My mom passed away last year. She was an amazing woman who lived a long and rich life. Today would have been her 90th birthday (and she wouldn’t like that I’m telling you that!) She had been in hospice care for three months, and I’m grateful that we were all able to spend time with her in those months, and to be with her when she died.
I have three older siblings, and my Dad is still alive, though sadly he now lives with significant dementia. At the time of Mom’s death, we had two services for her, one at their church of more than 40 years in Birmingham, Michigan and a couple of weeks later, a second at the retirement community where they lived for the last five year’s of Mom’s life, in Elmhurst, Illinois. For the first service, our oldest brother prepared remarks. They were beautiful and heartfelt and he talked about how our Mom’s love of art shaped his creative life. For the second service, my sister and I collaborated on some remarks (the morning of, as usual. She and I do our best work under pressure).
Over the last few months, several friends have asked if they could read what we wrote, so on the occasion of this first birthday without her on earth, I’ve decided to share them here.
There is so much more to say about this woman, of course. And I am still discovering the many ways in which nothing will ever be the same, and also the many ways in which she is with me every day. But that’s a subject for another day. Here then, is the story of our Mom, as told through her “Barbara-isms.”
Given on July 9th, 2017
Barbara and Paul’s children are all here today – Paul III, Lisa, Peter, and Maria. These remarks were written by Lisa and Maria but reflect the thoughts of all four.
We’d like to share with you some of our Mom’s frequent expressions, the ones we kids heard often while growing up. Together, they paint a picture of this wonderful woman. We’ll call these Barbara-isms.
Probably the most frequent expression we heard when growing up was “love, love children.” When there were incidences of sibling squabbles, teasing or disagreement we were always reminded to “love, love children.” This meant “love one another,” which was code for her most fundamental message to us – we were put on this earth together, in this family. These relationships with each other will be the longest and most important in our lives. We need to be gentle with one another, to be kind to one another, to act with love. Family always comes first. In all your interactions, come back to the core, the truth:“Love, love.”
Barbara and Paul were very active in their 66 years of marriage. Business dinners and travel, community events–sometimes they would take the children with them, and sometimes we would be left at home with a sitter. Whether going out to dinner or leaving for a trip – whenever they were leaving – Mom would say to us “take good care of one another.” She wanted us to know that even if they weren’t there to take care of us, we could take comfort in knowing that we always had each other. This wasn’t a simple off the cuff comment-we were to take it very seriously, as our job. And we did.
Still today, people remark how close our family is, how we’re always there for each other and truly enjoy being together. Sometimes we’ve thought this was the result of the frequent moves during our childhood, and certainly they had much influence, but really, at the core, it was lessons learned from these Barbara-isms “Love, Love children” and “Take good care of one other”
We mentioned the frequent moves above. Barbara and Paul moved more than 20 times in the first 36 years of their marriage, four of those moves were in Europe. These moves were the result of our Dad’s successful career with Ford Motor Company. In the mid-60’s we lived in Jacksonville, Florida. Hanging in our kitchen was a large wooden sign (well before that was a thing) and on it was painted this passage from scripture “This is the day the Lord hath made. Rejoice and be glad in it.”
Barbara was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, to parents Ivan and Marcella Brummel, she was the middle child of three girls. Like many in those days, their family was very poor. Our Mom was a good student and a hard worker, she was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Michigan, but her father told her she had to stay at home. So she attended Wayne State University in Detroit. (The fact that her father made her give up the U of M opportunity always surprised us). However, it was obviously meant to be because it was at Wayne that she met our Dad.
Mom was extremely active in the University community and in her senior year was named The Governor’s Lady—a prestigious award for service and commitment. Because they were poor, Mom was always resourceful. She made all her clothes, including her many party dresses. One favorite story of ours was this – once she was was rushing to finish a dress in time for a dance at the last minute, and, with no time to add buttons or a zipper, her sister Pat had to sew her into the dress in order for Mom to be ready on time—and then Pat cut out the stitches when she returned home again.
She taught us to always make the most of what you have and of each day. Which brings us back to that Jacksonville kitchen, “This is the day the Lord hath made, rejoice and be glad in it.”
As Dad’s career blossomed, opportunities for travel and other enriching experiences grew too. Our Mom believed that one should “create memories” whenever possible. When we lived in Germany, they decided that we would spend Christmas in Austria one year with a small group of other American families, eventually, this became a tradition. Always aware that the magic was in the details, she packed our traditional Christmas cookies in a tin and carried it on her lap for the whole train trip. In another box were a few carefully chosen favorite Christmas tree ornaments. Our Mom knew these special touches would make us feel more at home in a strange place at Christmas, and they did. The memories of those Austrian Christmases will stay with us forever. We could tell you countless stories like this one.
As we were growing up, she often reminded us, “The world is your oyster.” At this time in her life, she was experiencing all that she dreamt about as a child – she embraced the opportunities and explored the world. Just imagine her leading her four children, like ducklings in a row, into countless historical sites. We would grumble—“really mom—another church? another museum?” Now, of course, we wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
In the same way that she strove to create memories and magical experiences for her children and eventually her grandchildren, Mom also did it for her community – particularly after we were grown. Always a great lover of art, she supported the arts wherever we lived. She was very active in several arts organizations in Detroit where her special touch and attention to detail was widely admired. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Theaters of Wayne State University and Cranbrook Academy of Art were some of her special interests.
Of course, even this beautiful life had its challenges, there were illnesses and accidents along the way, but our Mom’s powerful faith always carried her through them. At the end of a difficult day, she would say, to us and to herself “tomorrow is another day.” She was strong and she taught us that we were too. The lesson was to persevere, as we were blessed with a new chance each day.
And every bedtime, whether on a good or bad day, included the blessing “Jesus keep you safe till morning light.”
As adults, we all remember the many phone calls that always ended with her sweet voice saying “Goodbye, for now.” The strong bonds of our family love make every goodbye temporary. We’re always together in our hearts
Love, love children
Take good care of one other
This is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it
The world is your oyster
Tomorrow is another day
Jesus keep you safe till morning light
Goodbye, for now