Remembering Chris Ann 6/23/2013

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.

Last summer's annual Nelson Week photograph.

Last summer’s annual Nelson Week photograph.

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.

I was so humbled when I opened the program and found they had used one of my photos from last October.  A family member said, "We went through hundreds of photographs, but that one was so Chris Ann - big smile, and looking up to the Heavens."

I was so humbled when I opened the program and found they had used one of my photos from last October. A family member said, “We went through hundreds of photographs, but that one was so Chris Ann – big smile, and looking up to the Heavens.”

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.

From 5-10 that evening friends and family were invited to an Open House at their cottage, where dinner was served under a tent

From 5-10 that evening friends and family were invited to an Open House at their cottage, where a food tent was set up, a bonfire was blazing, and people had the opportunity to visit and reminisce.  People came from all over the country, including several from Pine Isle, where they wintered each year.

On one of the picnic tables was a large bucket of long-stem flowers.  Guests were invited to take a flower, visit Chris Ann's gravesite

On one of the picnic tables was a large bucket of long-stem flowers. Guests were invited to take a flower, visit Chris Ann’s gravesite, and say our private goodbyes.

Chris Ann's grave is just across the road from the back of their cottage in a lovely cemetery with rolling green grass and birch trees.

Chris Ann’s grave is just across the road from the back of their cottage – in a lovely cemetery with open areas of green grass and beautiful birch trees.

Chris Ann and Burton chose this spot before they returned to Florida last fall.

Chris Ann and Burton chose this spot before they returned to Florida last fall.

Folks spent time visiting in groups . . .

Folks spent time visiting in groups . . .

. . . or sitting in pairs on several benches that dot the Nelson shoreline.

. . . or sitting in pairs on several benches that dot the Nelson shoreline.

Special Chris Ann cookies had been shaped into the State of Michigan and decorated with Chris Ann's name.

Special Chris Ann cookies had been shaped into the State of Michigan and decorated with Chris Ann’s name – with a heart at the tip of the mitt.

Special activities had been planned for the children.

Special activities had been planned for the children.  (Photo: Suria Nelson)

Inside we met children, Chris Ann's sister, Paige, and spent some time visiting with Burton.

Inside we met children, Chris Ann’s sister, Page, and spent some time visiting with Burton.

I stepped away several times to just stand on the beach and think about Chris Ann . . .

I stepped away several times to just stand on the beach and think about Chris Ann . . .

. . . and there's not a doubt in my mind that she was present with us.

. . . and there’s not a doubt in my mind that she was present with us.

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.

Sparkling Moments of Love for Chris Ann were celebrated by lighting sparklers . . .

“Sparkling Moments of Love for Chris Ann” were celebrated by lighting sparklers . . .

. . . and having a moment of silence.

. . . and a moment of silence.

cheryl nelson priest

Sky lanterns were readied by the grandchildren . . .

Sky lanterns were readied by Chris Ann and Burton’s children and grandchildren . . .

. . . as Burton and the rest of the guests looked on.

. . . as Burton and the rest of the guests looked on.

As each lantern was released . . .

As each lantern was released . . .

. . . they whispered to God how Chris Ann had been a blessing to them.

. . . it was whispered to God what a blessing Chris Ann had been.

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!

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24 thoughts on “Remembering Chris Ann 6/23/2013

  1. What a wonderful Memorial for a beautiful Lady! I know she was looking down from Heaven at all her amazing family and friends. . . Smiling!

  2. I wish I could of been there…I remember sitting on that bench with Chris Ann while Bud sat with Burton just talking like old friends. Chris Ann took us home with her like we had known each other forever. It was actually the first time we ever met. What a wonderful memory that is..something I will never forget. Miss you Chris Ann.

  3. I enjoy every installment of Bree’s Blog, but the Ode to Chris Ann is by far my favorite. I never knew Chris Ann, but find myself thinking of her every so often. The photograph of Chris Ann wearing her radiant smile gazing toward heaven is the image I will always have of Chris Ann. Thank you for sharing your beautiful friend with us, Brenda.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I only knew her through your blog too. What a lovely lady. There should be more like her on this earth.
    It looks like it was a perfect celebration for her and her family. I hope they have a special week together.

    Beautiful picture Brenda. No captions were needed for that.

    Take Care!

  5. Brenda,

    ; ) Breath taking ….. God has blessed us all tonight with a experience beyond words. Her smile is but a sparkle away. Thank you!

    Blessings,
    Theresa

  6. Incredible tribute for an incredible woman. Her legacy lives on through this blog and with all of the wonderful people who attended, celebrated and remembered. Thank your for sharing your friend Chris Ann.

  7. From the time you first posted the photo of Chris Ann looking toward the heavens, I drew great comfort from it. I did not know her, but it seemed as if I could hear her saying, “Lord, I’m coming home….”

    • It’s odd, Louise, how you get a feeling about some photos. I snapped that one and thought to myself, “I hope Chris Ann’s children see this someday and like it.” Chris Ann had no idea I was photographing her at the moment I snapped that pic. She was just being Chris Ann – enjoying her world, and maybe thinking about the one to come. Geez, I miss her.

      Sent from my iPhone

  8. Beautiful description of the day. Chris Ann and Burt did a great job of raising four children — blessings to all of them and thank you for sharing this.

  9. I happened to wait on this lovely family after the service. What a pleasure, I did not know Chris but have seen her around town. She was blessed and loved by all.

  10. Chris Ann, a beautiful lady, a beautiful tribute. The family selected what I always thought of as a heavenly photo of her. She has the look of an angel. God bless her, and her family and friends as they deal with their loss of such a lovely person.

  11. Thank you so much for recording this wonderful tribute to Chris Ann so special and meaningful to family and friends a wonderful sharing of wonderful love.

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