Ruth M. Bushnell
March 28, 1917 - September 12, 2007
Ruth Bushnell, friend and parishioner for thirty plus years, died last week at a nursing home near her residence with her daughter Joan Conforti in Pine Bush, New York. She had been in hospice care, having struggled with cancer in recent years and macral degeneration for nearly two decades.
The funeral service was held Sunday evening, September 16th, at The Moore Funeral Home in Valley Stream. Grace United Methodist Church pastor John Cole presided, and retired pastor Bob Howard offered the eulogy and prayer of thanksgiving. Ruth was surrounded in her death as she had been in her life, by her family, daughter Joan and her husband, John Conforti; three grandchildren, Claire, Al, and Patty, and their spouses; and five grandchildren, the youngest just four months old. Colleagues from South High and friends from Grace Church (mostly the Auxiliary) were also present, while several others visited with the family earlier in the day.
The burial was held Monday morning at Pinelawn Memorial Park where husband Horace was buried twenty-five years earlier.
Herewith is the message and the prayer offered at the service.
Ruth Bushnell – September 16, 2007
I’ve asked Joan’s permission to do this: put this slip of paper into the casket. Let me tell you what it is. It’s last week’s diagramless crossword from The New York Times Sunday Magazine. I completed it, after much struggle, especially with the bottom six lines. I mean, have you ever heard of salsoda? It’s a primary ingredient in soap. But what has all this to do with our friend and companion on this earthly journey filled as it is with more real human puzzles than the newspapers could ever devise? Those of you who know Ruth well, played bridge with her perhaps, will understand. That she, the high school math teacher, loved crossword puzzles, especially the diagramless ones which required smarts not only in vocabulary but in math.
Ruth knew that I tried to do the puzzles every Sunday, the crossword, the acrostic, and sometimes the puns and anagrams, but never, no never, the diagramless. So she gave me a few sheets of graph paper along with the invitation about diagramless puzzles, “Try them.” I did, and I discovered I am not very good at it… maybe completed three in the last ten years, always thinking of the woman who challenged me to the ordeal she had mastered. This past Sunday, September 9th, while Ruth, Joan had reported to me, was in hospice care near death, the NYT Sunday Magazine carried its once-a-month diagramless puzzle. I knew that I had to do it, in honor of Ruth. And I did… complete it, Thursday morning, a half day after Ruth arrived at the Father’s House, from whence, allow me to speculate, she sent answers to me, answers that for four days had eluded me.
People touch our lives in many different ways. Ruth has touched mine in one most singular way that gives the ring of authenticity to that claim we may too easily voice, that I’ll always remember her, especially one Sunday out of every four.
Oh, there is a lot more to remember. As I mentioned to Pastor Cole, that early on in my tenure as pastor at Grace Church I instituted the use of plastic cups for holy communion. At the door after the benediction that Sunday, Ruth, with Horace smiling with bemusement in the background, commented on the introduction of plastic in the holy rite: “It’s like Jesus using paper plates at the Last Supper.” It was just the first of many exchanges, mostly happy and encouraging and often amusing, over the succeeding thirty years of our pastor/person connection.
Ruth ran the Thrift Shop for a benevolent season or two. And Barbara (I’m her husband) remembers gratefully how Ruth showed her the ropes and collaborated with her in a co-presidency of the United Methodist Women.
When macral degeneration had advanced to the point she could no longer live on her own and she moved to Pine Bush to be near the family, she and I exchanged a couple of letters annually… much as she had with her Brooklyn pastor during her years in Lynbrook/Valley Stream. In our letters, she only rarely complained about her physical ailments, speaking of them more as distractions and annoyances than as disabilities. She could no longer do her puzzles and that grieved her. But the closeness of the family, Joan’s watchful eye, the grandchildren’s attentiveness, and the joy of being with, holding, and hearing the great-grandchildren: these considerations she told me more than compensated for everything she missed when she lived independently.
Ruth took life as it came to her, often in these later years, coming to her rough and unkindly. She did it with unfailing courage. And quiet faith. The way I hope I shall be able to manage it when it’s my turn. If you asked her, I think she would tell you that, everything considered, it’s been a good ride here: Horace, Joan, the grandchildren, the greats, a career, a long retirement, friends, many of them, in the church and elsewhere. Who would ask for anything more? Ruth, in my imagination, might cock her head at me with this rhetorical question, as if to say, “Well, more? Aren’t you the pastor? With some clue as to what is yet to come?”
I might be inclined to answer, “Ruth, it’s a puzzle, yes, diagramless.” Meaning that while there is no diagram for eternal life, we are given some appealing clues. By Jesus. That house with many rooms… with Horace waiting in the foyer. The great banquet feast of heaven, with, of course, fine china and glasses of crystal, no paper plates, joy and fellowship all around, even better than a meeting of T-N-T. And being held in Abraham’s bosom, close to the heart of God, that tenderness and divine intimacy, which always, always, let Mother Teresa tell you, escapes us here. Clues, from Jesus, and I shall follow them where they lead even when sense and human logic argue to the contrary.
The Apostle Paul observed about this mortal life, in I Corinthians 13, that now we see only puzzling reflections but there, where Ruth is, where we hope someday to be with her again, we shall see clearly and understand fully. No more puzzles… except for fun.
God and giver of life, who sees us through the shadowed valleys and the fields of clover, we confess that we are not always mindful that life is a gift, given day by day, from your hands and heart. We are quick to complain and slow to celebrate the ups and downs that come our way. Yet we are grateful, especially when we take the time to think and think deeply about it: that our portion has been generous, that we have seen your goodness in the land of the living, that we are surrounded by the love of family and friends. In this evening hour we thank you for one of your human gifts to us, for Ruth, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend. Thank you for the many ways our lives have touched and she has enriched us with her love and intelligence and wisdom and kindness and sense of humor. The world would not only have been a different place, but a poorer place for us, had she not graced our days.
On her behalf, we thank you for the long, productive, and, mostly, pleasant journey here. Blessed by Horace. Blessed by Joan. Blessed by the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. Blessed by a wide circle of friends. If we have prayed for her, as she may have too, for a less arduous turn in these last couple of years, when the body could no longer match the resilience of her spirit, still we thank you, as she did, for the care, the tenderness and self-giving, of those around her.
Now we thank you for the cessation of her pain. And, more, for the beginning of her peace, that new beginning of health and life, love, and joy our Lord promises those who love him and want to be with him here and for ever. Provide her in the Father’s House with a room with a bright prospect on the pastures of heaven, with Horace beside her. Give her a place at your right hand at the banquet feast of heaven. Hold her close in your everlasting arms. And grant us grace and peace to believe, to see with faithful eye your promise of life, whole, good, joyful, and beautiful. In the name of Jesus. Amen.