Monday, December 22, 2008

Reflections on the Life of Penni Bourque


Penni's funeral was held at St. Therese Catholic Church in Canton, Texas this afternoon. Here's the reflection on her life that I gave at her funeral.

I've been asked to reflect briefly on Penni's life and influence. I am her oldest brother. I was eleven when she was born. She was eleven when I got married. Most of my memories of her are from her childhood. All of those memories are fond memories.

From the moment that Penni was born she was unflappable. Her happy, positive, self-assured spirit is visible even in her earliest pictures. Like every happy child, she didn't have a care in the world. And when she grew older and the circumstances of life began to weigh on her, she always found a way to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. No matter how bad the cards were in the hand that she was dealt, she found a way to perceive it to be a blessing and make the most of it. She did that to the very end.

Penni's life is best summarized as a life that was lived caring for others. Most of her working life was devoted to caring for new born babies who were born with lungs that were too pre-mature to sustain their lives. There are a lot of babies who would not be alive today had it not been for Penni staying beside them keeping their lungs filled with just the right amount of oxygen at just the right pressure. After she was sick with cancer herself, she was constantly by our mother's side caring for dad in the final stages of his struggle with pancreatic cancer.

My nieces on my wife's side of the family have remarked on several occasions that she was the most easy-going and pleasant person on either side of the family. Penni was a very unassuming person. I've never known her to be self-assertive, arrogant or conceited. She was a team player, a calming influence, someone you could always count on to pitch in and help without complaint.

Her one ambition in life was to be a good wife and mother. Nowhere is that more visible than in the stories about palliative care that were told by Lee Hancock of the Dallas Morning News and by the photos taken and the video produced by Sonya Hebert of the Dallas Morning News and WFAA TV. They made it possible for others to see what made Penni such a remarkable woman, wife and mother -- and my entire family is deeply grateful to them and the Dallas Morning News and WFAA TV for what they have done with her story.

All I have to add are three brief vignettes from moments in Penni's life that are revealing of her humanity and personality.

The first moment is from a time when Penni was a child. Once, when Penni was in pre-school, my mother invited one of her friends to our house for dinner. Her friend was a full-blooded Navajo and she had a little girl about Penni's age. At that time, none of us was sophisticated enough to call Navajo’s Native Americans. Mom just told Penni that "a real Indian" was coming to visit and she needed to be sure to share her toys with her. Later, after the woman and her daughter had been in our home for nearly an hour, mom sent me to get Penni and the little Navajo girl to come to dinner. As I went to Penni's room where the two were playing and having the greatest time, I heard Penni say to the little girl -- "After dinner a real Indian is coming to play. We have to make sure we share our toys with her too."

That was Penni all her life. She was completely color-blind, class-blind and race-blind. She always believed that all children are God's children and she treated everyone with equal dignity and respect.

The second vignette is from a moment when Penni was twelve or thirteen. The incident made a deeper impression on her than it did me. I forgot about it, she reminded me about it the last time I saw her.

When Penni was entering her teenage years, I was already married, out of the home and working as a police officer for the Albuquerque Police Department. One night when I was on duty, I saw a couple young girls walking down the street, after midnight, in a bad part of town. It was dangerous. I stopped my patrol car and got out to ask the girls what they were doing. Much to my surprise, one of the girls was Penni and much to her surprise, the policeman questioning her was her older brother. She didn't know if she was more frightened to be stopped by the police or by her big brother.

I discovered that Penni was spending the night with a friend and they decided to sneak out of the house and go to a K-Mart that was open all night. They didn't think anyone would ever know. From what Penni told me, she never thought she could get away with something like that again.

The last vignette is from a moment a few months ago when Penni talked to me about dying. Penni was raised a Baptist, made a profession of faith in Christ at the age of twelve, and was Baptized as a believer. Near the end of her life she became a Catholic and took great delight in the rituals of the mass and holy communion. She was not afraid to die, she was ready. But as death was becoming an ever present reality, she had some tough questions to ask and she expected her brother, now a Baptist minister, to give her some straight answers.

Essentially, Penni wanted to know why God ever created a world where people had to die. She knew that death was the result of sin, but she also knew that God foreknew that sin would enter the world before he ever created it. "So, what's the point?" She asked. "Why do we all have to go through this?"

She put me on the spot. I've talked to lots of people about death. If questions like this were on their mind, none of them were ever so bold as to ask their preacher. But, Penni wasn't talking to her preacher. She was talking to her brother and she expected me to have an answer for her.

By the grace of God, I had an answer that seemed to put her mind at rest, but it is the kind of answer that Baptist preachers are reluctant to express. We would much prefer to read a passage from the Bible than to suggest an analogy that is not clearly expressed in scripture. I share this analogy, then, as an example only of a thought that gave Penni a sense of inner peace.

I told Penni that "the world of death," as she called it, in which we now live only has meaning if there is something better beyond the grave. I reminded her of the premmie babies that she cared for at Children's hospital. Every one of those babies lived in an almost perfectly happy blissful world inside their mother's womb. It is the only life they had ever known. Then without notice and without their own consent their life was rudely interrupted by the painful experience of child birth. However happy they were with life in the womb, and however painful the experience of childbirth was, they were better off being born. They were created for something more than an isolated life in their mother's womb.

I didn't have to draw out the analogy for her. A tear came to her eye and a slight smile came across her face and she said, "You know, some of my premmie babies up there never had a chance to have a mother."

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Thank you for posting this. I miss her so much.
Nancy Danielson