WWMD? Honoring a Legacy


The kindest face I know

(Note: This is posted under “Reflections.” If you want to read about the boat only, click “The Boat” from the menu above.)

She died on Christmas morning. In her bed. After writing a message on her blackboard in perfect penmanship. A perfect exit, you might say.

That was 3+ weeks ago, but it’s taken me this long to write about it. Grief takes the form, and the time, that it takes.

She was 105, so it’s not like it was unexpected. But she was still so…alive! Alert! Needed!

I just wasn’t ready.

But then, I never would be.

Aunt Martha was the last of my 20+ aunts and uncles to leave this world — but so much more than that. She was the trigger for my post-retirement visits to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I was raised. My need to see her evolved into a need to put down some new roots there, and our lives became linked in new ways. In fact, she once owned the piece of property that became Camp Many Moons…and I didn’t even know that when I bought it! That was also, somehow, perfect.

It’s no dishonor to my own amazing mother to say that she became like a 2nd mother to me. Before she became “that vibrant old woman,” she was so many other things. (Her obituary is posted here.) The point is, all “old people” were something else before they became that. We are all something else before we become that. I resolve to remember…and hope that, when I, too, am “old,” someone will do likewise for me.

The most important thing she was, I think, was graceful. She was grace, personified. Her face should be attached to that word. You know, like a cue card.

Her main legacy, for me? That’s where the “WWMD” in the blog title comes in. It’s a take on the acronym “WWJD” (What Would Jesus Do), popular in the 1990s. When I get frustrated or sad about the divisiveness in our families and communities…when I feel hopelessness creeping in…when I’m tempted to say or do anything that would cause more harm than good…I stop and ask myself, “What would Martha do?” The answer: Give love. Whatever is coming at you, give love back.

Ok, Martha. I’ll try. In your memory and in your honor, I’ll try harder. But I remember, too, that you were also aghast in recent years at what has happened to us. After all you’ve seen, you were shocked to see this. You didn’t ignore it, but you also didn’t absorb it. With your eyes open, you kept smiling. With your heart open, you kept loving.

Aion yrittää. I’ll try.

Martha and me in photos, below. See her face? Fully aware, but fully kind…

For other blog posts about Martha, click here and here.

Lassie kept Martha company for many years. – 2016.
In Santa hats on Christmas Day 2015. (A “young” 99 here!)
Christmas Eve, 2016 (100 years old)
She always kept a straight back, whether standing or sitting. – Dec. 2016
Hamming it up in hats. She’s only 98 here! – Feb. 2015
With my oldest sister, learning about selfies. – Sept. 2018
Arriving for her 100th birthday party. – Sept. 2016
At the birthday party. Again, that straight back. That’s one reason she lived so long.
She didn’t smile all the time. Tears did come sometimes. (Those are Finnish flags on the cake at her 100th birthday party. Her parents, my grandparents, emigrated from northern Finland to the U.S.)
Martha visited Camp Many Moons in 2019. She owned this land in the 1960s. (She’s 102 here.)
She visited Camp Many Moons again in July 2021 to see my sisters during their visit. She was near 105 then and didn’t leave the car. Her body slowed, but not her mind.
Martha wrote this on the big blackboard in her kitchen on Christmas Eve 2021. Then she went to bed…and died there.
Martha (right) with sister Selma and brother Harold (my Dad) at high school graduation, 1920-something.

12 thoughts on “WWMD? Honoring a Legacy

  1. M: This was a beautiful article. Your aunt was a wonderful person, and I am so happy to get to know her through your pen. I am most appreciative of your articles. John

    John K. Cowperthwaite, Jr.
    PO Box 261
    Tenants Harbor, ME 04860

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  2. Hi Mary, hugs to you and yours, I will forever remember your aunt and her sister as part of a threesome of ladies who regularly walked in Lanse. It probably included Lassie. Was Ruth a part of the trio? I also suspected that Nora Koski was involved. Can you fill me in or correct me? In any case your family has left a legacy that is truly memorable!

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    1. It’s nice to hear your memory. Yes, Ruth walked often with Martha. I’m not sure who the third person was…I will ask about Nora and see if anyone remembers. Lassie was around a long time, so I’m sure you saw her too. Now I will strive to help keep the legacy alive somehow…voi kauhea..!

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  3. Mary this was such a delight to read. I’ve heard you talk about Aunt Martha over the years…and now with your beautiful writing and the photos, I feel as though I got to have a little visit with her…and you. Much love and many blessings during this tender time. ❤

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  4. Mary, I can understand why you are so tied to Many Moons, the camp. It is the history, the memories and the love of your beloved Aunt Martha. It is in your blood, sweat and joy of the natural beauty of the upper peninsula.

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