I was so ready to write a Christmas post today – all about our new traditions and old. We had a fantastic Christmas this year, doubly joyful with the blessing of our four-month old twins – Evan and Kate. We have so much to be thankful for – a new home, our children and families, good jobs, a home filled with love and happiness.
This morning, when I checked Facebook, I was ecstatic to read that my friend Brandi’s mom got new kidneys today. She’s been desperately in need of an organ transplant for much too long, and we are praying all goes well with the surgery and recovery.
Then, a bit later while feeding my beautiful little Kate, I read this on Facebook. And I cried. Tears streamed down my face as I thought about the heartbreak of making it through the holidays when a loved one has passed. My uncle Patrick, the youngest of my mother’s siblings, died suddenly at the age of 34 on December 19, 2001. It was devastating for my family. That year, Christmas was bittersweet. We had his wake and funeral, then all gathered on Christmas Eve for our traditional family celebration. By that point, so many tears had been shed that the evening was somber, punctuated by the occasional sparks of joy from the little ones who were too young to understand the grief we were experiencing as a family. It was a pain, though faded with time, I will never forget.
Yet there was one thing that truly helped – at his wake, his co-workers presented my grandmother with a book they had put together about my Uncle Pat. Reading the stories, realizing the love they had for him, helped ease the pain just a little bit. So instead of writing about our Christmas, today I want to share the memories of five beautiful people who passed away this year – all of whom touched my life, and the lives of so many others.
Elizabeth Cathryn Foster, 8/1/11-10/8/13
A beautiful soul I never got to meet in person, Elizabeth was the daughter of my friend and college teammate, Cheryl. She was born with an omphalocele, and spent her two short years undergoing several treatments and surgeries to correct the condition. Amid the many medical updates Cheryl posted on Facebook, there were always pictures of a smiling Elizabeth with her twin Alexis, and older sister Sidonie.
She knew that everything we did to her was for her own good. She never held a grudge but instead always said, “Thank you” through her tears. – Cheryl
Elizabeth’s spirit seemed indomitable, so we were all shocked and heartbroken when she made it through her big surgery (to finally put her organs where they belonged), only to succumb to a virus. She fought so hard, and eventually her body couldn’t fight any longer. Her death made us all hug our little ones tighter, recognizing the fragility of life. Cheryl wrote this touching eulogy for her daughter, reminding us all that although Elizabeth has passed, her spirit, which touched the lives of so many, lives on.
Joseph Scott Middlemiss, 5/31/07-9/23/13
Like Elizabeth, I never met Joey in person. Many years ago, I taught his mother Kate how to row, and after he was born I, like many others, followed his story. Joey was born with a rare heart defect – dilated cardiomyopathy. Doctors told his parents his prospects were not good. Yet not only did Joey live, he changed the lives of those around him. When Evan was born, and we learned about his cardiac defects, we were buoyed by Joey’s story – the boy who had defied expectations.
After being reassured by doctors that the odds of having another child born with the same defect as Joey were astronomical, his parents forged ahead. Little Jack Middlemiss was born the same day as Evan and Kate, with the same heart defect as Joey. It seemed unfathomable. Yet Joey was alive, and in good spirits, and Jack seemed to be faring well.
Just a month later, Joey succumbed to a virus, passing away unexpectedly in the arms of his father. This little boy had touched the lives of so many, even those who never met him. His story of love spread far and wide, a legacy his parents are keeping alive with the Joseph Middlemiss “All You Need is Love” Mission.
James F. Molloy, 5/4/39-9/22/13
Teaching runs in my family. My mom, sister, wife, and I are all teachers. I have many cousins, aunts, and uncles in the profession as well. It must be in our blood. My Uncle Jimmy, late husband of my grandmother’s younger sister Joyce, spent a lifetime teaching. He retired the year before I started working at the same high school, so I never had the honor of teaching alongside him.
His passion for teaching was evident, as our conversations often centered around him asking me how things were going at the high school. This past spring, I was so proud to watch him walk onstage to accept the Retired Teacher of the Year Award from our local Rotary Club.
When he passed away unexpectedly this fall, many of my colleagues (his former colleagues and students) approached me to tell me what a wonderful man and teacher he was, and how he’d touched their life. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever expressed their feelings to him – if he knew just how many lives he had affected. I hope they did – I hope he knew how much he was valued and loved. I think of the countless teachers, and others, who have helped me become the woman I am, yet so rarely have I expressed my gratitude. Hearing the beautiful stories and comments about Uncle Jimmy made me realize how important it is to share your thanks with those who have helped you in any way.
Joan Kouble, 9/5/35-2/10/13
The younger sister of my grandmother, my Auntie Joan was a loving, beautiful woman. She also had an incredible sense of humor, and a major crush on President Clinton. One year my mom had me Photoshop her face onto a picture of him and Monica Lewinsky, and from that day forward, we affectionately called her, “Auntie Monica.” She loved it, even signing her cards to me, “Love, Auntie Monica.”
As an adult, I moved into an apartment building right next to my Auntie Joan’s. We used to sip tea in her apartment and chat about life. One day, she told me a story about two men she knew, who had married and adopted a child. She adored them, and then let me know that she loved me exactly as I am – that my being gay changed nothing in her eyes. I never got the chance to tell her how much that moment meant to me, or how much I loved her for it.
Auntie Joan fiercely loved her family, and Kendra and I chose to honor her legacy through our daughter Kate by naming her Katelyn Joan. My hope for her is that she inherits the same strength, love, loyalty, and sense of humor possessed by Auntie Joan.
Michael Dubois, 8/26/83-2/2/13
Mike’s death hit me hard. On the last day of school before Christmas break last year, we went out with many of our coworkers to celebrate the beginning of our vacation. Mike, my friend and colleague, showed up wearing his ever-present smile. The two of us talked for over an hour, trading stories about our holiday traditions. He was so excited for Christmas, and lovingly told me how every year his entire family – siblings, grandparents, nieces, nephews, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles – would all spend the night together. The grownups would go to midnight mass, putting out the gifts from Santa when they got home. It was a holiday filled with laughter, love, and warmth.
A little more than a month later, at the young age of 29, Mike passed away. I couldn’t understand. I still can’t understand. Mike was the heart of his family – the amazing uncle that ruffled his nieces’ and nephews’ hair, teased them, wrestled with them, and showered them with love. He loved his family more than anything, making sure that even after his parents passed away, he and his siblings got together for the holidays. At work, he was well-loved by all – students, faculty, and administrators. When Mike died, it felt like a piece of our school died with him. Like most of my colleagues who were friends with Mike, I spent weeks in a fog. It wasn’t uncommon for me to start crying while teaching. Even now, I still cry every time I hear Phillip Phillips’ singing, “Home.”
I learned so much this year from these five human beings, both in their lives and their passing. Mike’s death made me realize that life is too short. Joey and Elizabeth, with their resilience, strength, and unbounded love, helped put life into perspective. We need to live every moment in the present, being thankful for what we have, and doing our best to share our hearts with those around us. Uncle Jimmy’s passing made me realize how important it is to tell people how you feel while you can – if someone has made a difference in your life, let them know. Finally, my Auntie Joan taught me to enjoy life to the fullest, stand by my principles, and through it all, keep a good sense of humor.