There are some things that can life your heart and break it at the same time, and one of those was the moment in Bruce Williamson's Memorial Service at the Mansion when resident Bob Bathers and aide DorLisa Wheat sang Amazing Grace.
That was when the tears started to flow from almost everybody gathered to say goodbye to Bruce Williamson, who had lived in the Mansion for a decade, longer than anyone else.
There were more than 100 people at the service, so many people in our small town showed up – merchants, neighbors, friends, people who saw him sitting on his Main Street bench every day.
In fact, a committee has already been formed to install a plaque on Bruce's bench, he was there almost every day.
You can learn a lot about someone by seeing who comes to a memorial service and what they say, and the outpouring of affection for Bruce was powerful. On the Army Of Good list of Mansion residents, he was "Bruce," or "Bruce W."
As much as it was a service for him, it was also a stunning demonstration of community, which lives and thrives in my town. A dozen merchants from Main Street came, Bruce had come into their stores or they saw him on his now locally famous bench.
I didn't know Bruce as well as I have come to know the other residents, in part because Bruce never seemed needy, despite has many health troubles. Whenever I saw Bruce, he asked me – a volunteer with a therapy dog – how I was, and what I needed. Once in a while, we sat together on his bench, and talked easily. He was not one to ask for help, he seemed much more interested in helping.
At first, I thought he was a member of the Mansion staff, he was so helpful to people. He pulled chairs out for people in the dining room, he went to the store buy things for them, he opened doors and checked on the, and always had a good morning for them.
Inside a place like the Mansion, there is a complex, ever changing social system, almost everyone is in a different place, and almost everyone is in the same place. People are there one day, gone the next. Death is never a shock.
But this was different, Bruce was special, he stood out. He was one of those sunshine people who always has a good word for everyone and in instinct for empathy. That is a rare thing anywhere in our world, some people are just built that way.
On his bench, he came to know much of the town, people waved to him, looked for him, often sat with him. He seemed to know everybody.
An elderly woman down the block stood up to recall the time Bruce offered to help take her cart back to the grocery store for her, they became friends. People brought him their coins – he had a coin and antique bottle collection. He seemed to be an Ambassador of Good, the Mansion staff adored him and was devastated by his death, I have never seen them so broken up.
Bruce and I were both born in the same hospital in the same town – Providence – and we had some fund sharing memories of life there. In his obituary, the family thanked the people who wrote to Bruce, "to share their lives while brightening others and building a kingdom of heart."
DorLisa, who sang Amazing Grace at the Memorial Service, came to Bruce's room in his last and difficult days to sing the song to him every morning. Talk about grace.
I hope those of you her on the blog from the Army OF Good who wrote to him do know how much he appreciated that and enjoyed your messages.
Bruce was a prince in the kingdom of heart, and the people who dwelled in that world crowded into the Mansion to honor their prince and say goodbye. I've been to a number of memorial services, I am hard-pressed to remember one that was so genuine and filled with love and appreciation.
The Mansion is no stranger to death, but it lifted my heart to see Bob, who is ill himself, and DorLisa sing Amazing Grace. There are few hearts in our sometimes hard world that wouldn't melt in that room today. It was a gift to me there, the conflict and divisions and angry noises of the outside world seemed especially far away. They were not in the Great Room of the Mansion.
Red came with me, and I saw that he was especially drawn from across the room to Bruce's sister Blaine, he put his paw on her arm again and again, he seems to always know just where to go, where he is most needed.
I have worked in hospice, assisted care and dementia units for some years now, but the Mansion feels like family and home now. At the Mansion today, the staff and Mansion were subdued – we came back in the afternoon to check on everyone. The Mansion had a broken heart today – you could feel it, even the normally ebullient staff were subdued. They will be back to normal in the morning, life and death are not different things there, but two parts of the same thing.
Sometimes grief and tears are necessary, they help us to move on.
I love many things about my town, but I love this powerful sense of community most of all. Here we are known, and sometimes even loved. This afternoon, I saw a dozen residents and half the staff in tears and washed in sorrow. Even the ever-cheerful Peggie was crying much of the day.
They were cleansing their pain in a way, saying a poignant goodbye to a prince in the kingdom of heart.