My lovely former sister-in-law, Rebecca Francis Apple-Haslanger, died on Sunday, May 27, 2012, just five days after her 59th birthday. I have known Becky since she was about eight; she and my sister Becky were friends and classmates. Becky was my sister-in-law for twenty years and over the years we had many happy family times. Her life ended tragically and far too soon. After enduring MS for over 30 years, she developed ALS, a disease which ravaged her body, but could not destroy her beauty and loving spirit. She faced her illness with courage and dignity, learning to live joyfully with the smallest of pleasures. Her very happy marriage to Mark brought blessings into both of their lives. We were grateful to see pictures of their marriage over the years, the glow in her face showing her life transformed by love and happiness. This week we all had to let Becky go on to the heavens beyond. I am sure that the angels came to lift her gently into the Light, yet her love remains to be with us always. I am still in tears at her suffering and her way-too early passing, but my heart is warmed by seeing how love transformed her life. Love brings healing and joy amidst the suffering.
Eulogy for Aunt Becky Apple-Haslanger
Becky was a beautiful baby, plump with dark brown curly hair and sparkling dark eyes. She was a beautiful girl, a beautiful teen, and a lovely young woman. When she was a small girl, her rich, melodious singing voice developed—and starting when she was 5-6, she was asked to sing at many weddings, funerals, and church services in the country churches in Orange and Washington Counties. She loved singing in the choir during her school years and often sang solos at the Salem United Methodist Church where she and her family were members. When she was a teen, she took voice and piano lessons from university professors. Even as a small girl, she was poised and confident in her performances.
All through her school years, Becky was an outstanding and dedicated student. Once, when she was in high school, I remember looking at her homework. She had typed the outlined material, both from the text and from the class lessons, in elaborate detail. I was deeply impressed at the intensity of her scholarship: she knew how to study and she told me that she went over and over the material to make sure she learned it correctly. In my 28 years of teaching high school, I had very, very few students who grasped what she instinctively knew about learning—and very few who worked at learning as she did. She was Salutatorian of her high school class, a big disappointment for her, as second place was determined by a low grade, a B that she made in Driver’s Ed.
About that driving—a bitter/sweet story: Becky’s father bought her a snazzy bright yellow Pontiac Firebird for her 16th birthday. It was a really cool car. But, when Becky went to take her driver’s test, she was nervous—and it’s dangerous down there on the Square in Salem—and she put a dent in the car as she backed out. Oh….she was crushed, she cried and cried…but she re-took the test a week later and passed, to everyone’s relief. And then—-she had the coolest car in which to tool around the town.
Max, my husband, was Becky’s high school principal—and the students of the Class of 1971 were his first graduates and to this day so dear to his heart. Becky was irked with him once when she didn’t pass the yardstick test—-her skirt was too high on the thigh from the ground, measuring with a yardstick, and she was sent home to change clothing. Grandmother huffed around, saying she was the final judge of whether her child’s dress was appropriate—and Becky was stunned that an honor student was treated as if she were a miscreant. She told that story for years—-she just could not believe she got in trouble because her skirt was an inch too short. Max, though, remembers her brilliant intelligence and lively mind—and thinks the skirt story is a myth. For years, he followed her academic career with pride, thrilled with her successes.
At Purdue, Becky had some “real world” experiences with a difficult roommate. She weathered that and joined a sorority. She loved living in the house and sharing social life with her sisters. That was when I saw Becky blossom as a person; it was so exciting for her to be around women of her intellectual capacity and interests. She glowed with the experience of being on her own and succeeding in the world of her dreams. Of course, she succeeded academically, too, invited to honor societies and graduating with highest honors.
Becky was 15 when her oldest nephew Jim was born and 16 when Dan was born. Since she had no cousins and was the youngest child, being around babies and toddlers was a new experience for her. Becky loved to babysit or to come over to play with the boys. She wasn’t used to the messes they made or the rough-and-tumble of little brothers, but she was game—and managed to enjoy it. When Becky was in college, the fun years of visiting began. We visited Aunt Becky at Purdue, and when she started dental school, we visited in downtown Indianapolis at her first apartment, and later in suburban Indianapolis, and still later when she bought a dental practice and moved to South Bend. Our visits always included a shopping trip, eating at a trendy restaurant, and visiting the zoo or a museum or a local historical place. Both Becky and Grandmother Apple liked to find interesting little shops with upscale goods. A visit to Indianapolis meant having lunch or tea in the dining room at Ayres and a shopping tour of the store. We went to lots of movies, too, and also the theatre. Once when the boys were about five and six, Aunt Becky went with us for a ride down the Ohio on the Belle of Louisville, beaming with pride at her small nephews and laughing as they waved to people on the shore
Grandmother Apple was lively–she liked to laugh and chat, to see new places and to explore. Becky, like Jim and Dan, was more reserved, but Grandmother dragged us all along with her. Outings and family meals with Grandmother and Becky were filled with stories and jokes, and lots of laughter.
Jimmy remembers Grandmother’s dog Geraldine singing when Becky played the piano. Becky came to his ball games and sent him charts on tooth care when he was in college. As they corresponded over the years, he would report on his travels and studies, and she would respond with birthday and holiday cards. His note said, “I will miss my Aunt Becky greatly.”
In 1980, Becky, Grandmother Apple, and I took a trip to New England to celebrate her graduation from dental school at IUPUI and my graduation from IU with a Master’s Degree. Becky– neat and precise—me, messy and earth motherish —with Grandmother Apple trying to balance the two opposites and make the trip work. Becky got food positioning from eating clams at a seaside restaurant in Groton, MA and was really ill, requiring an emergency rest stop for a couple of days, but then she valiantly went on. From Boston, we drove all the way to Montreal, where we all loved staying at a grand hotel and having afternoon tea in the dining room. In Montreal, I had a horrible migraine, my first ever, from a meal containing wine/cheese/mushrooms. I was flattened for a day, leaving Grandmother to nurse a second sick traveling companion. Soon enough, I recovered and we journeyed on, driving down the entire state of Vermont on our way back to Boston. Grandmother and Becky both loved dress clothing, elegant restaurants, tea rooms, and other vestiges of the elegance of the past. This trip allowed us to enjoy all of those things in one fell swoop.
Zoe Anna and I were charter members of Chapter DB, PEO Sisterhood, in Salem. It was a great joy to us when Becky was invited to become a member of PEO here in South Bend. We all shared in the ideals of this organization: a love of knowledge and culture; obtaining wisdom from nature, art, books, study and society; enjoying conversation and writing; and through using our talents to help others. Becky was a living model of these ideals and I am proud to share with her a love of this wonderful organization that supports education for women.
Becky had a deep influence on her two nephews. For Jim, she was the mentor and role model to academic excellence and to success in high school, university, and later graduate school. For Dan, she was the key to understanding his grandparents and the Apple family history. Dan and Aunt Becky shared a love of long talks about family events and interests, as well as a deep love of animals, especially their dogs
When she was a teen and a young adult, Becky confided to me things she could not tell her mother. Grandmother expected Becky to be perfect—-and well, life is often messy. So, I knew about friendships that were painful, romances that crashed, and lots of little things that went wrong. What I admired was her grit. When something didn’t turn out well, she cried, and then she got up and marched on down the path. The most daunting thing of her life was her illness. I knew from how she faced the difficult things in her childhood and adolescence, that she would and did face her illness with grace and courage.
A woman of elegance and resolve, an indomitable spirit, Becky endured an adult life of slowly increasing illness. Her body was fragile, but her spirit was valiant. Her beauty in mind, body, and spirit shines with her to the end. Her Apple family remembers the beautiful and vibrant girl and the lovely young woman with a shining intelligence, a lively wit, a sense of fun and laughter, a capacity for friendship, and a deep desire to explore the beauty of the world and to use her intelligence to minister to others. To her nephews she was a guiding light and a loving friend.
Becky’s beloved husband Mark was with her until the last breath—-and to Mark, I say, for Jim and Dan and Shinobu, for James and Diana, and for Max and me, thank you and God Bless You. Our love for her began at her birth or when she was very young or in her formative years, and you have loved her with the deepest of loves and have given her the most tender of care through her last decades.
Dearest Becky—-we have cherished you as a sister, a sister-in-law, an aunt, and a friend:
“May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”