Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Mother's Love

For Ann

A mother's love cannot be simply told.
The threads of crystal memories entwine,
Creating unsung tapestries of gold,
Attuned with understanding wrought by time.

Perspective now enlightens, as we see
The fires of love and honor glow and blaze
Endearments to Ann Morgan, mother true.
She fiercely fights, yet peaceful are her ways.

This cleaving paradox is one we know,
As we who heed her gather and embrace
to celebrate the one whom we love so.
Her joy and courage strengthen us with grace.

All legacies enrich our lives each day.
Ann's soft and golden love will always stay.

----- Dolores Donohue Andrews

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wow, Ann. What can I say? I think what stands out in my mind most was when I first met you. You lived in Milwaukee and one Friday evening my brother took me out there to meet you. It was a real nice apartment and I believe there was a fair going on right down the road and we could see it from your front window. Anyway, you made me my very first ever alcoholic beverage...a Sloe Gin Fiz. After drinking some of it, I felt it and asked if you had any "Fast Gin"! You thought it was great and you had a board or a sign or something that you wrote funny sayings on, and you wrote that. You made me feel so special, and for a kid who was still in High School, that meant a lot. Love You, Ann. Maureen (MO) Westhoff

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Thanks to the generosity of Jamie, Scott and Tina we are moving closer to the goal of creating a tribute to Ann by planting a tree in her honor at either Herrick Lake or The Arboretum. For more information, please read "Purpose" posted on the right of this page ------->

Thanks you three. We love you!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oh Ma, How Burley You Are

In the fiction of the prolific American writer and poet Wendell Berry, there are a few characters that quickly win a place in a reader's heart. For each reader, it may be a different character. For some, it may be Elton Penn, the notorious hard-worker whose intense intimacy and commitment to his land would inspire the thoroughest urbanite to sell all of his or her possessions and become a farmer. For others, it may be Jayber Crow, Port William's barber and resident theologian, whose existential wanderings somehow redeem those of Berry's readership. Still others may connect with Mat Feltner, one of the most reliable, steadfast and true people in the whole heritage of the Port William community. For me, I am attracted primarily to Burley Coulter.

Burley Coulter is one of the most loyal members of the Port William community; he does not, however, tend to abide by its conventions. He comes and goes as he wishes; he escapes by himself into the woods for sometimes weeks at a time. He never married, for he was a free spirit that could not keep or be kept. He once told Jayber Crow, "I don't own anything that I can't carry on my back or that doesn't follow me when I whistle for it" (in reference to his fox hounds). You never know when Burley is going to show up or when he will leave, but you always know that when he does, a piece of his being will be left embedded in your very self.

There are many ways that Ma reminds me of Burley Coulter. (For those of you who don't know me, my biological mother is "Mom" and Ann is "Ma.") As I have experienced Ma, she is one of the most loyal people I know. She proved this to both J.J. and me time and time again, showing up, for example, to our high school football games only to watch us count the number of splinters we would retrieve from our butt pads. She trusted our ability to succeed in whatever we did. If we said something ambitious like, "I'm gonna hit that half-back so hard his grandma's gonna fall down" (knowing full well that we'd likely line up across from said half-back maybe once in the game), she would pour a smile of beaming pride upon us. And let's not forget, she'd then remind us not to get hurt.

Ma was an adventurer. To my knowledge, she never slipped away into the wilderness for extended periods, but her posture towards life has been one that views the world as a constant opportunity. I don't know if many of us can quite grasp how special this quality is. She has the gift of being persistently and acutely aware that each choice we make matters, particularly choices about how to treat people. We didn't understand this growing up. We didn't see this gift when she thwarted our efforts to fraternize with those she deemed "undesirables." We didn't get her beauty when our hormones emerged and we were interacting with girls for the first time, when we would pray to the god of pubescence that Amy would bring a friend over while we were there. [And yes Amy, every one of us had huge crushes on you back in the day.]

There is something about Ma. When she shows up, there is a new conscientiousness, one that she models in how she gives dignity to those around her: to nurses and counter clerks, to old and young, to the familiar and the foreign. It is an art, really. What is natural to her in her interactions requires an intentional exertion of the will for most of us, and even then it feels fabricated and phony and therefore never sustains. But in that moment--like the one I observed a few weeks ago when she spoke to a girl taking our order at Portillo's--in that moment when she practices and embodies her art, there is something inspiring and a part of Ma becomes embedded in those around her. Perhaps it is only a memory, an altar that we raise in our minds that from time to time calls us back to itself on our own journeys, to remind us that there is something beautiful that we know and by whom we are known. But for many of us, it is more than that. It is like a spring board within our souls upon which we wish to plant ourselves only to be propelled into a new medium through which we live our lives, one through which we may practice and thereby redeem that tramped-upon and trivialized word we call "love."

In eulogizing Burley Coulter, Wheeler Catlett spoke of Burley as a "wild man." He intimates, "Burley's wildness was in his refusal, or his inability, to live within other people's expectations." Ann has come face to face with expectations in the past, and it was perhaps her wildness that gave her the courage to follow her dignity when it led her beyond the expectations of her social milieu. I, for one, am grateful that she had the wildness and fortitude to defy societal taboos and divorce, in order to raise Amy and J.J. as her dignity demanded. She did great work! She has also come to face to face with the expectations of numbers. In her fight over the years against the persistent enemy of cancer, she has demonstrated her wildness thoroughly, laughing at numbers that spoke against her. And now, part of her doctor's task is to set her expectations concerning her body. They seek to set her expectations regarding that beast called death. When faced with the choice of giving in to the expectations of doctors, statistics and odds, she has responded with the same feisty refusal to live within other people's expectations that she seems to have passed on to her grandson, Connor. She continues to give life to those around her. She flies in the face of expectations as if to say, "You can tell me what you want, but I'm going to live." For her, life is more than the avoidance of death, it is gaining interest on the opportunities that we have to give life to others. Living her life as she has, she appropriates those immortal words of John Donne, "Death, thou shalt die!"

Ma, we love and cherish you! Hugs, kisses and "marijuana music"! :)

Monday, June 7, 2010


Thanks to my 80 minute round trip to and from work each day, I find myself with ample time to reflect upon the state of the world. Like any good freeway highbrow, I have come to believe that I have indeed discovered the root of all of the worriment that plagues humanity.

Alright, that's probably an overstatement. I do believe that I have firgured out why there seem to be so many unhappy s.o.b.s in the world however.

I have come to believe that the genesis of many of our societal issues stems from our relentless struggle to project a socially "acceptable" or esteemed appearance rather than our true dispositions. Now, I'm not suggesting that by focusing on revealing our true selves all of our complications will dissipate. What I am suggesting is that we would all be aware of what we were getting ourselves in to with each other, and that's a start.

I have had the incredible good fortune of being close with a few outstanding people who have lived their lives each day dispensing the gift of their natural selves. While some who have crossed their paths have not appreciated their honest constitutions, most have loved them beyond measure.

My mom is one of these people. She has lived her life free of pretense and I have realized how amazing it has been to behold. My mom speaks impulsively, offering up an honest assessment of any given situation, most times regardless of whether or not she had been asked. With most people, offering up an unabashed opinion or comment would be graceless and lumbering. With my mom, it is usually pleasing and strengthening. This is her natural flow.

It has been amazing to watch this principle in action as this process has unfolded. With each new nurse or doctor that enters the fold, my mom is ready with a extraordinary greeting. It has been amusing to see the looks on the nurses' faces when they meet my mom for the first time and she says things like, "Hey Beautiful, aren't you cute?" or "You are gorgeous. You look like you should be on that Gray show. You know, the one about the hospitals? You are much cuter than those girls." They usually smile awkwardly at first, but after mere moments, you would swear that they were old friends of hers, laughing and giggling.

Even more amusing has been watching my mom talk to the male doctors. She is prone to using cursory words to describe the imposing procedures she is facing. For instance, when referring to the utilization of radiation to remove her brain tumor, my mom distills this complex scientific wonder down to either "Zap" or "The Zappy Thingy." I have seen some doctors seem exasperated with this type of description at first. The internal dialouge must sound something like, "I have gone hundreds of thousands of dollars in to debt, spent years of my life in school, and you are referring to my expertise as, 'Zap?'" By the end of most of their visits, the sheer force of my mom's personality has disarmed these doctor's to the point where they have dropped any semblance of intellectual superiority and have usually adopted her description of the process. I can't help but wonder if any of them have visited their next patient and lost some of their patient's confidence by utilizing my mom's terms. "Good afternoon Mr. Jones. After reviewing the film of your latest CAT Scan, I am fully confident that by employing The Zappy Thingy procedure, we will be able to remove this mass." My mom has ended an increasing number of her counsultations with requests for a kiss from her doctors. Requests which have evolved into directives as the days have passed. While none have obliged to date, I think that she is wearing them down.

It is her confidence in herself, her ability to offer her true self in the face of so much charade that makes me esteem her. I wish I had her courage. I am thankful that I have been treated to the experience of knowing and loving her. Even more, I am thankful that I have been treated to the experience of being loved by her. Because it is love that is without constraint and with the utmost fidelity.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


There was nothing cooler than knowing that Jen and I were headed to Wheaton for the weekend. I'd had my time with Amy, knowing that we were older and had LOTS OF IMPORTANT STUFF TO TALK ABOUT, which usually meant the two of us sprawled out on her bed with our yearbooks, dissecting which boys were hot, which ones we "liked," which ones liked us (well that was more of Amy's category, LOL) and then playing various games of MASH to figure out who we would marry. These are EXTREMELY important things to girls of our age.

In the meantime, our spastic younger siblings would undoubtedly be A) destroying something, B) running around... a LOT, C) sitting under the kitchen table or D) bothering our EXTREMELY important boy rundown.

One weekend, the skies greyed very quickly and the winds picked up. It got very scary outside and Annie told us to get away from the windows. I was nothing short of terrified. Other than nuclear war (these were the early 80s, after all, and I admittedly had an amusing and terrifying list of phobias) but second to mushroom clouds were funnel clouds on my list of unholy fears.

I believe that I retreated behind a couch, cried, and started saying "Hail Mary"s and wishing that my parents were there.

Annie eventually found me and scooped me up in a big sympathetic hug, saying, "Oh honey, you're not used to these DuPage storms. You're going to be all right." Then we sat and watched the storms and she kept an eye on me and I was a lot less afraid.

A few years ago, I was at my therapist appointment in Glen Ellyn when the sirens started going off. Ann (my therapist) suggested that we head to the basement. We continued my session in the stairwell. I can remember thinking, "Oh, it's just the DuPage storms. I'm used to them now. I'll be all right."

I don't care what age you are, it always feels really nice to know that someone like Annie is keeping an eye on you, and more importantly, making you feel safe.

Thank you, Auntie Annie, for making your friendly yet neurotic little companion REALLY happy to be leaning on you that day. I love you!