‘Bye, Mom….

No, I wasn’t ready. Is anyone ready to lose their mother? Yes, she was 101. But, no. I still wasn’t ready.

That’s because, until the day of her sudden collapse on Jan. 23, Lempi (Lee) Wilhelmina Simontaival/Simonson Hanson was animated and sharp-witted and funny…and very much loved.

And, because I still had so much to ask her. And so many more ways to say “I love you.” (And hear it back.)

I think she lived so long because her soul had that much work to do here on earth….especially, more love to share. The overwhelming emotion expressed at her recent funeral events testify to that saying “It’s never too late to learn a new way!” And she did. So we did, too.

There was little or no overt expression of love (or any emotion, really) in our somewhat austere Finnish and Lutheran upbringing and most likely not in hers either. She was a child of a missionary preacher and of the Depression who lost her father at age eight and had to help the family earn money. She left school even though she loved (and excelled at) it, for similar reasons. She was an innately intelligent and curious person who lived a conventional life as wife and mother, never even getting a driver’s license. But she found a kind of freedom-of-expression in a long widowhood, far from her hometown where she also raised us, supported by a loving son and his amazing wife and surrounded bygrandchildren and great-grandchildren. (Her own children hardly recognized the blossoming “Grandma Lee” – her preferred name, though she didn’t feel bold enough to tell her own kids.) She became the witty matriarch and respected elder of a large church community, visited by young and old alike. When she fell ill, the hospital vigil involved dozens over days, singing hymns at her bedside until our throats closed. When she died, the mourners numbered in the hundreds. People came great distances to attend events that continued for a week. Tears were common and often sudden, and unchecked. My siblings and I hugged a lot, and we hugged the grand-kids, and their kids too, and the cousins who came to show respect to our Mom. This, from a stoic Nordic community.

How can an old woman with an 10th-grade education who rarely left home have such an impact?

It’s not just longevity. It’s not just the huge family, although that counts. (Until she died, five generations were alive at once. Mom left 149 descendants, including 7 children, 22 grandchildren, 95 great-grandchildren and 14 great-great-grandchildren.) And it’s not just the strong faith that anchored her life, although that was central. I think the impact comes from the example she gave us, especially the one she showed in her last decades of life. I suppose each of us took something unique from that, because every relationship is unique. Here’s mine:

  • Feed your curiosity. Mom read the newspaper every day (every line!), and everything else we sent her to read. She didn’t agree with or believe everything, but she kept an analytical and open mind (maybe it opened more as she lived longer?), even as the country descended into a kind of close-mindedness.
  • Dare to do things differently. Mom often told a story about how, when she was young and the house was filled with visitors (a common occurrence in a missionary’s home), her job was to change sheets daily. The beds were always pushed against the wall. Finally, one day, she pulled them away from the wall to make it easier. “Why make it so hard?” she asked. “Just because it’s always been done that way?” She didn’t have many ways to express it, but she did have an independent mind.
  • Stimulate your brain. Mom played Scrabble routinely until the day before she collapsed, and usually won. She beat me during my visit last November. (She made the rules, but still. I didn’t “let her win.”) She did the crossword in the daily paper. She nearly finished a book of cryptograms that she received for Christmas; that’s at least one puzzle every day. I can’t figure them out myself!
  • Be sociable. Three days before she collapsed, Mom was serving a visitor coffee and cakes, and yakking it up. (The visitor told me “I hardly needed to say anything, she was so chatty!”) Mom thrived on visitors; loneliness was tough on her. She reminds me we are meant to interact, and support each other.
  • Learn to receive support. Mom was a 1st-generation Finn-American so this one was tough for her, as it is for me. But as she grew more immobile, she gradually allowed us to put her in a wheelchair and to ask when she needed something. She didn’t show this to everyone, just a trusted few. I get it, Mom. None of us wants to lose our independence, even as qualified as yours was. But over time, you did so with grace.
  • It’s OK to be imperfect. Mom was not a saint. (Are any of us?) She could be judgmental and hang onto old grudges. I came to understand that this resulted from long-ago hurts that took time to heal – just as old hurts between the two of us have been healed. I think this was another reason for her longevity…to reach that state of full forgiveness, in both directions. May I blessed with the same!
  • Love has many faces. We all need our mother’s love, and sometimes we want it to show up in a certain way. Yes, I wish I had heard “I love you” when I was little. I could have used some hugs. Yet I know she was doing the best she could given her own upbringing. And I knew, when little, that I was loved. I admit I wasn’t sure later. I left home (and the church in which I was raised) at 18. I got two degrees and reached professional heights and traveled the world, and was sad that I couldn’t share these things with her…and a little sad to never hear “I’m proud of you.” I thought I disappointed her, having no children and getting divorced. (On that 2nd point, I’m sure I did!) I sent her photos by mail now and then, which were rarely acknowledged. But! After she died, we discovered many scrapbook. And there they were… news clippings about me, and the photos that I sent, alongside many photos of grandchildren. So she kept them! She just didn’t know how to respond. Love has many faces, sometimes only visible later.

Here are some of my favorite photos and a bit of her history. Thank you for reading this tribute to my Mom…always growing, always learning, increasingly loving and unquestionably memorable.

I miss you, Mom — Your baby, Mary (PS: Did you see it, Mom? The overwhelming love and emotion when you left us? Did you see? You matter! I think you wondered sometimes…when Dad made big decisions without asking you, or in those lonely times in your 90s…if you mattered. Yes. Always, yes. Especially now, yes!)

I never saw this picture of Mom until after she died. She’s 7 years old here. Sweet…
Mom’s face seemed to relax as she aged. Her sense of humor blossomed, along with other long-repressed traits — or so I assume they were, as I don’t recall them. Wait. She did play April Fool’s jokes on us when we were kids. And held “porridge picnics” on the floor in order to get us to eat on a cold winter morning. Ok, maybe the problem is my memory! 😉 (Didn’t I say we are all imperfect?)
She spent years in this chair, with the crossword….
Mom took great delight in her great-grandkids, who also took delight in her. We see that so often, don’t we? Grandchildren – and their children — get the “fun one” that we wanted to have when we were her little kids!
Mom made many quilts, including this one with the names of her children. She loved hearts. She made heart-shaped cookies most Valentine’s Days and put names on them to pass around. (I still do that once in awhile.) Love has many faces….
Mom was born at home on Christmas Day 1921. She died 101 years and one month later.
This document shows the family name change from Simontaival to Simonson, as was common among immigrants. (Her parents both immigrated from Finland, and she spoke fluent Finnish all her life.)
This cat adopted Mom, who eventually accepted the situation. She came to dote on it, sometimes scolding it for misbehaving in the same way she scolded rambunctious kids. 😉 I think the cat contributed to her longevity. We called it “Not-Mom’s-Cat” because she always insisted it wasn’t hers and refused to name it. For a week after her death, the cat barely left this chair where they spent years together. (She getting well-cared for.)
Mom must have thought this was funny since she kept it in a scrapbook all these years. I was a budding poet even at age….what, five?…but my spelling sure was atrocious!
Mom and me, at her 100th birthday…
Found this in the hospital chapel…

20 thoughts on “‘Bye, Mom….

  1. Hi Mary, Thanks for sharing your thought, emotions and photos. I only remember your mother and dad visiting us a few times in the fifties. I remember my mother speaking fondly of them as a child.
    Cousin Bob

    Robert L. Hanson


  2. It is one of those things we all have to experience. There is nothing easy about it. Finality is tough.
    My sympathies.

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


    1. Yup. We all go through it. I was lucky to have the time I had…more than most do, enough to sort through some things we often don’t “see” until much later. Love to you both, Mary


  3. Mary, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. This was such a beautiful tribute to your mother.
    We met you when you were going through the Dismal Swamp last year, and just the other day we ran into Brian, on Yooper Too here in Jacksonville, FL.
    Wishing you all the best.
    Mell Green
    “Edith B”


  4. Mary
    We are sorry for your loss. Moms are special people and we love them and they love us even when they don’t say the words. Love is in all the actions that they do to care for and nurture us. Love you my friend.


    1. Hi there. Thanks for the note; it’s good to hear from you. You are so right about love having many faces. We all go through this eventually; I was lucky to have the time I had.


  5. Such a wonderful tribute, Mary. No matter how much time we have with a loved one, it is never enough. Charlie & I send our deepest sympathies.


  6. Hi Mary,

    Just read (in tears) your writing about your mom. So many memories and brought back memories of my mom, who we lost at too young of an age, 76 and suddenly. Your mom was a good friend of her, and me. I last visited her in October 2021 there in Kalispell and corresponded with her up until the last couple years, loved her letters. Wished I could have attended her funeral, just too far in winter weather. Hope to see you at the burial.


    1. Gosh… thank you for reading, and for commenting. We heard that many people “attended” the funeral remotely, which was so nice to know. Yup, it’s hard. But i have been so comforted by the love and support and knowing just how many people (besides us kids) will miss her…


  7. I’m so sorry for your loss, Mary. To have had your mom for so long was the biggest blessing. And you seemed to have learned all her lessons. As you age, you’ll hear your mom’s lessons still being taught inside of your heart. My mom’s been gone quite a while but I still hear her laugh and her voice and her wisdoms. They’re never far from us.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s