I sat in the chapel at her funeral watching and listening to her family describe a wife and mother they thought they knew.
In a single split second it hit me that I was the only person in that chapel who knew what she thought of her family: What
pleased her; What pained her; Her fear, her anger, her confusion and despair; Secrets she shared with me.
Secrets that were mine to keep forever. It was not a good feeling.
After I die it truly doesn’t matter to me what those who survive me do. But if any of you decide to have a ceremony . . . share my secrets . . . and I would like Archie to deliver my eulogy . . . please.
Those of you who follow Max’s Blog know that we love to post other people’s creative expressions. Right now I’m sitting on a back log. After re-reading this I decided that I’d better start sharing them with you before my expiration date runs out.
- I received this from Rosemary Lee at SEEKING EQUILIBRIUM
- It’s long.
- It’s worth your time to read.
Rosemary Lee, SEEKING EQUILIBRIUM
“This is a wonderful story that I wanted to share with all my friends…I hope it makes you reflect a little on the good things in your life and makes you smile…even laugh”
“My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should say I
never saw him drive a car.
He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he
drove was a 1926 Whippet.
“In those days,” he told me when he was in his 90s, “to drive a car you
had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look
every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.”
At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in: “Oh, baloney!” she said. “He hit a horse.”
“Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”
So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors
all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the Van Laninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none.
My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines , would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.
My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. “No one in the family drives,” my mother would explain, and that was that.
But, sometimes, my father would say, “But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we’ll get one.” It was as if he wasn’t sure which one of us would turn 16 first.
But, sure enough , my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown..
It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or less became my brother’s car.
Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father, but it didn’t make sense to my mother..
So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father’s idea. “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I remember him saying more than once.
For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and
appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.
Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn’t seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage.
(Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)
He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the
back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her
If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests “Father Fast” and “Father Slow.”
After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he
had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he’d sit in the car and read, or go take a
stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I’d stop by, he’d explain: “The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base
made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.”
If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still
driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”
“No left turns,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“No left turns,” he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and I
an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when
they turn left in front of oncoming traffic.
As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth
perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a
“What?” I said again.
“No left turns,” he said. “Think about it.. Three rights are the same as a left, and that’s a lot safer. So we always make three rights..”
“You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.
“No,” she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It works.”
But then she added: “Except when your father loses count.”
I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.
“Loses count?” I asked.
“Yes,” my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”
I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.
“No,” he said ” If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be put off another day or another week.” My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she
She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102.
They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)
He continued to walk daily — he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he’d fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound body until the
moment he died.
One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.
A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.” At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m probably not going to
live much longer.”
“You’re probably right,” I said.
“Why would you say that?” He countered, somewhat irritated.
“Because you’re 102 years old,” I said..
“Yes,” he said, “you’re right.” He stayed in bed all the next day.
That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night.
He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said:
“I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet”
An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:
“I want you to know,” he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in no pain.
I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.”
A short time later, he died.
I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long..
I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life,
Or because he quit taking left turns. “
- Life is too short to wake up with regrets.
- So love the people who treat you right.
- Forget about the one’s who don’t.
- Believe everything happens for a reason.
- If you get a chance,take it & if it changes your life, let it.
- Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.
- ENJOY LIFE NOW – IT HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE!”
Carla Naragon started a discussion on a professional blog for Marriage, Family Therapists. This essay was her first post on a new blog. I found it to be thought-provoking.
It’s a longer “read” than you might be used to but take the time. The issue is much larger than just one man, Bin Ladin.
Here’s her post and several of the replies.
“Osama Bin Ladin is dead. It’s on TV, it’s on the radio. It’s in the air and in the water. There is no escaping it. The question is, how should I feel about it?
Or should I meditate on the profound wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr: ”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Perhaps the correct answer is both. There is a part of the human experience that craves revenge and feels hungry for violence. To deny that we are all capable of feeling violent would be a mistake. It would be like denying that water is wet. Ignoring the truth doesn’t make it less true.”
It’s also true that love begets love and violence begets violence. Just like 1+1=2. An eye for an eye, would have us all blind. Punishment is not the answer.
If the human race is to survive and thrive, we need to acknowledge our pain. Feelings and behavior are 2 separate things. We can learn to acknowledge our primal reaction to threat AND behave from a more evolved place. Acts of love and compassion are most needed exactly when it is most difficult. This is as true for the individual as it is for couples, families and communities. What is our planet if not one gigantic human habitat?
We currently live in a culture of “us” and “them”. The news reflects our own internal struggle between the compassionate, warm, loving and generous people we strive to be and the greedy, fearful and aggressive parts of us we struggle to keep in the shadows.
The bottom line: It’s okay to feel anger, hate and rage. It’s not okay to act it out. The human race, along with our planet will thrive if we chose to act from a place of love and compassion. Remember, love begets love and violence begets violence. 1+1=2. If we want a different outcome, we must choose a different action.” by Carla Naragon
A response to Carla:
“His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama emphasized the need to find a distinction between the action and the actor. He said in the case of Bin Laden, his action was of course destructive and the September 11 events killed thousands of people. So his action must be brought to justice, His Holiness said. But with the actor we must have compassion and a sense of concern, he added. His Holiness said therefore the counter measure, no matter what form it takes, has to be compassionate action. His Holiness referred to the basis of the practice of forgiveness saying that it, however, did not mean that one should forget what has been done”
Another response to Carla:
“I think its great that we got a bad guy, the one responsible for the murder of 3,000 innocent Americans on 9/11 and I am feeling a little scared that we may stir up anti-American sentiment among the citizens in the middle east. I would feel a little more celebratory if we reformed the American health care system which send more than 18,000 uninsured people to their deaths annually (that’s 5 times the amount of people killed in 9/11, but in only 1 year).”
What’s your opinion?
Seems as if December brings many beginnings and endings. Here’s a lovely article I received from Cathy, a wonderful, talented writer. It made me reflect: The passing of parents, particularly the same-sex parent, often leaves us asking questions about our own lives; I suspect questions may be the most important legacy we receive.Here’s Cathy’s questions. Which do you share?“Thirty-seven years ago today (Dec 19), my mother passed away. The phone rang at 7 a.m. I answered, and the doctor asked to speak to my dad. He sat on the edge of my bed and took the call. Then he put his head in his hands and cried hysterically. I don’t really know what happened after that. I do remember that I made the calls to my brother and sister, aunts and uncles, because my father could not.
We went to the hospital; the doctor wrote me a prescription for Valium. I never took it. We went to breakfast and had bacon, eggs and toast. I don’t remember tasting anything. We went to the funeral parlor. I picked out the coffin because my father could not. It was slate blue metallic with a blue satin lining.After that, there were the usual preparations and condolences and services. Those I barely remember.
I wonder what she would think of me after all these years. I wonder what she DOES think of me. She visits me often. She would probably to this day tell me that I can be anything I want to be. Is that still true? Was it ever? What can I accomplish in the remainder of my life? Have I squandered it all? And, in truth, what DO I want now? That’s the difficult part.
All I know is that today I will acknowledge my mother. I will unwrap her fragile tea-cup salvaged from my dad’s apartment this year and put it in a place of honor. Just so she knows she is not forgotten.”
I read a beautiful blog post on Phylor’s Blog about her Mother, Father and memories. She ended it with “For me, grief comes at funny times, over funny things”.: http://phylor.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/funny-how-grief-is-musings-on-baseball-bracelets-and-tears/
I replied to her post and had to stop when I started to tear up.
My Mother died 10 years ago today. I have a VERY bad memory for dates. But I know it was December 12, 1999 because December 12th is my dear friend Joyce’s birthday and I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Mom missed living to 2000 by only 2 weeks.
It seems Mom was always both behind and ahead her time: She gave birth to my brother when she was 30 years old — extremely rare in those days — In 1950, 30 was OLD to have a child; She upcycled clothes when upcycling was not in the dictionary; She learned to swim and DIVE and had her first airplane ride in her 40’s.
Mom gave me my love of creativity. She knitted, sewed, tailored clothes, made jewelry, stained glass, copper enameled, painted, water-colored, tooled leather, did ceramics – she would try anything. I am always a bit sad that she’s not here to experiment with me at all my new creative endeavors.
I do remember her at funny times, over funny things: She loved eating anything off the bone, particularly turkey carcasses; She kept a sign up over the stove “This is Selma’s kitchen. If you don’t believe it start something” – where that sign came from I don’t remember; and when things were difficult she always said “This too shall pass.”
She had polio as a child and one leg was shorter than the other. You couldn’t tell until she took a photo – the pictures were always at a slight tilt. As she aged she developed post-polio syndrome and was in excruciating, intractable pain the last years of her life. She never complained but you could see the pain in her eyes.
It doesn’t really matter if I believe she is no longer in pain and in a better place. I miss her. I also believe there never is an end to grief as long as I am in this body called human.
This year my grief came with Phylor’s blog post.