During the last four years of Barbara’s life, I was taking care of her at home, then when she was in Memory care, away from home, finally in Hospice f

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During the last four years of Barbara’s life, I was taking care of her at home, then when she was in Memory care, away from home, finally in Hospice for a year; I always carried a couple of large combs in my pocket. The first thing we would do together when we saw each other would be to comb her hair. The last thing we would do together at the end of her day, I would comb her hair. Even when I
was no longer sure she recognized me, she seemed to enjoy the experience. Our son James took this photo moments after her death. I was combing her hair for the last time.

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A Note From Jim:

This essay is written on the occasion of a ceremony held near Candlewood Lake, Danbury, Connecticut close to the cottage she built for us in 2000. The purpose of this essay is to answer what is probably the most frequently asked question for the two of us, through much of our married life: How did you maintain and project such devotion, love, happiness, and personal engagement with each other for so many years? Often the questioner added a comment that our lives together served as a model for their own relationships.

For much of our marriage we simply ducked the question by responding that we, truthfully, didn’t want to jinx the relationship by analyzing it. We began really talking about it seriously with each other when her illnesses were becoming more pronounced.

This document is the first place these thoughts of ours have been written down so clearly. The occasion of her memorial seems an appropriate time to share something of our relationship that most directly related to how our friends perceived us and our impact on their lives. I, we, hope these thoughts are meaningful to you. -Jim (Jim for Barbara)

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The instructions in Barbara’s will were brief and quite specific: upon her departure there was to be no fanfare, no special activities or acknowledgements. She wanted to be cremated quickly and her only request was that our ashes be mixed together and spread over Candlewood Lake in Danbury, Connecticut near where we lived for 10 years in a beautiful cottage that she designed and built for the two of us. When our two sons Chuck and James reacquainted themselves with her Will their unanimous response was, “No way.” We had to do something that truly honored the life she had led and what we learned from her.

And, of course, I wasn't ready to be ashes, just yet.

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Barbara and I met on a high school band trip in June of 1960 and were married in December of 1964. We had a life of adventure together that turned out to be 60 years of a truly magical relationship. So magical in fact, that wherever we went, people remarked about how obviously special we were to each other.

We had lived in New York for nearly 30 years starting in July of 1986. Before New York, our home area was Minneapolis-St. Paul with a couple years in Chicago. We published obituaries in each of those markets and almost immediately were surprised by the volume and tenderness of those who emailed and sent letters about her. Most often, the letters mentioned some unique experience our friends had had with Barbara and everyone mentioned the inspiring nature of our relationship on their lives.

From the very beginning, when I met Barbara on that band trip, she was a happy kid. She was 16, just having finished her sophomore high school year. I was a senior who had just graduated from the same suburban high school in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.

Little did I suspect at the time that I had met the most positive force I would ever know in my life. The band trip put us and 140 other band members together in Chicago, Illinois to represent our state’s Lions Club at the annual international Lions Convention being held that year. We were a championship band. It was a great experience just to be in it. I was the lead trumpet player, Barbara was in the flute section, which sat directly one level down in front of the trumpet section when we were in rehearsal, or in concert. Even though she had been there for two years, the first time we met was about to occur.

The insistence of a mutual friend on the trip, the lead clarinetist, arranged for me to meet Barbara in time for the big party held at the Argon Ballroom in downtown Chicago for all the bands that attended the parade. There were about a hundred bands altogether, each having just about a hundred members. That morning we had marched in the parade down Michigan Avenue. In the late afternoon I was waiting at the Grant Fountain in the Ulysses S. Grant Park across the street from the Chicago Conrad Hilton Hotel where a number of bands were staying. I didn’t know what to expect and actually didn’t even know what Barbara looked like.

It was a quiet, sunny, late afternoon in the park and there was no one around. The sun shone down at an angle as evening approached, and at the appointed minute, this little blonde girl in a yellow gingham dress stepped out of the shadows, into the sunlight, and said, “Hello Jim.”

The rest of the evening was kind of a pleasant blur.

Our early encounters, following our Chicago meeting, were kind of accidents. The father one of our band members had a 60th birthday party for which I was required to bring a date. There were high school events which Barbara invited me to attend with her. These encounters, though infrequent, were just exceptionally happy times. Turns out we were both incredible introverts. We found each other’s company just indescribably pleasant and we could pay attention to each other and pretty much ignore everyone else around us.

This really became the story of our lives together. She had had a pretty tough childhood. Her father passed away when she was 10. He died of multiple myeloma. Her mother, Ruth, who deserves a book about her life was an incredibly helpful, happy, friendly person despite the hardships of having two young daughters and no husband. She had married her husband in a whirlwind relationship having met him and married him in the first 30 days of their relationship. He drove a laundry truck for a local laundry company. Ruth and her husband, Larry, did have a storybook relationship – even today, descriptions by the relatives who knew the couple make it sound as though Larry is going to be at the next family gathering. He passed away in 1953.

I began referring to Barbara as my Sunshine Girl just because she was always so happy. We were married in December of 1964 following her graduation from Dental Hygiene School at the University of Minnesota. When we announced our engagement, just after Barbara graduated from high school in 1962, Barbara’s mother in very plain language explained to me that there would be no wedding for either daughter until each had a profession they could rely on. Ruth had given up her college education to marry Larry and never returned. For much of her life she worked as a fry cook in several restaurants in town at the same time. But Ruth, it turned out, was a real life model for Barbara, which I would learn as the years progressed. Barbara, throughout her life, was this incredibly happy person, and our happy relationship was noticed by everyone. Many of the people who wrote to us upon hearing of Barbara’s passing commented about our relationship and many more or less asked how we were so fortunate to have such a visibly remarkable relationship over so many years.

As time passes, I plan to share stories about the specific circumstances of our lives that illustrate how we used these ingredients. The full story of how we almost didn’t meet is pretty funny, but for another time. I, we, hope these ingredients will be helpful.

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Barbara Ann Bray Lukaszewski passed away peacefully on July 23rd, 2019. The Sunshine Girl now lives in our hearts and memories. Mother, grandmother, businesswoman, editor, active citizen, dental hygienist, lifelong ambassador of happiness, optimism, generosity, perfection, good grammar, honesty, candor and the upside of everything. She loved chocolate, ice cream, and brownies, preferably in combination, and desserts in general. Her thrift skills will become a family legend. Her personal motto was “Let’s make this work.” A conversation with (or note from) Barbara would be the residual happiness for your day.

Barbara was born August 24, 1944 in Minneapolis Minnesota. She graduated from Robbinsdale high school in 1962 and received her RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist) degree with honors in 1964, from the University of Minnesota Dental School. On December 18, 1964, she and her husband James Edmund Lukaszewski of Robbinsdale Minnesota were married at Faith Lilac Way Lutheran Church in Robbinsdale.

She worked in dentistry for 14 years, first in the offices of Dr. Lyle Brecht in downtown Minneapolis and then with Dr. Duane Sween in Robbinsdale. In 1978 she co-founded Media Information Systems Corporation with her husband and served as Chief Operating Officer (COO) until it merged with Brum & Anderson Public Relations in 1984. She and James relocated to New York in 1986 and worked for Chester Burger Company in Manhattan until 1990 when they co-founded The Lukaszewski Group, Inc. in White Plains, New York. She served as COO until her retirement in 2010, after which she and James returned to Minnesota. Over the years Barbara served as an officer on a variety of community boards. In the early 70’s she was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission of the City of Brooklyn Park. In the mid-70’s she was appointed to serve for a year on a county Grand Jury, an experience she found transformative.

Barbara is preceded in death by her parents Clifford Lawrence Bray and Ruth Bjork Bray Beckman. She is survived by her husband James; her sons Charles Todd Lukaszewski (Sahar El-Etr) of San Jose, California and James Moir Alexander (Merideth) of Chappaqua, New York; grandchildren Molly, Emily, Hudson and Omar; her sister Bonny Skovbroten (John); her sisters-in-law Nan Benner (Richard, deceased), Judy Jasperson (Robert), Wendy Lukaszewski (Jack Weber); as well as many nieces, grand nieces, nephews and grand nephews.

A private ceremony will be held on August 20, 2022, at their former home on Candlewood Lake.

Memorials and gifts: The family prefers all memorial gifts to the Lukaszewski Family Professional Development Fund, c/o The Metropolitan State University Foundation, 700 E. 7th St., St. Paul, MN 55106, foundation@metrostate.edu, 651-793-1802.