To Gabriele


Ken  Caryl Canyon

Gabriele died last week after a long illness. I have never met her, but thanks to her daughter, Suzanne at Walking Papers Blog, I feel like I have. For months, Suzanne has shared Gabriele’s journey, her prose interspersed with photos, poems and stories about her mom’s life, and finally, death. Stories about family. Photos of Gabriele and her daughters and grandchildren. In an unflinchingly frank journal, Suzanne shared the gritty details of a beloved family member’s gradual separation from this life and her step into the next.

As I read I sometimes laughed, sometimes cried, but always felt empathy for Suzanne and her family thousands of miles away, yet so close. And through it all, I relived my  own mom’s brief illness and death, recalling the good, the bad, and the journey of her life. Others felt the same way, as Suzanne’s journal brought friends and strangers together in a community of followers of the story of Gabriele.

The internet can be a monster  – it can sap us of our free time and energy, with cat videos, FB and endless news cycles. But it can be a blessing too, making us part of a community across a nation or across an ocean, bringing us together as we share our stories and making our world a smaller place.

I wish peace to Gabriele who is now at rest, and peace to all who trek through their own journey across this world that is not so big after all.

© Huffygirl 2013

Remembering Mom one year later


I feel like I have graduated. I just wrote the last check, licked the last envelope, finished the last meeting, and packed up all my mom’s papers. I will not look at theses things again, at least not for a long while. My mom died just about one year ago, on Christmas Day, 2010. I have finally finished settling her estate. It was a lot of work, but a labor of love. My husband toiled alongside of me for much of it, whether it was meeting with the lawyer, cleaning her house or tending her yard. We finished our last day at Mom’s home by burying a time capsule, and taking a nostalgic walk though her woods, now overgrown and almost unrecognizable from the woods I played in as a girl.

Today I’d like to share again the tribute I wrote to my mom which my husband read for me at her funeral, and also appeared on my blog on December 30, 2010. I know many of you have already read it, but today I post it again not for us, but for her.♥

My 85-year-old mother died this week. She had a long life, most of it healthy despite a robust smoking  habit, some of it good, some not, but overall a life

Mom and her friend Rose

that was varied and interesting.  She was born of immigrant parents and grew up in a working class neighborhood of mostly Polish, Slovenian and others of eastern European descent. Her father worked in a factory, her mother stayed home raising kids, making chicken soup with homemade noodles, and poticca (poppy-seed bread) on special occasions, hanging her laundry on the line to dry while chatting over the fence to neighbors, and shopping at a neighborhood market, where you handed your list to the clerk behind the counter and they filled your order for you. My mother said they were “lucky” during the depression, because her father had a part-time job as a night watchman in a factory, while many other dads had nothing. Her growing up years are portrayed in pictures of her with her friends, sledding down a neighborhood hill, standing sweetly next to boyfriends, almost all dressed in army uniforms, and arm in arm with  girlfriends, walking  down the streets of Chicago or posing with the stone lions in front of the Art Institute. She quit high school in 11th grade to help support her family and worked in a factory making Karo syrup.  Maybe that’s why her hearing became so bad in later years, as there was no OSHA to protect workers then. Later, as an adult, she proudly completed her GED, not because she had to, but because she felt incomplete without that diploma, even though she grew up in a time when many people, especially women, did not complete school past the eight grade.

Mom and her daughters. That's me on the left.

She left her family in Chicago to move with her new husband to a farm in Michigan. Although she grew up a city girl, she traded it all for love, to pick pickles,  gather eggs, and sell tomato seedlings from our little greenhouse. She raised three children without the benefit of disposable diapers, ready-made formula or an automatic clothes washer.  She canned jam, hung clothes outside to dry and spent an entire day each week ironing. Her only phone was a black desk model on a party line. Her TV received  two channels. She styled her hair with pin curls and gave her daughters hideous home perms.

 She was the only mom who taught her daughters how to play hopscotch AND poker. She carried cigarettes in her purse next to pictures of her grandchildren. She could curse like a sailor and sweet-talk the priest, all on the very same day.  One of her fondest memories was the day her grandchildren took her to…the casino.

People describe her as sometimes funny, sometimes fun, but always feisty.  She was not afraid to speak her mind. I always heard about it if she didn’t like my clothes or hair or what I was doing, and not just as a teenager, but as an adult too. Her motto was “don’t go to any trouble,” yet she made sure you went to all kinds of trouble when she wanted you to.  She was too impatient to ever wait in a line, but patient enough to comfort us through our childhood illnesses and boyfriend dramas. She deferred decision-making to her husband, but later as a widow, gained confidence to hire a roofer and plumber, get her car serviced  and learn how to drive through the car wash.

Mom at her 85th birthday party.

She was determined to stay in her own home until she died and made sure we all felt miserable and abused  when we “made her” move to our local hospice. But in the short time she was there, she was blessed and touched and basked under the loving care of the folks there, who were able to see past her sometime cantankerous exterior to the needs  of a dying woman.

As we all whispered our goodbyes to her this Christmas day night, I think my youngest son said it best. He leaned into her ear and said “You had a good run Grandma, you had a good run.”

 © Huffygirl 2011

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If you’re on the mailing list, you must not be dead


My dead mother gets mail. Lots of it. Almost as much as when she was alive. Some of it makes sense – hospital bills, explanation of  benefits from Medicare, utility bills. Most of it does not. She just got a request from her church to give to their annual appeal. Since the funeral was there and all, you’d think they would know she is gone. Comcast wants her to sign up today, even though I just mailed them a death certificate and the modem from her house. Medicare sends a note saying: “You have not paid your premium. Your benefits are currently inactive. If you have died, please disregard this notice.” The funniest one so far? I changed her address so her mail would be forwarded to me, causing the phone company to send her…congratulations on her new home and a brand new phone book.

Is this the only way to quit Facebook? (Photo: Huffygirl)

I find it amusing, annoying, irritating, but usually not upsetting. I dutifully scribble on the backs of reply cards “Emily has died. Please remove her from your list,” and send them back. Sometimes the note is sassy, if they’ve annoyed me enough times with their mailings: “I regret I cannot attend your event, as I have recently died.” Sometimes bittersweet: “The home care nurses were excellent, but I really am tired of receiving surveys for my dead mother to complete. ”  Sometimes dead pan:” Emily has died and is not interested in receiving mailings from your assisted living.” I am wondering how many creative responses I can devise before the mail eventually stops.

But it’s not going to stop, at  least for a while. I have to drive 40 minutes to her house once a week to pick up the junk mail so it won’t accumulate. I still get mail at my house for people who lived here 25 years ago, so why should junk mailers stop sending mail to a dead person?

Even harder than paper mail is internet mail. I’m sure she’s still getting emails to an inbox that no longer exists. I have no way of knowing how many times an email must be returned before the spammers will stop.

The hardest of all – trying to quit Facebook. When I went in to deactivate her page, FB would not let me complete it without giving a reason. Of  the many choices listed , death was not one of them. My mood was dark at the time, so I chose “other” and typed in: “I have died so am no longer able to use Facebook. Please deactivate my account.” Not long after Mom got a cheery email from FB.” Hello Emily, your Facebook account is still waiting when you’re ready to return. Just click on the link to reactivate your account. Your Facebook friends are waiting.”

Sigh. Ben Franklin was wrong. The only certain things are death, taxes, AND that you’ll never get off the $&#!% mailing lists.