To understand Elizabeth Fields, you need to understand the family that formed her. Liz grew up in a big happy family with a whole lot of love present, where there was always room for more family members. Liz’s mother, known to her grandchildren as “Nima”, was one of 11 siblings. For Liz, this meant that when she was growing up, first in Bloomfield, and later in Orange, there was always plenty of extended family around.
In Liz’s immediate family she was loved not only by her parents but also by her sister Marge, who was 11 years older, and her brother Albert, who was 6 years older than Liz. There was a lot of love in the family home, and always lots of uncles and aunts and cousins coming and going. For several years there were these remarkable family picnics each Summer that would be attended by over 150 family members.
Having received so much love from the family she grew up in, Liz was well able to pass love on to her two daughters, Shannon and Heather. Liz’s daughters were always the center of her life, and she was always there for them. She was there for Shannon when, as a little girl, she was constantly getting sick, running fevers; she was there for Heather when it seemed she was constantly falling down stairs. Shannon remembers how one time as a little girl she had a case of the chills that wouldn’t go away, that is until her mother lay down on top of her, and there, completely enveloped by her mother’s love she finally got warm.
Liz was there at Heather’s bedside the time when, at the age of three, Heather had to stay in the hospital for a week at the, having cracked her skull open in one of her many spills.
Liz gave Shannon and Heather childhoods full of happy memories. There were birthday parties and halloween parades and family vacations to the shore, where Heather would search for seashells and Shannon and Liz would ride a bicycle built for two.
Liz was her daughters’ rock — their solid foundation in life. Shannon remembers as a little girl falling asleep underneath the table at her mother’s feet while her parents were playing pinnocle above with friends from their apartment complex. Liz was her daughters’ friend, their soul mate. Shannon remembers how even as an adult she found such comfort from her mother’s presence; how they would do household projects together; how one time she persuaded her mother to sit on her bed and watch t.v. so she could have her mother’s comforting presence in the room as she cleaned out her closet.
Liz was also her daughters’ moral lodestar. When, as a child, a store clerk would give one of her daughters’ too much change, Liz would make them take it back. Be honest; so the right thing; above all, have respect for yourselves.
Liz was someone who would try to see life from other peoples’points of view. Fairminded, she never found pleasure in gossip — never engaged in bad mouthing people. She made it a point to see the good in other people. She was unaffected, unpretentious.
She had a gift for friendship. She made long lasting friendships with the other mothers in her neighborhood, and with the people she worked with. She knew how to be a friend, always there to help out when people needed her. A friend would have an attack of migraines in the middle of night, and Liz would be there to help. She was good compay. Liz had this thoughtful way about her where she’d see something in a store that suited a particular friend and pick it up for the friend as an unexpected gift.
Heather inherited her mother’s gift for friendship, and when Heather would bring her friends home, Liz would treat them like her own children. Jag remembers that it was Liz who taught her how to ride a bike on a Mother’s Day long ago; terrified of falling, Liz’s reassuring presence made it possible for Jag to let go and ride.
Liz had learned hospitality growing up in her own family, and she practiced it well. It was not uncommon to find a crowd in Liz’s home; she had a way of making people feel welcome and cared for. There was Chelsea the cat, and Leon the bird, and if someone needed a place to stay for a time, Liz was happy to provide a place in her home for them to lay their head. She could whip up a meal without notice, and if anybody tried to leave the house when a meal was being placed on the table, well, Liz just wouldn’t have it! She was a good cook, famous in particular for her meatballs and sauce, having learned the secret recipe from her own mother.
She took to the role of grandmother with Bill’s children like a fish to water. “The kids are fine!” she would say, when Bill or Heather would worry that the kids were getting too rambunctious. Even when her energy was compromised by cancer and chemotherapy, she would give herself freely to them, taking them to the park, carrying little Baily home when he got to tired to walk.
Liz loved life. She liked to be up and doing. She wasn’t one for lounging around and doing nothing. She wanted to get up and live her life. When she went to the shore she was always the first one out on the beach, arriving there by 8 a.m.
When Jim came into her life, she enjoyed life all them more. He made her happy in a way she had not been before; he brought sunshine into a life lived under the cloud of cancer. They had fun together. They’d go to Nascar races. They’d go to Marge’s theme parties together dressed to the hilt — Liz, I am told, made a great Annette from the Mickey Mouse Club at Marge’s 50s party. She’d ride on the back of Jim’s Harley motorcycle; fly in his plane, go to Disney World with him. When on the spur of the moment Jim and Liz got married on October 30th, 1999, in, of all places, his plane, flying up in the sky, no one was surprised, and it seemed like Liz’s life was coasting to a fairy tale finish. Liz and Jim were on the phone together constantly, planning the details to the happy future they would share together. Liz would retire from her work and move down to Florida to be with Jim in the sun.
Liz had always hated winter, hated the cold; and she had always loved to be where the sun was hot. Under the warm rays of the sun it was as if weights would lift up off Liz’s shoulders; the arthritis eased in her hands. It didn’t matter how hot or humid — it never bothered her. She just loved being where it was warm.
And her all time favorite place in the world was Disney World. It was a magical happy place for Liz — a place where she could become like a child again. She just loved Mickey Mouse.
And so the plan was to sell the house and move to Florida and the sun and Disney World and devote herself to her health and getting well.
And then the fairy tale finish got hijacked: eleven months after their wedding, and a week before moving out of the house in Parsippany and moving to Florida to start their new life together, Jim’s died suddenly when his plane crashed.
It is hard, I think, for most of us here tonight to imagine the utter devastation Liz experienced in the great abyss of her grief.
But one thing that needs to be understood about Liz is that she was uncommonly brave. Shannon remembers how in times of stress and consternation, it was her mother who could always be counted on to keep her wits about her and be decisive. Apparently this same quality was evident in Liz as a child. I am told that her big sister Marge had this fear about going down into the cellar alone, so to find courage, she would take little Lizzy along with her. Lizzy, 11 years Marge’s sister, apparently had no problem with descending into the darkness of the basement.
Many years later, as an adult, this same courage and decisiveness was present to Liz when she had to descend into the darkness that is cancer. And her courage did not leave her, now as she found life calling her into the darkness of a grief-stricken heart. Although happiness for the most part was gone; she did not retreat from life; she did not give up. She’d always loved her job, and Liz kept going to work right up till this past November when she finally went on disability. She didn’t want to be pitied; she didn’t indulge herself in complaints about the pain and discomfort her illness surely brought her.
Liz did not get the fairy tale ending she had been hoping for in this life, but the last sixteen months of Liz’s life were not bereft of meaning. From what I have heard, it seems to me that God was working in Liz’s life on a very deep level, in the depths of her soul, tying together the loose ends of her life into a beautiful tapestry.
There was the very special week that Liz got to spend with her brother Albert in Florida shortly after Jim’s death. Albert, who had been so special to Liz growing up, had spent his adult life across the continent in California. How grateful Liz was to have that week with her brother.
And then there was Liz’s very special friendship that blossomed these last months of her life with Sandy and Lenny. Old wounds of the hearts found an extraordinary healing, I think, through the amazing grace of God. It gave particular pleasure to Liz, I think, to know that Heather and Shannon would have Sandy alongside their father in their lives if she did not survive her cancer. This very special friendship took off when Sandy invited Liz to come with her to a couple of healing services that were held here in our church. Though she was not healed of the cancer, she received a peace; the peace which comes from God and passes all understanding.
Despite the everpresent grief of her life, Liz felt a strong sense of God’s presence with her. The words of the 23rd psalm seem particularly expressive of the last portion of Liz’s life on earth: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
Liz took great pleasure in the fact that both of her daughters had found good, loving, honest men with whom to spend their lives. Liz loved both Jason and Bill. (One of the reasons, we find out, that Liz may have been particularly fond of Bill was the fact that he made frequent secret trips to MacDonald’s on her behalf to get Liz the quarter pounder burgers with cheese she craved.)
The one oasis of real happiness for Liz in this final stretch of her life was Shannon’s wedding. Two rather amazing photographs were taken at Shannon’s bridal shower. In the pictures, Liz is in the foreground, smiling happily. Sitting immediately next to her is Lenny’s mother, a woman renowned for her spirituality and prayerfulness. In the background are Sandy and Jag. Everyone is happy. What is peculiar about the photos is that something very strange that happened to them in the developing lab. A bright, beam of light, unseen at the time of the time of the photograph, appears from on the left, upper corner of the photograph, shining down directly into Liz’s waste — directly into the portion of her body where her cancer would have been located. Surrounding the beam of light on both sides is a beautiful pattern of bright colors, suggestive of a butterfly, the symbol of resurrection.
Liz believed the photograph was a sign from God; she called them her “healing pictures”, and she placed them on her tread mill where she did her daily walking. She would gaze on these photographs as she walked, feeling confident that God intended somehow to bless her with wholeness.
This past Thursday, Liz died the most extraordinary of deaths. It is rare to see a death so peaceful. She was not in some strange hospital room connected to tubes and needles and such, attended to by strangers. She was in her own bed, in her Mickey Mouse sheets, in her own bed, in her own home, surrounded by the people nearest and dearest to her in this world. When I saw the love that was present in that room it reminded me of birth; of a home birth; Liz’s family tenderly encouraging her to let go into the birth that is life in heaven, their hands gently caressing her.
In the basement of their house there was a phone line that belonged to Jim. Very rarely would it ring; but now, as Liz reached her last three breaths on this earth, the phone began to ring. Instinctively, the family took the phone ring as a sign from heaven, a sign from Jim. They knew that Liz was at this moment passing over to the other side; that there were now others hands — Jim’s hands and other loving hands — reaching out to her in the bright light of God’s love to welcome her to her new home in heaven.
Let me digress a moment to tell you a little story involving my son Bobby. About a year ago a family friend came to our house for a visit. He was deeply depressed, going through some very hard times. This friend has a hard time believing in God — a hard time believing that there is some kind of greater plan to our lives than what is visible to our eyes. I was telling my depressed friend about my belief that heaven is real, and I asked him if he could believe that. My friend said, somewhat sarcastically, “Sure, I’d love to believe that there is Disney World when you die.”
At some point soon thereafter my son Bobby, five at the time, wandered into the room. He had not heard this conversation. Bobby got this idea in his head, as is his way from time to time, to give a present to our family friend. Sneaking off into another room, Bobby located something, wrapped it up in some tissue paper, and with a twinkle in his eyes, presented it to our depressed friend to open.
He unwrapped the present to discover a plaster Mickey Mouse, a souvenir that his sister had brought him from her trip to Disney World, a little sign arranged by God to give a little hint of the reality of heaven.
Heaven is real, and it is beautiful, and it is more fun even than Disney World.
Liz didn’t get her fairy tale finish in this world, but I believe she has gotten the fairy tale finish in the world to come. She has gotten her healing, a healing that began in this life and has come to its completion with the new body she received when her spirit lifted up out of her earthly body Thursday evening.