Burying a Cousin

Bunny 2015.

Recently I traveled to New England where we interred the ashes of my dear cousin Bunny.  It was a sentimental journey, for sure.  She was buried in the family plot in Norton, Massachusetts.  I spent the first twelve years of my life in Norton and this trip fueled so many memories probably because little seems to have changed in Norton–except the traffic.  Lots of cars.  It is now a bedroom community to Boston. I’m certain there are the dreaded “developments” somewhere but the town center is remarkably in tact.

In attendance were cousins of every age, ranging from nine weeks to 85 years.  It was a gorgeous day.  Bunny’s brother-in-law Ted gave the blessing. A religious man, he is well known in the family for his deep beliefs in Catholicism.  Nevertheless, he paid a fitting homage to Bunny.  After mentioning God at one point, he looked down at her gravesite and said, “if you believe in God.”  His courtesy brought tears to my eyes and, I have no doubt, a chuckle from Bunny.

Norton, Mass on Bunny's Memorial Weekend.
Norton, Mass on Bunny’s Memorial Weekend.

We each placed a flower on the grave and paused to remember our dear cousin.



After the graveside service we retired to the Norton Country Club and had a wonderfully relaxed lunch.  People spoke a few words.  A guitarist played softly in the background.  We ate, drank, toasted, and hugged.  The only downside of the day was a washed out Powerpoint show of Bunny pictures, dozens of them, from every stage in her life.  The room was too bright, the projector too dim.  But never mind, it was easy enough to go forward and sit for a spell, watching the images go by on the laptop.  It was there that I caught Bunny’s “baby” sister Carol, with her daughter Molly, sitting at the table, watching the cavalcade of Bunny’s life.  But it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the picture that I realized what I caught.  On the screen you can see Bunny and her sister Sally (who almost seems to be blowing a kiss at Carol) and faintly on the right side of the screen is Mary Helen.  Three Gavin sisters, all smiling, all gone to the other side.  Ghostly images looking back on their baby sister.  How lucky we have been to know them all.  ❧

Norton, Mass on Bunny's Memorial Weekend.
Norton, Mass on Bunny’s Memorial Weekend.



Letting go….

Grieving is a process, individual and unique to all.  It begins early in life.  Some say the first grief is when we exit the womb into this world of gravity and constant stimuli. Throughout childhood we begin to learn the key elements of grieving… loss and the need to let go.  This may begin with a pet goldfish or a beloved teddy bear that has been reduced, through love, to tatters. Eventually it extends to our human loved ones.  For some that comes very early in life.  I recall a friend in my childhood town of Norton, Massachusetts whose father died unexpectedly. I was about ten and I pondered what all of that meant to my friend Jackie.

I could only imagine but eventually my time came, as it comes to all of us.  No matter when we lose our parents it is just plain hard. So my heart aches for my cousins Milo, John, and Phil who have lost their beloved mother, Bunny.

Bunny’s Bouquet

Now begins the painful process of letting go and yesterday we held a memorial service for her at Point of Rocks.  It was very moving, warm and relaxed as she would want it to be.  Each person took the time to remember Bunny and contribute a flower to Bunny’s bouquet.  By the time we were finished the sun had set, the bouquet was complete, and there was much love in the spring night air.  It would have been Bunny’s 96th birthday.

Bunny’s remains will be interred in the family plot in Norton, Massachusetts on April 17.

Additional photos from the March 26th event are below.❧

There were many wonderful photos of Bunny.
There were many wonderful photos of Bunny taped on the wall of her home at Point of Rocks.


John and Aya
John and Aya
John prepares flowers for the memorial.
John prepares flowers for the memorial.


Cousin Tess and her husband Steve.
Cousin Tess and her husband Steve.


Poppy with her young son Charlie.
Poppy with her young son Charlie.
Avery Dodge, Bunny’s long time neighbor, remembers her friend.
Martha and Mary
Martha and Mary

A Passing

Bunny and her great grandson Winston in 2014


Phyllis “Bunny” Gavin Robinson is gone. She died peacefully on February 29, 2016 in Sarasota, Florida.  She was 95.

Bunny was born in 1920 and was my first cousin, once removed.  She was nine years younger than my mother and they grew up together in Norton, Massachusetts.  Indeed, for me, Bunny’s death is the severing of the last link to my mother and her generation.

Bunny was the first of four daughters born to Phil and Helen Gavin.  The Gavin Girls — Bunny, Sally, Mary Helen and Carol — were a force of nature.  The power of four sibling sisters should not be underestimated.  I have known several of these groupings in my life and each has been fascinating to me.  There is a closeness and yet a distancing between these sisters that is almost electric.  They are fiercely competitive yet uniquely giving. They can fight like cats and dogs in one instance and then fall into a circle of intense communication that is almost telepathic.

Before her marriage she served in the Red Cross during World War II and was in the South Pacific when the war ended.  My Uncle Bud, then serving in the Navy, actually visited her on one of the islands during the war, an amazing thing to me.  All of Bunny’s life was amazing to me.   As I was growing up, first in Norton and later in Sarasota, Florida, I would hear stories of my exotic cousin Bunny. Her marriage to Parker Robinson immersed her in the diplomatic corps and Parker was stationed in some fascinating locales in the 1950s and 60s — France, Spain, Chile. Bunny became the diplomat’s wife and she had wonderful interpersonal skills.

She lived long enough to see her first great-grandchildren and, as you can see from the picture, she loved meeting them.  Look at that picture for a moment.  What is passing between those two?  Winston will not remember meeting Grandma Bunny but something passed in those moments that I hope stays with him, a joy of life and a respect for its wonders.

Five days before she died we had our last conversation. I was sitting at her bedside and she opened her eyes. “Alice!” she said.  I said hello and gave her a kiss.  The eyes closed and opened again a while later.  “Such a good girl,” she said.  The eyes closed again for a while and then opened.  Looking directly at me she quietly and sweetly said, “Now, go away.”

My years as a hospice nurse gave me the insight to know what she was saying. She was letting go. Her world was diminishing and she was acknowledging that.  I kissed her softly and said goodbye. Then I went away.

I would see her one more time but she was unresponsive, making the transition to the next world. She was very peaceful and that is how I will remember her. With the passage of time these awful weeks of her final illness will fade from memory and I will recall my wonderful, fascinating cousin Bunny in happier times. And I will recall her courage in the final days…the days that will come to us all…and hope that I can carry that courage to my final time.

RIP Bunny. ❧

An Easter Bunny

Bunny and iPad2015__0315___668


Frequent readers are familiar with my cousin Bunny. She recently turned 95 years old and things are not what we would hope for her. Physically strong she has a form of dementia that blocks her memory of the present time. She will repeatedly ask the same question or make the same observation, like an old phonograph player that gets stuck on the same part of a record. But the Bunny we love is still there, it just takes some creativity to jostle the brain into “forward.”

One modern invention that helps with that process is the iPad. Frequently I will take it with me when I visit and we look at old family photos.  This series of pictures shows Bunny and her daughter-in-law, Joanne, “visiting” with Bunny’s great-grandchildren, Winston and Ellery. Bunny seemed to grasp the concept of video-visits with no problem, only the appropriate wonder such technology deserves.

So, on this Easter Sunday, I give you Bunny. Still alive, still loved, and still loving. ❧

Bunny and iPad2015__0315___667
Bunny, in Sarasota, Florida, “connects” with Winston, her year-old great-grandson in Kentucky.
Bunny and iPad2015__0315___669
Here Bunny points at her own image in the upper-left corner of the iPad.
Bunny and iPad2015__0315___670
A wave from Grammy.
Bunny and iPad2015__0315___671
Bunny, her son Milo, and Ellery, her great-granddaughter, have a visit.





Images #224, 225, & 226 – Bunny’s 94th Birthday


I’ve written many times about my cousin Bunny. Yesterday was her 94th birthday and her son John put together a small party. He served one of Bunny’s favorites–Maine lobster!  I can tell you that despite her age she still knows how to appreciate a Maine lobster. It brought back some wonderful memories of a long ago summer when my mother and I traveled to Vermont, where Bunny was living at the time, and we went out to a small restaurant with brown kraft paper for a table cloth and the best lobster I have ever eaten.  But what was more delicious was watching these two women, my mother and cousin Bunny, expertly dissect those lobsters to get every possible morsel. It was masterful.

Bunny has a kind of dementia that makes it hard for her to retain short-term memory but she still enjoys a good party. Her dementia made for a couple of interesting moments during the party. John presented the lobsters and Bunny asked what was the occasion?  When told it was her birthday she was completely surprised.


It gave new meaning to “surprise party.”  🙂

This was the first time I ever attended a party for a 94 year-old and how lovely that it was such a special lady. She’s got 94 years of memories in that head and she shared some of them last night. The present may not be that important anyway. There is a Simon & Garfunkel song called “Old Friends” with a lovely line:  Preserve your memories/they’re all that’s left you.  That’s something to think about.  Let’s hope we can all smile this warmly when we are 94. ❧



Image #190 – Bunny and Ellery

Image #190

Frequent readers may recall Image #180 from a few days ago. It featured my 93-year old cousin Bunny with her great grandson Winston. It is only fair to post a picture of Bunny with her other great grandchild, Ellery.   Two great grand babies in one year!  Ellery is the oldest, she was born about nine months ago. Winston followed about seven months later.  Bunny was able to connect with both of them and in reviewing the pictures tonight I was struck with how animated Bunny was during her encounters with these babies. The very old and the very young are similar in many ways. I wonder why we don’t combine their care into one facility? ❧

Image #180 – Generations

Bunny  and her great grandson Winston
Bunny and her great grandson Winston

The holidays are officially over.  Tomorrow — Monday, January 6th — we return to “real time” but the past two weeks have been that special time of the year when things seem to slow down and focus draws inward to home and hearth.  For me this passing holiday time has been especially memorable, a time to share the joy of my cousins and, in particular,  a special woman — cousin Bunny — who can be seen greeting her great grandson Winston.

Consider, for a moment, the generational spread that is captured in this picture. Winston is just ten weeks old. Bunny is 93 years old.  If Winston lives to be as old as Bunny the year will be 2106.  Any 93 year old person who gazed upon Bunny when she was Winston’s age would have been born in 1827!

Let’s come at it from another perspective. When Winston was born in 2013 the president of the U.S. was Barack Obama. When Bunny was born in 1920 the president was Woodrow Wilson.  And for our imagined 93 year old who gazed upon the newborn Bunny in 1920 the president in 1827 was John Quincy Adams! ❧

#178 – Bunny’s Last Christmas?


This picture is my 93 year-old cousin Bunny with her son, John.  You might have guessed it was taken on Christmas Day.  I’ve written about Bunny before. She is a dear person who has reached a point in her life that none of us ever want to see—a vast netherland with no beginning and no end.  It is the Land of Dementia and its population is growing with each passing day.

Bunny seems incapable of retaining recent memory yet she remembers the past very well. I always try to lead her to that land she remembers. It is populated with her parents and my grandparents along with numerous souls from the town of Norton, Massachusetts.  My connection to the town is garbled in her mind.  I did live there in my youth but Bunny was in her early thirties and long gone by that time.  But she talks to me as a contemporary and I do the best I can to sustain the memory.  It always seemed to bring her some joy to talk about “good old Norton.”

Today, however, was markedly different. I couldn’t lead her anywhere.  For the first time she failed to recognize me.  “You look very familiar,” she said.  “It’s your cousin, Alice.” I replied. She nodded but I wasn’t sure the information conveyed very well.  Her usual enthusiasm at seeing my dog Tango was also absent. We attempted a conversation about the recent Christmas celebration but she couldn’t recall it.   Then I told her that her youngest son would arrive tomorrow and that his children—now adults—would be bringing their newborns. That piqued her interest.  “A new generation?” she asked.  “Yes,” I said, “a whole new generation.”

For just a moment the Bunny of old emerged from the gripping fog of her dementia.  Her eyes got bright and ever so sweetly she simply said, “Wow.” ❧

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