Evelyn Klein Stephens
November 20th, 2013
Welcome to Evelyn Klein Stephen’s memorial service. Take a moment to just sit and breath for a bit – to take in the beauty of that song, picked by Evelyn. “I am Your Child.”
Our friend Evelyn was Born June 9th, 1963 in Tyrone Pa. to Bob and Laurie Klein. The 3rd of 4 children eventually joined Cory, Sherry, and Gwenda. She was one of those personalities, whether friend or family, that if she was in proximity to any place to one’s life, her presence certainly did not escape you!
And what was that presence? In speaking of her life today, her presence with us, we speak of four things…
1. Passionate Spirit of Life
2. Appreciation of Beauty
A Passionate Spirit of Life
Starting with that passionate Spirit of Life. In conversations with friends, family and colleagues that’s what came through loud and clear, just as her personality came through, loud and clear.
Joie de vivre – a cheerful enjoyment of life … an exultation of spirit. Is how that expression is defined. It made her a cheerleader … it made her vibrant, it made her highly independent.
That independent streak we can see in that joy for life as someone who at the age of 19 decided to set out on her own. Car and apartment, working at Bloomingdales then Jefferson Ward. Then on to Penn State for a degree in marketing. And then came a successful work career.
After marrying and moving to Pittsburg, Evelyn worked at Kaufmann’s. Eventually she moved on to working in New York City as a sales executive for retailer Evan Picone. Then the family moved on to Atlanta where she served as Director for Rocking Horse Child Care Center. Atlanta was followed by New Jersey, and Baltimore, then back Philly. In this area, Evelyn’s path included serving as President of Stephen’s Original Food in which she even got to star on QVC plugging Bookbinders soup. Then it seemed to all come together in a beautiful way with her work at the historic Cairnwood estate located in Bryn Athyn Pennsylvania.
God not only makes and is making many mansions in heaven but he blessed us in this life us with many historic mansions as well, of which Cairnwood is one. Evelyn was very aware of these. Loving architecture, loving different types of houses, loving homes and seeing how they were built and constructed and their history. Her children talked of being dragged from place to place to see these different types of homes that so excited their mother. Her passion around them was infectious.
She really did so much at Cairnwood. Turning a beautiful building beyond just SOME thing to a building that was THE thing. Cairnwood wasn’t just benefiting the community financially, but other benefits flowed as well. It was not a surprise that in posting about Evelyn’s passing on Facebook that the first person to respond was a Cairnwood bride now with a child, now having joined the New Church.
She took that great, great passionate spirit of life and used it in that work. I loved the words that were shared at her retirement party held at Cairnwood. Words that could have been shared no doubt throughout her whole life. Words like: Bold, Fearless, Driven, Intelligent, a Renegade. A deep passionate spirit of life. A spirit that would even lead a neighbor to with smile report her to do such things like yard work in a cocktail dress when she needed to multi-task. One that would drive her as well last mother’s day even in the midst of sickness knowing how precious her mother was to her to take the time to plant a rose bush. Five hours to plant a rose bush for her mother on mother’s day.
The real passionate spirits of her life no doubt were three wonderful children: Richard, Brook and Hunter. When I asked her what she most wanted those children to know she talked of love, how proud she was of each one, and what she saw in these three smart, beautiful, resilient kids. She summed it all up in these three beautiful words: “3 great kids, 3 great futures.”
Her children remember that passion for life as it showed itself in holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving; matching colors between the tree and wrapping. Easter bunny footprints painted on a walk that led one little girl to truly believe that the Easter bunny was real. Birthdays as well, true celebrations. Pink milk for Valentines day, Green milk for a Goosebumps birthday. Rooms decorated, with sky and flowers, with Winnie the Pooh, with stars, all done out of a mother’s love for her children.
The final theme, the universal theme, of all this that Richard put so well was a game that she used to play with him when he was very little. She would ask quizzically “You’re never going to forget how much I love you Richard. “It is so easy to remember and to think of her saying those words even here, even now, in spirit. Saying it throughout the rest of your lives “you’re never going to forget how much I love you.”
An Appreciation of Beauty
There also was great appreciation of beauty. It is easy to wonder how many of us today in getting ready for this funeral got extra dressed up knowing that it was for Evelyn. She would no doubt offer, “you all look beautiful.”
There is that wonderful picture in your program which you are welcome to pull out now. The picture captures her on the way to her final Cairnwood Gala, a picture of her looking skyward. Knowing that it was going to be a wonderful fundraiser, as well as a wonderful excuse to get dressed up.
That appreciation of beauty went many different places went as well. It included wearing a hot pink wig as she went through chemotherapy. A hot pink wig that actually led to a friendship with another hot pink wig wearer.
And did she ever love the beauty of the outdoors as well. Not just beauty as a person, not just beauty as fashion, or beauty as what is what we can make ourselves or be in this world, but beauty of the world: Flowers, food, nice wine. In talking to her as she approached the end she made mention of one particular meal that she said was of 5 star quality and the way she described it, you know, you had to be there, but the way she described it was just so poetic and artistic. A dear friend delivering chicken pot pie, a bottle of wine, and flowers. And she talked of this meal like Le Bec Fin would have nothing on this meal of chicken pot pie, wine and flowers. A joy in the small stuff … a thanksgiving and a gratitude in the small stuff in the warmth of that meal in the warmth of the fellowship of around that meal, that is where she found life. That is where she found celebration.
We also have to smile remembering as well her humor. A humor that she largely maintained up until the very end. One friend who she often went on business trips with said she could even make traveling to Albany, New York fun.
Others shared how much she enjoyed a game called “Bunko.” A game that when I looked at it’s described this way “A social dice game: 100% luck and no skill.” And I’m wondering, who makes that fun? Well the answer maybe we could all say the name. Who makes that fun? “Evelyn.”
At of course, Barry Manilow. I don’t know who finds that fun. But I love this line. She referred to herself as a fan of Barry Manilow. And as some of you might be aware, do you know what the name of someone who is a fan of Barry Manilow is? A Fanilow. Who does that? Evelyn.
And it’s not that cancer leached out that humor. That cancer actually kept the humor in place. For many of us, as we run through the inevitable stumbling blocks of our lives one of the first things unfortunately to disappear is humor, but not with Evelyn. She shared a very funny story. As the brain cancer progressed she wasn’t always able to articulate exactly what she meant to say. To someone she offered this: “I need to go to the hospital”, but what she actually meant in her head was “I need a shower.” So the person dutifully went and found a way to get her help as she’s taking a shower and she found that humorous. Just think about that moment right there. How many of us would find that moment tragic? How many would find that moment a part of a rutted despair around a disease that kept getting progressively worse? And what did Evelyn find? Occasion to laugh. Which brings us to Courage.
Courage is such a beautiful word. “Cour” meaning our heart “age” meaning where we live. Courage is about this question, “Where do our hearts live?” Where does your heart live? Where did her heart live? That is where courage grows. That is where courage takes root. And we know that that courage took root from her very youngest years. Most of us only have to learn how to walk one time. Evelyn found the courage to learn how to walk three times.
When she was born there was great fear that her mother would not actually make it, but she did. Then later on Evelyn, as a senior in high school, was hit by a car and nearly killed. Leg broken in 5 places, cast for months, jaw wired shut. And Mark referred to that event saying “Actually she turned that into a positive.” He said, “that it was life forming for her. She got attention, she learned perseverance and resilience, she got to wear pants to school.” And learned many of those same skills when she would show us and live throughout her cancer.
And that courage of course did have zany parts. There’s another story where she was shopping with her kids, bags in hand and watched someone snatch a purse from an elderly women. Evelyn took off in hot pursuit. Thought she finally had the purse snatcher cornered as a car pulled up. Shouted to the driver to get the man and then watched the man hop into the car and drive off. But she did that kind of thing. She had that kind of courage.
Courage and vision come together so well, don’t they. There is that beautiful line from Divine Providence which we read to start the service. I love that passage. Even if we can see divine providence. Even if we can possibly get a glimpse of God’s leadership in our life, all we will see are the piles, the scattered heaps of construction materials. This bit here, this bit there. That’s all we really can naturally see. What does God see? He sees possibility. He sees destiny. He even sees home. Evelyn, when you look at her vision, possessed an uncanny ability to see that big picture when many may have only seen scattered heaps. She saw beautiful buildings, she saw potential.
I remember once standing with her in the beauty of Cairnwood. The beauty of Cairnwood looking complete and her informing me with a smile that they were only 10% of the way there. That’s vision, and she was one of those blessed with the courage to achieve it. To see that big picture in her life and in those she loved and to be able to speak to that. Be that in a board room or at 2:00 in the morning with her beloved daughter.
That courage gave her a certain toughness a certain strength underneath that smile. Her mother Laurie spoke of a necklace that she had that had Sacagawea on it. As Evelyn approached the end Evelyn kept on commenting on the necklace, her mother offered it to her and when Evelyn passed the necklace was taken back to be given to Brook. Evelyn’s comment on that Sacagawea coin that was part of that was “Sacagawea was one tough broad,” sounds like Evelyn.
Isn’t it interesting as well. All of you in here had a conversations with her and how many times did the conversation start with her talking about all her ailments? Not too often. It was about how are YOU doing? What’s going on? What’s the plan? The illness was not the conversation. LIFE was the conversation.
Even after attending THE doctor’s visit when she got the news with her dear sister Gwen. She went out and within hours bought a string bikini. That is courage. Yes, it is humor, yes it is fun, and yes it brings a smile, but that is courage. That is somebody showing where their heart lives, that their heart does not live in death and loss that their heart lives in life. That the choice said over and over again is the choice of life.
Of course none of these fine qualities – Spirit of Life, Appreciation of Beauty, Humor, and Courage – go with out struggle. Of course she struggled. No one whose nickname in elementary school was Devilyn would not. We can see those flips. Life really is about those pieces, about the light and dark. That somehow they bring us to who we are. The negative space in paintings that allows our lives to come into full contrast, allows our lives to be fully seen. An independence that could be seen at times and no doubt was defiance. A persistence that was no doubt at times stubbornness. When you ask a father about his daughter and he raises his eyebrows and goes “She was a firecracker.” You could fill in a lot of other words for “firecracker.” And that is who she was.
She was very aware of those struggles. She was very aware of those things that she felt she needed to continue to work on and that she will continue to work on. Struggles around control, struggles around trying to fix things and fix people, and struggles around forgiveness. But she did work in that direction. A very loving story that the told of her parents was this. I’m sitting by her bedside and I’m typing notes on my Iphone and Evelyn pats the phone down. She doesn’t want me to write this but I don’t think she would care now. She said “Chuck, you know it took me four years after moving here to realize how cool my parents were.” That is beautiful.
To close, Evelyn was a genuinely good person. I read recently in an article about somebody and they were commenting about this person. They said these beautiful words. Listen … they said that this person “gave life a good squeeze.” I think Evelyn gave life a good squeeze.
What will she be waking to? Maybe to the love hate relationship she had with her dog, Toby. Be we can rest assured that she will wake to great love. The Lord will resuscitate her, angels will surround her. “Angels” a word also meaning “messenger.” Listen to the music she picked for the day. “Angels we have heard on high. Sweetly singing over the plain.” Right now she would gently say, angels are whispering in my ear “you are loved, you are home.” No doubt she will be able to enjoy mayonnaise, mashed potatoes, corn, butter pecan ice cream all those things she craved. Flowers, gardens beyond compare maybe even a manger, a home in heaven under construction where God sees the plan.
She leaves us with these beautiful reminders from her mouth. You can see from within these reminders her strengths and her struggles embedded in what she wanted you to hear. That you can’t fix people. That what we have to do is appreciate perspective because in her words “It’s all a circle.” Try to maximize the good and minimize the bad. Let go. No drama. Good is good even if no one sees it, even if it is in the little things, like a Rose bush on mother’s day.
Yes, of course there is sadness for her, sadness for family, sadness for friends sadness for colleagues. I love these words from Anne Lamott “You will lose someone you can’t live without and your heart will be badly broken. And the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But that is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up and you come through it. It’s like having a broken leg never heals perfectly that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
The place to be is celebrating that life, well lived, and at the same time allowing our hearts to be broken. Allowing our hearts to be broken by what breaks God’s heart. We move forward with 11 words.
What I’m going to do is I’m going to offer these 11 different words in 4 different sections and I’m going to ask you to say them after I say them. They will mean different things to different people, but this is a way that we can offer something that we can send forth to Evelyn:
Please forgive me
I forgive you
I love you
Lets find our way to those words of forgiveness, gratitude and love. Marry those words with those memories of a passionate spirit for life, beauty, courage and humor. Our life will find our way, her life will find its way, to that vastness that is heaven. To that vastness that is coming alive. That vastness that is our true self, now freed from this world. Sad and missing people, of course, and freed to be it’s own true self, an angel, a piece of heaven. Because in the end I think we all can agree Evelyn gave life a good squeeze.