Updated: Dec 7, 2020
My mother, Lucy Phillipp Rasmus, turned 100 on November 1, 2020. Five days later she departed this life.
I wasn’t beside her for either major event. COVID-19 has put paid to overseas travel for the moment, unless one is willing to spend two weeks on either end in quarantine, plus testing etc. – a whole raft of red tape, and making a mistake at any stage could cause me to be locked out of Japan indefinitely, away from my family and home. Not to mention the risk of infection I myself would be running on long plane flights and other public transport. Even if I had been able to visit and help celebrate her 100th birthday (which she has been looking forward to for years) precautions in her care home against the virus would mean I couldn’t touch her or hug her; it wouldn’t have been the kind of visit both of us would want. Do I protest too much? Probably because I feel bad about it. Well, whatever the reason and whatever my excuses, I wasn’t there. On October 31 she had a fall and thereafter was not ambulatory; her blood oxygen was low and she drifted in and out. She died on November 5.
Mom was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1920, the second daughter of a family of six. She was an ardent Girl Scout, took an MA in Political Science at Northwestern University, and later became a crack secretary, who worked at the Pentagon in Washington DC and the U.N. in New York. She met and married my Dad, a skilled furniture maker, and moved with him and her 6-year-old daughter (she was a single mom back when it was really hard) to Southern California, where I was born in 1955. My sister was born in 1957, which makes three girls. She worked for Hughes Aircraft Company and struck me as very glamorous, the way she would get all dressed up and drive to work in a neighboring town every day. Mom loved reading, and took us to the library regularly, fostering my own love of books; she brought home scraps of paper, like adding machine tapes from work, that were my first drawing media. She wasn’t very keen on homemaking, or childrearing either, though she did her best.
In 1968 our family moved to Australia, following my Dad’s wanderlust. She was not happy there; she felt very keenly all the differences from her previous USA life. What saved her was the church, and a religious epiphany – she became very involved in a couple of congregations in Brisbane, where we lived. She also employed her considerable intelligence and secretarial skills as manager of the Queensland Youth Orchestra, a very prestigious musical group to which my younger sister and I belonged. In 1980 her overseas life came to an end when she and Dad returned to California to live with and help her elderly parents.
While in Australia Mom discovered a love of helping others, particularly little old ladies who lived alone. She had quite a number of these friends, and would visit them on the bus (she never drove in Australia), doing their shopping and everyday chores. She continued this in the US, especially after my Dad died in 1999. She also parceled out her pension to all kinds of worthy causes and, after moving to Tucson, Arizona in 2000, continued working in the church nearby with charity drives and visits to Mexico to distribute donated goods.
In her later life she discovered many interests, including embroidery, knitting, and the piano. She was a keen game player, especially card games and bingo. And she loved the crafts days at the assisted living facilities where she lived in Tucson. She always attended the Book Sales of the Library, accompanied by my elder sister, who took care of her in her last years. And she was famous for her collection of ceramic cats, thousands of them all shapes and sizes, which almost crowded her and her real cat out of their apartment! She would collect the ones at the thrift shop that were a bit chipped or broken – she said she felt sorry for them.
I visited when I could. I took my boys on extended holidays to the US every 3 years when they were growing up, and we usually stayed with Mom and Dad. It also fell to me and my husband to assist Mom financially when her pension fell short of expenses in her last years. Meanwhile, I wrote handmade cards and sent Japanese gifts.
Both my Mom and Dad died after they had been infirm for a long period. In this way, it was easier to say goodbye to them than if they had been fine and died suddenly. But I will always regret that living so far away, I couldn’t be a better daughter to them.
In conclusion I want to share a sweet old Girl Scout song that my Mom used to sing to us, before CDs, when singing was one of the major entertainments on long car trips. I was recently reminded of this song by a friend who also had a Mom in the Girl Scouts.
Goodbye Mom. I will always remember your throaty voice, your flowered wedding ring and your beautifully shaped nails, your determination to put your best foot forward and to find ways to do that even when you were probably at a low ebb. Thanks for being my Mom. I love you.
Tell me why the stars do shine
Tell me why the ivy twines
Tell me why the sky’s so blue
And I will tell you
Just why I love you.
Because God made the stars to shine
Because God made the ivy twine
Because God made the sky so blue
Because God made you,
That’s why I love you.