On the passing of my mother

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.

17 Responses to “On the passing of my mother”

  1. ellen patton says:

    Your mother sounds like a gem.

  2. denise says:

    I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. She now rests with the lord, but she is still watching over you and your family.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers

  3. Angela Clements says:

    I was sorry to hear of your loss but Heaven’s Gain. My mother passed away August 29, 2010 just 16 days after her 84th birthday. I am getting ready to have the last 2 first of this past year, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my mom or talk about her. I still miss her lots but I know one day I will see her again. Will be praying for you and your family.
    Angela Clements

  4. julie says:

    i`ve worked at lourdes for the past 7 years. it was an honor to all of us at lourdes to take care of and love ruthie. we all loved her greatly. thank you and mike, and tim, and marijo for sharing your mother with us, it truly was an honor to have her part of our lourdes family.

  5. tina says:

    I’m so sorry about the loss of your mother. You were very lucky to have such a wonderful mother. This, I know, does not make it easier to accept her passing.

  6. tina says:

    Also, I know, I did not know her personally. But it was through your wonderful writing we met your family, and it made her “real” to me. And so, I feel sadness at her passing.

  7. Peggy Sue in Madison WI says:

    Thank you for the upbeat note about your Mother, her life and her death. Although sadness is involved with the passing of someone from your life, it is generous of you to share your precious memories.

  8. Peggy Shaw says:

    I just saw Marley and Me again on TV and Googled your name to see what was new in your life and found this post. I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. It sounds as if she had a wonderful family and that you were blessed to have her for so many years, but that doesn’t make it easier. I pray for peace and healing for you.

  9. Nora Radice says:

    I recently had the strength to view your movie “Marley and Me” after reading the book several years ago.
    I, like yourself, had the best yellow lab for a long 15 years. Our family just recently had to put her to rest after deciding that we loved her too much to see she did not have a good quality of life. After so many sad days and questioning as to how we are allowed to make decisions of letting go of any living animal I know that she is at peace.
    The movie was really a great family movie and understood
    how my “Cassie Girl” will always be a part of my heart.
    When deciding that ‘

  10. Nora Radice says:

    I would see if you had a Blog or website I was sorry to hear of the passing of your dear Mother.
    I also have just lost my dear Mother of 93 years old.
    She was so independent and happy until 4 months before she passed.
    She was one of a kind and all of her 8 children were able to be with her at the end. I feel blessed that she had a long cherished life with 8 children, 42 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
    Not many people can live such a full and happy blessed life.
    We should all feel blessed we able to enjoy the love and
    guidance of our mothers.
    i am know going to enjoy reading you book “The longest trip home’ with my sweet Yellow lab -Abbie curled up next to me like she is a little lap dog.
    Take care
    Nora Radice

  11. Chris says:

    I am very sad to hear about your loss. When I read The Longest Trip Home, I felt like I knew your mother, and it saddens me to hear that she has passed. I’m sure she was the dearest mother you could have asked for, and she was lucky to have a son like you. She may be gone physically, but she will always be in our hearts. I wish you and your family well. Take care, John.

  12. Frances Gaeta says:

    I am so sorry about your loss. I lost my mom 2 years ago unexpectedly while my husband and I were on vacation and she was spending time at her oldest granchild’s house. It’s still hard to believe she’s gone. She left us on July 5 and on July 31 we said goodbye to our beloved 15-year old chocolate Lab (and her favorite furry grankid) Sam. My mother-in-law said that he missed all the treats she used to give him so he had to join her. We had a “celebration of life” party at our house and everyone who knew her had a chance to speak and remember her. Our loved ones will always be remembered but never forgotten.

  13. Marie K says:

    I extend my sympathies to you and your family on the loss of your beloved mother. I know the pain of this all too well as my own mother passed away unexpectedly in June. She was wonderful Mom, and I do not know how I can go on without her around.

    We all think our Mom’s were the best, and it is true. To us, our own Mom IS the best. Now Heaven has another wonderful Mom now to join the angels. Take care of yourself John. <3

  14. Kaysi says:

    I just finished reading The Longest Trip Home and googled you to see if you had any other books because this one touched me so much. I was very sorry to hear of the loss of your Mother. She seemed to be a GREAT person and I am sure is looking down on you and is very proud!

  15. Vickie says:

    John,
    What a great age your Mother reached. 94 years old is just marvellous and I’m glad she only had the last 6 years of her life in a home and could still be taken out for dinner etc.
    It’s wonderful when a funeral is more about celebrating the best things in someone’s life because they have managed to reach a great age and I’m glad most of her life was happy.
    Your rightly very proud of her.
    best wishes to you and your family as you remember her.
    Vickie

  16. Deborah Bitzer says:

    Oh I just now have caught up on things over Christmas vacation and have read of your mothers passing-I am so sorry, such a dear sweet woman as she was and to heroically keep on even in the face of your fathers illness-what can I say about Ruth, except that she had what I called star quality. She would talk to you on the side of the road on Erie Drive and you could do nothing but stop and listen-awed and spellbound and always with a flair for drama. I see why you as her son have become what you are as a writer, Ruth had the gift for leaving you with something in your heart I certainly feel that Ruth and her later husband Richard are now with the best of them-glory be-the hours of rosary saying, the diligence, and yet so very self assured as they both were-I was always awestruck by Richard and Ruth Grogan and hope to see them too one day with our gracious Lord Jesus, you true and loving neighbour and friend Deborah Templeton Bitzer

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