Life Happens

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One week ago today, early in the afternoon of February 25th, Susie got the phone call that she frankly expected, but that she dreaded getting. It was from Highfield Gardens Nursing Home in Great Neck, where her Mom has “lived” for the past 4 years, and it was to sadly inform her that her Mom had passed away peacefully at 1:40 that afternoon. As I said, expected, but still sad.

Susie’s Mom, Edith Sanderson Booth Johnson was born on December 26th, 1924 in Astoria, New York. She was one of two children born to Doris Ionian Thompson and John Sanderson Booth, and from all accounts, had a wonderful childhood. As a young woman during the Second World War, she worked as a secretary for some unknown US Government agency in the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan. It was only after the US dropped the two Atom Bombs on Japan, ending the war, that she learned that she had been working on the Manhattan Project, that developed those bombs. She was very proud of the pin and letter of commendation she received from that work, and held it as a prized possession for the rest of her life.

Shortly after the end of the war, in 1945, she married Susie’s Dad, Robert Walter Johnson. Just recently back from serving in the US Army in Italy, her Dad was married in his uniform and her Mom in a simple suit. As they told the story, they got engaged one weekend, and married the next. (Edie’s Dad wasn’t even there as he was away on a hunting trip!) That’s just the way folks did things in the aftermaths of World War II! After a honeymoon in Niagara Falls (so typical in those days), it was time to get on with their lives!

Bob and Edie started their lives together in Astoria, and then were one of the first families to move into Long Island’s Levittown in 1950. They were living the post World War American Dream! That dream also included children, and they welcomed their first daughter Barbara Alice in 1947, then five years later, my wife Susan Lynn, in 1952, and then 10 years after that, their younger brother Donald James in 1962. Susie’s brother was named for her Mom’s beloved younger brother, who tragically died shortly after the war, from what we’ve only recently been able to deduce would probably be called today PTSD, but which was totally unknown in the 40’s.

The family moved around Long Island after Levittown, first moving to Hempstead, then out to Bayshore with Susie’s Grandparents, and finally back to Brown Avenue in Hempstead, where they spent many years.

In 1977, the Johnson Family came into my life when I met their daughter Susie, and in 1978 when I asked her to marry me, they became my family! Susie and I were very fortunate because unlike so many married couples we hear about, we both liked our new in-laws. Susie’s Mom and Dad became my Mom and Dad, just as mine became her’s. When holidays came around, we were one big family, with her folks coming over to my folks’ house in Bayside or my Mom and Dad traveling to Hempstead for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Life was good, and it got even better when our little guys entered the picture!

Seems like between my Mom (my Dad had died when oldest son Billy was just over a year old), and Susie’s folks, a couple of our kid’s grandparents were always in our house. They were there to volunteer for babysitting for work, and especially when Susie and I wanted to have some alone time, and keep reminding ourselves that even with 3 kids, we were a couple first and always. Unfortunately, Susie and I were in Las Vegas when Susie’s Dad died in 2001. Our kids were home on Long Island, and we were 3/4 of the country away, but Susie’s brother stepped up to the plate and got our kids ready to accept that “Pop-Pop” had died!

Susie’s Mom really never wanted to continue without him, but continue she did for what turned out to be many, many years. First at the Knolls in East Meadow, where they’d moved from Hempstead, but then about 12+ years, things started to change and unravel in her life. It was a Labor Day weekend, and Susie’s sister Barbara and family were out at Montauk, and Susie and I were down in Ocean City. Only her brother Donnie was there, when she apparently suffered a heart attack. This was the beginning of Vascular Dementia, and over the next couple of years it progressed to the point she couldn’t continue to live alone. From there it went fast. She had several accidents, and honestly we thought the end was near, but she always rallied…physically, but never mentally.

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Easter of 2015…4 Generations..Susie’s Mom, Susie, her Mom’s oldest Grandchild (our son Billy) and her first Great Grand Child, Billy’s daughter Layla

Four years ago she entered the nursing home in Great Neck where her dementia only proceeded to get worse. Most visits, she didn’t even know her children. She knew she’d seen them before, but had no idea of who they were. Occasionally a name would click, but mostly she had no idea about family history. She’d forgotten her husband Bob, her Mom and Dad and brother, and frankly, some of the stories she’d tell when you visited were off the wall. It was hard for all of us who loved her to see her that way, but Susie was happy that she was well taken care of by people who actually seemed to care for her. It’s a horrible way for someone’s life to end and if it hasn’t touched your family or your circle of friends, consider yourself fortunate!

Having moved to Ocean City 2+ years ago, we didn’t get back to see her as often as when we lived in Mineola, but the last time Susie and I saw her in January was one of the best visits we’ve had in years! She was happy to see us, was upbeat, and happy to have us there. She was the one who told us to leave, and as Susie returned her to the common room on the floor, she said she was happy that we’d been there. Whether she had any idea who we were, or was just “faking” it, we’ll never know, but looking back on that visit, and how good it was, has helped Susie get through the last week!

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Mother’s Day 2015 in our Mineola Backyard..Susie’s Mom with all her kids

Christmas, 2015 with Susie’s sister Barbara and Mom’s first Great Grand Child Layla, and her 91st Birthday

When Susie got that call a week ago, we were in a rented condo in Indian Rocks Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Our son Kenny and his husband Chris were with us, planning to fly home the next day. As soon as she got the call, Susie got on the phone with her sister and brother and worked out what they thought would be an appropriate plan for her funeral. Four years ago, Susie and her sister had planned the funeral when they thought she was going to leave us then, and before her money ran out, they paid for it, so Susie also had to coordinate with the Funeral Home. Lots of phone calls in the next few hours or so after getting the original call. Then it was my turn to get online and plan our transportation back to NY for the weekend. It was decided that we’d leave our rental a day early, pack our car, and drive across the state and fly out of Ft. Lauderdale Airport, as the rest of our Florida stay was taking place on the East coast of the state. On Wednesday, we took the boys to the Tampa airport, and then proceeded to start packing up from our month’s long stay!

Susie’s Sister Barbara and her husband Rob coordinated flowers back on Long Island and made sure they got clothes for their Mom to Weigand Brothers Funeral Home in Williston Park! Thank God they were there and able to take care of those details. Our friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf offered us to stay in their home in Mineola, and for that and their friendship, we’re thankful! We packed the car Thursday night, and early on Friday morning, we drove 200 plus miles across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and through Alligator Alley to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and our Delta flight back to JFK. After picking up a car at the Hertz office, we made the drive to Mineola, arriving about 7:30 at Pat and Steve’s house. A long day of travel!

Saturday morning I dropped Susie off at the Cuttin Club, and her old hairdresser Laura, who’d responded to an urgent call from Florida to help Susie with her hair. Kenny and Chris drove up from Ocean City, and had clothes for me so I didn’t have to go to a funeral in my Florida vacation clothes. They also picked up brother Bill from the Long Island Rail Road station in Mineola, as he’d just taken the Air Train from JFK after flying from North Carolina! (Another change in plans…he and his wife Lori were supposed to drive up, but our oldest Granddaughter Layla came home from school with something called Slap Cheek, (Fifth’s Disease) which promptly changed those plans). At about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, the family started to gather at Weigand Brothers. Susie’s sister Barbara, husband Rob, and their son Ryan, her brother Donnie, Susie and I, and our kids Bill, Krissi and her husband Mike, and Kenny and his husband Chris.

It’s never easy going in for that first viewing, but everybody was very happy with how Susie’s Mom looked. Everybody said that she looked just like herself and would have been happy with her appearance. During this early period, Donnie’s ex-wife Diane showed up and was welcomed in as family. They may be divorced, but she’s always had a very good relationship with Susie’s Mom, who she called Nana. In fact, Diane was the last person to in the family to see her alive, having visited her on Saturday afternoon.

There were lots of visitors during the first session from Donnie’s Union and from his Fishing Club, and several of our former neighbors and folks from the Boy Scout Troop. There were lots of stories, and looking at pictures, and the usual talk about the shame that get-togethers like this only happen at funerals. Between sessions, the family went down the Street to TR’s for dinner, some drinks, and continuing reminisces about their Mom and the 95+ years of her life! The evening session was more of the same, and as the 9 o’clock hour approached, and it was time to say good-bye, there were tears and memories, and a mix of emotions, as well as kisses and hugs.

Another night at Pat and Steve’s, a drive to JFK, and another quick Delta Flight, and we’re back in Florida. Six nights at the the Doubletree Resort in Hollywood Beach will be time to recharge and reflect on this weekend, and be thankful for a great family and for friends who are there when the need arises. Thank you all…we love you!

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PS – At the funeral on Saturday, Susie’s sister Barbara gave me the the following, which she had found in her Mom’s “stuff”, that I had written to Susie’s Mom and Dad on the occasion of the their 40th Anniversary.  Interesting that Susie and I just celebrated our 40th Anniversary.  I wish I had pics of Susie’s Dad Bob to include, but I’m doing this on the road, and only have what I have!  Miss you Dad!!

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3 thoughts on “Life Happens

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