Joan Hansen Remembered
Friday, November 12th, at 9:30 AM I presided at the funeral service for a friend and former congregant of Sunset Park Norwegian Methodist Church (later named Christ United Methodist Church), Brooklyn. The service was held at the Clavin Funeral Home on Fourth Avenue and 77th Street. My first meeting with Joan was in the spring of 1956, a few weeks after the birth of her and Tom's first child, Donna. You will be able to glean from my message the other connections we shared through the years. The pictures were sent to me by son Gary. Among the many present at Clavin's that morning was Jean Rebenstorf, who was the choir director and organist during those very special years when Joan blessed us with her vibrant soprano, while I offered what I had to the chorus, a most uncertain bass.
Singing at the service, as she did for Tom Hansen's funeral, was Pam Smith. "Amazing Grace," often sung in the present moment, was never sung more winningly than it was this morning. You may hear for yourself. Just click on the following hyperlink and find the song on the preview list of her CD:Pamela Warren Smith.
The burial followed immediately on the funeral service, at Ocean View on Staten Island, where eight years earlier Joan's husband Tom was laid to rest.
Joan Hansen – November 12, 2004
When Gary phoned me Sunday and the answering device picked up the message, I anticipated that he would tell me when I phoned back that his Mom had died. Eight years ago we were in this room, or one like it… for Tom’s funeral. Joan greeted me like she always did, as if I were the brother that neither of us only children had. I asked her, as you would certainly expect me to ask, whether or not she was still singing. Ah, that glorious voice of hers! The concerts, the Sunday mornings, the Christmas Eves and “O Holy Night,” as Gary fondly remembered, a greater draw to worshipping Norwegians (for whom Christmas Eve was supposed to be reserved for the family, not for church) than all the krummkake in Oslo.
But, no, she explained, she no longer sang; in fact, couldn’t, her breath too shallow, her voice too hoarse. For Joan singing was like… a candle being lit, an eagle soaring, a child playing, what each is meant for, made for. I pursued the issue with Joan no further, but I tucked away in my mind the worry as to how long she could go forward into time without the rejuvenating power of song, her own.
Then Gary called.
Of course, Joan was more, much more, than a soprano soloist. She was Mom. To her own three and to the next generation apple of her eye, Kendall. She worried and fussed over you. I well remember, Donna, how she warned me about the attraction you were to older guys, at the tender age of twelve. And I found out for myself that night at the Park Circle skating rink, when teenage boys in rapid succession began hitting on you. She was enormously proud of the three of you, reporting on your successes, the radio announcer never at a loss for words, the businesswoman who held the company together, and the supermom up in Connecticut.
And a loyal, loving helpmate to Tom, Thomas Milton Hansen, her husband and friend and lover for so many years, but not enough. They were so close they could and did speak for each other, were the first to be protective of the other, and the first to encourage each other. It’s a small thing, but I remember the afternoon following Grandma Clair’s funeral, the get-together at the restaurant on Third Avenue in the 40’s, how Joan spotted on the menu a favorite dish of Tom’s and encouraged him to order it, liver and onions. Barbara doesn’t dare suggest what I might order off the menu, but more often than not I find myself telling the waitress to double the order my dear wife has selected. We grow together through the years. And life becomes, if not unthinkable, then very hard, very, very hard, without the other.
Heaven, as hinted at in the pages of the Bible, is a many-splendored place, of family reunions, seeing God face to face, resting in the everlasting arms, walking streets of gold and being refreshed by rivers of crystal purity, dining at a great banquet feast bigger and more sumptuous than any king’s coronation, and having a room of one’s own in the Father’s house. They are all wonderful anticipations of the reality toward which we are tending and for which all of us are hoping. For Joan I propose an even brighter prospect, that she has found her voice again, to sing in the chorus gathered before the throne of God, in the company of Dave MacIntosh and others, many, many others of sainted memory, with whom she sang God’s praise here below. There hand in hand with Tom, volunteering to be your guardian angel.
“Be Still, My Soul,” Gary reminded me was one of Joan’s favorite hymns, Finlandia by Sibelius, words by Katharina von Schlegel. The last verse:
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
Joan’s voice, which once led us into the presence of God, sings again gloriously.
Almighty and eternal God, in whom our lives are kept, from beginning to end, we come before you earnestly desiring to know that that is the case, that, come what may, we are enfolded in your everlasting arms and blessed each step along our way by your boundless mercy. We offer this prayer with Joan in mind, but our own grieving souls as well. Grant us hope in our sorrow. Mend our broken hearts. Open our eyes to the goodness all around us. Inspire us in the company of Jesus to reach out to each other and to all others to share his compassion and his own bright hope.
For it is that hope that quickened Joan’s steps along the way in these scenes from one eternity to the next. She sang often and beautifully of your Fatherly mercy. Her voice soared in celebration of your Son’s birth.
In this hour of her passing, we thank you that she was ours for a season. We thank and bless you for her devotion as a mother, for her love and loyalty to Tom, for her care and affection for Clair, for her warmth and conviviality as a friend, and for her service so freely given to the church in which she worshiped you and your Son our Lord Jesus.
Make room for her in your more stately mansions. Set a place for her at the banquet feast of heaven. Enlist her for your heavenly chorus to sing a solo or three. Give her, we pray, a full cessation from the pain that shadowed her in these later years. Let the sunlight of your face shine upon her. And, though it be selfish of us to ask it, we ask it anyway, let her be for us a guardian angel, especially for the grandchild who brought so much delight into her life.
We ask it all, everything good and needful, in the name of him who supremely blessed this earth with his presence, his grace, and his hope, our Lord Jesus, who has conquered everything that would hold us down, including death; the one who has delivered us to the bright and shining hope of an abundant life, here and forever. Amen.