Alex and the dead cat

So, we were going for a walk the other day, with Alex on his balance bike, and we chanced upon a recently dead cat on the sidewalk.

Death has been on Alex’s mind a lot lately. He will routinely say things like, “I don’t want Mommy to die!” or “Why do we have to die?” I remember the other kids going through a similar stage at the same age. But kids are so funny about death: they don’t have the same hang ups and baggage that us older folks do.

For example, as we were passing the cat, and Alex was pondering life, death and the mysteries of the universe, he said to me, “I’m going to drive over it with my bike!”

Me: “No, no, never touch something that is dead. It is yucky and has germs on it.”
Alex: “No, with my bike.”
Me: “Don’t touch an animal that is dead.”
Alex, perplexed: “No, with my bike. *I* won’t touch it, the germies will be on my tires.”
Me: “Alex, there are diseases. I don’t want them on your bike either; that bike has to go in my house.”

Now, this went around and around for a bit. He REALLY wanted to run over that dead cat with his bike! So finally Ollie stepped in. “Great,” I thought. “Maybe Ollie can talk to him kid-to-kid. Get him to understand why we shouldn’t drive over dead cats.”

Ollie: “Okay, so, imagine if Evelyn was dead and she was lying on the road. Would you drive over HER with your bike??”

That is…not how I would have approached the subject.


Alex thought about it for a bit and then said, “No, I wouldn’t. But…” I could tell he was still struggling with it a bit – he felt like he still had an argument to make – but he couldn’t escape that kid-to-kid logic. And anyway, by that time I had coaxed him down the street a bit, so riding over the cat wasn’t feasible anymore.

I warned Sara about this because I knew it was bound to come up again, so I wanted her to be prepared. (Oh, that and the fact that she was going to have to walk by that dead cat on the way to work.) So tonight, Sara decided to broach the subject and see if Alex had any more to say about it. You know, work through his complicated feelings on the subject? Maybe he had some feelings he needed to work out?

Sara, while stirring food in the crockpot: “I saw that dead cat…”
Alex: “Did you cook it?”

Happy Mother’s Day

So who else got a collage made out of obituaries??


Remembering Uncle Billy

I’ve been struggling all week with what to write about Uncle Billy. Not because it is particularly difficult emotionally speaking, but because I just simply didn’t know what to say. I would open a blank post and stare at it for awhile, before closing it and making my mind up not to write anything, only to change my mind and stare at it some more later. Rinse, repeat.

It seems like it’s not my place to say anything; there are other people closer to him that will probably say it better, or have more of a “right” to remember him. On the other hand, once I thought about it, I realized I probably saw him more than most of my dad’s brothers and sisters, seeing as he lived with Grandma, so we’d see him whenever we’d stop by.

Finally I decided not to write anything.

…until I was on the way home from the funeral today. It’s weird to say, but it was a really good funeral. It wasn’t a religious funeral, but it was more of a…I don’t know. A storytelling festival? A celebration of life? A bloodletting? It wasn’t a ceremony as much as just people letting everything out. Good times, bad times, talking about things we don’t normally talk about. Talking about the dementia at the end. It just seemed like exactly what everybody needed.

To me, the quintessential Uncle Billy memory is the Price is Right tape. I’ve watched the video so many times that I’ve memorized it, but there’s a part when Grandpa gets called up and it cuts to Grandma and Billy in the audience. I don’t know how old Billy is, but he is so ridiculously young (and thin!), that you can hardly recognize him. He’s cheering and whistling wildly, and Grandma is just tugging on his arm telling him to sit down and knock it off.

I don’t know why that’s the first thing that comes to my mind, especially since I’m pretty sure it happened before I was born.

The other memory I thought of is a kind of funny one. One year we were at the fair, and I *really, really* wanted to see that night’s performer, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. (That’s right, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Ooh you are so jealous.) My dad, or whoever I was with, didn’t want to hang around until the evening when the show started. I was really bummed out, because I wanted to tell everybody I had seen Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (MARKY MARK!)(AND THE FUNKY BUNCH!). Uncle Billy must have seen the disappointment on my face, because he agreed to hang around the fair with me, and then take me to the show.

Okay, so that’s a stupid story (except the part about how awesome I am that I went to a Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch concert), but I think it does really represent my Uncle Bill. I’m sure he had zero interest in seeing Mark Wahlberg rap, but if there was something he could do for you, he would do it.

I remember when Grandpa died, they had a flag ceremony and some other military trappings at his funeral. I remember thinking how odd that was; my Grandpa almost never spoke of his time in the service. It seemed distant, not really a part of him, and so it seemed weird to include it.

Uncle Billy was the opposite. The Air Force shaped his life, and was a defining characteristic of who he was. I think those were the best, most important years of his life. Therefore, the military part of the service was just so moving. When they handed Chris the flag and thanked Uncle Billy for his service, it really meant something. I know it would have meant so, so much to Uncle Billy.

I know I cry like a baby at all funerals, but even still, I was kind of surprised at how hard the whole thing was. I’m crying now while I write this, and I’m not sure why, exactly. But I really think he would have been happy with today. I think he would have been proud.

I think if he were watching today he would have had a big old smile on his face, and for once, he might not have had anything to say.

“Teddy Bear” Grandma

My grandma died on Thursday.  It wasn’t totally unexpected (death never is when you’re 88), but it was less than a month since she was found to have colon cancer, and she sounded good when I talked to her Tuesday morning, as she was about to eat for the first time since surgery the week before.  Shane asked me to write a little something for the blog, since I might have more to say than him.  I, however, am typically a writer of few words.  Anyway, I will try to tell a few things.

She loved bears.  I’m not sure why, but she always claimed I had something to do with it.  (I think I had to change three words from the present to past tense as I was writing those two sentences.)  She bought bears all the time, and people gave them to her as well.  I know other people with collections like these, but seriously, none of them top hers.  She would give talks about her bears at mother-daughter banquets every spring.  She always wore some kind of bear shirt or earrings.  She gave gifts of bears.  (Both of my kids sleep with bears as large as they were that were given to them by grandma as babies—Evie’s is even missing one of the eyes!)  I think she has some sort of written document with each family member getting at least one of the bears, and I think she had found a charity that was willing to take the rest.

She loved caffeine-free diet pepsi.  Ewwwww.  Her burps always smelled like caffeine-free diet pepsi.  Double ewwwwww.  I’m not trying to be irreverent, but I think scent is one of the longest-lasting memories and that is totally what I think of when I think of her.  Seriously.  Other junk foods she loved include: cheese/crackers/bologna/summer sausage, bugles, dry roasted peanuts, and those donuts rolled in crushed peanuts.  She always made a cheeseball or baked beans for any potluck.

I loved playing cards with her.  One of my only memories of my grandpa, her husband, involved staying at their house and playing kings in the corner then realizing we only had half a deck.  I usually stayed at her house from Christmas to New Years every year (the first year returning home early due to the arrival of a little brother).  We pretty much played cards the entire time.  She went camping with us every summer, and each year she and dad would teach me a new game.  After kings in the corner, there were spades, hearts, hands and feet, spite and malice (best card game name ever), pinochle (usually played 2-handed), cribbage, and euchre (roughly in that order).  I am a card shark (I’m guessing I take after grandpa on this), and I think she was really proud that her little granddaughter could beat her at cards.

P.S.  I played hands and feet Saturday night.  I tried to shuffle the spots off them, as usual.  And I won.

Lois, age 88, of Alma, MI, passed away at MidMichigan Medical Center-Gratiot on Thursday, August 30, 2012, surrounded by her loving family.

Lois was born in Breckenridge, MI on July 20, 1924 to Bruce. and Beatrice. She was a member of the St. Louis First United Methodist Church and the Oddfellow/Rebekah Lodge. For many years she worked as a cashier in Giant Supermarket, Alma. She was known as the “Teddy Bear Grandma”, often sharing her collection of well over 1000 teddy bears for all to enjoy.

Surviving Lois are her 3 sons, Randy (Pat) of Perrinton, Gary (Linda) of Wichita, KS, and Thomas (Barbara) of Marne, MI; 7 grandchildren; 10 great grandchildren; two brothers, Owen (Helen) of Greenville, and Larry (Helen) of Alma; one sister, Valda of Bradenton, FL; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Preceding Lois in death were her husband, Alfred, and two brothers, Donald and Robert. Lois was a wonderful person and will be missed by all who knew her.  Memorial contributions may be made to the St. Louis United Methodist Church.

A Eulogy

My Aunt Sue wrote a eulogy for my Grandma, which was so much better than my own attempt. I felt like it really captured the essence of my Grandma. Anyway, here it is:

Mom was born to Bert & Elizabeth Tow, a twin to William. The twins were separated at an early age and my mother was raised by her fraternal grand-parents. When she was in her teen years she went back to live in Detroit with her parents and brother where she graduated from the Dominican high school. Upon graduating from a Catholic all girls’ school she thought she would go into the convent. Anyone who knows her will chuckle; someone who had 7 children certainly didn’t belong in a convent.

My mom & dad lived in several towns before settling down in Janesville. My mom took on several roles in her life, not only as mother to us but to several other children in the neighborhood. She was the disciplinarian as my dad worked 2 and 3 jobs to support our family. Mom tried to go to work for a little while outside of the home but that didn’t prove to be profitable. With 7 kids, it was hard to find a babysitter for that many children. My mom had to try to salvage some kind of sanity so she volunteered at Mercy Hospital as a (Pink Lady).

My parents were very proud people; they taught us a good work ethic, and how to love one another. They were proud that they never had bad credit, which was a worry my mom had till this day. My mom lived a long good life. She went more places, saw more countries than she had ever imagined. That in part was due to her children being sprinkled around the world at different times.

Talking with the Snyder girls in July and reminiscing about times when we were young and listening to how much my mom touched their lives, it makes one stop and realize how other people were touched by her kindness.

My mom told me one day that she made me into the person I am today and I guess that is a correct statement. For if it wasn’t the hard lessons I was taught, the parenting skills I learned, the kindness and love for my siblings and closeness of family, I would be a different person. We always knew that we were loved. My mom was a good story teller. She should have been a best selling author. Mom had a good sense of humor. Erin from Hospice tells me she was visiting my mom and she told her she had food on her chest, to which my mom replied, “I am saving some for later”. Just recently when it came time for the hospital bed, so it would make her life easier, she flipped flopped on wanting the bed. I asked her why and she said, “Because she didn’t want to die in a hospital bed; she wanted to tide in her own bed”. I told her we didn’t want her to die, so that’s why she was going in the hospital bed. She STUCK OUT HER TONGUE AT ME.  That meant to me that she really knew what was good for her but change was hard for my mom to accept. She hated to ask for help. She hated losing her independence but also was smart enough to realize what was in her best interest.

I am selfish and sad to let her go. But I know my mother was a Christian and a child of God. She will be in heaven and I will see her again when the Lord calls me home.

Let’s celebrate her life and share our memories and stories of BETTY JANE CATHERINE ANN ELIZABETH TOW HALBACH together.

I love you mom,
Susan Mullen

Bad Time of Year

Unfortunately, another family member passed away. This is turning out to be a bad time of year.

This time it was my Grandma. Today would have been her 84th birthday. Instead of celebrating with a party, we are attending her funeral.

Grandma and Evie, in happier times

It was certainly not surprising, and we were all fortunate to have time to visit and say goodbye. In fact, people have been predicting her demise every day for at least 5 years now.

Aunt Sue: “I’m not really sure why she still hangs on.”
Me: “Are you saying she’s stubborn? Now there’s a shocker.”

If I had to describe my Grandma in one word, it would be fierce (and not in a Tyra Banks kind of way). Stubborn would certainly be fitting, but I think fierce is more accurate. A stubborn person doesn’t give up. A fierce person fights like a cornered badger. A stubborn person is solid, like stone. Grandma was full of fire.

When my Grandpa died, it was hard to imagine the family without him. However, Grandma took over as the matriarch of the family without missing a beat, keeping everybody in line. She was not a person who was afraid to tell you how she felt. Even towards the end, she didn’t miss anything. Because of her frail appearance, it was easy to forget that her mind was still as sharp as ever, until she would make a comment that was right on the money. I’m glad that she got to meet my kids.

I haven’t talked to anybody yet who wouldn’t agree that this was one of those situations where her death truly was a mercy. Being confined to a bed is no way to live, and even before that, she hadn’t been able to get around easily for a long time. Her health was on the decline for so long, and there really wasn’t much left to give.

So Grandma, we’re so sad that you’re gone, but we understand. I know how much you missed Grandpa, even after all this time. I know, in the end, he came to get you, just like you always said he would.

Rest in peace.

Betty J. Halbach, Janesville  (1928 – 2012)

January 20, 1928 – January 12, 2012
Betty J. Halbach, 83, of Janesville passed away Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, at her home. Betty was born on Jan. 20, 1928, in Detroit, MI, the daughter of Elmer and Elizabeth. She graduated from Dominican High Academy in Detroit. She married Frederick W. Halbach on July 3, 1948. Betty was formerly employed as a teacher at St. Mary’s School, Janesville, then later worked at Fairbanks-Morse Company and the Janesville Janitorial Service. She later managed the Regency House Apartments in Janesville. She was a member of St. Mary Catholic Church, Milton.
Surviving are four sons and three daughters: William F. of Janesville, Susan (Terry) of Janesville, John C. (Sharon) of Warren, IN, James (Becky) of Hanover, David A. of Janesville, Mary of Janesville, and Cathy (Terry) of Janesville; 19 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Frederick, on June 12, 1997. Her parents and her twin brother, William, also preceded her in death.
“A special thanks to Agrace HospiceCare and Senior Services of Rock County for their many kindnesses to Betty and her family.”

The world is a little poorer today

Sad news for the family this week; my Aunt Barb passed away. Aunt Barb has been a constant in the family for so long, always present at reunions, family gatherings, and, of course, Thanksgiving, even after health problems made that difficult. She provided warmth both figuratively and literally, with the many afghans she crocheted over the years (we have one on our bed right now, and several more around the house). So, goodbye Aunt Barb. Your absence will not go unnoticed.

If anything good can come from Aunt Barb’s death, it’s this: please consider becoming an organ donor. Aunt Barb lived with a transplanted liver for over 15 years. This extra time allowed her a chance to see her kids get established, watch her grandkids grow up, travel, and spend time with her husband after he retired. It bought her time, a lot of time, and there isn’t a price high enough to pay what that’s worth.

Barbara, age 61, of Janesville, died on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011, at University of Wisconsin Hospital, Madison. She was born in Janesville on July 25, 1950, the daughter of Raymond and Geraldine. She graduated from Parker High School in 1968, and married Bernard in St. William Catholic Church on Feb. 22, 1969. She had been a Janesville resident all of her life and was retired from the Data Shop. Barb was a lifetime member of St. William Catholic Church, actively learning Braille, and attended support groups for transplant and loss of sight. She loved listening to books, doing cross stitch and crocheting.

She is survived by her husband, Barney; 3 children: Andrea, Mike and Charlene all of Janesville; 3 grandchildren: Brandon, Samantha and Calvin; 6 siblings: Mike (Donna) of Evansville, Kath of Janesville, Mary (Paul) of Janesville, Carol (Mark) of Milton, Donna (Stephen) of Texas and LuAnne (John) of Janesville; many nieces, nephews, other extended family. She was preceded in death by her parents.

Lasting memorials may be made to the University of Wisconsin Transplant Program, Madison.