Stardate: March 24, 2019. This is the first birthday in 100 years that Shirley Ruth “Sunny” Hirsch Brockway has not been here, in physical form.
We all grieve the absence of our Captain. She was our fearless leader. Our stability and grounding. Our voice of wisdom and family connector. Our protector, the one who always had our backs. She said what was on her mind and kept us all in line. A true matriarch. Our working mother, role model, Queen. She had superpowers and was a master of this physical universe. She was home. She was our mothership.
She was an only child who had three daughters and ended up spawning a small-nation of relatives. Oodles of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and her first great-great grandchild. Grandchildren-in-law and steps and a huge extended network of friends of her grandchildren.
She deeply influenced us all. And loved us all.
She had an extraordinary zest for life. And amazing energy for taking a bite out of life and working way beyond the time most people retire. She was a doer, a get-things done person. She enjoyed controlling her universe and being in charge. And she never met a microphone she didn’t love. She was, to us, larger than life. A force to be reckoned with. A person who turned her nose up at illness and did not let later-in-life disabilities define her. “I’m fine,” she would say. “I’m not sick I’m just an old.” Though her body become frail, her mind was as sharp as ever and her sense of humor was ever present.
Now, without her sitting in her kitchen, we sometimes feel homeless. Rudderless. Unclear how to stand on our own, apart from her. We reach for the phone to call her and remember, sadly, she’s not there. She lived so long and gave us so much. For that we are grateful. But, still, being mom-less and Deedee-less is weird, odd, hard to reckon with.
She would be the first to say, “Don’t worry, it will work out. You’ll be okay.” And, “Don’t cry.”
But this adjustment without her makes us realize maybe we were never quite independent or individuated from her. We always had her to lean on. And now, we have to learn how to parent ourselves. And to use the wisdom she passed along to us, wisely.
She departed from this earthly plane last summer, upon living a full life. A life in which she gave us all love and security. And advice, whether we wanted it or not. She was a problem solver. She wanted to know our problems and wanted to help us solve them. With this huge family, she made it her business to get us all back on track. If someone was on a dangerous or self-defeating pathway, she would intervene — like it or not. If someone needed convincing, or to see that they needed to make a more sensible choice about something, she was on it. Can’t talk any sense into someone? Let DeeDee handle it. We knew she would lay down the proper argument to (try to) make others change their ways. She would also repeat said argument, often and possibly every day of your life. Her goal was always for none of her daughters or grandchildren to get hurt or to suffer and certainly not suffer alone.
Most importantly: She was always there. Always. A phone call away from anyone who needed her. Open for a visit any time. She always wanted to know your updates and what was new.
My mother and I were not without our problems. We had our flaws and disagreements. I did not feel she accepted me for who I was, until the later years. But she was my constant northern star. She was the stable force of nature and my childhood home to run to. She was DeeDee’s house and Camp DeeDee. She was the one who loved us even when we messed up. And she was the one who let us know everything would be okay.
When something doesn’t work out in life, I can still hear her saying: “To hell with it.” Her code for don’t worry about this, darling, because I am not going to worry about it. She had the extraordinary super power of NOT LETTING ANYTHING BOTHER HER. You’ve heard of the Teflon Dom. She was the Teflon Mom. She just didn’t take things personally and went on about the business of life. And when she was unable to walk and needed help, she maintained the same attitude, accepting what was.
Azoy gait es! That’s how it goes.
In her absence, all I can remember is her love and constancy.
March 24, 2019 she turns 101 in heaven. And we will all remember her life and love here on earth. We’ll light candle in our hearts and minds. And we’ll probably cry, even though she’d tell us not to. But I really feel she has just slipped into another room. We can’t see her, but she is just a call away.
This is a poem I wrote for my mom on Mother’s Day 2010 that sums it up. All still true.
You are my inspiration.
And role model.
From you I learned:
Deep abiding love.
You have given love so freely,
With such deep commitment,
And you are willing to parent us all, still,
And be a guiding light, still,
To all your children and grandchildren.
You have always supported us and helped us.
You have always been there.
The constant Northern Star.
And voice of reason in our heads.
And the one who can listen endlessly to our joys.
And our problems.
Always a shoulder to cry on,
Always ready with a round of applause for successes,
As well as a mini lecture when needed.
And always showing us what it is to say YES to life!
I am the mother I am
Because of the mother you have always been.
I am the woman I have become
Because you showed me what a woman could be.
I love you, always.
With gratitude, your daughter, LS