Early this morning, my mother died. She’d been wanting to go; having lost one leg to bad circulation and with continuing pain in the other for the same reason, her quality of life wasn’t great despite the loving care my brother and family provided. She needed help to get around, and hated to impose. She’d already outlived all her siblings, and fortunately her passing was relatively quick and painless.
She had led a most interesting life; she grew up in Germany in a slightly privileged family (with a few servants), including during the time of World War II. The war was tough on the family; while one of her two twin brothers was lost to leukemia, the other lost his life as a fighter pilot. Her firm but loving father was briefly imprisoned for not being an ardent proponent of Hitler, but as a community official the local townspeople advocated for his release. Their house was bombed during the course of the war, but they had escaped to the countryside home of their family friends. I remember my mom telling me about heading with a friend to that region, and ducking under trees at times to avoid planes machine-gunning the field!
She was anorexic for a time, and so had to spend time in the hills of Czechoslovakia to recuperate, escaping some of the war. She also studied nursing in Switzerland, again avoiding some of the carnage, and felt remorse in both cases. She was also embarrassed about getting credit for not participating in a war-hawking May Day parade because the real reason wasn’t principled objection but instead that she didn’t want her birthday preempted. For the rest of her life she was always looking to help others. She was sympathetic to the disabled, as her father had lost his arm in the first world war, yet never let that slow him down.
After the war, she headed to the New York to stay with her aunt, and worked taking care of an elderly lady. She grew tired of being cold, and headed west by bus. She almost stopped in New Mexico, but ended up continuing on to Los Angeles, where she worked in a hospital, and ended up meeting my father, Nives. She never regretted leaving her native land and family, though she did miss them.
My folks got married, and she subsequently became a mother to me and then my brother Clif. With no proximal family of hers, she had to become quite independent, also as my father worked long hours. She kept us well fed, becoming a good cook and a strong advocate of natural foods long before such became popular. A good education was also a priority, and she took us to museums regularly as well as advocating for summer school and other activities. Frugal too (and occasionally penny-wise and pound-foolish, as she’d laughingly admit), our regular vacations were camping except for the occasional trips to Germany to visit her family. And she was capable: she knitted us sweaters, sewed, gardened, and had a ‘can do’ attitude.
She eventually went back to nursing when we were old enough, and was a revered fixture in the local emergency room for many years (though we had to restrain her from telling injury tales at the dinner table). She and my father remained active in politics and social efforts; after retirement they did considerable traveling but also volunteered time when home. She was always heading off to go shopping for the abused women’s shelter or to deliver something for somebody in need. She also was continually restless, courtesy of an overactive thyroid gland, and it was a family joke that she’d say she was finally going to sit and watch a movie, but soon she’d be up making snacks or doing some other thing around the house.
The thing that I grew to recognize and appreciate was how much my mother was a people person. Our house regularly had visitors, often from far away. My mom had the gift of really listening – she loved hearing others’ stories about life – and the next time she met you she would remember and ask. And help if she could. As a consequence, my folks always had invitations to visit, and people they met on their travels were always stopping through on their way elsewhere.
She never thought she was smart or wise, and yet she was both. She cared and her varied experience and endless curiosity meant she often had something useful to say. Her brain remained strong long after her body began to fail her. Despite the travails of infirmities, she continued with good cheer.
She was gentle, kind, thoughtful, and good, and we were very very lucky to have her. Rest in Peace.