Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Farewell and thank you

My mother-in-law, Shirley Heublum, passed away this weekend at the age of 82. My wife and her sister wrote a tribute to her that was read at the service, and I'm putting it here. I thought you might like to learn a little bit about the life of this fine woman who meant so much to Jody and her family.

Our Mom … what do you say about a person that not only gave you life but also changed it in so many ways? Moms are supposed to teach their children what is right as well as wrong. Moms are supposed to love you unconditionally, whether you are beautiful or plain, intelligent or less-than-brilliant, fat or thin, athletic or clumsy. But most of all, Moms are supposed to be there when her kids are unsure about their next step. Our Mom gave us a good foundation to help us know which direction to take.

Mom wouldn’t have even used this word early in her life, and she probably never thought of herself this way, but in some respects she was a very liberated woman. With husband Gus often away because of his job with the railroad, someone had to run the household. That became Mom’s job, and she attacked it with organizational skills and good humor. She raised the kids, paid the bills, and planned activities, and did them without complaint. That couldn’t have been easy, particularly at a time without many role models, but she did have some help in the neighborhood. The people with big college degrees would today call it a “support system.” Mom would have called it “family.” Homestead Avenue was filled with relatives who were always around, and with friends who deserved to have a place on the family tree.

Mom was a very intelligent person who taught us to love learning and to be interested in the world. Mom always made sure we did our homework. We could do it at the kitchen table or at our desks, but we got it done. One time, Jody was moved into the advanced class in the fourth grade, and long division was a mystery to her. Mom sat with Jody during homework sessions and made sure she understood everything. She reminded Jody of her own quote, “I’d rather be the dumbest person in the smart class than the smartest person in the dumb class,” for inspiration. Later on, Mom took great pride in the fact that Jody went to college, and that Bonnie – a caregiver from Day One through today – went to nursing school and became a head nurse at Albany Medical Center.

But that makes Mom out to be much too serious, because she had a well-developed sense of fun. Somewhere along the way she picked up a love of sports, again surprising from someone of her sex and generation. Mom didn’t really play sports as an adult – Dad, a top golfer, was the athlete of the family – but she certainly enjoyed them. She looked forward to opening day at Saratoga Race Track every year. Later she’d sit with Bonnie, pizza at the ready, and watch Miami Dolphins’ games on television. Once she moved to Florida, Mom would always update us on how the teams down there were doing. Sometimes the reviews would be brief – “Your Mets beat my Marlins,” she’d say with some disgust to Jody – but she always paid attention and reveled in their occasional triumphs.

That love of competition came out in retirement in other ways. Mom’s calendar looked as if it were planned by Milton Bradley, as it was filled with maj jongg, pokeno, bingo, and canasta. She played those games for many years, and, no doubt, it helped her remain as sharp as the proverbial tack throughout her life.

As the years went by and we went our separate ways – Jody in Buffalo, Bonnie in Albany, and Mom and Dad in Florida – it would have been easy to grow apart. Mom wouldn’t let that happen. The telephone was her main tool to stay in touch. It wouldn’t have been a Sunday morning for Jody without an 11 a.m. phone call from Mom. One time, when 8 o’clock came and went and Mom hadn’t heard from sister Marilyn, she would say, “I wonder if she went out to dinner tonight.” Mom also stayed in touch in other ways. She never, and let’s emphasize never, forgot a birthday of a family member. Every child, grandchild, in-law, niece, nephew and other children received a card at the correct time. Later, we found out how she did it – at the beginning of each month, a card for each recipient was written, addressed and stamped for timely mailing. We all should be so organized, dependable and thoughtful.

Mom couldn’t have been prouder when Bonnie married Stuart and when Jody married Budd. When members of the family did all get together, Mom had a better time than anyone. Those gatherings didn’t happen often enough as life and distance got in the way. Stuart and Budd never have been able to live so-called “normal” lives, as heart attacks and hockey games kept them from observing banker’s hours. But Mom was always there with an understanding ear for her daughters; after all, she’d been there first.

And like any grandparent, Mom lit up when she was around her grandchildren. She watched Randy turn into a caring, loving individual over the years who always had time for her. Mom even checked herself out of the hospital to attend Randy’s high school graduation party, an event she had anticipated for years. She enjoyed watching Lindsey grow into a fine young woman, taking in her dance recitals and concerts along the way. Finally, Mom shared much with Marney, who enters her teen-age years now with that same sparkle in her eye and a heart bigger than she is. “Nanny,” as she was called, will always be part of their lives.

Her children and grandchildren were always happy to tell her about their latest exploits, knowing she’d listen with interest. Mom even sat through viewing endless pictures of family vacations without complaint; a lesser person would have called a taxi. After all, she was used to looking at photographs. Her house was practically a studio, filled with pictures of relatives close and distant.

The last few years were difficult for Mom, but you could write a book on how tough she was during all of it. She stayed independent for as long a period as possible. In Florida, when she couldn’t walk the 100 yards to the garbage bin, she’d just hop in the car and drive there. Later, when Jody was in Albany on a visit, Mom would have a list of tasks ready to go -- clothes moved, bills paid, plants watered. You disobeyed at your own risk.

Endings are always sad, and emphysema writes a particularly difficult conclusion to any tale, but the disease never had a more determined foe. She remained sharp until the end, surrounded by those she loved and who loved her in return. Rather than dwell on the finish, we’d prefer to celebrate the story in its entirety – the story of a full life well spent. We love you, Mom, we’ll miss you and think of you often, and we’ll rely on the foundation you provided for guidance for the rest of our lives.


Lisa said...

That was lovely and I really appreciated you sharing that with us. I am thankful that Mrs. Heublum made our dear friend Jody the fine person she is today...we appreciate the fun Jody has brought to me and Ray and the joy and love she has brought to you, Budd...our condolences to you and Jody's family...

jenisi said...

We were inspired by the stories of Mrs Heublum's determination we heard over the years. Our thoughts are with you at your loss.