Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Obituary for Virginia A. Flaherty

Viriginia A. Flaherty, loving daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, grandmother, and loyal friend, passed away June 6, 2011 at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

She was born October 28, 1929 to August and Viola (Nesheim) Zibell. The oldest child, she developed a fierce independence and resilience on the family farm. She left home to begin work and find her own life. An intensely private woman, Virginia loved beautiful blue things, mystery novels, cooking, and gardening. She knew that one little ingredient like cinnamon could change the whole meal and one flower the personality of a garden.

On November 2, 1957 she married William A. Flaherty, a navigator in the United States Air Force. She was a wonderful military wife: proud, loyal, and beautiful. “Mrs. Flaherty” traveled the world, learned about other cultures, and forged a special bond with Bill that seemed rooted in a strong sense of humor. Together they also shared a passion for wildlife, the beauty of an open meadow, the trailing of a hawk as it hovered above the car, and, of course, their beloved German shepherds.

First and foremost, however, Virginia was a mother. She loved her boys Andrew Charles and Michael August; Andy’s curiosity, his teaching and writing inspired her and Mike’s incredible parenting skills and his strong work ethic pleased her. She cared deeply for her grandchildren Mark and Mitchell; she loved watching them grow and had a fierce, protective pride for them.

In 1971 she moved with her family to Cambridge, Wisconsin to be nearer her brothers and sisters. She was employed at the Cambridge News and Printing for several years. She joined the Rockdale Lutheran church and was an active participant in its women’s organizations, acting as secretary and treasurer when needed. Virginia had a quiet faith and a love of old hymns that began when singing harmony with her mother at the kitchen sink.

Virginia is survived by her two sons, Andrew and Michael; 2 grandsons, Mark and Mitchell; brother Phil Zibell (wife Betty); sister Carol (husband Steve Hemersbach); sister Sandy (husband Steve Elmer); sister Suzie; and several nieces, nephews, and cousins, and was especially close to Stephen and Sarah. She was preceded in death by her husband Bill, brother Rolland, and her parents.

In keeping with her privacy, Virginia requested that there be no memorial service. She did request that all who knew and loved her step outside, pause, and contemplate the beauty around them. Her wish was that everyone find the everyday sacred around them and be grateful. Perhaps consider these words from the poem “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver:

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular.

Cards/donations to her beloved Rockdale Lutheran Church may be sent to:

Andy Flaherty
5320 N. Sheridan, 1201
Chicago, Illinois 60640

Funeral Letter for Miss Kay

May 1, 2011

Dear Friends and Family of Kay Lovell,

Times like these reveal how incomplete words are as they cannot embody a whole person. However, I will try to use words as luminous as Paula and Patti’s story of Kay’s passing: the single tear rolling down her right cheek as they read to her. It was Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross who said so eloquently, “Love reminds us again and again to let go of the mind and die into the heart.” It is in this spirit of love that I offer you, her family and friends, some thoughts about the Kay Lovell I came to know.

In July of last year, Miss Kay opened a door, and I stepped through it. What I said to her in my first letter was that an adopted child, no matter how loved, has a space in his/her heart that remains unfilled. Yes, I had wondered about her, her circumstances and her life after my birth. With this first correspondence began a flurry of letters, phone calls, and two visits. The five days we spent together changed our lives forever and took us to places we had never planned. We soldered together what was once severed. Like death, such a rekindling was not simple, and it took our hearts, our breath away.

I do not pretend to know Kay Lovell as well as you, but the photograph on my table reveals a lovely, bodacious, intelligent, and courageous woman. We shared a love of texture and color, art and music, poetry. We also shared an illness, an illness whose successful treatment required lifelong service to other alcoholics and addicts. Without question, I learned in this short time with her that our common recovery and common blood sustained each of us despite a separation across countless miles and a half century. At one point during my second visit, the lovely silver linked bracelet clinked as Miss Kay reached for my hand; her gesture confirmed that we were and had always been kindred spirits on a parallel journey.

Miss Kay and I taught one another how to begin anew. As I moved through the landscape of Batesville, tucked as it is between the hugging hills of sand and rock at the base of the Ozarks, I came to realize that identity is cradled, too, by its surroundings. Shaped by circumstance, one’s sense of self is not a perfect art, but a malleable sentience. Miss Kay knew that her decision to put me up for adoption would have powerful, far-reaching implications. Miss Kay surely knew that her parents were profoundly saddened when their first grandchild was given away. But Miss Kay also knew that the sweetest joys often nestle within the walls of the deepest pain. As hard as it must have been, her act of selflessness transformed other lives. You cannot imagine the true love that my adoptive mother felt for Miss Kay, and the great gift Kay gave her: “If only she would have found you earlier, I would have gladly shared,” she has said repeatedly.

Although I enjoyed her vivid memories of Washington, DC, working with Aunt Clara, a happy childhood with her parents and sister Norma, her love affair with clothes and jewelry, and our common desire to spend money, I most admired her stories of courage. Miss Kay endured more omnipresent pain than most of us can ever imagine, but the courage to reach out and share her story with me, transcended the pain. Through these stories, I re-learned from Miss Kay that to live in love is to let go of the problems of the mind: a story does not always need to make sense to be accepted by the heart.
I love reading about alchemy, and I shared this love with Kay: how lead turns to gold, how failure turns to success, how insanity becomes sanity, how darkness turns to light. Is this not grace? During a conversation she said, “I need some light.” At first I felt sadness, but then I came to understand how truly strange this alchemy thing is. By embracing what was in front of us we arrived at an understanding that life is too short to do otherwise. Wonderfully, miraculously, inconceivably, sadness turned to joy as I witnessed her courage, felt her strength. Her darkness gave me light, and my light lessened her shadows.

In closing, thank you all for surrounding Miss Kay at the different stages in her life – from my own experiences with family and friends I know that this can at times be difficult given the nuances of our individual histories. It is never simple. I can, however, assure you that I am there with you today in the spirit of her courage, her sense of humor, and her lopsided grin; there is no doubt that I am my mother’s son.

It is my hope that you will move gracefully into the spiritual realm of memory. During my Christmas visit to Batesville, I happened upon a poem by Ruth Stone, entitled, “Train Ride”:

All things come to an end;
small calves in Arkansas,
the bend of the muddy river.
Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever.
They go on forever, the swamp,
the vine-choked cypress, the oaks
rattling last year’s leaves,
the thump of the rails, the kite,
the still white stilted heron.
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.

Thank you, Miss Kay, for opening that door. I am so grateful that you welcomed me back into your life. I will remember you, Miss Kay, next to your orange and red ranunculus in the flowered chair, teaching me all about life everlasting.


Andrew, Kay’s son