made a difference. Many hurting people around the world were helped because of your sacrifice.

Her sacrifice, in this instance, was for me. My brother Chuck and my sister Billie could tell similar stories of Mary Helen’s sacrificial love.

But, we should not have been surprised. The Bible verse she adopted early on as her “life verse” foretold of such qualities. It’s Romans 12: 1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

Mary Helen, you modeled Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love by your life. May we as your family, with all humility, follow your example.

Mom, for Billie, Chuck and myself, we love you, we will miss you, but we now release you fully to your Heavenly Father’s kingdom. We know you are already there but probably concerned about arrangements for our trip: where will we stay, will we be safe? Mom, as your best friend, Carole, said to you many times over the past year: “Don’t worry.” “Every thing will work out OK.”

“Say ‘hello’ to Dad, Donald, Waldo and Treva for us. We’re gonna meet you all in Heaven.”

Reflections of a daughter-in-law, "Let's Lean"

“Let’s Lean” - Jean Purcell - to remember and honor life of Mary Helen Purcell

Mary Helen Purcell was my mother-in-law—Mom Purcell and Mary Helen. The force of personality of my husband’s mother gave me many challenges from the beginning. She was a beautiful, 40-year-old woman when we first met. I was 20. After Jim and I married, she encouraged, bragged on, and believed in me. She did all she could to teach and share her skills with me on the rare occasions we saw each other.

Yet, often I felt overwhelmed by her in the early years of marriage. I finally decided it was a matter of sink or…rise toward her level of confidence. Along with her daughter-in-law, Barbara, I got to know a generous, brave, and inclusive woman.

Here is a little story that gives a picture of our relationship’s early years: When our two daughters were two years old and two months old, Jim and I moved to Maryland. We invited his parents to celebrate our first Christmas with us. Later she called us from Tennessee to say that they wanted to bring four extra people with them for Christmas.

I began to worry about things like food, space, and beds. And I was upset with her. But she laid out a strong case that turned me around: The other family would not mind doubling up. They had never been anywhere. They hardly had anything. It would mean so much to them to come and to visit Washington, DC!

Of course, all went well that Christmas in our tiny, very full house!

You know that Mary Helen’s way was unselfish, yet she had healthy self-regard. She loved to reach out, get going, and take charge if others were letting things fall. Yet, she also had a quiet humble way of faith. When she moved to Maryland 10 years ago, not once did she say anything to us about missing her former home.

When we were adjusting to her need for special help from Gilchrist In-home Hospice Care, a group of young couples decided to bring dinner meals to us for a while. They came in shifts and talked with her every time.

One of them, Kristen Johnson, told about one of their conversations. Mom Purcell was talking about her youth when she and Jim’s dad were home missionaries in a remote, poor, and rough area in the Tennessee Mountains.

After a while, Kristen remarked, “Mom Purcell, that was hard and dangerous work!”

Mom Purcell answered, “Yes, it was. They either loved you or they killed you.”

Not long ago, she and I decided to discuss Psalm 23. She began, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and put her hand firmly on her chest. “He’s my Shepherd. It’s personal.” Then she expounded more on that phrase, and her thoughts were so profound that I sorely wished we had a tape recorder going. It came from her life with her Shepherd.

One day in her last weeks Jim and I felt especially helpless. We had done everything possible. I sat on the side of her bed and leaned over, my head face down on her pillow, up against her head. That was my feeble effort. Our face-hug continued for a while. But did she know I was there?

Two days later when she did not answer me I leaned over her, worried. “Mom Purcell, Is there anything I can do?”

She answered in a whisper: “Let’s lean.” Did she mean what I thought?

“Do you mean like this?”—I asked, sat down and put my head face-down on the pillow, as before. She whispered, “Yes.” We leaned into each other and held it there.

In her last days, she would look up and point toward the ceiling. Once she sat up; her head and extended arms facing upward. She called out, “Does anybody have a testimony?” What did she see that was otherwise unseen?

Early one morning soon after, she went into the Lord’s presence.

During the service here last Sunday, I could picture Mary Helen in white—in perfect well-being—arms raised toward the higher heavens.

She always emphasized that faith opens a personal relationship with Christ. “The Lord is my Shepherd.” I am sure she wanted every person to be able to say that.

Now we lean into God and His eternal care for His children. She is our beloved Mama, Great Grammy, Mom Purcell, and friend. Child of God, Mary Helen.

Service for Mary Helen Purcell, St. John's Episcopal Church, Ellicott City, MD, on Saturday, March 6, 2010.

Refer to March 2010 Blog Archive list (at right) to select readings of scriptures or reflections from the memorial service for Mary Helen Purcell (1919-2010), mother of James N. Purcell JR, Charles R. Purcell, and Billie P. Barnes. Wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, artist, friend, and faithful Christian woman of great good humor.

"A Cowgirl in Our Midst"-tribute by a granddaughter

Deirdre Reilly introduced her reading's background: A tribute she wrote for her newspaper column 10 years before her grandmother's death.

A Cowgirl in Our Midst

There aren’t a lot of cowgirls around anymore. By cowgirls I mean women who can cook you a gourmet meal out of a potato and a pot of water, wrassle wild animals, and rock babies to sleep. Luckily, I have one of the few remaining cowgirls left, right here in my own family; her name is Mary Helen, and she’s my grandma.

Mary Helen was born in Beech Grove, Tennessee, and was married by the time she was 14—not unusual in her part of the country and back in those days. In my own girlhood I was amazed by this and questioned my grandmother with all the inquisitiveness and sensitivity my liberal arts public school education could muster.

“Grammy,” I began (I remember we were sitting in a car outside the 7-11 and my mother had run in to get bread), “what was the hardest thing, emotionally and mentally, of course, about marrying at that age—barely a young woman?”

Mary Helen considered this question seriously for a moment, then answered, “I had to get rid of my horse and my gun.” That’s what she said.

Mary Helen’s true love was the young man she married way back when, and she had three babies with him—she gave birth to my dad at home in her bed, the doctor too far away to call.’

“Grammy,” I said, amazed at this, “what was the thing you remember most—physically and mentally, of course—about having dad at home?”

Mary Helen considered this for a moment (I remember she was standing a t the stove) and answered, “I was sure glad when it was over.”

Mary Helen is a gifted artist. One painting she did, of two Native American men gliding through the Florida Everglades in a canoe while surrounded by crocodiles, has always symbolized to me Mary Helen’s imagination and creativity. She said, “That one used up a lot of green paint.”

Mary Helen just told me recently that she had a nephew named Paul who died at the young age of two, during the Depression. Paul had been living with his grandparents—Mary Helen’s parents—when his own parents took him away, desperately believing that they could survive and cafĂ© for their baby on their own. Paul died of starvation. This was the first time I had ever heard of Paul

“Grammy,” I said over the phone line, “how did any of you get over losing Paul?”

There was a weighty silence on the other end of the line. “Mama and Daddy begged them not to take that baby away till times were easier,” was Mary Helen’s quiet reply.

Mary Helen loves a good laugh; once, upon returning to the cemetery where her husband lay buried, she noticed that the grave sit and double headstone created for her and her husband were unequal; my grandfather’s side was weeded and trimmed and polished, while her side—dates not yet carved in—was overgrown and in pretty sore shape. She turned to the minister of the church, who happened to be with her on her visit, and said, “My side looks kind of neglected, don’t you think?”

The minister mopped his brow and answered, “Mary Helen, you’re not using it yet!” She loved that.

In the last few years Mary Helen has moved away from her home and her home state, and she has lost her sight. She just keeps right on going.

On a recent vacation at the beach, I pulled salt water taffy from my teeth while I watched Mary Helen crochet five e or six dishwashing cloths, sew a button on one of my kids’ shorts, and feel her way all around the unfamiliar rental house, memorizing it in no time.

Some day, I thought, I will have grandkids who will ask me about her. I could tell them the funny stories or show them her artwork, but I think instead I will try to explain the way Mary Helen looks when grace is being said at the supper table. Her long body kind of folds in on itself, and her proud gray head drops in worship, in obedience, in tune. She goes where sometimes she talks and sometimes she listens; she goes where Paul is being fed.

My prayers, sitting shoulder to shoulder with her, are different. “Lord,” I ask, “let us keep her.”

After all, there aren’t too many cowgirls left.