Priscilla’s memorial service was scheduled for three weeks after her death, to give me the chance to rest up as much as possible before receiving so many visitors. I started working right away, as energy permitted, on a PowerPoint tribute to her life, to be shown at the service.
One of the CDs we’d bought on a whim a few years earlier on our way to a medical appointment, Vanessa Mae’s Classical Album, included Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E for Solo Violin. The second movement turned out to be just the right evocation of beauty and grace for the first section of my PowerPoint, which depicted Priscilla’s many talents as a watercolorist, culinary artist, floral designer, interior decorator, and seamstress. Another selection from the same CD, the second movement of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, proved to be the perfect fit for my last section, in which I depicted Priscilla as a “daughter of God,” emphasizing how she had devoted herself to the service of others. The movement had a couple of dramatic transitions that lined up exactly with significant transitions in Priscilla’s life once I put everything together. All I had to do was add a few extra seconds to the final slide, so it would last through the long, high note at the end.
Priscilla’s memorial service was held on Saturday, January 23, 2016. At her request, two of her “Williams kids” first sang Keith Green’s version of the 23rd Psalm. I showed the PowerPoint tribute I’d created and then gave a spoken eulogy as well.
In it, I shared how, when Priscilla learned that the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. had once envisioned having a “completely committed, deeply spiritual, glamorous party girl” as a staff member, she responded, “That’s what I want to be!” I explained how her personality was perfectly suited for this role. She was of the type that (according to PersonalityPage.com) “would love nothing more than for life to be a continual party, at which she plays the role of the fun-loving hostess.” “But what happens,” I asked, “when the fun is over? How does someone like this respond when she discovers she has a disease that will eventually paralyze her completely and finally kill her?” “Her response to this,” I explained, “was the finest hour in her life.”
Friends and family were then invited to share their own spontaneous tributes. Several people who’d met Priscilla as international students told how she’d helped them in practical ways. One woman related how she had rounded up and delivered all the furniture needed for a 2-bedroom apartment in a single day!
After these tributes, two members of our worship team led us all in singing Everlasting God, a song that had often encouraged and inspired Priscilla during her illness, and then our pastor spoke. Priscilla had requested white roses for her memorial flowers, and our niece Ashley had made a beautiful arrangement of them. In his message, our pastor used the white rose to illustrate that “the best is yet to come”—as Christians, we have the bright hope of resurrection.
The people of our church hosted a reception after the service. They knew that Priscilla had had a ministry of hospitality and wanted to entertain her family and friends in a manner that paid tribute to this ministry. They certainly succeeded. The reception was beautifully presented and it provided an opportunity for people from many different seasons in our lives to reconnect with one another over good food in a gracious setting.
Priscilla’s “Williams kids” put on another reception for her that evening at the Turner-Dodge House, a restored Victorian mansion in Lansing. This reception was also hosted immaculately in the Priscilla style, and it included more memorial tributes.
A woman from the group that had met weekly with Priscilla shared these reflections about her: “In her heart she wasn’t focused on her illness. Her gaze was beyond that, focused on the end for which she was created—to love, honor, and serve God, and join him in heaven. Even when she could barely speak above a whisper, she wanted to know our needs and pray for us. Even to the end she showed us the beauty of her suffering—she was a perfect example of what the Bible says: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. God has shown me that her suffering was not for nothing. Like the suffering of Jesus, her suffering built the Kingdom through the grace pouring out of her as she ministered, till the end, to me and all those who had the privilege of coming into contact with her. She has given us a beautiful gift that will keep revealing its hidden wisdom—how to love and embrace all that God has for us; how to accept even unimaginable suffering as a gift; how to stay faithful through affliction.”
The neighbor who’d helped us in so many practical ways was asked to share about Priscilla’s work with Graduate InterVarsity. She began with a quotation from Scripture that she felt described Priscilla’s spirit: Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. She continued, “What I saw of Priscilla’s ministry to graduate students reveals her eagerness to share the truth—the grace of God found in Jesus—but even more, the eagerness to do this through a life invested wholeheartedly and without reservation in others. I have wonderful memories of welcome cookouts, and of many other fun occasions. But these were really just the entrée into relationships, and the next step was sacrificial service: staying all night at the hospital as a doulah, refinishing furniture, transporting and orienting new students. Priscilla’s desire was to invest her whole life in others: not just for the sake of service, but for the purpose of speaking truth in to students’ lives. Finally, Priscilla’s death revealed what it looks like to live, and die, at peace with God. She had this peace with God because she loved and trusted Him and had a friendship with Him through Jesus.”
Finally, one of the “Williams kids” offered a tribute on behalf of all of our hosts that evening. She quoted from a reference she’d written for Priscilla before her illness ever appeared, which now felt prophetic: “The thing about Priscilla I’d most like to emulate is her sincere love of God and acceptance of whatever He brings into her life. She is truly a person who says, ‘God is good’ whether she likes her circumstances or not. Priscilla is the person who has taught me best that it isn’t enough to ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘make lemonade.’ Instead, it’s necessary to have the deep conviction that God is in control of the circumstances of my life and I should rejoice in whatever He chooses to challenge me with. Priscilla does this better than anyone I know.”
The morning after the memorial service, Ashley and her mother kindly served brunch in my home to my whole family. The other CD that we’d bought on a whim, jazz arrangements of Bach by the Jacques Loussier trio, turned out to be the perfect background music for this event. Meanwhile, at our church, as Priscilla had often done herself with memorial arrangements as a pastor’s wife, white roses were given out to all the women and girls present. The rest were brought to people who weren’t well enough to attend.