Mary's Random Ramblings

Thursday, December 04, 2008

My friend Mimi gets a big hug from Obama! She was his realtor for the last 2 houses he bought in Chicago. Oh swoon!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mapping my ride to work

On I can show you my commute to work. Cool!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Death is the mystery that is present in the heart of life

My father died of pneumonia, "the old man's friend", on April 14, 2006. He was a good man, and was well-respected by many people and well-loved by his family. The last few years, his health wasn't good, and it was hard for us to see such an energetic, lively man laid low by old age. You say, it's a blessing for him, but for us, we mourn his passing.
Last week, I went to my parents' gravesite and planted black-eyed susans, forget-me-nots, hostas and a burning bush. As I drove off from the cemetery with David in his Volvo, I whispered "Bye Mom, bye Dad" and I began to cry.

Monday, October 31, 2005

My mother's sole remaining sibling, my Aunt Betty, died last week. Her funeral was on Friday, which also happened to be my birthday. I drove to Boston on Thursday night, and returned the next day shortly after the service.

Oddly, my mother's other sister, Katherine Liston, died last April, and her funeral was held on Aunt Betty's birthday. Good thing I'm not superstitious!

Here's her obituary, published in the Boston Globe, October 27, 2005:

Elizabeth A. Ryan
Of Lexington, formerly of Arlington and Cambridge, Oct. 22, 2005. Beloved daughter of the late Thomas F. and Margaret (Desmond) Ryan. Sister of the late John, Thomas and Mary Ryan, Margaret Fenton, Katherine Liston, and Frances Bouchard. Survived by many nieces and nephews. She will be remembered in a Mass Friday morning at 8:00 AM at Youville Place, Pelham Rd., Lexington. The Brasco & Sons Memorial Chapels, WALTHAM, assisted the family with arrangements. Brasco & Sons Memorial Chapels Waltham 781-893-6260

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jim's music

I was looking through some old emails the other day and found one that my brother Jim, who lives in the Boston area, sent us with a link to a website on which he posts some of the music he composes and plays. Each song is listed, and you can also post a picture next to the song. So I clicked on the link, and was pretty surprised that the first song on the page was accompanied by a picture of my mother. Here's a link to his music page: // (At this point he's added some songs, so my mom's picture is further down the page.) I believe this picture is from last summer, after she had her stroke and was in the hospital. The name of the song is "Kitchen Canary" and it's a pretty piano piece, with some occasional bird song. Most people wouldn't know what this song references, but my mother used to sing a lot, especially in the kitchen when she was doing dishes or cooking. I grew up with this, and didn't think it strange at all. One Christmas when I was in my early 20's, I had a friend over, and my mother was singing away in the kitchen, singing Christmas carols, and my friend was sitting there laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked. "Your mother," she said, "she's singing!"
If you scroll down a bit, you'll see another song, "Little Fishies" and the photo accompanying this is one of my dad and my oldest brother Albert, at our cottage last summer. While my mother was in the hospital, we took my father to the cottage, and thought he would enjoy it. But our schedules were so erratic -- we ate when we got around to it, while he was used to eating promptly at 5 pm -- and he was out of his element, and I don't think he enjoyed it as much as we thought he would. I think he was glad to get back to his house when we left the cottage.
The song though, is a kind of inside joke, at least it references a nonsense rhyme my father used to say when we were kids. "Little fishies in the brook, they look, they look, they look and look. They play, they play, they play all day, I can row a boat, canoe?" In the lyric, my brother says "I took the $50,000..." which is what my father used to say when we were kids, "...and I bought seats for the standing army." I tried this little joke on my kids some years ago, and they had no idea what I was talking about. Come to think of it, I didn't really get the joke either when I was a kid. Standing army is one of those terms you don't understand until you're older. But the 7-year old me just thought it was funny, in some sort of mysterious way. I pictured a bunch of G.I. Joes standing around, looking for chairs. Well, of course, get those guys some chairs. The other thing he used to say he did with the $50,000 is to buy shoelaces for his button shoes. That's how old that joke is!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A death in the family

My mother died last Sunday July 10. I've been feeling very strange about this whole thing. The first couple of days, I barely cried. Now it seems that everything reminds me of my mother. I was in a restaurant and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and when it got to the part where he says, "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd see you again" I found tears welling up in my eyes.
My friend Kristi came over to offer her condolences this afternoon, and she started talking about losing her mother 12 years ago, and soon she was crying and apologizing that she came over to cheer me up and here she was breaking down. I guess it takes a while to adjust to losing a parent.
Last Sunday, I was at a party at a neighbor's house, and I had to leave to pick up my son from work. I walked home to get my car, and noticed the answering machine light blinking. It was my very distraught sister-in-law Michelle, telling me to call my brother, she had tried to reach me on my cell phone (but I had given it to my son in case he need to reach me), no, wait, she was sorry to tell me this on an answering machine instead of in person, but my mom had passed that afternoon. I calmly got in my car, and while I was sitting there waiting for Nick to finish work, I dialed my brother. My mother had been dead just about an hour. He explained how he and my brothers Pat and Albert happened to be there, along with my Aunt Virginia, how my mother's breathing got raspy and labored, and the home caregiver tried to clear her throat, but it didn't help. She just gasped and stopped breathing. She was 86. She was a very loving mother who was great with kids. We'll miss her a lot.
I wrote a eulogy and read it with a shaky voice at the funeral. Here it is:
My mother was born in Boston of purely Irish stock, a fact that, despite her natural humility, she was fiercely proud of. Until she met and married my father, she’d lived all 28 years of her life in Boston and Chicago. When I got older, I sometimes wondered how my mother adjusted to life in a remote area of upstate New York. But she moved her working girl city glamour to a small farm on the Cape Vincent Road in Clayton, and while I’m sure it was difficult at first, out there without many friends, without a car, with a husband who regularly worked the night shift, with eventually seven children, she first adjusted to it and then came to enjoy it. Make no mistake: it was hard work: there was produce to be picked and sold on the roadside stand, cats, dog, chickens and our donkey to be fed, we made maple syrup, canning and freezing produce, we had summer dances in our barn with music by the Regal Tones. When my youngest brother Pat was in school she returned to work, and worked until she retired at age 68. She might have been run ragged by all this, but if she was, she didn’t show it, and she never complained. We didn’t have a lot of material things, but we were rich in lots of other ways, in imagination, in laughter, in music, and especially in love, and my mother was the prime dispenser of the latter.

My mother’s favorite place on this earth was their little bit of paradise on Wellesley Island. I’m sure if the weather had permitted she would have stayed there year-round. She loved the river, and although she didn’t really swim much and sort of enjoyed fishing, the gentle breeze off the river and the spectacular sunsets made her feel like one of God’s chosen people.

She ruled with a firm but loving hand. She was very honest, and perhaps the most ethical person I’ve ever known. She unwaveringly believed in her Catholic faith, and she lived by pithy little sayings, which she dispensed regularly: “Waste not, want not,” “The devil makes work for idle hands” and “The Lord will provide.”
My brothers and I spent some time going through photos the other day. The pictures where she looked the happiest (apart from those taken at her wedding) are where she was holding a baby or a toddler, or even better with 5 or 6 of her grandchildren at a time. She loved children, and once told me that she preferred being with children to being with adults. I think she enjoyed their innocence, because she herself was an innocent, because she was so honest and she believed in the essential goodness of people.

The past few years were not easy for her. She was often in pain, and her mind began to fail over the past few months. Conversations with her on any given day might make sense, or they might not. We realize that she might be in a better place now, but it’s hard for us, her children and grandchildren and friends, to feel like we’re in a better place. She wasn’t much for saying “I love you” but we never ever doubted that she loved all of us deeply. We will miss her but know that she loved us unconditionally. And this love buoys us in our grief over our loss.

My mother’s mother died when she was six, and my mother told me a couple of years ago that over seventy years later, she still missed her mother. I’m sure my mother is pleased to be reunited in heaven with a mother she barely knew. Somehow even without an example to follow, she knew how to be an exemplary mother.

My brothers and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many wonderful caregivers who so lovingly tended my parents over the past years and months: Jennifer, Sarah, Tony, Diane, Nicole, Ashley, Debbie, Britta from Hospice, and especially Maria Balcom and Kendra Kittle who have been there from the beginning.

And I would also like to extend my deepest gratitude to my brothers Gerry and Pat who made it possible for my parents to live in their house, and who worked hard to ensure continuity of care, that the house was kept up, the bills were paid and in general kept the ball rolling for my parents after they no longer could care for themselves. Your efforts are appreciated more than you’ll ever know. My parents are so fortunate to have you as their children.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Here's something I wrote for an NPR invitation to listeners to describe a favorite picture in 150 words or less. The picture I am describing was taken perhaps in 1995.

Until the farm closed, perhaps 6 years ago, my family got together every July 4th to pick strawberries, taking the ferry from Kingston, Ontario to Wolfe Island. In my picture, my son Nick, my niece Ashley and my parents are seated on the ferry, wind blowing their hair back, smiling and squinting into the sun. I can practically smell the St Lawrence River, and feel the cool spray blow across the bow of the huge vessel, and the gentle rocking as we cross open water. Nick is a teenager now, and Ashley starts college in the fall. My father suffered a stroke and is now bedridden and silent; my mother has dementia. But this picture takes me back to a summer day when the cares of life were behind us, and what lay ahead was only the sweet sticky promise of strawberry shortcake.