Gaye wrote and delivered this eulogy at her Aunt Helen's funeral. I thought it was really neat to learn about the person who grew this iris many decades before I did. No doubt she glowed, the same way the iris does! Thanks Gaye for allowing me to share this great tribute.
Life is to be Lived
My Auntie Helen passed on Thanksgiving Day, just three months short of her 102nd birthday. She was no ordinary woman. At 99, while out on the river fishing, her boat motor died and she rowed herself the mile-and-a-half back to her dock. The following year, she hopped on a jet in Los Angeles to hurry back to Fountain City for the party we were throwing in honor of her 100th birthday. She still lived independently in her own home until last spring when she decided she could no longer care for herself, due to failing eyesight.
Consider the events she witnessed in her lifetime: When she was born, Teddy Roosevelt was president. The average household income in the U.S. was $865 annually and you could purchase a new home for $2,400. A loaf of bread at the local bakery cost 4 cents and you could mail at letter with a 2-cent postage stamp. 1905 was also the year that New Mexico and Oklahoma were admitted to the Union; the first Russian Revolution broke out; and a section of Sweden declared its independence, becoming the new country of Norway.
One of my favorite stories she told was of reading in the newspaper about an unsinkable ship that hit an iceberg and sunk in the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage. Yup, Auntie Helen was 7 years old when the Titanic sunk.
Auntie Helen, my Dad, and their siblings were the first generation in our family to be born in the U.S. Polish was their native language at home, but they learned American customs and to speak English once they entered school. From her stories, I’d say that public education has advanced little in its approach to English Language Learners since the early 1900’s.
When asked about her secret to living a long life, she would shrug and say, “Good genes.” But upon closer inspection you learned she was a woman who took care of herself and listened to her body: She ate when she was hungry; rested when she was tired. At the first sign of an impending flu or cold, out came the herbal teas and extra naps. She created her own herbal teas long before Celestial Seasonings thought of it! I remember as a child gathering her “spring tonics” of tender dandelion leaves and water cress; excursions into the woods to collect wild mushrooms; and the fresh herbs and vegetables she grew organically in her garden. A local farmer said he knew it was spring when Helen called to say, “Roger, I need a ‘scoop’ for the garden.” (For you city folks, that’s a scoop of cow manure.)
She somehow learned to live life without stress. “So you deal with it.” – How many times did I hear her say that? She accepted life as it was. She was a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, strong and independent woman.
She also nurtured an active mind and body. Everyday she took her walks and breathed fresh air, collected the mail, visited her neighbors to share news, and in warm weather inspected her – and her neighbor’s – gardens, freely giving advice on what needed to be done.
She was an avid reader - books, newspapers, magazines – you could ask her about anything and she knew something about it. She once passed a note to my son that read, “Luck favors a prepared mind.”
A few years back, brain researchers announced that working crossword puzzles kept the synapses in the brain firing properly; it was recommended as kind of a “calisthenics for the brain” for the elderly. No surprise to learn that Auntie was an avid fan of crossword puzzles long before that news hit the headlines.
Another of her “keys to longevity,” was her “afternoon highball” –whiskey and 7-Up. She boasted that she “hadn’t over indulged in 50 years” and she had not – only one drink per day, before dinner. She continued this practice, with a written prescription from her doctor, even after she moved into the nursing home last spring.
My sister, a nursing home administrator, once said that people die the way they lived. This was so true for Auntie. Her only son (who turned 82 in October) was with her on her last day. They had spent the previous week together, taking care of business. He commented to her that all was taken care of; that she was free to move on whenever she was ready. She responded with a nod of her head and a firm “well good.” She peacefully stopped breathing within the hour.
You’ve heard the adage, “It’s not the number of days in your life, but the life in your days that really matters”?
How blessed Auntie Helen was to have had an abundance of both. And how blessed I am for having this remarkable woman in my life. I’ll pass on to you the best piece of advice she ever gave me: “Forget about your age. Just live your life!”