Foto by Jorma Kaukonen
Mom’s Jahrzeit, May 8, 2018
Twenty years ago today my mother went home for the last time. I look back at the passing of loved ones in my family and it is almost as it should be. My Grandmother Ida and grandfather Jaako outlived their son Tarmo. He died in the service in 1945. Other than that the young ones have outlived the old ones. That I was able to join my brother Peter, and be present for my mother’s passing was an honor indeed.
Beatrice was an educated woman in a time when society did not value education in women. She was something of an intellectual snob, but that too was all right. It’s just who she was. (‘Don’t’ interrupt me dear, we’re talking about Jewish things!’ She wanted her boys to find their place in the world, and we have. I am sorry that she missed meeting Izze and Zach. She would have loved them and spoiled them rotten.
My dad was gone so much of the time from WWII on that she taught me things that would normally have defaulted to Dad. She was my den mother when I was in Cub Scouts. She taught me how to row a boat and paddle a canoe… how to make a campfire in the rain and most importantly, how to read and love literature. She tolerated the serpentine path I had to follow to reach adulthood. She never blatantly took me to task for the many bad choices I made in my life. I miss her and Dad every day in a most selfish way. I would just like to be able to tell them that Vanessa and the kids and I are more than OK.
The Fur Peace Ranch was opening for the first time the end of April 1998. I had been talking to her daily and then one day when I called Sera, her caregiver, told me, ‘Oh no… she can’t talk anymore.’ My brother, Peter, got on the phone and said ‘If you want to talk to Mom, you better get out here immediately.’ I immediately went down to the studio here at the FPR and wrote this song.
Song For Our Mother
By Jorma Kaukonen
April 27, 1998
Fur Peace Ranch
Meigs County, Ohio
Strength unto my life she was before I was a man
Daddy’s off to fight a war in some far off distant land
He don’t come around much just at special times of year
But Mama always holds our hands and puts away our fears
‘Come and take a walk,’ she’d say, ‘down by that old Pierce Mill
And listen to the water passing by the rocks and rills.’
‘That old grey goose will bite you, but you can feed the ducks,
Trust your heart in all you do, you won’t have to trust in luck.’
Mama tried to teach us to be strong
And keep walking against the wind even though your hope is gone
It don’t matter how alone you are today
‘Cause if you keep on walking hard, you’ll find a better way
Many years have come and gone, now that I’m a man
My bro and I are all that’s left in this part of our clan
Daddy won’t be coming back, he’s fought his final war
And Mama’s eyes look far away, for some distant shore
She wanders in her mind now to that old tobacco farm
When she was just a girl at play in my grandfather’s arms
He strokes her hair with loving hands and sends her on her way
To walk across this century, which brings us to today
My brother sits beside her bed and holds her hand so tight
He looks upon her shuttered eyes, will she make it through the night?
The what she is remains today, the who she is, is gone,
But what she’s done in both our lives I know will linger on
Her favorite books are closed now, her favorite song’s been sung
For her boys who stay behind her, she’s done all that can be done
She’s going to see her friends now that have vanished for so long
She’s on the road beyond the stars…
She’s going… going… gone
I couldn’t have said it better today!
Rory Bock was teaching here at The Ranch that first weekend. She asked me if I’d play Mama’s Blues with her on the little stage in the workshop and I did with tears running down my face. The next day I was on a plane to San Francisco. Here is the diary I kept as Mom completed her final journey… her final lesson to her boys.
Here are some voices from the past:
A letter from Jerry Jr., Hillside Farm, Meigs County, Ohio to
Beatrice Love Kaukonen (6-12-10/5-8-98)
Written June 20,1998
This is a last letter to you. A real one, a hard copy, one you could touch were you still able to touch. You know your memorial is in three days and even though I have used working as an excuse not to do this until now I realize this is not simple Jerry procrastination. It hit me tonight when I was putting my broken down motorcycle on the trailer. I have been putting off saying my final good-byes to you for once I have done this I must move on and it just didn’t seem time yet.
Well Mom, I guess it’s time.
You let me join Peter and Sera for your final hours and I will always be grateful to you for that. But that was your final chapter, your final lesson to me. There was so much more in the book. You and Dad spread so many layers of perception for Peter and I to sheath ourselves in. Love of music, of books, of the countryside where I live, of the hills and hollows and streams and ponds. I cannot hear a goose honk or a duck quack without being a little boy again hiking in Rock Creek Park with you and Peter. When I walk in the woods I think how you would have liked this land, when I put my canoe in some local lake I think of you teaching me how to row and paddle… I think of you on your boat reaching for freedom in the Skärgårds outside of Stockholm.
I think of you often.
I miss the phone calls. Especially the Sunday ones after I watched Charles Osgood’s Sunday Morning. I miss sharing the blessing of my life with Vanessa with you. Lord knows I wandered aimlessly for so long but you always encouraged me to believe that it would get better. You never moralized with me or criticized my follies.
You always supported your boys in your own way. You were not always easy to get along with but your were always easy to love. You had a giant spirit and touched more people than I could possibly imagine. You had plenty of love to go around and those who were moved by your spirit will miss you as much as Peter and I.
The last year or so of your life has allowed me to discover my brother Peter. He has become a part of my life even though we live so far away from each other.
You did not go gentle into that good night and sometimes this brought consternation into the lives of those around you. Yet the lessons of your strength do not go unnoticed. The kittens that gave you so much joy after Dad died now live on the farm here at Hillside. Doody clawed the crap out of me the other day but I couldn’t even get mad about it. Mimi likes to go outside but she returns to the guest house after about and hour outside. You would have been proud of the little rascal’s adaptability.
I remember sitting with you by your bed one day some months ago. We were organizing your old letters and stuff in the sideboard by the foot of the bed. At one point you grabbed my hand and said, ‘I wish I could believe!’ I remember saying, “I do believe!’ The truth is that I really do believe. I do not know how this happened but I guess it all has to do with who we are and where we came from. I know that when the time came for you to walk that last mile alone you did so with grace as Peter and I shopped for flowers for Mother’s Day for you. When we returned, the lines that had furrowed your brow were gone and I believe that when you were called home, you went in peace. I believe you are in a better place, together with your old friends and family. I believe your are bathed in love and that your spirit shines with the purest light.
I pray you rest with a satisfied mind surrounded by the ones you love.
I will never forget you and I will love you as the only Mother I ever had.
One of your loving sons:
May 1, 1998 (3:11PM) Eastern Daylight Savings
It is 1215 here at 30 Underhill. Mom is in the living room sleeping, Her cats are here as well as Sarah and myself. Peter has gone to Oakland to take care of some business. Mom is pulling into the stretch of her life here. I am still somewhat nonplused by it. I’m sure that more will be revealed. It is so fortunate that Peter has made it possible for both Mom and Dad to die at home. A real blessing. She has traveled far. Almost the length of this 20th century of ours. She has seen many things and now it is time for her to go home. She has prepared Peter and myself as best she could and with this last lesson she moves on.
She has fought long enough and I pray that she now goes gentle into that good night.
May 1, 1998 (3:31PM)
I heard a sound and went to her side she looked at me but I’m not sure she saw me. She looked peaceful though. May she transit soon.
May 2, 1998 (11:29AM)
I just breakfasted at Mama’s in Mill Valley. When I came back a few minutes ago, Mom’s eyes were open and her left hand was raised. I went over to hold her hand and talk to her. She looked as if she was looking at me but Peter says her cataracts are so bad that even if she were otherwise well, sight would be problematic at best. Yesterday when I took her hand the power of her grip had been restored. Today it was like the touch of a small bird’s wing. Her female cat, Mimi, was at her feet on the bed. Sarah is having breakfast and Peter is still sleeping.
I slept well in Mom’s old room and although I dreamt, I cannot recall what the dreams were. The bed kept me warm with the aid of the little quilt that Vanessa and I gave Mom a year or so ago. The classical music plays on and right now I am in a timeless place. Every moment more is revealed.
May 2, 1998 (11:42AM)
I was just getting ready to do something important like playing a game of computer solitaire when Mom called for Sarah. She wanted something, it was hard to tell what. Sarah held her hand as she struggled with the words. Sarah calls her Bea… tells her she loves her. Her soft Fijian inflected voice calms Mom and she sponges water into her mouth from a little pink sponge on a stick. Mom is now calling for help.
May 2, 1998 (11:51AM)
Sarah comes but we cannot determine what it is we can do to help her. I go over to the bed. Her eyes are looking at something… we do not know what it is. I help Sarah move Mom higher in the bed. She still tries to talk but the words are incomprehensible to us here on earth. Her breath is shallow, almost imperceptible. Sometimes apnea interrupts the flow and she is still for some moments and then the cycle begins again. Time stands still, there by her bed, and we are all transported to another place where we can witness her in the unfolding of her destiny but can really do nothing to interact. Death is indeed a personal event and we can share in it only from behind our own eyes.
She puts her hand to her face, the fingers touching her forehead. She is hovering somewhere between life and death and whatever seems to be troubling her exists in the grey area of the tunnel I believe she is in. The sound of Sarah doing the dishes and the omnipresent classical music are surreal indeed but not unpleasant. She calls for Sarah again. Sarah comes and holds her hand and tells her she loves her. On Mom’s hand is her wedding ring that she has worn for over 61 years.
The angels wait.
Peter comes and looks down at her. I stand at the head of the bed where she could not see me if she could see. I do not know if she is aware at this moment that the three of us are here or if that time is already past. Her eyes close and the furrows in her brow relax for the moment. I shall go have coffee with Peter.
The angels wait.
May 2, 1998 (1:03PM)
Another moment of waiting… interspacial peace. Her breathing is punctuated by snoring sounds. Peter gets ready to run some errands…. I will stay with Sarah and Mom. I am in an orbital holding pattern.
The angels wait.
May 2, 1998 (3:19PM)
Mom’s cat Mimi wonders where her Mom is and why she isn’t getting the love she is used to. She pesters Peter and me as we try to work with the computers in Dad’s office. Mom looked at both of us for a while and then went back to sleep where she is right now. I must call Chuck and tell him to bring rice cakes.
May 2, 1998 (6:01PM)
Peter and I played Song For Our Mother and Hospice shuffle together next to Mom. Sara listened and Mom slept. She still sleeps, the sound of occasional snores rattling through the house. It is a waiting game. She will go when she is good and ready.
May 2, 1998 (11:16PM)
It is 2016 California time. Sarah has just given Mom her evening medications. She strokes her head as Peter holds her hand and I look on from the foot of the bed. Her breathing is a little more labored… the sounds of fluid gurgling somewhere in her lungs. Her eyes open and it looks as if she would like to say something but cannot. She makes little sounds. We do not know what they mean.
Peter talks to her gently but she is not going gentle into that good night. She is so weak yet so strong. I really do not know what to think. It will be a long time processing this. I will sit next to Peter for a while and then go to bed.
May 3, 1998 (12:25PM)
Sunday morning…. I checked in on Mom before I went to the gym. She had moved onto her side and was grasping the railing. Trying to get out of the bed? Who knows? When I came back from the gym Sarah said that she had been calling Jorma’s name. It must be my Dad since she never called me that. I went to her bedside and her eyes, clouded with cataracts looked a if they were fixating on me. She raised her hand and I took it. There was a little strength in her grip this morning… very little, but strength nonetheless. Once again, the human spirit and body is so strong, it holds so dearly to this transitory plane of life on earth. Fear about the next step? Well, it certainly is a transition we all must make sometime. People get ready, there’s a train a’comin’….
It is a beautiful morning here in San Francisco. Is this a better day than any other to die?
The angels still wait…
May 3, 1998 (2:46PM)
Five minutes ago I was sitting next to Mom reading the Tibetan book of Life and Death. Her pillow supporting her left hand slipped through the bars of her hospital bed. I was adjusting it and her arm when her eyes opened and she seemed to see me for a moment. She said, ‘My dear one…my dear one, my dear one.’ Then as I held her hand she gave it a squeeze and then returned to her Samsara… her ocean of endless suffering. For a moment our lives intersected again here on earth in real time. I was just coming to the word processor when the hospice lady came to tidy Mom up for the day. Indeed it is one moment at a time and each one must be enjoyed as such.
May 5, 1998 (4:15PM)
Yesterday she took Peter’s hand and pressed it to her lips. She is further away… her skin is colder to the touch but yet she hangs on. I just played for her for half an hour or so and she snored melodically through it. She is going, going, but not gone by any stretch of the imagination. What tenacity, and yet her time here has passed. I believe that it is her time to move on to whatever adventure awaits her.
It’s got to be better than this.
May 6, 1998 (7:11AM)
Sarah woke me up for her 0400 medication. I didn’t know where I was for a while. When I finally got my sorry ass out of bed she already had her medication and you could hear the fluid gurgling in her lungs. At this moment I can detect no recognition of me in her eyes. The sound of her breathing hurts ME.
This is no way to live, but it may be a decent way to die.
May 6, 1998 (8:26PM)
Peter says that Mom is melting. It looks that way. Today he called Edie Haskell and Amanda Nealin and Michael John Haskell… Elisha’s children to inform them of Mom’s progress. Amanda wept… Apparently Mom impacted her life in a major way. Michael John was inconsolable. He spoke of her connection to his Dad’s family… His only connection. They wept, and I, touched by how important Mom was to them wept also… as did Peter.
It was quite a moment. I decided to let go and give Michael John the old Kodak camera which was my first camera but which belonged to his grandfather. I had been holding on to it but it’s just more stuff to me and he will really appreciate it.
Mom is melting… she is a wraith… not quite a ghost. Here and yet not here. Recognition is gone and she breathes…. in… out… in… out. Sometimes over a minute between breaths. She is going, going, but not yet quite gone yet.
I miss her already.
I wonder when this will all sink in. My brother and I will be orphans now. I want to go home and see Vanessa.
May 7, 1998 (11:14AM)
Just a little further down the road. A little closer to her final destination. It is Thursday today. Sunday is Mother’s Day. She may be still alive, but she will not see me. I will be back in Ohio and she will be closer to her destination beyond the stars.
She lays in her hospital bed, leaning to the right covering the cast on her right arm. Sarah has just given her the 0800 medication and some of it gurgles in her lungs. For the most part she is no longer really of this earth. She is clean… they do that daily, but her bed clothes are rumpled. A little stuffed bear rests to her left, next to her on her pillow. The little Model A roadster Donna gave me yesterday is on her night stand next to medications and flowers.
I am so fortunate I was able to at least say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ when I got here a week ago today. She knew me and Peter then and she knows us now, wherever she is. They say she is not suffering and I pray that is the case.
I love her dearly. She is so responsible for who I am today.
She is the only Mother I ever had.
My gifts are overwhelming. My cup runneth over.
(She is moaning now. Something either real in our world or real in hers is touching her and she cries out softly and then lies quietly, each breath a gentle groan. I have told her all I could and yet I think I would have said more if I had the time. Or not.)
May 7, 1998 (5:10PM)
Amanda Nealin just called. She is Elisha Haskell’s daughter. I talked to her for the first time. She was inconsolable about Bea’s impending death. We spoke of family… it is all so important in these fragile times. Perhaps Vanessa and I will see them in Atlanta. I was going to lie down before I wrote this but a wave of emotion came over me. Sometimes it just wells up out of a complete calm and breaks over me like some huge wave coming out of the Pacific… cold and strong.
She looks so small. The signs of death are beginning to be visible. Blueness at the base of the nails, water retention in the hands and feet, and yet she seems not to suffer. I will lie down for a while.
May 7, 1998 (11:51PM)
We went to give Mom her eight o’clock dose of meds. She has to be awake for this so she won’t choke. Peter couldn’t rouse her. This is the first time she could not be awakened. As I look at her there is something different. I think she is not in residence. At this moment I believe that the body still lives but the spirit has departed.
And so it goes.
I feel an emptiness that centers in my chest and moves towards my head.
May 8, 1998 (1:20AM)
2220 Pacific Time
I go to sleep now. I feel she could die any time now. Her body temperature is rising. Her
cheeks are getting hollow. Her hair is slicked back. She would have never tolerated that. Her breath comes quickly, punctuating the end of her time with us in staccato bursts. I will be up at 0400 for her meds and so for now I will say what could well be my last goodnights in this world.
May she pass with grace and soar with the angels.
She will always be in my heart.
May 8, 1998 (6:50AM)
I’m up for the morning medication. Mom is more than sleeping. She snores gently for now, her jaw slack, head leaning to the left.
We gave her medicine to her and turned her to the right. She is dead weight, her body so hot. I think how she cared for me and Peter when we were babies, held and washed us and did her best to make us feel better. I wish I could do more for her but this is the best I can do.
May 8, 1998 (10:59AM)
I spent a little time at the gym this morning but it was tough to concentrate on anything except Mom. She is not light when we turn her but she has a featherlike quality to her. Until the last day or so there was still a spiritual connection. This is gone now, but she is still Mom. Mother’s day is the day after tomorrow and Peter and I shall buy some flowers for her today. The two of us are in Dad’s old study tapping away making entries in our computers. There is a surreal quality to all this and yet I do not think it could be better.
May 8, 1998 (3:02PM)
Peter just gave Mom her 1200 medication and she is unchanged. Miriam, a rabbi from the local Jewish community is coming by this afternoon to do whatever it is that they do. I am moved.
May 8, 1998 (5:17PM)
1400 West Coast Time
Peter and I went to Mill Valley to get some flowers for Mother’s Day and when we returned Mom was dead. Rigor mortis had already set in…. She waited until Peter and I both went out and she passed from this realm. The hospice folks are coming over to
clean and dress the body and we shall sit with her tonight. Pike is on the way with my tickets and I guess we’re all making travel arrangements. I must call Vanessa.
I don’t even know what to say.
May 8, 1998 (5:30PM)
I still expect to hear her breath, to see her chest rise and fall one more time but it is really over.
The angels aren’t waiting any more. They’ve taken her home!
May 8, 1998 (7:41PM)
1641 Pacific Time
Pike came over with our tickets and while we were weeping together Miriam, the lady Rabbi came and sang songs and prayers to free Mom’s soul and send her on her way. (Rabbi Miriam Centuria}
What a voice! We were all crying, but you know they were really tears of joy. The songs centered on freeing her spirit and letting it finally go home. She has wanted to go home for so long and now I believe it is accomplished.
As she was singing the sun came out for the first time in days and the rays bathed Mom on her bed surrounded by flowers.
Truly remarkable… a miracle! It’s almost enough to make me start going to temple.
May 8, 1998 (9:03PM)
The relatives are starting to call. Amanda Nealin, Elisha’s daughter, Peter Bryson, Babe’s son. So much love passing through one family at this time. She touched so many lives. I had no idea.
I almost forgot. Peter was making bequests according to Mom’s wishes. Before we went out he read all the letters to Mom and told her that everything she wanted done was done and that her boys would be all right
And so we’re all right.
The emotion of our relatives is so moving. What an impact she made on so many,
May 8, 1998 (9:50PM)
It occurs to me, that Dad, mover and shaker on the world stage that he was, had nowhere near the impact on so many people as Mom has. My choice of mixed tenses is intentional. So many stories are coming in relating to how she impacted people’s lives in truly significant ways. I had no idea.
May 9, 1998 (10:38AM)
0738 Pacific time
The entries in this little journal are winding down. I got up this morning at 0600 and Mom was still dead. Funny how you expect things to turn out. I made some calls and sit here thinking. Peter is talking about getting his doctorate. Mom would finally have a doctor in the family. What a concept.
I am awash in a sea of generations today. There are many things I would like to hold out of this.
What a lesson.
May 9, 1998 (11:31AM)
And so we are all up doing what must be done to make our departure easy. Sera is so moved it almost overwhelms me. Peter has been a tower of strength, a rock. I could never have done this. And so it is with the difference in people. We have all dealt with this in our own way. We now wait for one or two people to come and then the hearse at noon.
And we all go back to our worlds and this interlude of life and death shall be over.
Such a moment.
May 9, 1998 (12:36PM)
But not quite yet. Peter and I played Hospice Shuffle for her one last time and tears ran down my face for the whole song, and it’s not a short one. Sera is going home for the weekend and returning Monday to take care of some things and house sit for Peter until he gets back from Utah. I went outside…. What a beautiful day today is. The smell that is
so much Northern California is in the air today. That Spring smell that has been absent with all this rain. I looked in the garage and there was a push mower. I mowed a few
blades of grass. I haven’t done that since 3312 Northampton St. when I was a kid. What a moment. Soon it will be time to let all this pass into the reservoir of memories. Life is for the living and we all go one. But what a journey into another time and place. The memory will fade until only ripples are left on the pool. But they will stay for a very long time. To be able to apprehend this, to grasp it for only a moment is such a blessing. I know there will be a withdrawal period from all this emotion and then that too shall pass.
On some days there is truth in everything and everywhere.
And with the rustle of the leafy shadows in Dad’s study we celebrate another day.
Mom died on May 8, 1998. Take note that is one year and four months to the day of Dad’s death on January 8, 1997.
Donna has just come and she kneels by Mom’s side. I go into the study to leave them alone and the tears refract the morning light like stained glass. Sera cries again and we here are one with the grief and joy. Mom leaves so much life and emotion behind her. Yet one more gift. Donna’s emotions honor us. Bea has left a mighty trail… easy to follow.
May 9, 1998 (1:28PM)
Sera sits with Mom. Donna just came with bagels and lox for us. We have all learned so much from Mom…. we agree with that. In the end we walked with giant steps. We are waiting for Jeannie, Susan Dembitz and Sara Glickstein to close this chapter. Then the hearse will come to take her away.
‘And I saw that
hearse come rolling
for to carry my Mother away….’
And now Adrianna is coming too.
Sera requested on more rendition of Song For Our Mother. She got it. I’m amazed I can sing it without blubbering. And so it goes.
May 9, 1998 (3:08PM)
The bed is empty…. only a blue plastic sheet on it now. The ladies all came. Susan recited prayers and the Kaddish. Mom’s spirit is free to go where it must and that is that. More tears, remembrances… Indeed, it could get no better. I will seek the time to grieve when I get home and I gladly await what life has in store for me. The man from the mortuary came for Mom. As we moved her from the bed to the gurney, the smell of death was apparent in its early stages. And that is part of it. We wheeled her to the hearse, her face open and upturned to the beautiful sunny day God provided for us today. She has gone home.
And that is that for now.
Requiem In Pace
May 9, 1998 (11:07PM)
2007 Pacific Time
And ending for now…. or perhaps a beginning. I will be processing this for some time to come. Mom was so much to so many, and most importantly to me. I know she loved Vanessa and was proud of the Ranch. I found she told so many people about it and glowed. In the end she died with dignity which my brother worked so hard to provide for her. The months of approaching psychosis and degrading quality of life, of swimming in Samsara perhaps more than most, lifted and in the end she went without a wrinkle on her face. She had lost the weight the edema grafted on her and she looked so much like Vera. I know she was at peace. To have been there and shared this last week with my brother and the people who she meant so much to and vice versa was a gift from God. I shall be eternally grateful. AND I was able to be sober for it, feeling each moment truly as never before. Her last gifts, her last lessons to us all. Lessons of love and compassion.
It is truly more than I could have dreamed.
I think as I sit here in the Oakland Airport that the last time I remember being here was almost fourteen years ago, fleeing Margareta. Now she is gone too and this is certainly a happier time for me and mine. I am truly blessed. A few ticket problems and delays, but how can it possibly matter. I’m sure everything will work out all right.
And so to home I go, to Vanessa and the life that is waiting to unfold. In this moment, I am walking with angels. I will try to recall this as the evening and the flight time drags on.
And so it goes.
And so we go.
Tonight I feel love!
What a wondrous journey!
May 11, 1998 (12:37PM)
Eastern Time again
The last entry in this dialogue. Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I had a momentary thought about calling Mom and sending flowers. But that is done.
Today Vanessa almost reminded me to call Mom and see how she was. And so it will go for all of us for a while.
Love makes it all worthwhile.
July 27, 1998 (11:32AM)
0830 West Coast Time
I am at the Embassy Suites with Vanessa… Peter is somewhere in the building too. The last time I was here was for Dad’s funeral a year and a half ago. My business in California is almost finished. I have already said goodbye to Mom and this interment is almost an ex post facto event. I know that Mom is in a better place and has been there for some time.
The circle shall surely be unbroken.
July 27, 1998 (3:46PM)
1246 West Coast Time
Vanessa and I have just returned from the Inglewood Cemetery. The Funeral was moving albeit brief. Mom and Dad are together resting next to Pentti and just up the road from Jacob and Ida. The sum total of a person’s life is certainly not measured by their place of rest. We are in the flight path of plane coming and going from LAX. Perhaps that is right considering how many places their beings graced. I must think more and then this set of pages will be closed.
I am surrounded by ancestors as well as walking the earth with one I love.
And indeed that is that as it was written in 1998.
I love you Mom! My cup runneth over indeed!