Conversation

September 29th, 2016

A death in the family can bring up big emotions for our children, as it has for my 14- and 11- year-olds. Another dimension is the reaction by other kids. My 11-year-old son Mateo is in 6th grade. One recent conversation:

Mateo: When kids in my class heard Grandma died, they asked me if she was my “real” grandma or my “fake” one.
Me: What did you say?
Mateo: I said she was my mom’s mom. Not my birth grandma.
Me: (Pause.) How do you feel about that?
Mateo: You know, Mom, most people don’t understand about adoption. They don’t know the words “birth mother” and “adoptive mother.” They say real and fake.
Me: What do you think about that?
Mateo: I’m fine with it. I’m used to it.
Me: Yeah. It doesn’t bother me, either.
Mateo: I love you, Mom.
Me: I love you, too, Mateo. ~

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Eulogy for my mother

September 28th, 2016

My mother’s funeral Mass was on Monday, at San Rafael Church in San Diego. For me, ritual is healing, and I was grateful to listen to familiar Bible passages–the 23rd Psalm, Lamentations, and the Book of Revelation–and hear music I’ve listened to since childhood–Amazing Grace, Ave Maria, The Prayer of St. Francis, How Great Thou Art.

Friends from different areas of my mother’s life came–the “Needlework Ladies” from Palomar Hospital, dressed in their pink smocks and volunteer pins;  three tap dancers she performed with often, still standing tall, even the one using a walker. Members of the Resurrection and Traditional choirs from San Rafael Church, who sang with my mother; neighbors from the old cul-de-sac in Rancho Bernardo, and the men who attended daily Mass with my father.  Friends of mine from the museum world, and college, and high school, friends of my sisters and brother. Grandsons and granddaughters. Sons-in-law and children. Our cousin from Los Angeles. And the many, many people who joined us in spirit.

Afterward, we gathered for a reception in the church hall, where we reminisced about my mother while viewing images from her vibrant and well-lived life. Thank you to everyone for sharing your memories, and your condolences. They are a comfort. ~

Eulogy for My Mother:

Good morning. I’m Jessica O’Dwyer, Gerry’s third daughter. Gerry—and her husband, our father, Bob–had five children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild. On behalf of my father, and all of us, thank you for coming. And to the community at San Rafael Church. We’re very grateful.

Gerry was a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, a lifelong performer. She would be thrilled to see everybody dressed to the nines and looking their best. And for her! Thank you for that.

Because, to use an old show business term, Gerry was a show-stopper. Even at the end, confined to a wheelchair in a memory care unit dressed in sweat pants and a hoodie, she was gorgeous, with her dancer’s posture and elegant profile.

Gerry had an expression she used often: “Rising to the occasion.” Which means, no matter what you might feel like inside, no matter how blue or achy or tired, you pull yourself together when the occasion calls for it and put your best foot forward.

Gerry was a master at that. She felt duty-bound to show the world her best self, always. To be joyful, and kind, and completely committed to whatever she was doing, to be attentive to whomever she was with. To be, as she called it, “ON.”

If you were ever lucky enough to see my mother dance, you understand she had a gift, a little something extra. She understood it, too. She had a gift, and she felt a responsibility to share it, to use it to make the world a better place. Because who can watch a talented tap dancer do a triple time step and wings and Shuffle Off to Buffalo, and not feel happy? Not feel joy?

My mother understood that she herself was a gift. We all are. Each one of us has something unique to contribute to the world, something only we can give. Ourselves. The best selves we can be.

Gerry took her first ballet lesson at age seven, but there came a time when her body failed her, when she could no longer high-kick over her head, or stand without help. That’s when she started singing. She never did learn to read music, and claimed she never could carry a tune. That didn’t stop her. She joined the choir of San Rafael Church and lifted up her voice, offering what she had.

One more thing about Gerry: In my life, I never heard her say a single negative word about anyone.

There’s a great quote by Saint Teresa of Calcutta: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

That was my mother. She was kind and she was good. And she was loved.

Gerry has taken her final bow and left this stage. Now, she’s dancing with angels.

Thank you.

 

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My mother’s obituary

September 23rd, 2016

Geraldine Quick O’Dwyer (Gerry) died peacefully in San Diego, California on September 12, 2016, with her husband Bob by her side. She was eighty-seven years old. Gerry and Bob met on a blind date in Newport News, Virginia, where Gerry was born and Bob was serving in the Navy. According to Bob, Gerry ended the date by informing him of her ring size: 4 1/2. Both agreed it was love at first sight. They were married sixty-three years.

Gerry danced through life, beginning with ballet lessons at age seven. After graduating from Newport News High School, she moved to New York City and knocked on the stage door at Radio City Music Hall, requesting an audition. She was hired as a Rockette and high-kicked with the troupe for five years. For more than half a century, she remained active in the Rockette Alumnae, and, as a member of the “Breathless Twelve,” danced at the United Nations and the Rainbow Room and on the television shows “To Tell the Truth,” “Mike Douglas,” and “Jack Paar.” Until the end, Rockettes numbered among Gerry’s closest friends.

Gerry passed on her love of dance to countless children and adults, especially at her studio, the Geraldine Q. O’Dwyer Dance Centre in Allenhurst, New Jersey. After Gerry and Bob retired and moved to San Diego, Gerry dusted off her tap shoes to perform professionally with the “Palm Springs Follies.” She also appeared with the “Hot Flashes,” “Tap Tones,” and “Rockerettes,” and the musical revue “Way Way West of Broadway.”

Gerry was a dedicated volunteer at Palomar Hospital, Jersey Shore Medical Center, and San Diego’s Old Town. She sang second soprano in the choir at San Rafael Church. A believer that anything was possible if she worked hard enough, she earned an Associate degree in dance from Palomar College at age seventy-three.

Gerry was a beloved mother to her five children. Her grandchildren adored her. She cherished her many dear friends and extended family, from every period and place of her life. Gerry walked with grace and radiated kindness. She embodied goodness.

Gerry was predeceased by her parents, Ethel Allen Quick and Robert Eldridge “Tommy” Quick, and her first cousin, Charlotte Garrett. In addition to her husband Bob, she is survived by her children Patrice Anne O’Dwyer, Adrienne O’Dwyer Phillips, Jessica Elizabeth O’Dwyer, Robert Joseph O’Dwyer, Jr., and Deanna O’Dwyer Swensen; eight grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and several cousins. Gerry’s family thanks the staffs of Avalon Home Care, Always There, Coronado Retirement Village, and Sharp and Sonata hospices.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 AM, September 26 at San Rafael Catholic Church, 17252 Bernardo Center Drive, with a reception immediately following. Cremation was arranged by Cortez Cremations. At a future date, Gerry’s ashes will be interred at Miramar National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial donations be made online to Alzheimer’s Association, http://www.alz.org/join_the_cause_donate.asp, or mailed to Alzheimer’s Association, P.O. Box 96011, Washington, DC 20090-6011.

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Mother

September 21st, 2016

Toward the end of her life, as her thinking became cloudier, my mother called out often for her mother, seeming to see her mother’s image and hear her mother beckoning her. It was as though she remembered nothing except her earliest formative years, when she lived in the little house on 28th Street, the only child of an adoring mom. Everything that came after–career, husband, five children–fell away and was forgotten.

Sometimes as I witnessed this, I wondered about people who grow up in orphanages, without any one specific, known person they identify as “mother.” At the end of their lives, who do they call out to? Who do they see? Who reaches out to greet them as they pass from this dimension to whatever is next?

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My mother’s address file

September 20th, 2016

Yesterday, I sat with my dad and went through my mother’s index card file of names and phone numbers, of friends to call to let them know. I spoke to a woman who grew up in a house a block from my mother in Newport News, Virginia. She and my mom attended first grade together, and every grade after, graduating from Newport News High. The friend is eighty-seven now, too, a widow, who lost both her sons twenty years ago, to AIDS. We chatted for a long time, talking about her sons and remembering my mother, and other friends they had in common, many now gone.

These days are full of tenderness. xo

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Writing about my mother

September 18th, 2016

Tonight, I finally finished the hard assignments of writing the Obituary and Eulogy for my mother. Her Funeral Mass will be at 10 AM on Monday, September 26 at San Rafael Church in Rancho Bernardo, California with reception immediately following. I’m now going for a walk to clear my head, and when I return, plan to eat a very large bowl of her favorite snack, chocolate ice cream. xo

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My Mother the Rockette

September 14th, 2016

My beautiful mom died Monday night in her sleep, my dad by her side. We are happy she is at peace, dancing with angels. xoxo

 

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Ruth, the one and only

September 12th, 2016

With school back in session, summer vacation seems eons away. But here we were in July in Guatemala, visiting with the legendary weaver Ruth, who sells her wares outside the ruins of Antigua’s El Carmen. Ruth’s design skills are matched by her formidable memory for faces. If Ruth meets you once, and sees you again a decade later, she will remember your name and your child’s name, and maybe even the size and color of the textile you bought. Ruth is that good.

Look for Ruth the next time you’re in Antigua. Or, if you’ve met her already, Ruth will look for you.

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Ed Ruscha at the DeYoung

September 3rd, 2016


Today, Olivia and I saw the Ed Ruscha show at the DeYoung Museum. Olivia especially liked Ruscha’s later work, the paintings with words like “Rodeo” and “A Particular Kind of Heaven” and “The End,” and the silhouettes of howling wolves and buffaloes, with vertical lines painted through like old film. I liked the early work, the Standard Oil paintings and the photographs of gas stations, structures that seemed graphically distinctive then, and utterly generic today.

As we walked through the exhibition, I remembered working at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, when Ruscha’s great mural, “Brave Men Run in My Family,” was installed. I love how looking at art causes your mind to make associations to other things you’ve seen, other experiences you’ve had, the past. I looked up the mural and saw it was installed twenty years ago, in 1995-96. Before I met Tim, before we got married, before we adopted our children. Another lifetime.

Ed Ruscha and the American West runs at the DeYoung through October 9. See it if you can. ~

 

 

 

 

Images courtesy:

DeYoung Museum

Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego

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Peace Corps in Guatemala

August 30th, 2016

Yesterday, our local newspaper ran a front-page article about a retired couple who joined the Peace Corps, and are leaving at the end of September for Guatemala.

“Guatemala?” I said out loud. “A few years ago, Peace Corps announced they were leaving Guatemala. Are they back?”

Apparently so, because this couple has been assigned to the Western Highlands. I then searched for “Peace Corps in Guatemala” and it’s true. One hundred twenty-three Peace Corps volunteers currently serve in Guatemala.

My husband will retire eventually…”Tim? I have an idea.”

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