My Mother passed away Sunday morning, December 22, 2013. She was 2 months shy of 99 years of age.
She led a life full of curiosity, wonder, spontaneity, awe and joy over the simplest of things.
If I were to present Mother with a trophy, it would be “World’s Best Listener.”
She would ask the simplest, most profound questions then give you plenty of time to answer.
I lived at home until I was 25 (except for the five summers I worked at the Boy Scout Camp in Northern Wisconsin during high school and college).
When I’d come home late at night, after a date or being out with my friends, Mom and Dad might be up. The three of us would talk a bit then Dad would go to bed so he could get up early for work.
We had two long brown sofas plus three chairs in our living room. Mom would cuddle on one sofa and I’d sprawl out on the other. We would talk for hours.
We’d talk about life. Dreams of what I wanted to be some day. Ideas. Big ideas. She liked to tell me about her dad who was the first mid-western president of the National Restaurant Association. Growing up and spending summers at the lake was worth many long hours of stories she shared.
She could ask the most interesting questions then listen. Just listen.
You know how some people ask a question and before you can respond they ask two or three more questions and don’t give you breathing room to answer?
She naturally asked one great simple elegant question then LISTENED.
Last spring Pat McNellis (her grandson, my son) and I were visiting her when my youngest son David joined us.
The scene was precious. David would take a photo of Mom with Pat then e-mail me the picture. I’d show the photo to her.
She was like a little girl with her look of astonishment. Absolute joy at the technology she was part of.
Then Pat took a picture of Dave with Mom and repeated the process.
More awe. Questions galore.
Her body wasn’t working well, however her mind and spirit were still clicking.
The final time she was with her four sons was last August. She was diminished and we all knew the end was near, yet her quirky sense of humor was still there.
She wanted to know where my hair went. And she was concerned with how I was doing. Always a Mother. At age 98. “How is MY Jerry doing?” If you’ve read our book, you’ll know that was more than a casual question.
Our family is celebrating Mother’s long and meaningful life as the Matriarch of five generations. She has 53 grand, great and great-great grandchildren. We’re having a celebration in Minnesota in mid-June with her burial Mass.
I am pleased she directed any memorials be sent to the Sisters of St. Francis of Little Falls, Minnesota, who hosted the first Compression Planning Institute almost 4 decades ago.
Three years ago Mom was telling me new details of what happened in the first weeks when I had polio.
She told me of events I wasn’t aware of so I asked her if she’d do a book with me about those scary days. I was too young (2 years old) to remember or appreciate the fear of the early years of what my parents and brothers went through.
You may have read our book “Don’t Pick Him Up: our family’s journey with polio.”
I’m telling you this because if you have a deep desire to do a book about a special person in your life, do it sooner rather than later. Six months after finishing the book, I don’t think Mom’s memory would have been as sharp.
Capture the opportunity when you can. Sure wish I did a book with Dad before he passed away.
It’s been 16 days since Mom died. I’m not ready to read our book or to listen to our hours of recordings; however, I’m thankful I have them.
It was such a journey of love to do the book together. Mother was mentally quite sharp when we did those recordings. Our Saturday morning conversations were such an intimate Mother/son project.
A way for you to know my Mother is her reaction when I asked if she’d do a book with me.
She didn’t say ”I’m 95, I’m too old” or “I’ve never done anything like that before” or “I don’t know how.” Or a host of other things she could have said.
Her response was “What do I have to do?” and “How would we do it? How can I help?”
What a beautiful response and gift to leave the five generations she was the matriarch of…not I’m too old but HOW and What do I need to do to help?
That was my Mother.
How We Did the Book
The way we did the book was easy. I’ll share a few hints and the project planning software we used in case you are thinking of doing a similar project for someone special in your life.
We picked a narrow theme. Our family’s experience with polio from when I caught it at age 2 until I had my last surgery at age 12. Everything in the book revolved around that theme and time which made the topic manageable.
I used freeconference.com and recorded interviews (discussions) with Mother, my brothers Jim, Tom and Mike plus my friends Dr. Blaise Favara and Ray White.
It couldn’t have been easier or more enjoyable.
I found people to transcribe the conversations through eLance.com. One transcriber didn’t charge us because she said she found the “story” so interesting.
Once I had the transcripts, my work was ‘cut-and-paste’ the most interesting and relevant parts.
Family members edited for spelling, grammar and inconsistencies.
Pat McNellis handled the layout and technical part of having the book manufactured and distributed by CreateSpace which is owned by Amazon.com.
A friend, Brian Cubarney, designed the cover and we had a book.
Mother and I signed copies for all members of our huge family.
She had two cases of them, which she gave to members of the staff and friends at Friendship Village where she lived in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Something I never knew but learned during the project was Mom wanted to be a nurse when she graduated from high school and never pursued it.
When I caught polio she received professional medical training from the Kenney Institute to help me. Every day for years she massaged my back and left leg which I’m convinced made it possible for me to walk.
Where did I get the time to do a book?
- Type #1: Things I despise doing
- Type #2: Things I don’t mind doing
- Type #3: Things I like to do
- Type #4: Things I love to do
For me it’s not an issue to work in Type 4 time. I talk with Mom and my brothers, Blaise and Ray anyways. All I needed to do was record our conversations.
Assembling the story was interesting, easy and lots of fun – Type 4.
The whole project was a “labor of love” so finding time wasn’t even an issue. I believe if you have something that means as much to you as our book meant to us, then time won’t be an issue for you.
My friend Joyce Wycoff said it best after reading our book. “I love your Mother.”
If you’d like a copy of “Don’t Pick Him Up” send me an e-mail with your snail mail address and I’ll send you a complimentary copy. [email protected].
After you read it, pass it along. Lots of seniors find it interesting. You might want to donate it to a school library. Mom would like that.
Next to the Atom bomb, polio was the greatest scare this country faced right after World War II.
If you’d like to do a book on someone special in your life and would like to talk about what I experienced doing “Don’t Pick Him Up,” please contact me. It would be a way to honor my Mother by sharing with you.
She would help you but it’s a bit late. She’s up to MUCH MORE GLORIOUS things now.
My best to you for 2014,
P.S. One of the things I’m so proud about my Mother is how pleasant she always was to people.
My brother Tom said to me, next time you’re with Mom watch closely how she treats the staff of Friendship Village.
So into her room comes a nurse…”Judy your sweater is so pretty. It matches your beautiful eyes.”
Then a technician…”Harry, this is my 3rd son Jerry from Pennsylvania. Jerry, Harry is so strong and he carefully protects me when he lifts me into my boot.”
When an aide came in who was a college student Mom would ask how her exams went last week. “Oh Maria, I know you did well. You’re so smart.”
Automatically she had kind things to say to everyone. Everyone. It was in her DNA.
Then she would say, “I can’t believe how nice everyone is to me.”
P.P.S. My brothers Jim, Tom, Mike and I take great pride in the fact we did such an excellent job in selecting our parents.