A class assignment yields an unexpected gift for a grieving family.

By Sharon Campbell and Judy Harris

For nearly four years after suffering a stroke, our mother, Theresa Mack, lived in RiverWoods, an assisted-living facility in Lewisburg, Pa. Shortly after Christmas this year, she developed a blood clot, and the family was told that she would die within the week. Family members stayed with her around the clock. She was lucid for only two more days before we lost touch with her completely.

After she passed away, we began the sad business of sorting through the last of her personal belongings. In her room, we found what we thought was a CD of Christmas music that the nurses had brought in to comfort her. To our surprise, we soon discovered that it was a DVD of an interview. There was our mom, staring back at us on the TV, laughing, recalling her life and at times telling old stories so clearly it was hard to believe she’d had a stroke. We were too stunned to cry. Rather, we laughed with her on the video. The origin of the DVD was a mystery, but it was the best Christmas present we’ve ever received.

With a bit of digging, we soon learned that Bucknell students from a Management 101 course had been assigned to produce a documentary recounting memories of WW II. Unbeknownst to everyone in the family, our mother was one of the interviewees. The students had given each interviewee a DVD to share with their families.

Like many stroke victims, she had become dysphasic, turning her words inside out and sometimes not making sense at all. People asked us, “Why didn’t she tell you about the video?” Truth is, we didn’t know what we were going to hear from her, or what was real and what wasn’t. That’s what makes some of the video hilarious. She told the students she lived in a coal mine, and the dust was flying everywhere. Then she’d say, “No that’s not right, that’s not right. I lived in a house in Scranton.” She told many stories, but real or imagined, they were all funny and touching. She would roll her eyes and make the gestures that she always did. Seeing the video was like having her in the room with us. We never thought we’d see her happy again.

These students had no idea what kind of gift they were giving, not just to us, but also to our family. We burned many copies of the DVD and gave it to family members at her funeral. The last memory her grandchildren and great-grandchildren was of Grandma lying in bed. Now, we’re all able to laugh with her again. We have worked at Bucknell for many years, but never before have we felt such appreciation for the Bucknell family.

Sharon Campbell, graphic design team leader in Bucknell’s Administrative Services, has worked at the University for 22 years. Judy Harris is the academic assistant in civil and environmental engineering and has been at Bucknell for 28 years.