Category Archives: Death

Gone

Note that I started writing this less than a week after she died. I’ve not been able to return to it. Until now.

In my first true and vivid memory of her, we sat across from each other in a booth at a drugstore, probably Walgreens in Elgin. It must have been February because her birthday was close. She confided in me that she would soon no longer be a teenager and it made her sad. I must have been 9 if she was turning 20. I don’t recall my reaction. Maybe I was sad too.

There are earlier memories, but only snippets: hearing the raccoons in the trash cans outside the cabin in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin and being worried it was bears; being concerned about her when she had her tonsils removed; going to see the bears at the dump in Arbor Vitae.

The real memories came later. Being junior bridesmaid at her wedding; visiting her and Uncle Jack at their homes: Walnut Avenue and Marguerite Street in Elgin, Lor Ann Drive in South Elgin and finally Ironwood Bluff Road in Fulton, Mississippi.

I always found time to visit with her when I went back to Elgin. Usually, we spent a day shopping, having lunch, visiting. Once or twice we even stayed with her and Uncle Jack, probably because our regular sleeping quarters were full of people.

She visited me after we moved out east at least twice. Once was for an inaugural ball when she flew out with my mom and my brother. The other time(s) was(were) just to play tourist.

My last memories of being with her are full of birds, insects, laughter, cats, reminiscing, and a battlefield.

When Uncle Jack called to tell me she’d died just after Christmas in 2016 it was as if someone had punched me in my stomach. We were on our way back from the beach. I cried in front of my children — something I’d not done before. I had questions: How could that have happened? (answer: diabetes) Why didn’t anyone tell me that she’d been so ill? (she didn’t want you to know). When is the funeral? (there won’t be one).

I finally wrote my uncle, her husband, a letter. He called me last night and we talked about a lot of things, but not about how much we both missed her. That would have hurt too much. Despite having lost other aunts and uncles, my beloved grandparents, and both my parents, this is the loss that I will never get over.

Aunt Ginny — you are missed.

Aunt Ginny in Profile

Not part of my personal declutter, but part of things I found at my mom’s — a silhouette of a young girl with a barrette that I believe is of my Aunt Ginny. I remember that this hung on a wall at my Grandma Green’s house — possibly in her bedroom. And I believe I remember her telling me it was of Aunt Ginny when she was a child. It looks like her profile.

Yesterday was Aunt Ginny’s birthday. She would have been 72 years old.

Remembering Richard Adams and Watership Down

Carrie Fisher died on December 27th which was tragic because she was only 60. However, I was more sad to learn that Richard Adams died that same day because I had more of a relationship with his work than I did for Ms. Fisher’s.

I don’t remember how I first learned about Watership Down, maybe Jeremy told me about it? Maybe a teacher recommended it? All I know is that I read it in 1975/1976. I loved it. That may have been because I enjoyed watching the rabbits that congregated in our back yard when I was a child or maybe I got to like the rabbits because I’d read the book.

Decendent of the rabbits I watched as a child near the rabbit Jeremy painted on the garage door
Descendant of the rabbits I watched as a child near the rabbit Jeremy painted on the garage door

Not only did I read Watership Down, but I also read a book that was frequently referenced in Watership Down: R. M. Lockley‘s The Private Life of the Rabbit. I am sure that my friends and family grew weary of my never ending facts about rabbits. (they sometimes eat their own poop; females can absorb embryos if the environment is too hostile for giving birth)

I also started collecting rabbit figurines, most of which I still own.

When I was in England in 1976 Jeremy’s father offered to take me anywhere in the UK as long as it was somehow tied to a book. One of the places we visited that year was the real, actual Watership Down in Hampshire. Jeremy found a piece of rock there and created a one-of-a-kind souvenir of our visit.

Jeremy at Watership Down
Jeremy at Watership Down
watership down out of white rock
Watership Down out of white rock

Shortly after the Watership Down film was released in 1978, Jeremy and I saw it at a cinema in Leeds.

So you can see I was quite the fan of the book by Richard Adams whose death was eclipsed by the death of Carrie Fisher. (Not unlike C. S. Lewis’ death being eclipsed by the death of JFK) I am deeply grateful to Mr. Adams for giving me Watership Down which led to so many related experiences which led to so many wonderful memories.

Remembering BLC and Sister Margaret

It was September 1979 and I  was fresh out of college with no employment other than my job at an all-night “pancake house” as a waitress. Someone who knew someone who knew I was looking for a teaching position told someone at Bartlett Learning Center (now Clare Woods Academy) about me. They called, I interviewed and was hired as a long-term substitute teacher at the school for learning disabled and developmentally disabled youth. The school was housed on the main floor of a Catholic convent run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.

At that point in my life I did not have a car so I took a bus to the train station, rode the train the few stops from Elgin to Bartlett, then walked to the school. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked for me.

December of that year I moved to my own apartment. Around that same time, Sister Jane, the teacher for whom I was substituting returned to the school. I was kept on because she needed assistance after surgery. She lived in Elgin and my apartment was on the way to the school so she picked me up each morning and dropped me off each afternoon. Later, for some reason, two other sisters, Barbara and Margaret, joined the carpool (although they lived on the east side of Elgin and my apartment was not on the way to Bartlett) and for several months the four of us rode to and from school together each day. Suddenly my closest friends were nuns! I worked with them, commuted with them and even socialized with them.

After my parents bought a new car and gave me their old Buick LeSabre and I no longer needed to commute with the sisters we remained friends. In fact one of the other teachers at the school told me she didn’t trust me because I was friends with the sisters (one of whom was the head sister at the time).

Sisters Barbara and Margaret shared an apartment on the east side of Elgin. Sister Jane lived alone. Sister Jane was from a state farther west — Nebraska? One of the Dakotas? I don’t remember where Sister Barbara was from — maybe near Elgin? Sister Margaret was from Elgin, though. I knew that because one day I saw Sister Margaret’s photo among the photos of my mother’s classmates in her high school yearbook. I never told anyone but Sister Margaret that I saw the photo because because she was very secretive about her age.

Sister Margaret taught the younger students when I was at Bartlett Learning Center. She was so patient with them and they loved her. She was funny and kind and caring. I can actually still hear her voice in my head. She had brown short curly hair, twinkly eyes and a ready smile. In fact, the only time I saw her even slightly upset was when I told her that I saw her photograph in my mother’s yearbook.

When I read on Facebook that Sister Margaret died yesterday it brought back a flood of memories about my first two years as a teacher. About how I learned  so much about teaching from all the sisters. Sister Jane taught me classroom management skills, Sister Barbara taught me organizational skills and Sister Margaret probably taught me the most important lessons. She taught, by example how to be kind and patient and caring even when I wanted to scream at the students.

After I moved on from Bartlett Learning Center I kept in touch with the sisters for many years. After a while I lost touch with them but a mutual friend occasionally lets me know some information about these wonderful women.

These past 12 months have been a year of loss for me in so many ways. While I’d not talked to Sister Margaret for years, the world is that much worse because she is no longer in it. But she’s sitting at that table in the cafe in my mind’s picture of Heaven.

Resolution of Condolence for Ralph Tyler 1929

My grandfather’s uncle Ralph was a firefighter in Sioux City, Iowa. He died in 1929 and the Sioux City Firemen’s Association sent the following “Resolution of Condolence”. It has all the right words, but is very formally written. It is remarkable that this 85 year old piece of tissue paper is still readable.

Resolution of Condolence

Whereas, on March 20th, 1929, death took member and former president of our Local and at the time of his demise Vice-president of the Iowa Association of Fire Fighters, a man who by unceasing and unselfish devotion and loyalty to our interests, who in his quiet and unassuming manner had commanded our respect, excited our admiration, and gained for himself the friendship of many who will sincerely mourn his loss; and

Whereas, in his life and in his association activities, he ever displayed undaunted courage, battling always straightforwardly and openly for what he believed to be right and for the good of all, and letting neither opposition to nor apparent hopelessness of worthy causes deter him from pressing on to achieve victory for them, and whose vigorous personality and tenacity in pursuit of his purpose were ever a stimulating force in developing in others that militancy of organization spirit, without which our cause would soon become feeble and emasculated; and

Whereas, in the death of Ralph Tyler, Sioux City, Firemen’s Association, has sustained a loss unparalleled in its history; and

Whereas, we feel that his influence for good has extended far beyond the limits of Sioux City; therefore be it –

Resolved, that we give expression of our sincere and heartfelt sorrow by tendering to the bereft relatives our deep sympathy in their loss; and be it further –

Resolved, that copies of this REsolution be sent to the family of the deceased; that a copy be sent to the Iowa Association of Fire Fighters, to be placed on record; that a copy be sent to the International Association of Fire Fighters for the publication; that a copy be spread upon the Minutes of this Union, and that the Chapter No. 7 be draped for a period of thirty days.

Sioux city Firemen’s Association,

/s/D. D. Welsh/ Rec. Sec.

Here’s his obituary.

ralph tyler obit

Eulogy for Mom

I lost what I wrote about my dad, at least I think I did. I don’t want to lose what I wrote for Mom. Here it is…

First of all, I cannot believe how difficult this has been to write (even before I sprained my wrists). My dad’s eulogy was written in fifteen minutes or so, but I’ve been trying to write this for over a week. I’m trying to think of why, and the only thing I can think is that while Dad told stories, Mom listened to others. For her it was all about other people.

So as I prepared to write this I thought about Mom’s qualities. I listened to what other people remembered about her, what people said on Facebook and in the obituary guest book and narrowed it down to a few special qualities Mom possessed: She was almost always upbeat, she immediately became friendly with almost everyone she met, she was thoughtful — nearly to a fault, and she had the best laugh.

Not counting my teenage years, my memories of Mom are mostly of her being really happy. She always had things going on with friends (coffee klatches when she was a young mother, projects such as painting fire hydrants to resemble American patriots during the bicentennial, raising money for a young girl named Angie who needed medical aid, and finally burgers or coffee with her church or grade school friends). She loved spending time with her family and would spend a lot of time planning for our visits after we’d left the nest. Her grandchildren (and great grandson) delighted her.

Mom talked to everyone. People in line at Jewel, people in elevators, people at museums, people on the Washington DC Metro. She and her sister, Ginny, would strike up friendships with strangers wherever they were often to my embarrassment.

Mom was incredibly thoughtful. If she knew you collected this or liked that she’d always be on the lookout for it for you. She used her artistic talent to make cards or Decoupage collage posters for others, some of which are on display around the room. After her Decoupage poster period, she created stained glass for family and friends, after that came quilts, then folk art painting. Earlier tonight someone gave me drawings Mom did of her young daughter and house.

My mom’s laughter is what I will miss the most. She laughed easily (although it took a while if she didn’t get a joke). Often the laughter was directed at herself if she did something she considered silly. Sometimes, often, she’d get an entire roomful of people laughing, stop for a breath of air, and then start laughing all over again.

Many of these qualities were present in her illness and after she went on hospice care. While she was not as upbeat as she’d been before, she did find things to be happy about, the rainbows that moved around the room, her “baby”, visits from friends and family (she especially loved when her great grandson, Preston would visit). She’d often thank someone who helped her (for instance getting from her bed to her chair), even after showing displeasure while being helped. She had a lot of visits from strangers these last few months, and seemed to enjoy many of them. Most importantly, she even managed to find things to laugh about.

Nearly 6 years ago when my dad died, I shared my vision of Heaven with you. The vision began with my beloved Uncle Don sitting at a café with John Kennedy. As more people from my life passed away they joined Uncle Don and President Kennedy at the table, the table grew to accommodate everyone. A few days ago Mom joined that table. I believe she’s there drinking Malibu and Diet Coke with Dad, her parents, her brothers and sisters, and all of her friends and family who preceded her to the café.

Finally, I would like to thank Richard Peabody for taking such loving care of Mom over the past few years. I don’t know what we would have done without you. I also am eternally grateful to Kevin and Connie for welcoming Mom into their home and taking care of her for the past several months. I don’t think I could have done what you did.

Remembering George Brett

When I was in graduate school at the George Washington University I joined an online group called Brainstorms (which has nothing to do with GWU). Because there were a fair number of Brainstorms members from the DC area, we decided, in 1999, to have a get together.  Dean and I hired a babysitter and drove to Adam’s house in Falls Church. There were probably 6 or 7 Brainstorms members there and a few spouses. A few things I remember from that night:

  • Chicken sausages could taste really good
  • Falls Church is cool at night
  • George Brett was a great listener
  • Lemony Snickett books could save my kids
Meeting George
George is on the right (photo borrowed from Glen — who is on the far left). This is the night I met George.

On our walk around Falls Church, George asked me about my degree program and what I wanted to do with my upcoming degree in educational technology leadership. I told him that I really wanted to help create online learning environments that involved virtual chatrooms — online spaces where students could interact with subject matter experts. For instance, if someone were learning about Shakespeare, they’d “talk” to an avatar that looked like “the Bard” in an environment that simulated England of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. George didn’t laugh at my dream. He thought it was a great idea and offered ideas.

George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS
George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS

I saw George a number of times after that, at various Brainstorms functions. The last time I saw George was in 2009 at our Inaugural Ball (where he wore a kilt and his signature bow tie). We interacted online a lot, though. First on Brainstorms, then on Facebook. Several years ago when I asked for suggestions for places to go for a romantic weekend, George emailed me and invited us to stay at his lovely cabin in Wintergreen, VA. We had a wonderful time.

Once, on Facebook, I asked my FB friends to recommend pillows. Shortly after I pressed “enter” the phone rang. It was George telling me that he and Sally were on their way back from Bed, Bath and Beyond where he found the perfect pillows — Laura Ashley. He knew they were perfect because he tried them out, right on the floor of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The last time I spoke to George, he and Sally were celebrating their wedding anniversary in Florida. He called me, asking if it was me who needed a job reference or something. Typical George — he didn’t want to leave it until he returned to Virginia and took time out of his anniversary vacation to ask. I’d not asked him, but was grateful that he was calling to make sure. I assume he went through his address book until he found the right person.

George died earlier this month — in fact, the same day Sandy died. His memorial service will take place in about three hours. I’ll be headed back to Falls Church — not to meet George or visit with him in his apartment, but to say farewell to him. To be in a church where people from many areas of his life will be gathered to say goodbye to a remarkable man.

George was a thoughtful, kind, gentle man. In all the time I knew him — online and off — he never, to my knowledge, uttered (or wrote) an unkind word about anyone. He left us far too soon. The world is a better place because he was in it, but his passing has left a void in the lives of everyone that knew him.