Memorial Service for Allan Bjornstad
On behalf of my sister Elin, and the memory of my brother Leif, I thank you all for coming today to celebrate the life of our father and to mourn his death.
How does one view a life? How can one summarize and celebrate a life? How can one understand the kind of life that Allan Bjornstad lived? I have some stories to share that may shed some light.
There are 4 stages in life that we all will pass through: birth, growth, decay and death. Each stage must be accepted in its own place.
Dad was born in 1922 to Norwegian immigrants in North Dakota. He was born prematurely and had to struggle to survive. His brother Gerald relates this story:
The winter of 1922 we lived with Mothers Uncle Ole near Landa. Uncle Ole loved kids even though he never had any himself. Mother often told that while we were living there, he would sit and hold your Dad and play with him, while mother was busy in the evening with other things. The thing that amused him the most and he would show it to visitors was the thing about the ring. He would take the gold ring off his finger and run it up Allan's arm all the way up to his shoulder, and then sit and chuckle, especially because he was so tiny. Your dad could fit inside a shoe box until he was six or seven months old. It took my mother, and the doctor that long to find something that he could hold down. Mother couldn't produce much milk for him, so they had to rely on other things. All the old ladies that came around to see him would turn away after seeing him and say to Mother, "He'll never live."But he did. He survived. He was a small and frail child, though. He could not play games and sports in the same way as other kids.
When he was a teenager he got a job in a pool hall racking the balls. He quickly became the town pool shark. Legend has it that he once played a traveling salesman in a game of snooker. He broke and sunk a ball and went on to run the entire table which is quite an accomplishment in snooker.
So this was his birth. This was the ground from which he sprang. The family survived the depression years in the 30's but it was far from easy.
There is birth and then there is growth. The growth period of Dad's life was impacted greatly by World War II. At the age of 20 he enlisted in the Navy and served as a tail gunner in a small fighter plane over the Pacific. He related this story to me once:
The ship was an aircraft carrier with a flight deck of 900 feet. My job was a tail-gunner on a TBF bomber. It took 3 people to fly the TBF: A pilot, a radioman and the tail-gunner who protected the rear with a 50 caliber gun. It was damn scary. The pilot would climb, dive and turn at high speed. The anti-aircraft fire would burst around the plane and its smoke would make a thick fog. Whenever we went down to drop a bomb I would strafe the ground and fire at anything that moved. Damn scary and you never got used to it.This experience traumatized him deeply and effected him the rest of his life. One week ago today, I visited Dad in the nursing home. He was in a dreamlike state, not really there. He was laying down, looking up at the ceiling, his hands in the air, and I heard him say in his dream, "There's a plane at 2:30".
After the war Dad won the heart of an Icelandic beauty named Yona Solveig Thorleifson and they married. He returned to school to become a teacher and school principal. The marriage produced 3 children, Elin Olivia, Jon Gregor and Leif Bernhardt. He was a loyal husband and father and encouraged his children to pursue their education.
In North Dakota Dad was not only a teacher but a basketball coach as well. In 1955 he took his team to the state championship. This was a peak experience in his life, one that he remembered fondly. A small silver basketball was given to the team members and coach and he wore this around his neck to the very end. It will not be buried with him - it will be given to his grandson Jon to keep and cherish.
In 1960 the family moved to California for better employment. I will never forget the wonderful camping trip we had along the way.
In California Dad was a math and science teacher in high school. He loved teaching physics, especially when he could demonstrate an experiment to his students.
He served as a leader in the teacher's assocation and the little league. He continued coaching and also became a basketball referee - a very thankless job but he loved it anyway. He used to say that he could run faster backwards than many could run forwards. All this exercise and running in the middle of his life kept him well, I am sure.
So this was the growth period of Dad's life. But life is not all about positive growth. The 3rd stage of life is 'decay'. We all will experience it. Decay comes in many forms. Physical, mental, emotional, and psychological. We cannot always choose how our decay will come. Our challenge is to accept it.
Just as Dad's life began slowly and he had to struggle to survive at all, his life also ended with a great protracted struggle. I truly admired his courage and perseverance in enduring his own decay. He was a fighter, he often had to fight for his life - sometimes he did not know when to stop fighting.
The body will decay physically and this is somehow easier to accept than emotional decay. It is easy to ask for prayers for someone who is ill or is having an operation. But for someone who is often angry ... Do they not need our prayer and love even more?
So now his death has come and he is at rest. His many-leveled suffering is over, a suffering he could not escape, could not express - a suffering that we all shared each in our own way. His suffering is now over and his earthly life complete. I pray for his peace.
Service of Worship
Celebrating the Resurrection
in memory of
8/13/22 - 10/17/99
Pastor Paul Werfelman
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. AMEN
Grace, mercy and peace... Amazing Grace, unwarranted mercy, and the peace that passes all understanding. These are what we are to remember today in Allan's honor and memory.
Amazing Grace is not only a song, a beautiful song, majestic in its simplicity, it is a theme song for Allan's life. A neighbor once said that in the morning, the front door would open at the Bjornstad home and Yona would go to the piano and play Amazing Grace. Grace is a word for 'gift', notably God's gift of the miracle of life and living. Looking at life as a gift, and Allan as a part of that gift, is tribute not to the dead, but to the living - not to Allan, but to God.
Allan's way was to push us. As a coach, he succeeded all the way to the state championship level by pushing. As a teacher, I have no doubt he pushed his students, expecting more of them than they knew they were capable of. Perhaps, on occasion, pushing harder than might have been necessary. As a human being he pushed, too. He pushed his family, not only himself, but his wife, his children and grandchildren. This, too, if we can practice God's gift of grace and mercy, can be looked upon as a gift. Out of our easy chairs, away from our comfort zone, these are places where we grow, where we learn.
I chose Martha's words to Jesus today [ in the gospel reading ] because they are words of anger. Anger is a reaction to perceived threat. Anger was part of Allan. Allan was a perceiver of threat from his premature birth and throughout his life. But anger also often begets another gift. Martha's anger, and the loss by death of her brother, made Jesus weep. Out of his comfort zone and remembering and living out his reliance on God alone, Jesus then went to that grave and called Lazarus forth. New life came from God through this action.
This new life comes today also. Remembering and living out of our reliance on God alone, we also remember the wonderful things about Allan, such as his sharp wit and humor. He was also generous, helping and contributing to a fund for the new pastor and his family to be able to buy a house. When I went to visit him, he even said I didn't have to pay it back when it was due, just when it was convenient. That was an instance of undeserved mercy which I experienced from him.
This day is a day certainly in memory of Allan, but this time is for the benefit of those who are left behind. As we remember Allan, the best gift we might be able to give to all who remain is to practice these gifts, Amazing Grace and unwarranted mercy. Practice them in memory, and practice them in life. It is a place to which we are - not pushed - but led, by the example and faith of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a place where, with these gifts in mind and heart, even standing in the valley of the shadow of death, we know that third gift: the peace of God which passes and surpasses all understanding.