My extended family converged on my old hometown of Orchard Lake, Michigan, two weekends ago to say farewell to an incredible woman, my mother, Ruth Marie Grogan.
Many of you who read my memoir, “The Longest Trip Home,” have written me over the last few years to say you felt as if you knew my mother through my writing, and so I thought it only fitting to report on her death. It was a peaceful end on the morning of July 25 – two weeks ago today. She had been in a nursing home since my father’s death in December 2004, and while she still maintained a decent quality of life, she was wheelchair-bound and tired and had let us know she was ready. Mom was a firm believer in heaven, and she died knowing she would be joining her husband, parents, and other loved ones who preceded her in death.
Just as we had hoped for her, she drifted into a deep sleep, and then unconsciousness, and an hour or so after that she simply drifted away. No drama, no trauma, no long descent, a final blessing to a long, and mostly blessed life. Ninety-five years, all but the last six of them independent and brimming with optimism: You can’t ask for much more than that.
I write about my father’s death in The Longest Trip Home, and the painful but necessary decision to put Mom into a nursing home where she could get the care she needed. In the years that followed, she lived as good a life as can be hoped for at that stage. The drug Aricept held her Alzheimer’s disease in check, and she enjoyed visits from her kids, grandkids, and old neighborhood friends. Her four grandchildren had an especially strong restorative effect on her. She would light up when she saw them and find new vigor. Maybe it was the thrill of a new audience to spin her tales of childhood mischief. Ruthie, as we all called her in later life, loved nothing more than a good story, and boy, could she tell them. Just the week before her death, she was out with my brother and sister for a prime rib dinner, which my brother reported she thoroughly enjoyed.
The visitation at the funeral home was more like a reunion than a wake. Many of my cousins, whom I had not seen in years, were on hand, as were old friends of mine from high school and college – and even two of my high school teachers. When a person lives a life as long and full as my mother’s, there is much more to celebrate than mourn. Back at my childhood home later that evening, we toasted Mom with cold beers and told stories about her many memorable moments.
At the funeral the next morning, my brother Tim recited a prayer my mother had composed in her journal. My sister Marijo read the Prayers of the Faithful. Mike and I gave the eulogy in two parts – Mike covering the biography of her life and I focusing on her warmth and sense of humor. And now she is resting in a lovely wooded cemetery in her hometown of Ann Arbor, right beside her husband and with her brothers, sisters, and parents – and the little girl, my sister Mary Ann, she lost at birth – surrounding her.
In my eulogy, I noted that all children think their mom is the world’s greatest, but in my case I am pretty sure it was true. She dedicated her entire adult life to her husband and children, making each of us feel like the most important person in the world. She happily made sacrifices at every turn for our betterment. I will miss her, of course, but mostly I will celebrate the positive mark she left on the world. I will think back on her wit, warmth, and wisdom, and I will smile.