For Bernice


Bernice is third from the right in the black paints and blue print blouse

It’s funny the things you think of in grief.

Like how I wouldn’t wear yellow this day. She hated yellow and teased me about my affinity for it. Threatened to repaint my yellow mailbox red.

I think it strange I am hungry. That mundane things like needing to eat just continue, when everything should stop for a moment, at least, and just “be.”

Even last night at the hospital, when they came out, the doctors, the nurses, the chaplain. Even as I was both stunned and not. Right then, that early, the stories fell from my lips. Wanting these strangers who tried to save her life to glimpse her. Who she was that they labored over. Her spunk and varied life experiences. I needed those memories, those stories that made me both laugh and cry.

I need them now.

Did you know she asked me to take her to Avatar? “But we have to see it in 3-D if we go,” she said.

Afterwards I asked if she enjoyed the movie.

“It was too long,” Typical, her decided opinion. “They should have had an intermission. That’s what they did in Gone with the Wind when I saw it in New York.”

And I marveled at a life that had spanned Gone With the Wind–the first color movie to win Best Picture and a transitional film in many ways–to Avatar with its 3-D blue people and ground-breaking visual effects.

Bernice didn’t pull punches. When the weight piled on she told me, “You’re getting fat. Well, it happens to the best of us.”

And one day when she answered her door, and the sunshine bounced off my silver highlights it was, “It’s time to color your hair. You’re going gray.”

Funny how she could say those things, and it made me laugh. It never hurt like it would if someone else said it.

Last year when I started losing weight she praised me, but cautioned, “Don’t lose too much. You were too skinny when you married Jerry.”

“You let me know if you think I’m getting too thin.”

“Oh, I will.”

“I have no doubt,” I said. And she laughed. I did, too.

As I type her little dog, Dusty, comes by my feet for some love. My husband–a staunch believer that animals belong outside–said we’d better bring him home with us last night. And so I guess he’s here until arrangements are made for his new home. Dusty doesn’t stay alone at night, and we didn’t have the heart to sleep at her house as we’ve done in the past when Bernice was hospitalized.

It was the main thing she worried about, that her little dog wouldn’t be alone.

The boys often ran her to the store or drove her and Dusty to the groomer. This little trips meant they’d come home with a frozen lasagna for supper or stop by Dairy Queen after the grooming appointment. She didn’t mind asking us for help, but she always found a way to give us something, too. I think she especially enjoyed letting Sam drive her car on his first date.

Funny the process of grief. At the hospital I stood by the bed. The shell that was once her lying there. We prayed. Cried. I kissed her cold forehead.

Titanic_300PixWide_BlogAdThen I had to pull out my kindle, show a total stranger my book cover with Bernice’s hand on it. “She was a hand model in her teens in New York, you know.” It seemed important this woman glimpse her, see the span. “And then she modeled for me.”

Bernice had wanted to use the other hand, felt it was less drawn by age. I explained it was the very age of the hand that I wanted for the book cover, and she shrugged, set aside pride, and complied. And I loved the picture, the spotted, gnarled, arthritic hand. The hand I’ve held. The hand that only a few months ago made me cookies.

Before Sarah married, Bernice and I went shopping for a new outfit. She didn’t like using her walker, so she leaned on the carts at the store, incredible stamina for 84 years old. She bought a new ring with a red stone with a gift certificate from her grand kids, then scanned the jewelry department looking for something for me, insisting I choose a bracelet. (Always a gift for someone else.)

We picked out a new pant suit for her to wear to the wedding, and she bought herself some slacks and pair of jeans. She was excited at the skinny leg styles. She had thin legs, used to dance on those legs in New York, often dreamed of being a Rockette, but said she was not quite tall enough and the Rockettes liked their dancers thin those days.

We ate at Red Robin, her favorite place for a hamburger. It may have been that day we splurged on shakes, too.

Before the wedding she handed me a beautiful ring, with two little diamonds and two purple stones. “Try this on. I’ll bet it fits you now that you’re skinny.”

It fit. I smiled and handed it back to her.

“Why don’t you wear it for a while?”

So I wore it a week. Maybe more.

“You know I’m giving that ring to you, don’t you?” This one day, out of the blue as I sat across from her at the oak table we bought years ago at a garage sale. “You need a purple one for the wedding. That’s Sarah’s colors.”

She took a sip of her diet Dr. Pepper and then leaned forward. “When I bought it years ago I wanted red, but they didn’t have red. Now I know why. Because it was for you. For the wedding.”

It was one of those strange thing I thought about this morning when I awoke with tears–how I would put that ring on, as I’ve done most days for the last year, how I loved that ring.

How I loved her.


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27 thoughts on “For Bernice

  1. Marlene Bagnull March 27, 2014 at 3:24 pm Reply

    What a beautiful tribute to your friend. Father, please hold Paula close as she grieves for Bernice.

  2. Cathy West March 27, 2014 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Oh. Tears. Such a precious tribute. Dear Paula, how blessed you were to have such a wonderful woman in your life. And thank you for sharing the cover story, I didn’t know that and it makes it all the more special now, I always loved that book cover. She sounds like someone I would have loved to know. We all need a Bernice. Praying for you in your grief.

    • Paula Moldenhauer March 27, 2014 at 3:53 pm Reply

      Another fun fact about the book cover–the blouse is from our author friend Mary Davis. I saw her in it and knew it was the one for our cover. We were at an author event together. Mary literally took it off and handed it to us after the event! (She did have another shirt underneath) And the best part about the one hand being Bernice’s is that the other is my daughters.

  3. Tracy Ruckman March 27, 2014 at 3:52 pm Reply


  4. Cynthia March 27, 2014 at 3:59 pm Reply

    So sorry you have lost Bernice. You are truly blessed to have had her share your life. Praying for you to have peace through your grief.

    • Paula Moldenhauer March 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm Reply

      Your prayers are treasured, Cynthia, rising toward heaven with their aroma falling on me in comfort.

  5. Jill Hups March 27, 2014 at 4:02 pm Reply

    That was beautiful, Paula! As I read your blog, stories you shared with me of Bernice flooded my mind, and I found tears rolling down my cheek. I don’t know if Bernice was your muse for Olive in Titanic, but if she was I believe God gave your Olive closure in knowing the LORD God her Messiah is truly who He said He is as He took her home, rescuing her from pain and loneliness. Love you!

    • Paula Moldenhauer March 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm Reply

      Your words, both here and shared privately, bring me much comfort.

  6. robbieiobst March 27, 2014 at 5:55 pm Reply

    Paula, absolutely beautiful words for a beautiful person. Never met Bernice but she lives in my mind now through your tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss, friend. Praying for your beautiful heart to be comforted by our King.

  7. weight2lose2013 March 27, 2014 at 6:50 pm Reply

    What a beautiful way to commemorate her. Its with love that stories like yours are created. I’m sure Bernice is smiling down on you right now.

    • Paula Moldenhauer March 28, 2014 at 4:58 pm Reply

      I know she is with God and at peace. I hold onto the idea that her smile is for me.

  8. Ronda Grundy March 27, 2014 at 9:16 pm Reply

    Such beautiful memories! Thanks for sharing a piece of your heart.

  9. Elece March 27, 2014 at 10:31 pm Reply

    What a sweet story Paula. Sorry for your loss. Friends like her are forever though.

    • Paula Moldenhauer March 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm Reply

      Yes she will live on in my heart–nothing can take away that bond.

  10. mariekeates March 27, 2014 at 10:35 pm Reply

    Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes
    Partings must happen before we meet again
    And meeting again after moments or lifetimes
    Is certain for those who are friends

    This is from Illusions by Richard Bach. It has comforted me in more than one moment of need. I hope it comforts you. X

  11. tWendi Wilkins March 28, 2014 at 12:17 am Reply

    Paula, this was a pleasure to read. I don’t know if that’s a proper thing to say given the subject, but it’s true. Bernice lives on through your words and your loving memories of her. I would love to read a book of your memoirs of her. But you would have to write it first…

  12. Paula Moldenhauer March 28, 2014 at 5:01 pm Reply

    I’m glad you found pleasure in her story. That blesses me! I don’t think I could write her memoirs, not without a lot of help. Maybe some day bits of her essence will show up in a novel or something!

  13. Barb Scott April 5, 2014 at 3:42 am Reply

    Very beautiful tribute.

  14. Introspection | A BENew Journey April 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm Reply

    […] day at a time, to laugh, to cry, to work. It takes a lot of time to separate households. After the loss of my dear neighbor, Bernice, more family than friend, the energy to move forward was cut in two. Her relatives shared many of her household goods. I […]

  15. […] at the nice Italian place we’d chosen. Besides, when I shopped for a dress to wear to Bernice’s memorial service I couldn’t believe how many dresses actually fit, and I bought a special one and saved it […]

  16. Refreshment | A BENew Journey July 24, 2014 at 11:53 am Reply

    […] sit side-by-side, lap-tops perched on the patio table that speaks love, too (It once belonged to Bernice, and I know she would rejoice in seeing us here). We let the fresh air clear our head, cool our […]

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