Tag Archives: losing both parents

In Memoriam: Papa Glen

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Just to make sure readers don’t jump to conclusions upon reading two memorial essays side-by-side: no, my parents did not die within a week of each other, but seven years apart. I decided it would be appropriate and right to include this memorial essay for my father as a companion piece to the one I wrote for my mom. I had not published it here before, in large part because I wrote it almost a year before I started blogging, but perhaps also because I knew there would come a day not so far into the future when I would write one for Mother as well, and that there might be an occasion to publish both of them together.

It’s a profound thing to find yourself at some stage in your life without parents. I feel fortunate to have had them in my life for so long, but I think it’s true that losing your parents is difficult at any age. I suspected I would feel suddenly unmoored and alone, sourceless. I worried about losing touch with my brothers and my sister. I don’t feel that way, and I’m no longer worried. Even though it’s not always possible, I know that the declining health of parents has the capacity to bring families together, to act as a spark toward stronger family cohesion. That’s what happened for us and I’m confident that our newly discovered cohesion will continue. And the deaths of our parents can also be an inspiration to reflect more deeply than ever about our source, our origins, our histories. As it turns out, what I ended up saying about both my mother and my father in their respective eulogies is that their deaths on this earth, the ending of their corporeal form does not even begin to finish or complete their work in our lives. They are with us, now and always. And these two essays, one for Mama Shirley and this one for Papa Glen, have helped me to realize that fact and to proclaim it.

So I offer up the following remembrance, written and spoken in October of 2010, as a celebration of my father’s life alongside my mother’s, as a window into the life of my family for whoever might be interested, and as a comfort, perhaps, for people in grief for a lost father.

 

Dad: a eulogy for Louis Glen Jarmer
Delivered Saturday, October 23, 2010 at St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church

First of all I’d like to say what an honor it is to have been asked by my family to speak at this service. It is truly an honor. As ludicrous as it is to sum up a life, to describe a man in less than ten minutes, here is my best shot, out of my own head, but with a little help from my friends, at a description of Dad, a portrait of Louis Glen Jarmer.

He was a tolerant man.

He put up with 10 plus years of my drumming—it must have been bad drumming at first, and even when it wasn’t bad—it was always loud—one or two rooms away. He never told me to stop playing.

He was supportive.

He came to all of my school plays and concerts once he was retired. He didn’t make it to as many of Rick’s football games while he was working—but Rick remembers one in particular where Dad’s unflinching support for his son was evidenced by a wager with Uncle Jerry for a bottle of Scotch.

More recently, Dad’s support for Rick was demonstrated by an enthusiastic greeting at the airport as Rick and Laurie welcomed two lovely Russian children into the family.

And many, many years ago, he took a week off work to stay with Jan when Tim, her third child, was born.

Dad was generous and thoughtful.

Rick remembers as a kid being able to rummage through Dad’s lunch bag for goodies at the end of his work day.

She was in the 7th grade, and Dad surprised Jan with a beautiful aqua dress, nylons and patent leather shoes for her confirmation ceremony, apparently after Mom had said no.

Dad brought home fancy Valentine’s Day Gifts from See’s Candy downtown. And the Easter baskets, hidden in one of four closets in the house, were legendary—not the hiding, but the baskets.

He let me order records from his record club—the first records in my collection, the ones I hadn’t stolen from my brothers and sister, were gifts from Dad.

He volunteered countless hours at Providence Hospital—was, in fact, for a time, the President of the Ladies Auxiliary! He also spent countless hours volunteering, with Mom, for this church—collecting money, countless hours counting money—I don’t think he took any of it.

He was honest

To a fault, he was honest. Wouldn’t let himself shortchange anybody a nickel—would probably drive back to the store if he realized he had accidentally taken such advantage—he never took advantage.

He was just.

I have not a single memory of being treated unfairly by my father—not even in that mistaken sense that children sometimes have about the discipline or judgment meted out by parents. I never felt slighted by the man in the least bit. Even when things were tough in my life and I was making poor decisions, his reactions were measured and thoughtful. He spanked me once and I think I deserved it.

And my brother Rick recalls being fired for being drunk on the job and Dad having to come pick him up—the consequences spoke for themselves: Dad didn’t say a word. No criticism. No judgment.

He was adventurous

In his 70’s, no less, camping with Dave and Tina, Cecil and Marion and their family, the report is that he went on a kind of unsupervised joyride on Dave’s ATV. He had the time of his life, apparently, but it made Dave and Tina so nervous they had to ban him from the vehicle for the rest of his days unless he had proper supervision.

He was a trickster: the first time he played chess with me—he said he didn’t know how to play—let me teach him the game, and then proceeded to kick my ass.

Glen Jarmer was a sober man—meaning he was very serious. Stoic, we say about this kind of man. Never complained. Was pretty tight-lipped. Not very emotional. Not a sentimental man—although I found once a love poem to mom in a hope chest. Outside of these occasional bursts of feeling, yes, indeed, he was a sober man, except when he wasn’t.

He was a good drinker: To my knowledge he never got sick and he always drank responsibly. And he was funny and lively and silly—and this is not a pro-drinking eulogy—I know there are some young people in the church today—but I have to say that we saw in Dad, on a couple of Martinis, endearing and positive traits that his normal inhibitions prevented us from seeing on a day-to-day basis. So we got to know him a little better: Dad with a drink in his hand was a man that you wanted to be with—just as Dad without a drink in his hand was a man you wanted to be with.

He was a learner. I think he did much more than look at the pictures in National Geographic—and just a few years ago, he tackled five or six hundred pages of a book by Bill Bryson called A Short History of Nearly Everything—a kind of crash course in every field of science known to man. Dad was curious. He wanted to know things.

Louis Glen Jarmer was loyal—to wife, to children, to friends, to right-action, and to church. I think maybe this last year was the first year in his life he missed a mass. He was loyal to the Corp of Engineers—but that must not have been as important to him—to this day, none of us can really say what it was Dad did for a living!

What have I forgotten? It’s so important not to forget anything.

Here are some things that he loved. He loved the night sky. And he loved the moon, in fact he claimed it as his own. Routinely, family members would say either, there’s “Daddy’s moon” or there’s “Glenny’s moon” in reference to it, especially when it was in the full.

He loved candy.

He loved good food. And he loved to cook—I have more memories of my dad in the kitchen than in any other room of the house.

He loved his home. He did not want to leave it.

He loved his country. He served it honorably, twice. He wasn’t out there waving flags—his patriotism was quiet and purposeful; he cared deeply about what happened in the United States of America and he took his responsibilities as a citizen very seriously.

He loved nature. He loved the natural world, mountains, trees, the desert, the ocean. He loved to hunt; thankfully, he only killed a couple of things. He loved animals—the majestic, beautiful, strange, dangerous ones—interestingly enough he was never really fond of household pets—but tolerated them for the sake of his family and maybe showed some affection from time to time, when no one was looking, for a dog or a cat.

He loved to camp and taught all of his children this. I bought an Airstream, because it’s an Airstream, but mostly because I wanted to share with my son what Daddy shared with me: his love of the outdoors and his love of camping.

And he loved us. As far as I can tell, his last words in this life, before going into surgery the last time to repair that havoc in his body, were “I love you guys,” and then later, when it was becoming clear to all of us that he would not be getting better this time, he said “I love you” to Mom. His last words—maybe his last coherent thoughts: an expression of love.

I knew him imperfectly, I know. And I knew him differently than my brothers and my sister and my mother and all of you knew him. I wish I could have known him better and in all of the ways that we know him collectively—and I wish I could have said thank you. Thank you for being such a great father. I love him. And I miss him already. But he is always here. He is not gone, really. Every time I look in the mirror, or in the faces of my family or in the face of my son, I will see him.

Dad chose to die on a beautiful day; it was sunny and warm on that day. Dad chose kind of a yucky day for his funeral. I think there’s something to that.

I want to close with a poem by Mary Oliver that expresses in the finest way that I have ever seen what I hope my father may have felt about dying, and what I would hope all of us feel about it, when our time comes.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in Autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measel-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

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,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

–Mary Oliver

Louis Glen Jarmer was no mere visitor to this world. He really lived here. His legacy is lasting and positive. He changed the world in his way. We are forever grateful for the gift of his life.

 

 

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In Memoriam: Mama Shirley

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A Eulogy for Shirley Elaine Jarmer, Delivered Saturday, June 10, 2017 at St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church:

Friends, Jarmers, and Kidds. On behalf of our family, I thank you all for being here today. But we need to stop meeting like this.

Once again, I have the great honor and responsibility of sharing with you remembrances of a dearly beloved parent, family member, and friend on her passing. What I tried to do seven years ago for my Daddy I will try now to do for Mama, Shirley Elaine Jarmer.

She was a remarkable woman. Although, sadly, I know little about my mother’s childhood, I know she was a dedicated daughter, loved her parents deeply. She was a high school dropout who nevertheless had beautiful penmanship and serious skills in writing and math. She was a loving and super young mother of three. The fourth child came late—that would be me, not a mistake, she said, but a surprise. Pregnant with me, I heard a story recently that Mom just couldn’t believe it—“How did this happen to me?” she said.

She became, perhaps before it was acceptable to do so, a working mother. But that’s a dumb thing to say, after all, because what mother is not hard at work all the time. No, I mean she was employed outside the home in the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s. She worked at Berg’s department store, she took receptionist jobs at an insurance company and for Jarmer Electric, she did a stint in textiles for a division of the White Stag brand, and she was a checker in Fred Meyer apparel. I think Mom worked so she could have an independent income all her own—to raise what she might call FUNNY MONEY. Because Dad was kind of a penny pincher. In her retirement she worked less for herself and more for others: she did volunteer work with the Providence Hospital Lady’s Auxiliary, worked the gift shop, and later she counted money every Sunday for this sacred institution, the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

Earlier, I called Shirley a loving mother—kind of a cliché suitable for probably any mother who loves her kids, but I remember Mom as going the extra mile in the love department. She was kind, gentle, comforting, welcoming, and caring. I knew my father loved me, but mama’s love was huge and expressed with freedom and tenderness, with kisses, hugs, pets, and food. I think a general and all-capital SWEETNESS was a trait she shared with her sister Beverly and one that I see reflected in Beverly’s daughter Suzanne. Shirley was sweetness embodied and she loved her children, but she loved her grandchildren and her extended family; she loved her friends as well, and she shared her sweetness with all.

And she was an adoring wife to Dad. She took such good, loving care of him. I remember Mom washing his hair in the kitchen sink—which must have been difficult for a woman of her stature—massaging his head and shoulders in the evening as he sat on the floor in front of her in a chair before the fire or listening to music together. She took good care of him in his final difficult year. She treasured him. “My Daddy”—she called him this—she lovingly referred to him chiefly as the father of her children, and even though I know she loved him in lots of other ways, perhaps she cherished him most because of this.

Her last request: I want to be with my Daddy.

Mom demonstrated to me every single day Dad was alive, and even after, what a strong marriage could look like.

Mom was full of personality. Everybody loved Shirley. She lit up a room—or a campground. She was the life of the party. She was super funny, could be very silly and she had a penchant for baby talk, one she kept up until the very end, speaking to her favorite nurses in a childlike, playful way, even in the last days of her life. She had a seriously dominant cuteness gene, a gene she passed on, I must admit, to at least one of her children. You’d never know it looking at me—but I can baby talk with the best of them.

Part of her dynamic personality included her way with words, or at least, with particular words or phrases used often and to great effect. She had, for example, several alternatives for swearing.

“For crying out loud,” she’d say. A more extreme variation and therefore my favorite: “For crying in a bucket!”

And here’s an odd one: When frustrated or angry she’d say: “Manischewitz!” (I only just recently, like within the last few weeks, learned the origin of this word. Did you know this? It’s the last name of a Rabbi who at the end of the 19th century founded a company that would produce kosher food and wine. Who knows why she picked up the habit of using this poor Rabbi’s name in vain; we’ll never know).

When things were wrong or went badly: “This is the pits! This is just the pits!” I heard Aunt Marian say this as she visited mom the night before Shirley died. Marian speculated that maybe she picked up the habit of that phrase from our mom).

Another one of my favorite Mom expressions along these same lines: “This is for the birds!”—This particular idiom is a puzzler—I’m not sure what it means: whatever bad thing that just happened, I guess, is good for birds somehow? It’s certainly not good for us but might be fitting for birds, because, you know, birds are okay with almost everything?

And last but not least: “I can’t believe it.” Like when she was pregnant with me: “How did this happen? I can’t believe it.” This one fascinates me. It’s probably the phrase she used more than any other. And I think it represents this part of her personality—she was just always mystified by the unexpected, both the good and the bad, puzzled when people did great or stupid or terrible things or when things went horribly wrong in her circle or in the world. “I just can’t believe it.” She preferred things in order. And she liked it when one thing followed the next in a logical reasoned sequence. She liked things, people, and events to be neat and tidy. Consequently, because things, people, and events are rarely neat and tidy, she said she couldn’t believe it a lot. “I just can’t believe it.”

Finally, her choice of nicknames for people, most frequent of which was the mutation of the family name: Jama! If you were a Jarmer and you were in some kind of mischief, she’d playfully call you Jama. If you weren’t a Jarmer and you were in some kind of mischief you were still a Jama. Everybody was a Jama. And if you weren’t a Jarmer or a Jama, you were a farmer, and if you weren’t a farmer, you were a Charley. I have no idea where this came from. For a time she was calling everybody Charley.

She had a special nickname for her son-in-law Kevin. He was her “favorite son-in-law.” Quite an honor—a coveted, highly competitive post. (Just in case the joke is lost on you: Kevin was Mom’s only son-in-law).

But, in keeping with her general sweetness, she also called EVERYONE honey, dear, sweetheart, or punkin (my phonetic spelling of mama’s “pumpkin”).  Everybody was a honey or a punkin. And everyone, no matter what size, was little. A little punkin. A little honey. That little doctor. My little daddy. My little David. And not wanting to offend anyone, she would always think of some gentle way to describe what a person might be sensitive about. Her last doctor, a bald guy, she described as being “short of hair.”

She loved playing games with her family, mostly cards, gin rummy, progressive rummy, Uno, or Crazy 8’s. The story goes that she stayed up until 1:00 a.m. playing Crazy 8’s with her niece Kate, yelling “Wild Baby” every time an 8 was played, keeping everybody else in the house awake. She loved a moderate and conservative round of gambling. She loved a good meal and hated a bad one. Like Dad, she loved her martinis. She loved camping. She loved animals, was probably the sole reason why we ever had a pet in the house—and we always did. She loved “swimming” or rather, floating in the pool that mom and dad built. She loved to look good. Loved a good hairdo. She loved beauty—from her fancy jewelry to her funny little dancing solar windowsill toys of which she had acquired quite a collection, and flowers. As far as I can tell, as she looked at the bouquet we had brought from the hospital to her room in hospice, her last coherent words were “they’re so pretty.”

In closing out this remembrance, this portrait of mama Shirley, I’d like to conclude by saying that mom was a woman of values:

One of her chief values I’ve already discussed: Loving kindness. And acceptance, tolerance—she welcomed all into her home—and I think she evolved a great deal as our family diversified; she evolved way beyond the intolerance of the culture in which she grew up.

She valued honesty and responsibility—even if it takes a long, long time, 50 years maybe, one must be truthful and accountable. She was forgiving and forgiven in bountiful measure.

She valued gratitude. She exuded gratitude; she was appreciative, always thankful for what other people gave to her or did for her: She didn’t want to trouble anyone. To a fault, she didn’t want her issues, whether physical, emotional, or moral, to be anybody else’s burden, so she was often tight lipped when it came to describing her own pain or sorrow, but she was always grateful when someone helped her out—and said so. “Thank you,” she’d say.

Last, she valued family.

Even if we have no right to do so, it makes sense that we do it: we try to make meaning—we interpret the behaviors of our loved ones—especially in these crucial last moments, to help us make sense of, to add meaning to the ends of their lives. And this is what I noticed about Mom —Mama waited to die until she could spend a full night with each of her children in succession; Rick, Jan, Dave, and I were all able to be with her for an entire night over the last four nights of her life—and she waited to die until she could spend the last moments with her only surviving immediate family member, her brother Bill.

Among all the tremendous gifts of life and love she gave to us all, what a gift she gave to us here—giving each of us in turn an opportunity to say goodbye in our own way. Thoughtful, considerate, and selfless to the very last. That was our mama, your grandma, your auntie Shirley, your sister, your friend, your parishioner.

From Rumi, the 13th century Persian mystic poet: “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”

Godspeed, mama Shirley. You will always be with us in every moment of every waking day, in our memory, in our hearts and souls, and even in the sweetest of our dreams.

Postscript: Tremendous gratitude from us, Shirley’s children, to Aunt Marian, Suzanne and Gene, Uncle Bill and Aunt Leslie for being with us and with mom steadfastly through the last few weeks. You have been a tremendous help and comfort.

 

 

 

 

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