Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - February 26, 2016
"Don't cry because it's over..."
We learned shortly after Thanksgiving that Mom's heart was failing and her time remaining was short. When the doctor told her in December she may go to sleep that night and not wake up, her response was, "Oh, I hope so." But she also asked for her colored pencils and sketch pad.
As recently as a week ago Tuesday, she was going to meals and talking with people at her assisted living facility. Ironically, her companion Stan, who brightened her days by his mere presence, went into the hospital at about that time, suffering from a mild heart attack. He requested his rehabilitation room be just around the corner from Mom's. His son and daughter-in-law said he was fit to be tied, wanting to be released from the hospital NOW so he could see Mom. When he arrived Saturday, he placed a red rose on her pillow and gently took her hand.
Mom died about an hour later, as if she had been waiting for him.
Earlier this week, I wrote Mom's obituary. I decided I'd post it separately for those who are interested in the details of her life. But here I want to reflect on her quirky, vibrant and loving nature.
Mom and Dad moved to Manhattan in October 2000 after 54 years together on the farm. My daily routine was to touch base at least once a day, sometimes only by phone, but frequently by dropping in. Dad died in 2002, but Mom remained. She always lit up when I walked in the door - well, to be honest, her "social butterfly nature" meant she lit up when anyone came through the door! Often I was on my way to work and could not stay long. So she dubbed me her "popcorn girl." "You pop in, and you pop out," she would say.
During her life, she had survived a head-on auto accident, pneumonia, breast cancer and lung cancer. Arthritis so crippled her hands that about 50 years ago, she had surgery to replace some of her knuckles with plastic ones. In recent days, she often pointed to one knuckle and said, "I wonder what happened to that one?" It seemed to have just disappeared. Still, she was able to type, paint, sketch, and write birthday and holiday cards to her neighbors, friends and family.
Her social nature made her the center of our family's universe. Daughter Mariya described her role.
Grandma Freeland embodied the role of family matriarch. Her house was a space for celebration, contemplation, discussion, and joy. Countless birthdays, Christmases, family pizza nights, Sunday dinners, graduations, and impromptu drop-bys brought our family together, even in the busiest of times.
Brother Dave's sons Paul and Michael remember times as youngsters at the farm playing with the folks' dog Copper, playing hide-and-seek, hitting balls, coloring pictures, and shooting the BB-gun - which both their mother and Mom were not happy about.
Mariya, daughter Katie and sister Gaila's daughters Gabriela and Larisa recall the fashion shows they had with their grandmothers' clothes and jewelry; the times they put fireflies in jars and then released them again; and the haunted houses and tunnels they made with every pillow and blanket they could find in the house.
And there were the art lessons. Larisa recalled:
When ... we four cousins were still relatively young, we were sitting on the steps on the side of the house looking at the tree mom and dad planted the day of their wedding. Grandma was teaching us how to draw the tree. We were all sitting quietly drawing and Grandma kept saying "Don't go too fast" - mostly because I was on my third paper. I wasn't great at being patient and getting the details right.
Mariya, who has a degree in fine arts, said her grandmother was a big influence on her.
One of the greatest impressions Grandma made on me was how she encouraged creativity in her grandchildren through play ... we'd even have art shows where people could buy our "masterpieces" - you know your family really loves you when they agree to pay you anywhere from a quarter to a dollar for a painting that was just a napkin covered in splotches of leftover ink. She was the root of my artistic abilities and a prolific artist up to the very end of her life.
When Mom stayed with Gaila's family in Bolivia, the two girls eagerly updated their grandmother after school. Gabriela said:
Larisa and I would run home after school to tell Grams about our day. And Grams would show us her sketches of the mountains and the river she had drawn while we were at school.
In recent years, Katie shopped for groceries and took out the trash for Mom every week.
Whenever I came back from getting them, she would ALWAYS say, "You are SO fast!" I would sometimes sit with her after getting her groceries and she'd sip on cappuccino and we'd talk about what was happening in our lives.
Katie also took delight in her Grandma's pride in being a Swede.
I really liked that Grandma always tried to get us grandkids and great-grandkids to appreciate our Swedish heritage. She would buy us little Dala horses or Swedish cookbooks. One year, she bought me a pair of earrings from a Swedish catalogue, and I've been wearing them a lot lately.
Mom and her sister Edith loved to get together to talk about their Swedish traditions. Mom also enjoyed the lutfisk, Swedish meatballs, lingonberry sauce and other foods served at the annual Swedish dinner in Olsburg, Kansas. She hung a large Dala horse on her porch and served coffee in mugs decorated with Swedish sayings. Mom even called one of the assisted living facility nurses "Swede" because they shared that background.
Mom was often concerned about her appearance, particularly her hair, so she was pleased when it looked "just right" and people complimented it. Even recently, she insisted on going to the salon every Tuesday to have her hair done.
Gabriela said she must have some of her grandmother in her.
I remember Grams putting curlers in my hair and me putting curlers in her hair and giving her manicures ... I'll never forget, she could never leave the house without her pink lipstick on and a pack of Doublemint gum in her purse. Those are items I carry with me always ...
Husband Art often mentioned how "proper and genteel" our family is compared to his boisterous clan. So one time, Art gave Dad a photo of Mom's head morphed onto a Hustler magazine model wearing lacy lingerie. Dad got a big kick out of it, keeping it on his desk. Mom was not so excited about it and from time to time, the picture "mysteriously" disappeared. But Dad always found it and put it back on his desk.
Gaila told me that there is a belief in Bolivia that when a person dies, he or she goes around saying "goodbye" to everyone who was important to them.
Yesterday, I was at Hilda's [her hubby's sister] and around the time Mom died, I felt a sudden pain in my chest ... maybe that was mom in my heart! Humberto was fixing a salad at home and he said that he heard the kitchen door bang - and there was nothing open and no wind - and he turned around and just stared wondering what happened. Isn't that cool?? She was saying goodbye!
Of course, it's normal for family who have known someone for so long to have fond memories of other members. So I was intrigued to see what our "adopted" German daughter Nadja remembered.
A lot of things I loved about her!... "Scoot Scoot Scoot" when [ her cat] Oreo was in the way ... when she couldn't understand something, her face looked so cute with her eyes so wide open ... how she never got my name right [calling her Nah - Ja] ... very cute was her card writing or always having gum with her ... when I first drove her, she was a little unsure and kept asking me questions [about] when I got my driver's license and so on, just to make sure I did have one ... She was always making sure everybody would have stuff to eat ... Stan's plate would be filled with stuff so he would get enough ... She loved her pot pies and coffee ... when the Meals on Wheels were late [15 minutes] she got all nervous ... She always wanted her nails to be pretty and liked to get a new outfit ... just, all in all, soooooo cute and lovely woman
With Mom's passing, I've been thinking quite often of something that happened last summer. Art and I were in a little shop in the home of an older woman in Northern Wisconsin. On the wall was a small plaque: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." He has often reminded me of it as life passes. But right now, it has been particularly helpful as we move on ... move on from grieving to celebrating Mom's wonderful life.
Left: Edla as a baby in Victor, Colorado; center-left: Edla in a high school photo; center-right: a fabricated image that used part of a photo of Edla; right: Edla and Stan celebrating at Edla's 90th birthday party.