The Eulogy for Heather Bostwick

08
Sep

Heather Bostwick was born on July 1st, 1978 on the day her parents closed on the house Orston Road that would be Heather’s home base for the rest of her life.  She was preceded in birth by five year by her big sister Shannon – who, even though she would at times torment her little sister as big sisters are known to do — always adored her little sister’s butt.

On Christmas morning the rule in the Bostwick house was that the girls were not allowed to go down stairs to see the tree with all the presents until their parents said to, but conforming to rules wasn’t always Heather’s strong point, so almost as early as Heather could walk Shannon remembers the sound early Christmas morning of her little sister waddling down the hallway in her diapered feet to catch a peak, then scampering back in ecstasy from the wonder of what she had caught a glimpse of, thumping herself back in bed and calling out, “Can we wake up now!?”  And so from a very early age it became the tradition that on Christmas Eve Shannon slept with Heather specifically to keep her from leaving her bed for the forbidden peak.  This tradition of sharing a bed on Christmas Eve was carried through all the way to the year of Shannon’s departure from the home as a result of her marriage to Jason.

Upon the cocoon of love that consisted of Heather, Shannon, their mom Liz and dad Len there were layers upon layers of love piled on by their wondrous network of extended family.

The joy of Christmas extended to before and after Christmas morning.  On Christmas Eve the large extended family from Liz’s side – the boisterous, expressive Italian side — would gather at the home of Aunt Marge — Liz’s big sister and Heather’s godmother.  A big raucous party that included an enormous multi-course dinner and gift giving included at its heyday drew 40 or 50 people of all ages would carry on late into the night.

Following the Christmas morning revelry back at the house on Orston Street the Bostwick family would head over to Len’s parents’ house where his large extended family would gather for another joyous celebration with more feasting and gift giving.

Weekends typically involved one day spent with Len’s family and another with Liz’s family at Mima’s house – the name given to Liz’s mother – a tradition that would carry on well into Heather and Shannon’s adulthood.

In the summertime there were big happy picnics at Aunt Marge’s house on Labor Day, the 4th of July and Memorial Day.  The 4th of July picnics involved themes like “Under the Sea” or “Country Western” requiring costumes.   Somewhere in the midst of this Heather’s birthday would get celebrated.  Apparently Aunt Marge could be a bit clumsy:  one time she bounded into the room with an elaborately decorated birthday cake only to have it slip from her hands, flipping to fall face down on the floor.  The laughs the memory provided for years to come was worth far more than the birthday cake.

And then there was another layer of love in the deep friendships Heather continually made. Jag’s family lived just three blocks away and her sister Niyati became friends with Shannon in kindergarten and so following Jag’s birth just 19 days after Heather’s birth the two girls quite literally grew up together.  Laura met Heather and Jag in 7th grade when she moved across town and began attending Brookline school – the start of another life-long friendship.  Other friends joined them along the way.  Sometimes times in the close knit circle of friendship the company of friends took priority over all other things, including certain things parents might consider important:  for instance, I understand that when in high school Heather and Michelle decided to attend Vo Tech there were many days when Jag and Laura would simply leave their school in the afternoon in order to hang with Heather and Michelle at Vo Tech.

Jag and Heather were particularly inseparable, in part because Jag put off getting her driver’s license for ten years making Heather her de facto chauffer.  Jag paid Heather gas money which unbeknownst to Heather’s parents allowed her to pocket the money they gave her for gas.

Trips with friends or family to Long Beach Island for a day or a weekend gave her particular joy.  The beach was Heather’s happy place.

Heather had a profound gift for friendship.  Once she loved you, she always loved you.  She never held a grudge.  If you moved to the other side of the country, Heather would continue to nurture her connection with you.

Over time the Parsippany Rescue Squad became the center of Heather’s social life.  At the age of 16 Laura and Jag were the first to join; Heather followed their lead undergoing the necessary training when she was 18.  For the next twenty years – other than certain breaks that arose with changing life circumstances – Heather served the community of Parsippany attained the status of a “life member.”  Once a week Heather and her other Rescue Squad friends would take a twelve hour shift and once a month a 24 hour weekend shift during which they were on call to go out in the middle of the night if necessary to go on an ambulance call to help somebody in the midst of a health crisis.  She loved the work, although there were times it would break her heart as when a call would bring her to the site of a fatal car accident of a high school friend, or to a child in desperate straights.  How Heather’s heart went out to children.

Len remembers the pride he felt one time witnessing his daughter shift into crisis management mode.  It was on a church trip to Sight and Sound — a theater in Lancaster, PA.  When an older woman suddenly collapsed during intermission a calm sense of authority arose from within Heather as she took charge to bring some order to the chaos of the situation, compassionately arranging the care the woman needed.

Here at the church we were blessed with the love and enthusiasm of Heather when on her own as a teenager she began attending worship, becoming a member in 1995.  She taught Sunday School and was part of a group of youth who went around to nursing homes performing short skits to entertain the residents.  Heather was a member of the small group of people who gathered to write the mission statement that has expressed our identity to this day.

Heather attended a powerful weekend retreat for older teens that involved a closing ceremony to which parents were invited.  Len was so moved by the vivid sense of God’s love that Heather had experienced in the company of all the other young people attending the retreat that he was inspired not long afterwards to follow his daughter’s lead and begin attending worship.  When in time Len took the vows of membership, it was his daughter Heather who stood up for him as his sponsoring member.   .

When Heather was 20 she met Bill and after five years of dating they were married in 2003.  Bill had three children from his previous marriage:  Stephanie 10, John 8 and Bailey 5.  It was Heather who encouraged Bill to overcome the distance that had grown between himself and his children leading Bill to a place where he could have joint custody.  Through the years Heather was a consistently positive and nurturing influence in her step-children’s lives.  She maintained her contact with the children when Bill enlisted in the army and was deployed for three years.

When Bill re-enlisted without consulting Heather their already troubled marriage came to an end. Recognizing his own failings, Bill would say long after their divorce that Heather’s time in his life was the best thing that ever happened to him. And long after her marriage to Bill ended Heather continued to be a constant source of love and support to Bill’s kids.

Five years ago when Stephanie was giving birth to Bentley it was Heather that she wanted to accompany her in the delivery room.  And last year when Bailey graduated from college after a remarkable show of perseverance on her part Heather made sure she was there in upstate New York to celebrate Bailey’s remarkable accomplishment.  It wasn’t easy for Heather to get there; her health had declined to the point she required a wheelchair much of the time.  But inspired by her love for and pride in Bailey through sheer determination Heather got herself there, thanks to Laura who drove and spent much of the time pushing Heather about in her wheelchair.

The one great regret of Heather’s life was that she never had the opportunity to be a mother.  Without children of her own to love one, Heather cast her love far and wide, drawing to her a remarkable circle of friends.

But how Heather loved children! She embraced her role as “Auntie” as she liked to be called.  Heather always said she had the most amazing brother-in-law because Jason gave up his spot to be by Shannon’s side in the delivery room when she gave birth to Conner and Blake.  It wasn’t that Jason didn’t want to be there – he surely did — it was because he recognized just how much it would mean for Heather to be there by her sister’s side to witness the miracle of the boys’ births.

As time passed, as is the way with boys, trips to the emergency room became a common occurrence and Conner and Blake grew accustomed to expecting to have Auntie Heather meet them there as a part of their support team.

There was something about Heather that drew people to her like bees to honey.  Wherever she worked she inspired love.  Heather took advantage of the training she received volunteering for the Ambulance Squad to work for a time with A&R Ambulance Transport, after which she worked in various doctors’ offices, ending up as the receptionist in a neurosurgeon’s office.  There she was trained to take on the important role of “surgical coordinator.”

And so it was one of those strange coincidences in life that it was while working for a brain surgeon that Heather was diagnosed in 2012 with a brain tumor.  The doctor pulled strings to get Heather scheduled for surgery just three days later and for her to have VIP treatment at Chilton Memorial Hospital.  Rather than have Heather apply for disability for the time she would miss from work the doctor insisted Heather would continue to receive her full salary during the time of her convalescence.

To celebrate Heather’s successful surgery Jag accompanied Heather on a trip to St. Pete’s in Florida. When Jag made a passing comment at the reception desk that the reason Heather was wearing a scarf over her head was because she had recently come through brain surgery, the hotel staff bumped the two women up to a luxurious suite for no extra charge, showering them with amenities.  That’s the effect Heather had on people.

Heather loved working at the doctor’s office and when she came in for her follow-up checkups she would argue with him over when she would return to work.  For Heather it couldn’t be soon enough; the doctor thought she should take more time to rest.

Eventually she did return to work.  She was determined to live her life fully with positivity.  At some point during this time period Jag and Heather enjoyed a wonderful trip together in the Bahamas.

Unfortunately in 2015 — three years after her initial surgery the tumor returned and a second surgery was required, followed by rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

To celebrate the completion of her treatment Shannon took Heather on a magical trip to New Orleans.  Although they made no mention of Heather’s cancer treatment they continually found themselves receiving upgrades and other special treatments. The two sisters had so much fun together.

Heather began working at the Montclair Radiology Center and though she only worked there for a year the staff took Heather into their hearts in a big way.  Each year the Center would choose a charity to which employees were encouraged to give. That year the focus of their charitable giving was to provide assistance to Heather with the cost of her medical bills and insurance.  The company made a matching gift to the total contributed by the staff.

People just wanted to do whatever they could for Heather.  That was the effect she had on people.

Yet a third surgery was required in June of 2017.  This time Heather didn’t bounce back the way she had after her two previous surgeries. Returning to work was no longer viable.   Nonetheless, six months after the surgery — the week before Christmas — Shannon and Jag took Heather to Nashville – a place as a country music lover she had always wanted to go.   They had a truly wonderful time together and Heather was able to get up and dance.

But in February Heather’s health began to rapidly decline.  Accustomed throughout her life to her independence it was difficult for Heather to have to begin to let go and allow others to take care of her.  The team of Shannon, Jag and Laura stepped forward to organize Heather’s care and post updates to “Team Heather” – a Facebook group of 140 of us who have been privileged to know and love Heather.

It was a very hard time for Heather and those who were closed at hand to care for her.  But even in the shadow of the valley, profound blessings were received along the way.

One was an unexpected appearance Heather made on June 16th to a Bostwick family gathering to celebrate Heather’s grandmother’s birthday.  By this point Heather was confined to a wheel chair and her speech was slowed down.  But somehow she arranged to get an Uber to take her aide and her to the party and her presence made the gathering a thing of joy.  Though her words came out slowly, Heather was sharp as a tack.  Her long-familiar sense of humor clearly shown through.   The party provided a last time for many of Heather’s extended family to spend time with her, and it was a very happy time – a happy memory to cherish.

Another blessing was an angel sent directly from heaven.  Three months before Heather’s death Shannon, Jag and Laura were reaching a point of utter exhaustion and depletion after repeatedly being frustrated in their attempts in finding consistent quality in-home care for Heather.  As an answer to prayer a young home health aide named Erin —  just three days after being hired by the Home Health Aide company — was assigned to be Heather’s week day aide.  Something quite wonderful and grace-filled happened in the connection that Heather and Erin made.  Erin honored Heather’s desire to maintain as much independence as possible.  They shared a similar quick, sarcastic wit.

When Erin would take Heather on outings she would intentionally not wear hospital scrubs because she didn’t want it to appear to those about them that this was some helpless cancer patient utterly dependent upon her professional care-giver.  She wanted people who happened to watch them to see simply two friends out enjoying themselves together, for that in truth, was what it had come to be:  two friends out enjoying themselves together.

When Shannon and Jag and Laura would gratefully tell Erin what a blessing she was to Heather and to them, Erin would get tears in her eyes and say, “You have no idea what a blessing Heather is to me.”  Right to the end of her life, Heather was nurturing deep friendship.

Heather died in the same house that she had called home her entire life – the house that she had offered hospitality to countless souls in times of need, welcoming them to abide for a time with her.  It was the same house in which Heather’s deeply beloved mother had died sixteen years earlier with her daughter at her side.  As with her mother’s passing from this world, a great love surrounded Heather as she made her final journey through the valley of the shadow and into the eternal light and love of God.

A few days after Heather’s passing, her good old dog Diesel – her faithful companion throughout the six years of her illness — passed from this world as well.

 

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