I wrote my mom’s obituary over a year ago when she first went to Golden Age. We suspected she was going there to die, but she lasted another fourteen months.
Four days before she died, I gave a printed copy of what I’d written to my dad. “Let me know what you think and we can talk later,” I told him. I didn’t want to be there when he read it.
I come back to Dad’s on Thursday, after I visit Mom at Golden Age. I don’t know yet that it will be the last time I see her alive.
He has my printed pages on his kitchen table, and I notice his hand-written lines in the margin. He wants to add something about the CNA staff who were so kind to him when Mom first went to the nursing home.
“Is that good?” he asks me.
“Very sweet,” I say. I swallow hard. I don’t have to hide my tears from him, but the last thing he needs is a blubbery daughter.
“Now we just have to fill in the blanks,” he says. I know he means the date of her death. I tell him that I really want to print a “before and after” photograph of her with the obituary.
“Why?” he says, in a tone that usually means “no way.”
“Because I love those young and old photos in obituaries.”
“Okay,” he says, “but I get to choose the picture.” He instructs me to go to his buffet where he has arranged framed photographs of my mom and him from throughout the years. “The one next to our wedding picture,” he yells to me from the dining room.
I tear up when I see it. My mom is maybe sixteen, in a studio portrait I suspect my dad paid for when they were dating. She is wearing a necklace he bought for her, his first gift. He told me once that it cost $100 dollars, but he got it on sale for $25—big money in 1946. My sisters and I have known for years that he wants this necklace on Mom in her coffin.
I bring him the framed photo. “That’s the one,” he says. Neither of us knows that Mom will be dead four hours from now.
I tell him that the other photo should be from their church portrait taken in 2008. “But I’m in it,” he says. I tell him we can crop him out. I tease, “You’re far enough away that your arm and ear won’t show.” Like me, he reads enough obits to notice pieces of family members in so many photos of the dead.
I have always loved obituaries. As a writer, I find it intriguing that a person’s life can be reduced to 500 words or fewer.
What follows is my mom’s obituary, which appeared in our local newspapers and in one near her childhood home:
After a long, fierce struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, Virgiline See, 82, passed away on September 20, 2012 at Golden Age Assisted Living, where she lived for the last 14 months. Her husband was a faithful caregiver since she was diagnosed nine years ago.
Virgie was born at home on the farm on April 22, 1930 to Ignatz and Anna (Altman) Weinfurter in Sherry, WI, the eleventh of fifteen children. Both of her parents died before she was ten, but Virgie always recalled her childhood as a fun time with lots of brothers and sisters. She loved school and was spelling bee champion of St. Killian’s Grade School.
She met Joseph See when she was fourteen. They married four years later on September 1, 1948, and moved to Chippewa Falls where they had over 64 years together. Her life’s work was being a wife, mother, and granny. She volunteered many hours of her time to Holy Ghost Church and Grade School. She always shared part of whatever she had.
Virgie loved God and babies and old people (long before she was one). Her purse was ready whenever she got a call to go somewhere. She liked being at the camper at Six Lakes Resort to fish and play cards and take a daily shake at the tavern. She liked spending winters in Florida with Joe and having her kids and grandkids visit. She liked gambling and thrift sales and flea markets and finding a bargain, or, better yet, getting something for free. She never saw anything as “junk,” and she was reusing, recycling, and saving long before it was called “going green.” She talked to everyone, and she made friends wherever she went. She had great patience with children, and above all else she believed in the power of prayer. She welcomed anyone who visited her home, and she often said goodbye with a sweet, “Nice seein’ ya.” She hated to miss anything. She loved to laugh and did it often.
She is survived by her husband, Joe, and their eight children: Sharon See, Jackie See, Mary (Dan) Goulet, Juliann (Jim) Goelden, Joseph Jr. (Tami) See, Geralynn (Tim) Schemenauer, David (Lauri) See, and Patti See (Bruce Taylor). Virgie was a proud grandma of sixteen grandchildren: Candice (Bill) Seder; Katie (Jon) Kester; Robin (Eric) Prince; Karri (Matt) Wold; Lauren Goelden (fiancé Ryan Bice) and Marissa Goelden (fiancé Taylor Kotke); Alex Thornton; Nick, Jaimie, and Justin Schemenauer; and Christen (fiancé Dave McIlovy) , Jennifer, Codie, Mitch, Audra, and Evin See; and of seven great-grandchildren: Madison, Katelyn, Nolan, Owen, Kambria, Denim, and Olive. She is also survived by brothers and sisters Ida Klawakowski, Evelyn Dobbs, Bernice (Robert) Schroedel, Helen Chapek, LaVerne “Vernie” (Joan) Weinfurter, Leo “Sonny” (Kathy) Weinfurter, Violet (Dick) Zabel; by in-laws Doris See, Jim (Clarabell) See, Jeanette (Clem) Santoski; and many other relatives and friends.
She was preceded in death by her parents and seven siblings: Delores (in infancy), Carl, Raymond, Sylvester, and Hilary Weinfurter; Mary Cummings; Rita Kudinger; and numerous brothers and sisters-in-law.
Virgie’s family would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital Hospice and at Golden Age—especially Camel, who made the transition from one home to another much easier, and Sammy, who often met Joe at the door with a cup of coffee.
Memorials in Virgie’s honor may be made as follows: bake a batch of cookies and give them away, drop everything and go on a trip even if your kitchen floor needs to be scrubbed, help out a stranger’s kid, stay out in the boat a little longer and catch another big one.