Celebrating THE LIFE OF LEILANI COLLINS (DECEMBER 8, 1947 - APRIL 23, 2017)

The indefatigable Leilani Collins

Leilani at Tivoli Gardens, outside of Rome, Italy

An Old Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Leilani's obituary can also be found online here. Please scroll below for picture, video & audio content.

Obituary

Leilani Ada Mary (Allen) Collins, one of the warmest and most vibrant souls to grace this world, passed away at the age of 69 at her home in Hyattsville, Maryland on April 23, 2017 surrounded by family and friends. Lani was born on December 8, 1947 at Grey Nuns Hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan to her loving and involved parents Dolores (Holmes) and Alfred Allen. She attended Holy Rosary & St. James elementary schools, and Sacred Heart Academy high school.

While studying at the University of Regina, Lani joined Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO). She moved to Accra, Ghana in 1969 and taught business education, including typing and shorthand. While there, she met a dashing American Foreign Service Officer, David Collins, at the local movie theater where he was on a date with her friend. In addition to his charming demeanor, he also had consistently working electricity and running hot water, so she naturally gravitated toward him. After a lengthy engagement they were married on September 29, 1972 in Regina, SK at Holy Rosary Cathedral, and honeymooned on a pig farm near Kenaston.

They began their marriage in Hyattsville, MD where they bought their home; David agreed to the purchase on her recommendation, sight unseen. In 1974, David was stationed in Manila, Philippines, and they were able to travel extensively throughout Asia during that assignment. In 1979, Paul was born, and Mark followed in 1981. Leilani’s children were her joy, and her love and support of them was unending.

With David’s job, the family moved back and forth between the States and his various overseas posts. These included a second posting in Ghana, during which there was a coup d’état. The next posting was to Beijing, China, culminating in their hasty and dramatic evacuation in 1989 during the uprising and subsequent government crackdown at Tiananmen Square. From 1993 through 1997 they were stationed in the decidedly safer post of Vienna, Austria. Leilani loved these opportunities to travel and to immerse herself in the local cuisine. In all their travels, Lani and David would make new friends, in whose lives they remained involved for many years to come.

Upon returning to Hyattsville, Lani was called to work at the Catholic University of America, first in the School of Nursing and later in Campus Ministries. Working in an environment that exemplified her faith and brought her together with such wonderful and talented individuals brought her great joy. She was enamored with the students, bursting with energy and potential, and loved her coworkers, with whom she built strong and lasting bonds. Lani lived her faith through acts of service to others, with generosity and love. No one was beneath her or undeserving of her affection. She volunteered extensively at her home parish St. Jerome’s. She also made anonymous donations to aid students at Catholic University, so that these students would be able to continue their studies. Her deep faith sustained her and guided her life.

Living far from her Canadian relatives, Lani’s friends in Hyattsville became her support and “family”. The “Hyattsville Moms” collectively raised their children through thick and thin. Leilani’s zest for life led her friends on many adventures, including pit stops at Dunkin' Donuts at midnight and late-night runs to the movies.

Leilani and David traveled extensively during their retirement, and among their favorite destinations were Ocean City, North Beach, and Ireland. Their retirement, while brief, gave them even more opportunities to deepen and strengthen their love for one another. Lani loved to mention how much David appreciated her spontaneity without necessarily having to stay out past his bedtime. He was steadfast in his love for Lani and truly doted on her.

Leilani loved to play cards, and a late-night card game with the ladies could only be made better by Diet Coke and Twizzlers. Leilani’s enthusiasm for life, her generosity, and get-up-and-go attitude were unrivaled. She was a tour-de-force of inclusiveness wherever she lived or visited. The word Catholic means universal; Lani embodied this principle and found the silver lining in all situations.

Lani was extremely devoted to her extended family and traveled to Canada frequently to visit, often with Paul and Mark in tow. By exposing them to these characters, her kids were taught to stay up late, to play cards to win, to eat candy, sleep in, and have a good time, and the biggest lesson of all: the importance of family. This love of family was extended to her in-laws, and they embraced her in return.

In 2001, Leilani was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the disease that would eventually take her life. Over the next 16 years, her cancer reappeared nine times. In each instance, she dealt with this disease with courage, dignity, and grace. The family would like to thank the wonderful staff at Georgetown University Hospital, particularly Dr. Barnes, who gave us so many more years with Lani. Many thanks also to our Hyattsville family, especially Denise and Bob Green, for their love, support, meals, and prayers.

Leilani was predeceased by her parents Wodgie and Alf Allen. She is survived by David, her husband of 44 years, children Paul (Rachel) and Mark (Margo), brother Bill (Teresa), sister Timlen (Peter), and nieces, nephews, cousins, and a cast of friends too numerous to mention but all of whom felt like close family to Lani.

Funeral services were held at St. Jerome’s Catholic Church, located at 5205 43rd Ave, Hyattsville, MD 20781 at 10:30 AM on Thursday, April 27th.This was followed by the internment at the Maryland Veterans Cemetery Crownsville located at 1122 Sunrise Beach Rd, Crownsville, MD 21032 at 1PM. A traditional Irish wake was held in the Gold Room of St. Jerome’s (location above) from 7 – 10 PM, also on Thursday.

In lieu of flowers please consider donating to Sisters of Charity, 144 Depaul Road, Greensburg, PA 15601. http://www.scsh.org/

transcript of speakers at wake

Kelsey Panko (Leilani's niece):

Speaking of timing, Lani struggled with punctuality. Her brother, Billy, commented just yesterday by saying that the only person for whom Leilani arrived early for was God. I don't think that there were many summers in my 39 years that Lani didn't come home to Canada for at least a short visit. We looked forward to her visits all year, as we knew that she'd raise the fun quotient when she arrived carrying just one or two things for us. Lani would put the boys in the basement and tinfoil the windows so that they would sleep in, because as she would say, "We're on holidays."

Not only did Lani like to travel and visit places old and new, she loved to have people come to her house and visit her. Arriving at her and David's home, the house would smell freshly of bleach so it was ready to receive us. Lani would ask what we wanted to do, and it was always assumed that of course the trip would include a visit to Ocean City, with stops all along the way, whether we were hungry or not, for crab and other delicacies so that "we could keep up our strength," as she would say. The beach was another favorite spot for Lani, and I can picture her in her outfit, in her beach chair, feet in the sand, and book in hand.

Lani had more friends than I could even count. And she did an amazing job keeping up with them all. To hear Lani talk about them you would have thought that you were family. And I think she thought about it that way as well. Even though there are many people here that I've never met, I've heard about you and the good times that you had with her, and know that she loved you.

Lani opened her heart and her home to countless people over the course of her life. She would buy baby gifts, make meals, help people with fundraising efforts, ultimately anything she could do to lend a hand. Her generosity and genuine care for others was obvious, and she was always eager to lend a helping hand in any possible way she could. Lani would make every single person feel important that she came into contact with, and they always felt included.

Cousin Sean shared a story that exemplified Lani's care and compassion for others. Sean was walking down the street with Lani in DC in 1974, and young woman with a baby in her arms said "Ma'am I have no money, can you help me?" Lani took her by the arm, pulled her over to a phone booth, and the whole world stopped while they called a social worker to get help for them. When that was done, they marched over to a drug store to buy diapers and formula for the baby. Sean had never seen anyone so tearful or grateful than that young woman. Because she radiated so much kindness, this kind of thing happened to Lani all time. 

The most important people in Lani's life were her boys and David. She devoted her life to ensure their happiness and well-being. She passed on her love of a good time to Mark, as well as her night-owl tendencies. To Paul, she passed on her ability to make connections, and have people feel listened to. Mark and Paul, know that the depth of your mother's love will be with you always and forever. David, your devotion to Leilani was never more evident than in her times of illness. All of us saw as you lived your love for her through difficult times.

Leilani was a woman of God. In her final days her sisten, Timlen, recounts how she was at peace because Lani knew that something better awaited her. She even overheard her talking to her mother and Aunt Bell, and I'd like to think that she was talking to her cousin, Sharon, and my mom too. I'm sure there's a card game underway, and Lani is snapping down the cards in excitement. That's right! Eating that good U.S. licorice, not the greasy Canadian kind, and drinking copious amounts of Diet Coke. Picture with me now, Lani looking around heaven, saying "I like it too much."

In our family, our tradition is to send our loved ones on with the Irish blessing. Please join in if you know it with me:  May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hands. Amen.

Jim Lipovsky (family friend):

If Lani wasn't your relative, your wife, your mother, your daughter, your cousin, then she really was your best friend. She was truly someone who always showed up; she was always there for everyone.

We had the privilege of being Lani's friends for 35 years. We moved into Hyattsville, and they had moved back from a foreign assignment, the Collins' did, and our paths crossed then. We quickly became close friends. Lani, all those things you've heard from all the speakers applied certainly to us, and we are deeply in her debt, her family's debt.

I can think of a couple of things in particular, one was our daughter, Sharon, gave her birth to her second, this lovely young man here. When Crosley was born, everything went well, but 2 days after the birth, Sharon grew more and more ill. The doctors had trouble diagnosing what it was. She had a very severe infection, and it put her life in danger. Well, in this situation, as in all others, Lani couldn't do enough. She showed up during the time Sharon was bed-ridden for well over a month, and Lani would come over at night just to help with Henrietta, the older child, and she just made herself indispensable, just always you could rely on Lani to be there for you. This went to such an extant that one day when Sharon was somewhat recovered she and Colin went out, not very far at that point in her recovery, but they went out, and left the front door open, and when they came back, Lani was on the couch. Lani said, "I thought you guys were upstairs in bed." And Lani had simply shown up, found the door open, let herself in, and waited patiently for the moment when she would be needed. That was SO Leilani. Well, it all had a happy ending, with Sharon recovering, and we now have a third grandchild. 

Another really important thing that Lani did for us when our older son, Jimmy, had, at one point in his life, become drug addicted. This was accompanied, as is often the case, by all the kinds of anger and problems at home that go with this. But he had been a good friend of Paul's from boyhood. We were at that time moving out to Phoenix, and Jimmy was certainly not going out with us. Well, he hit bottom when we were in Phoenix. And who did he turn to, but Leilani. And Lani saw to it that he got on the plane out to a rehab program. I am happy to say that he recovered. That's the kind of thing, here's a kid at the end of his rope who knows the one person he can go to was Lani Collins.

But there was much else, I remember going with Lani to help my daughter, Julia, pack up at the end of her sophomore year of college, and her room was a wreck; it was awful! And Lani, I'm sure, was aghast as I was, but she stayed there through the whole process, and packed it up, got it into storage. It was a day's worth of work, hard work too, but Lani was always there. Lani was fun, too, as all of you know, yes, "I like it too much", how many times have I heard that one used? She was generous in her hospitality; you'd get invited to her and it'd be an evening of great cooking, great drinking, and great company. What more could you ask?

The full family always opened their home to us. Three different times, I, or some of the kids went and visited them overseas. We just had a great time. I remember walking with Sharon and Maureen, two of our daughters, and with Paul and Mark and Lani in Vienna walking the entire length of the Ringstrasse around the old city of Vienna, and just enjoying every minute of it. She was a woman who could never do enough for you, but there was nothing somber or dutiful about the way she helped, it was always with a spirit of joy. She spread that joy to all of us, and Lani, I know you're spreading joy in heaven right now.

Michele Barto Winn (Leilani's cousin):

Hi there, I'm Michele Barto Winn, and my mother and David are first cousins. So that makes David my second cousin and makes Lani my second cousin. I was asked to speak, and I was kinda nervous but the other day I went to my daughter's house and there's a basket on the desk filled with ribbons and papers, so I reached down to see what I want for that day, and there's a pink ribbon, and I pulled it out and it said "Never lose a chance to say a kind word." So I knew that I should speak.

Lani and David were part of our Thanksgiving family, forever we had Thanksgiving together, we used to have it in Milford, Delaware at my mom and dad's house and then when my mom couldn't do it anymore, Lani and David said "We're gonna do it." And we came to Hyattsville for Thanksgiving. It was always my favorite holiday, I think because we spent it with the same people. And we always knew who would be there. It was the best food, it was the best conversation. At the end of the night we always ended up in the tiniest room with a piano, and started the Christmas season by singing. One night Lani said to us,  "Do you want to go downtown?" So my husband said, "Sure, I'll go downtown." It's about 11 o'clock at night. We get in the car, and Lani goes flying through the streets of DC, she's going to the Pentagon, she's going here, and my husband said, "I thought we were going to downtown Hyattsville!" And Lani was like, "What we would go there for?" 

About three years ago I joined the club with Lani, the club I didn't want to be a part of. Hence the scarf on my head. But Lani came to me the day for my first chemo. She called and said " I want to come over and I want to help you." And she said "I'm going to give you some information that will guide you through this, and you're going to feel better." And she said "Always eat a steak before you go for treatment because your red blood count will be high. If you feel bad after the treatment, rest. When you stop feeling bad, get up and do something. Have fun, find some joy in your life." And who had more joy than the joy she would give you? You were always going, she just had a good fun wonderful life. Also, the last thing she told me was to get a gel manicure because people will look at your nails.

The last thing that Lani did for us was November, 2015. My mom was sick in the hospital, we're having a bridal shower for my daughter. Lani came to the shower, went to the hospital, she came back to my house, and she said "I got a hotel room, I'm going to sleep for a while, and then I am going to spend the night with your mom." So she did that that night, and the next day she went to her hotel to sleep a bit because she didn't go to sleep while she was with my mom, she stayed up and talked to her all night. The next day she slept, she went back to the hospital. She said, "I'm going to stay with your mom again." She came back a few days later, and we were there all day every day, my mom was going downhill. It was the last day of my mom's life, and we had been there all day, and Lani said "I'm going to come back at 9 and you guys go home, and I'll call you." I guess, Rachel, you would know this, I think you call it a mitzvah, when you do a deed for someone that can never be repaid. That's what Lani did for my sister and my brother and I and my mom because she called us, and she said "You need to come." We lived just a few minutes away. But we didn't make it. But Lani was there to hold my mom's hand, and to help her to transition to where she needed to go, and of all the loving things that anyone ever did for us, we could never forget this. So I wrote her a letter and told her what she meant, how much I loved her, and that I would never be able to repay her and that she was one of the finest people I ever knew in my whole life. I'm going to miss her. She's connected with some good people up in heaven right now who I am sure are very happy to see her. With my family, we have a lot of good memories. And David, Mark, and Paul, I love you guys so much. We wish you peace and good memories.

Eileen Sarsfield & Sister Rosemay joint remarks (Leilani's co-workers):

Good evening, my name is Eileen Sarsfield, and I worked with Lani for nine years. Sister Rosemary couldn't be here this evening but she wanted me to read this and share her thoughts and reminisces about Lani with you:

“Lani Collins joined the Community/Public Health Nursing group shortly after we received a large federal grant to educate graduate students in nursing to work in communities with vulnerable persons. She was one of first four: Sr. Mary Jean Flaherty, Sr. Rosemary Donley, Eileen Sarsfield, and Lani Collins. Over a ten-year period, working together, we obtained 4 federal grants and brought over 3.2 million dollars into the School of Nursing at The Catholic University of America. We also had the wonderful opportunity to educate almost 100 men and women, many of whom came from under-represented ethic and racial backgrounds. Many of these men and women went on to earn doctoral degrees.

As our programs grew in popularity, we were privileged to have doctoral students work with us, Heidi Maloni, Laura Taylor, and Agnes Burkhard. Mary Aquillo assisted Lani in her many managerial and secretarial duties. The students loved Lani Collins. She used her wonderful international experience to make everyone, especially our international students, feel at home. She was the expert on many of the African tribes. She had learned so much as she and David had traveled the globe. Our students trusted her; they sought her advice; they confided in her. She treated each student with utmost respect. She was their cheerleader. Lani was a model of patience and perseverance. She saved every document that crossed her desk. Given a little time, she could find first drafts of any paper or grant that we wrote. She had paper files and computer files. When things got difficult, she called David and the problem was solved. She had wonderful ideas about how to improve the program; she was an active contributor to our team meetings. Lani loved grant writing. She never complained when we gave her draft after draft. She also kept the drafts in the event that we changed our mind.

I cannot remember Lani gossiping or ever saying a mean or sarcastic word about anyone. She was always for the underdog. To us who worked with her for a decade, Lani was a trusted and loved co-worker. When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we were heart broken. Lani was the calmest of the group. She consoled us. Lani loved celebrations so we planned a luncheon the day before she was admitted. Close to the big day, the menu that Lani had planned was radically changed. The nurses (we had all become Lani’s nurses) thought a light lunch would make the preparation for surgery easier for Lani. Lani did not see it that way. I can still hear her saying, “I like quiche!” The original menu was restored. After surgery, Lani came back to work as if nothing had happened. She was the poster girl for chemotherapy. She never stopped working, eating, or enjoying her friends and family. She never complained. If she felt sorry for herself, she never showed or revealed it. She loved her family, dinner with her friends, visits to Canada, trips to the beach. She was so proud of her sons. Each of us became part of Lani’s kinship ties. In some ways, we believed that Lani was immortal. She told us about the lesion in her brain in a very calm manner. She would be admitted and they would remove it. She would come home and she and David would plan their next trip.

After the surgery, we became concerned because Lani said that she no longer liked cherry twizzlers. Although we may never know of her suffering, we are happy that Lani is most certainly with the Risen Christ. Lani you have helped and befriended others your entire life. Enjoy heaven. We miss you. When we all get to heaven, we will have a huge celebration and you can plan the menu.”

Photo collage at wake - Part 1

Photo collage at wake - Part 2

Program from Mass of Christian Burial