Departed Mother Mothering

Mom’s Mysterious Death – Mary McLaughlin Sta. Maria

My reaction to my Mom’s death was pretty awful.

In this last installment of My Scandinavian Roots, Mary McLaughlin Sta. Maria discusses her Mother’s sudden death and distills lessons on grieving a loved one. Visit the following links for the previous installments: My Scandinavian Roots Part 1 and Part 2 My Mom’s Strictness.

Mom’s Mysterious Death

My Mom, June Phebe, was only 69 when she passed away in January 2001. It’s not really clear what she died of. She just passed away in her sleep one morning. My Dad had gotten up really early to go golfing. It is a big golf course with a lot of people. In order to get a good tee time, someone had to go early to sign them up. He had gotten up really early. He talked to her. Then he went out to do the tee time. When he came back, she was gone.

She was still in bed.

Her heart just stopped.

people playing golf
Photo by Jopwell on

I do think it’s an emotional thing where she just bottled her emotions. I think it’s a heartbreak because her brother had passed away just two weeks before that. They had actually come out here to the Pacific Northwest because Emily had her first birthday and it happened as they were already leaving for the airport.

I was the one who got to tell her when she arrived here that her brother had passed away. It wasn’t unexpected with her brother, but she couldn’t go to the funeral because she was already out here. We’re very glad that she stayed for Emily’s birthday. Her death was almost 30 years to the day of when her Mom passed away. The emotions that she probably stuffed down about her Mom’s passing were brought back up with this, the next death in the family.

Faithful Kirby

My reaction to my Mom’s death was pretty awful. I had another dog at the time named Kirby. Kirby just stayed by my side all day. Emily was one and I had had a really bad headache the night before, so I was sleeping in. It was probably almost nine, Pacific Time. I got up and went downstairs to let the dog outside. Then the phone rang. I was not going to answer that because I just woke up. But then it rang again as I was coming back up. I thought “Well somebody’s probably really trying to reach me.”

Snow white Kirby running in the snow

It was my sister. At first, I just felt denial. That couldn’t possibly be true that our Mom died because I just saw her the week before and she was healthy. My sister was really good. She called my neighbor and had her come over and be with me and then we called a friend and she came up and she was with me and then we reached my husband and then we flew out that night.

We went down to Texas, which was where she died. Then Emily and I went up to Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the funeral was in the middle of January. There was a lot of snow. It was below zero temperatures and the ground was too frozen. The burial happened in May. We went back out there then, but my daughter and I flew back to Texas after the funeral and stayed with my dad for about six weeks. I had just quit my job a month and a half before she passed away. I was free time-wise just to go and help him and spend time with him. He got to be with Emily. Having a baby around was very helpful.

June Phebe with one-year-old granddaughter Emily
Photo Courtesy Mary McLaughlin Sta. Maria

Learning to Deal with Death

When my Mom died, there were a lot of people and particularly in my husband’s family who did not want to bring it up. The first time that I saw his family at a gathering after my mom had passed away, it was a couple months afterwards. I had geared myself up to receive a lot of condolences from everyone. And when I got there, no one actually mentioned it at all. No one mentioned my mom or said they were sorry or anything. His cousin later said it was because they didn’t want to remind me of it and they didn’t know how to talk about loss and death.

I did not like that. I did not appreciate it. I wanted to talk about her. Something I learned is that people actually do want to talk about the person who has passed on. When I’ve had friends and relatives who’ve lost a parent or another person close to them, I usually, right away, I’ll mention how sorry I am about it and acknowledge it. And then I try to bring up memories that I have had of that person. I have found that the response is really good.

Like my brother-in-law’s dad passed away and I just was telling some stories that I remembered of times that I’d been talking with his dad. He said, “Oh my gosh, that was so wonderful that you said that. And I’m sharing it with my mom and my sister.”

It was something not many people did. That’s how it felt like. I think just acknowledging it, and some people may not want to talk about it, you do have to appreciate that, too. For the most part, people do want to remember them. OLike I just did talking about my Mom.

What Love Is

I would really define love as just always being there for someone as a support. That is what my Mom did for me and my siblings. That is what I have attempted to do for my two daughters.

Photo Courtesy Mary McLaughlin Sta. Maria

No matter what happens, they know they can rely on me. I would never let them get into too much trouble. Or if they did, I would help them get out of it. And just always being there and never going away. It’s a relationship that will never be severed. They’re free to be who they are. There’s a freedom and acceptance of “Whoever you are is fine and is good”. I hope they will carry on the legacy of love to their children, this unforgettable memory I am passing on to them from June Phebe, my Scandinavian Mother.

How does your family or culture talk about a deceased person? Please comment below.

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