My dear friend, Chris Ann Nelson, slipped the bonds of earth and stepped into Heaven on March 4 of this year. On that date in Mackinaw City – the location of the Nelson’s sweet cottage by Chris’ beloved Mackinac Bridge – snow covered the ground, and the Straits were frozen. Chris and Burton’s four children were spread across the country. Her many friends from the Island and from the Mackinac Historic State Parks (where Chris Ann had worked for several years) were gone to warmer climates and would not return until spring.
And so, in the planning of her Memorial – by her family and by Chris Ann herself – the service date was set for June 22. It would herald the beginning of Nelson Week – the annual gathering of their clan – 4 children, 4 bonus children (the spouses of children), and 10 grandchildren. Each year they all pile into the cottage on Cobble Beach at the base of the bridge, and for a week the cottage rings with voices talking and laughing, children playing games, trips to the Island, a lot of food being consumed, and love just bouncing off the walls. Each year special t-shirts are designed, worn throughout the week and for one much-planned-for family photo that increased in number of people each year as grandchildren were born.
It is easier to have a celebration of someone’s life after a certain passage of time. And that was what happened on Saturday, June 22. Instead of a funeral, mourning Chris Ann’s death, there was a celebration of her life. And it was amazing.
The church service was held at Mackinaw City Bible Church, which Chris Ann and Burton attended during the summer and where Burton still teaches Sunday School. Sue Conlon, who I stayed with in January when I came up to visit Chris Ann in January, picked Jill and I up at the dock, and we and the Forrester family arrived at the church a little before 11:00.
The service was beautiful, and even after extra chairs were brought in, the church was standing room only by the time the program began. Friends and family sang songs special to Chris Ann, and two of their children and Chris Ann’s sister spoke of what Chris Ann had meant to them. People in the audience were given the opportunity to speak, and I joined 10 or 12 others who stood to give our thoughts. I think I got out three sentences before I started weeping, but I hope I managed to say what I wanted to – how Chris Ann made me want to be a better person, how I find myself asking in some situations, “What would Chris Ann do?”, and how much I loved and miss her.
After the service, Jill and I returned to the Island, and Ted and I caught the 6 p.m. ferry back to Mackinaw City for the evening events of Chris Ann’s special day.
Because of ferry schedules, Ted and weren’t able to stay for the after-dark activities, so I want to thank Cheryl Nelson Priest, Carol Nelson Shaw, Suria Nelson, and Dave & Sarah Coker for sharing these next photographs.
The day was so special. It had been foggy or cloudy nearly all day, and we all laughingly said Chris Ann was probably fussing about the weather. We also said that if she had anything to do about it, it would clear up before dark. And . . . just before dusk . . . the clouds parted, and as you can see in the photo above, Chris Ann’s day ended with blue and pink skies over her much-loved Mackinac Straits.
To Cheryl, Carol, John and Bryce – it was so good to see, meet and talk with you in person. How blessed you all are to have had Chris Ann as your mom.
To Page – it was a delight to meet you. What great fun you and Chris Ann must have had as sisters.
To Chris Ann – You are thought of every day, remembered with smiles, and will be missed until we meet again. I love you, Sunshine!