Anna Johanna Schweizer
Lebanon, N.H. — Anna Johanna Schweizer died peacefully and easily at home in her soft, comfortable and much loved bed on Sunday, March 3, 2013, five days before her 96th birthday.
Anna was born at home on a kitchen table in Newark, N.J. on March 8, 1917. Her parents, Hermina and John Carstens, who had had two previous still-births, were delighted when the doctor who delivered her said: “You’ve got yourself a little monkey!” And so she was: a beautiful, long-limbed little girl who climbed a telephone pole in her white Easter dress at age six and often engaged in raucous play with her three younger boy cousins, who still idolize her. At the same time, she always enjoyed primping with fashionable clothes and make-up. An only child, she was born into a close-knit, caring community of family and neighbors. Generosity and the ability to have fun ran in her genes. Her father played guitar, her uncle the ukulele, her older cousin the piano; everyone sang .Her father held onto his job with an electrical power company through the years of the Great Depression; and so they were able to lend money and give food to some of those less fortunate.
Anna lived this spirit of generosity though out her long life in material and spiritual ways and is remembered fondly by the many hundreds of people who received her chocolate-chip cookies. There was always a candy dish on an entryway table. There was always a ready smile, even in the days of her “active dying.” Children loved her and she them; so her times of working in school cafeterias over the years was a great pleasure for her.
She sewed her own and her kids’ clothes, she canned fruits and vegetables; she knitted and crocheted; she washed; she cooked; she cleaned with an easy contentment. Outside the home she worked in school, retail and secretarial positions based on the income needs of the family at the time. She enjoyed work almost as much as she enjoyed a good nap. She thrived on the social interaction. She made good friends wherever she went, in a soft, easy and quiet manner. Many life-long friends and family were able to visit her in N.H. and to speak to her over the phone in her days of dying.
She met the love of her life on the eve of her 18th birthday and married him, Howard Wilson Schweizer, five years later. She loved his large family, and they loved this quietly rebellious woman. They had two children, Howard John and Doreen Gail. Howard brought Jane into her life, a loyal daughter-in-law who quickly became a second daughter. Then came the adored grandchildren: Bobby, Laurie, Michael, and Jen and subsequently, their partners: Siobhan, Beth, Heather and Jackie. The great grandchildren – Matt, Alex, Robby, Jason, Emma and Tyler --filled her old age with joy. This family was central to her life; and she was the “Runaway Bunny” mother to us all. Always showing up wherever we went.
Her move to live with her daughter in faraway N.H. was made easier by her having been there so often. However, Anna waited for this long-planned move until she was 91 and in failing health because she so loved her N.J. families and friends. It was hard to leave, but Anna, like many of her generation, was enormously resilient and courageous. On the way north after closing up her apartment, she suddenly said, “I don’t have a home in this world anymore.” When asked how that felt, she paused then said, “I feel so free.”
In her extraordinary and very ordinary life with its ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows, there were lots of times of anxiety (She had a phobia-like fear of birds.), worry and stress. She had a fair number of trials: a young husband diagnosed with a life-threatening, then chronic illness; the deprivation and losses of war; early widowhood; her father’s death and the responsibility for her own mother, who lived in her home for 27 years; financial limitations; a son in a near-death explosion; a daughter who survived acute leukemia. She bore the unbearable with grace, honesty, emotional openness, and a great sense of humor. And, she lived on. As she aged, the fears, opinions and preferences softened, and her ever-present, abiding, lovely, loving presence shone true.
The final years of Anna’s life were a miracle made possible by a remarkable circle of caring. She was recovering from an acute infection when she arrived in N.H.; and she took tremendous pleasure in a young DHMC doctor, John Batsis, who in an early meeting, asked her to be his patient. She was delighted; and, he and his nurse Kim and the team supported Anna skillfully for four and half years through various episodes, including a fractured hip, an acute stroke and two years on Hospice. The Upper Valley Senior Center brought her wonderful lunches for four years and gave her the beloved Sandy, an at-home caregiver who was with Anna for the full four and half years. Lake Sunapee Home Health and Hospice added an invaluable, professional expertise to Anna’s home care team, which primarily consisted of a loving, joyful, capable and dedicated array of friends, neighbors, and colleagues, as well as family far and near. In the background was Valley Insight Meditation Society, whose understanding and commitment, supported Anna’s daughter Doreen in her steady, devoted effort to offer Anna good care in the context of a peaceful, happy, loving, and safe environment.
Donations in Anna’s memory may be given to any of the three organizations above (see Ricker’s Funeral Home’s web-site for addresses) or to a group in your area helping people with “ageing in place” and/or dying at home. You can find these addresses or leave an on-line condolence note for the family at www.rickerfuneralhome.com. A deep bow of gratitude goes to Ricker Funeral Homes and Crematory, which is right here in our versatile neighborhood, for handling the final arrangements so skillfully, wisely and kindly.
Anna and her family thank everyone reading this from the bottom of our hearts. Without anyone one of you, her life would have been far less rich.
Please join us for a local memorial service to be held in Anna’s wonderful Lebanon neighborhood at AVA Gallery and Art Center on Saturday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m. There will be a celebration of her life in Denville, N.J. at the town’s Club House on April 20 at 1 p.m. followed by the burial of her ashes at Restland Cemetery in Hanover, N.J. on April 21 at 11 a.m.