Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Tribute to My Mom.

Hazel Marian Smith Barnwell was my mother.  She passed away last month and I was blessed to have the opportunity to clear up old business, enjoy some quality time, and say goodbye before she died.
My brother and I are all that is left of that particular family unit so we worked together to arrange a fitting sendoff for this unique woman.  After the service several people asked me to send them copies of the talks and slideshow.  I am posting that information here in order to share it with anyone who is interested.

Life Sketch by Jan Oelkers

For those of you who might not know me, I’m Jan – the middle child.  I know that, typically, a life sketch includes all of the born to and married when info and I will give you a little of that but most of all I want to discuss what being Marian’s daughter has meant.

When I tell a story I believe in portraying all of the beauty of an event in the context of the painful in order to truly appreciate the achievement when the final outcome leads to joy.

So mom’s story is a poignant and beautiful one and I'm grateful to have this opportunity to tell you why.

To begin, we are a “get it done” family.  My mother’s great great grandfather joined the LDS church in Denmark and came to this country bringing with him a culture of love and support for family that mom was taught from her first breath.  Mom would say “family is family” which meant that if there is family around that needs something you will do whatever you can to help.  Her childhood was spent in a household where there was there a steady stream of extended family all around.  Add to this that her father tended to bring people home when they needed help as well.  I could be wrong in my interpretation of this but from what I’ve been able to observe my Grandparent’s business was a Mecca for family members who needed work and thus loving family was ever present.

This is a wonderful blessing and a curse.  When there are many well meaning helpers around there are also many opinions and expectations. Mom talked about how proud of her her father was, how he would have her “recite” for people.  A favorite story she told me was about the time her father brought home a flat of strawberries and told her he would really like some jam. Then he left her alone to take care of it.  Now those of you who have had my mom prepare a meal for you might be getting a picture of little Marian in the big kitchen at the house on South Temple up to her elbows in strawberries – and the incredulity of the image.  Let’s just say that cooking was not really my mom’s favorite thing.  She once watched my children for a week and fed them nothing but 18 wheeler sandwiches from the corner gas station – but I digress. She managed to make the jam.  She has never included in the story how the jam  turned out. What she has always said was how it felt to have her father show that confidence in her and then praise her efforts.  From my perspective this little story that she liked to tell me was important to her because she craved that feeling of being trusted and seen as competent.

Now I’ve seen the pictures.  The Smith children had pretty clothes and my Grandmother was, of course, proud of her beautiful children.  You might accuse me of being biased but in truth, my mother and aunts were stunning women. Being pretty and being thin were very important.  For my mother weight management was a lifelong burden.  I don’t think she ever put anything in her mouth without being burdened with conflicting emotions.  If she was thin and eating nothing but boiled chicken and celery then every bite was almost a penance for the sin of having eaten something that tasted good in the past and if she was binging every bite was a failure and foretold a life of loneliness.  In mom’s head she wasn’t lovable if she wasn't thin and pretty and she never felt like she was thin enough. Because of this she often pulled away from people she loved, she wasn’t sure she was good enough.  So, knowing this I am always amazed when I realize how often and completely she opened her heart to people.  My mother could strike up a conversation anywhere.  She made friends easily and often. .

Mom was an original she had many loves in her life and each of those was a new era.  Mom was a 16 year old army wife in Virginia, and the wife of an artist turned realtor, she was the wife of a bartender and then she was the wife and caregiver when her husband’s health failed.  She brought three children into the world,  my sister Brenda and my brother Bill and myself and in likewise manner she loved, provided for, worried about and sorrowed over my step brothers Dave (Huggy) and Tom. 

She had nine grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. But she was the memorable Aunt Marian as well.  As in all areas of her life, her approach to the children she loved was often unique – remember the 18 wheelers.  In typical fashion she won the heart of my grand daughter by providing a full makeover.  Something our Elodie will never forget.  By sister’s daughter summed it up for me by saying “when Grandma played with you she really played with you.  She got down on the floor and got into the game”. When she gave a gift to a child she always wanted it to be as close to the “real thing” as was reasonable (well her definition of reasonable).  If you want some fun stories talk to her grandchildren today,  they have some doozies.  She loved to play with the daughters more than the grandsons because she could completely relate. But she was so proud of and amazed by her grandsons and sometimes seemed surprised when they loved her back with the same devotion.  Mainly, though she was pretty excited when her grandsons grew old enough to dance with her at weddings.

The final weeks of my mother’s life may have been the sweetest, most enlightening time I’ve ever spent with her. We were able to just appreciate each other without being impaired by trivia.  She ate all the chocolate she wanted with a joy I will carry with me.   I will backtrack just a little to tell you that I have had several loved ones turn 80 over the past 2 years.  I had the blessing of helping arrange a birthday party for my mother in law.  When I realized what a treasure that celebration was to her I wanted so much to do that for my own mother.  My outgoing, red hot chili pepper mother didn’t want that.  It took some work for me to realize something from that.  In all of my mother’s larger than life approach and glamour and big heartedness she really did not like to be the center of attention. She was a one of a kind in a world that often does not appreciate uniqueness and she wasn’t entirely sure that a big party in her honor would be attended only by people that understood that.  She was mistaken but I got my way.  We’re having a party now, and Mama you deserve to be the star of the show. Mama left this life understanding that she is a child of God.

I will address a few final few words to my Mama.  I am proud of your many, many triumphs.  I couldn’t possibly stand here and tell the full story of your colorful, sad, beautiful, triumphant life. I’m a little miffed that you never wrote the memoir you threatened to write but I am inspired by the realization of how many, many times you pulled yourself out of and climbed over the challenges to go on and do something sparkling.

 Musical Number - Ben & Elodie Oelkers
When I was small my Grandma Anna taught me a Danish children's song she learned from her mother who must have learned it from her mother. My brother remembers my mother singing this song to him as a lullabye.  We have included this song because it represents the tender moments between mother and child that we treasured.  The translation of the song itself is:
Get up little Hans
Get up little Hans
Listen- the lark is singing!
No little mom
No little mom
That’s the door creaking


Eulogy by William Barnwell 

--> Hazel Marian Smith Barnwell passed away peacefully in her home in Zephyr Cove Nevada on April 17, 2016 – Born February 25, 1936 to Hazel Anna Sorensen Smith and William Frank Smith of Wendover Nevada. Sister, Aunt, Mother, Great Great Grandmother, world traveler, philanthropist, reformed shopaholic, glamorous movie star to those who knew her, and self-proclaimed golf widow has gone home to our Lord peacefully surrounded by loved ones here at home in Lake Tahoe Nevada. Marian, spelled with her fabulous M, was a 50 year resident of Zephyr Cove Nevada. She started her career as a cocktail waitress at Barney’s Casino here on the south shore where she raised three of her own children for some time as a single mother. Later married to Thomas Gerald Benton Barnwell, AKA Lefty, raising his two sons as well. Her hard work and tenacity always present, she was able to purchase two condominiums in Roundhill and raise not only her children but scores of stray kids and animals. A woman whose vocabulary never included “no” as she replaced it with “how”. Owner of two separate local favorites The Velvet Hammer Tavern & River Boat Casino in Roundhill and Stateline, Nevada, she later went on on to serve as Vice President for the Stateline Hotel & Casino, Silver Smith Casino, Stateline Properties, Jims Enterprises, and HAS associates. Board member and administrator of the William & Anna Smith foundation that helped to provide college educations for countless scores of Wendover High School graduates; wanting for others what she was unable to attain for herself. Born to a hard working Danish immigrant and rugged coal miner turned Nevada gaming pioneer she had hospitality in her veins. Her door was always open with a light and television always on.  She would love to sit for hours talking to anyone about what was going on in Hollywood. When she was not dreaming of Hollywood she would often live it by traveling to exotic locations later in life, sewing and creating her own costumes, performing makeup on her granddaughters (and anyone that would let her) and purchasing scores of costume jewelry and props. With a love for all forms of entertainment she loved to dance, sing, and walk the streets of San Francisco with her dog Cupid where she was able to live, laugh, and love for many years. Renting a vacation home on top of Russian Hill she would host amazing fleet week parties from her lavishly decorated roof top garden designed by her daughter in law Tina Hoy Barnwell. Always up for adventure and a free spirit Marian’s boundless energy could hardly be slowed by her diagnoses of CHF and COPD which she recently fought hard, recovering from Pneumonia then finally succumbing to our Lord’s will. Marian is survived by her sister Carol Smith Johnson (Darrel) of Rush Valley Utah, brother James William Smith (Eve) of Salt lake City Utah, daughter Janell Oellkers (Monte) of Saint Francis Minnesota and son William Frank Barnwell (Tina) of Zephyr Cove Nevada and grand children, Angie & Andrew Arrien, Gina & Terrell Gregory, Ben & Jenna Draper, Sara & Josh Griffin, Anna Pratt & Stan Williams, Brenda & Derek Udy, Bill & Stephanie Oelkers and Gunnar Barnwell.  Her legacy also includes great grand children, Drew, Avery, Gaven, Gracie Arrien, Nolan Gregory, Brynlee, Alana, Isabelle Draper, Rion & Addy Griffin, Xavey and Daevius Udy, and Ben, Elodie, & Eilonwy Oelkers.  She was preceded in death by her daughter Brenda June Draper and Sister Billie Ann Devine . Researchers now believe that English is a Scandinavian language and Hazel the Scandinavian word which means the blending of the perfect colors which embody the best of blue green and brown. So if you knew Marian then you knew she helped color your life perfectly! 
Gunnar Barnwell - Video Tribute
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Monday, May 9, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Birth and Death

This has been a pivotal year in my life. My sister passed away a year ago at the end of January, my aunt passed away in August, and my mother passed away in April.  I am composing this in the airport on the way home after her "send off".  At this point I'm refusing to use the term funeral for the event we shared yesterday but I will explain that further later. In addition, between the time my sister passed and my mother passed, my son and his family were sealed in the Holy Temple for time and all eternity and my youngest grandchild was born. Without going into gory details I will say that these markers in my life have been akin to Toad's Wild Ride. 

As I sit here today contemplating tomorrow I feel a unique peace and hope. One of the enduring truths brought home to me from these experiences is that a life that includes joy will also include hard work of the physical, emotional AND spiritual kind.  When Brenda passed I said goodbye to a constant in my life that I had taken for granted.  The experience lit a fire under me to examine how I spend my time and whether my limited time and energy are being spent in a way that brought me the joy promised in 2 Nephi 2:25 which reads "Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might know joy" I found myself going to work thinking "it is actually possible I could die today or next week or a year from now. Is this the way I want to spend the rest of my life?"  The answer was no and the solution was a painful one but SO worth the journey.  In short (too late) the loss made me well aware of my own mortality and I examine the things I do with my time more carefully now.  I still fill my time as completely as I did before but I fill it with things that add to my "bucket" (See Have You Filled a Bucket Today? By Carol McCloud). I erased all but one of the games on my phone and replaced them with photo collection and  family history apps.  "Downtime" is spent going through photos and collecting family stories.  I can't seem to shake the feeling that the task set for me is to focus on the stories that are disappearing rather than on the work that has not been done yet for those who have passed.  I hereby gratefully thank those who are focused on doing the work for the dead that I have not made the priority at this point. The day after my sister's funeral I attended the sealing of my son and his wife and our 2 grandchildren with one on the way. What an incredible message of renewal and permanence my Savior sent me for the day after a painful ending. 

My mother's health, physically and emotionally, tanked after my sister's death.   She was not well enough to attend the wedding when my sister's youngest daughter married in August, and was barely able to attend her own sister's funeral later that month.  When she entered the hospital in February with a case of pneumonia we were all preparing to lose her then. She surprised us all, as usual, and recovered and went home.  She came away from that experience with a renewed sense of hope and zest for life.  We had several wonderful conversations on the phone that eased my heavy heart and I had the great blessing of being able to spend my spring break with her.  We talked and laughed and watched British comedies.  We looked at pictures, shared stories both funny and poignant and generally enjoyed each other's company.  On my last day there she began to decline.  Less than a week later she fell and was rushed to the hospital again.  My brother and his wife and I talked with mom and her doctors and decided to have mom enter hospice care.  For us this meant taking mom off all medications except those that made her comfortable and letting nature take its course.  This was a life changing decision process for all of us.  My brother has been her caregiver for about a decade and the concept of not rescuing her when she began to fail was so very foreign to him.  He agreed with his logical mind but his breaking heart just could not step away.  I went to Tahoe to try to be whatever support I could both for Mom and for Bill and Tina. 

Before we left the hospital we had a group conference call.  Fifty two people were invited to join.  I'm not sure how many actually joined but it was an amazing family reunion on the phone.  Everyone had a chance to talk to mom.  We received a family prayer from Pastor Paul.  The next two days were very hard but the hospice nurse, Heather, came to help.  She walked us through what the process would look like and sound like.  She helped us with the physical as well as the emotional and respected and supported the spiritual.  She helped us see that this process is just another kind of birth.  Birth isn't always pretty or dignified but it is essential and powerful and wonderful.

By Easter Sunday Mom was awake and eating, asking for her favorite things and cracking wise. She was rallying once again.  We spoke of important things, we cleared up old resentments, and we expressed our love and appreciation for each other.  And we said goodbye.  I went home to Minnesota.

My brother and his wife took a much deserved trip to Hawaii that had been given to them by a friend and my daughter, Brenda, came to be with Mom.  Mom enjoyed her week with her grandchild and then spent the final day of her life speaking with those who had pre deceased her. I believe, like every starlet, she knew when the best time for her to exit the stage was.  She knew my brother and I would grieve and that my sweet Brenda is one of the toughest women (with the gentlest heart) who ever walked and she chose her time.

I have learned so very much from this experience. All of my adult life I have been afraid that my mother would die a painful, lonely death.  The process is as beautiful and natural as the process of birth.  The brief opportunities I had to provide her with care and support toward the process are not undignified they are precious and intimate. I thank God with all my heart that she died knowing she is loved and appreciated by her family and that she is a precious daughter of God.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

God is at the Helm

I had the opportunity to speak in Sacrament meeting today.  I've decided that when I and mine do that I would like to record our thoughts in this chronicle to share:  

Sometimes God calms the storm. Other times, he calms the sailor. And sometimes he makes us swim. Anonymous

God is at the helm.

Elder M. Russel Ballard spoke in the last General Conference about the good ship Zion.  It was a wonderful, inspiring talk that set me thinking.  Now, I’ll share with you why I Iove teaching the ll and 12 year olds.  They ask great questions.  One of them asked what the word Zion meant, at this point I realize I have to find a balance between answering all of their questions and keeping the lesson on course, so we defined the word for the purposes of our lesson which was as the city of Enoch, but the word Zion is also defined in the (D&C 97:21) as the “pure in heart” and in the Oxford Dictionary it is defined as the kingdom of God or the church.  Whichever definition we are looking at, Elder Ballard reminded us eloquently that “God is at the helm”. God is in charge of directing the building up of His kingdom. 

  I am tempted to say that it is too big a job for one person but the reality is that if he could create the earth then flood it, part the red sea, destroy Babylon, and hear all of our prayers all of the time He probably has the power to take the helm and direct it where he wants it to go.  The problem with that plan is that he would need to take our agency from us to do that and that would negate the purpose of the plan of salvation. So, if you have a really large ship full of sailors, all of them seeking the right direction and individually responsible for where they end up.  Add to this that many of them are inexperienced and impulsive,  what would you need for them to have in order to guide them safely into harbor? Watchmen.

Ezekial 63:  The Lord tells Ezekial...
2 Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:

3 If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;

4 Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

7 So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.

Elder Ballard said “make no mistake about it; the lord directs His Church through living prophets and apostles.”  

How grateful I am for the prophets, both ancient and present day who have dedicated their lives to the service of God and the building of His kingdom.

And what do they warn us to do? In the last conference, a few of the admonitions that inspired me were to read the scriptures, to be worthy of the temple, to serve others, to honor mothers and women, and to keep the sabbath and always, always to make Jesus Christ the center of your life.  If I choose only one of these challenges at a time to focus on how much more joyful will my life be?  

What if I do those things?  If I read the scriptures I will find the answers to questions I need, I have been promised protection from the adversary for doing that one simple thing.  If I serve others I build  friendships, bolster families, and even help  myself as I recognize my strengths through service. When I honor the mothers and women in my life and around the world I feel an amazing connection with the sisterhood we belong to.  I can’t begin to express the amount of love I’ve received from the Relief Society, the things I’ve learned and opportunities that have been realized. And when I live a Christ centered life I can count on being able to find peace even when the storms rage.

Still, the prophets and apostles are men and  they are on the good ship Zion, holding on for dear life, just as we are.  We are all here to make a few (or in my case a lot of) mistakes and to learn from those.  Our prophets and apostles are not perfect.  My grandmother’s brother was a general authority.  My father’s memory of him is that he was a “fire and brimstone” kind of guy.   As may have happened to some of you, I have sometimes disagreed with or wondered about  decisions made by our leaders (so far, not the prophets) but I hope I never criticize.  My job is to use my agency and my right to personal revelation to find understanding. Then to forgive and forget any mistakes and humbly accept direction from the Lord through his watchmen.

Remember that service as a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ even though it comes with  a powerful priesthood authority (the same authority that created the earth and parted the seas) is not about dominion. 

Moses 1:39 
39 For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

The good ship Zion is for those who are pure in heart and unified of purpose.  These gentle men who serve the Lord by lighting our way do it for the glory of god – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

I testify that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God.  He is called to lead us in our time through the challenges as well as the joys that are unique to this dispensation.  I am grateful for him and his counselors and apostles as watchmen.  I’m grateful for their wisdom and love as they use the Lord’s will to select the leaders I will encounter directly.  I am grateful for our stake presidencies and bishoprics for their service and dedication on my behalf.

And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen