Helen's 95th birthday, 4/24/08.Some of you may know that my husband and I lost his mother (my mother-in-law) on February 12th. She died at 12:12 a.m. on February 12th of congestive heart failure, in hospice, at home, after struggling since October with pneumonia and related health issues, and we buried her yesterday after a 10 a.m. mass held at St. Anne’s Church in East Moline, Illinois.

Prior to the funeral, there was a visitation at Van Hoe Funeral Home. The family was told to arrive at 2:30 p.m.; the visitation dragged on until 7 p.m. Father Greg performed the ceremony and did a great job. Many of Grandma Wilson’s (as she was known to her great granddaughters Ava & Elise, age 5) few still-living friends came to either the funeral or the visitation, and many more friends of the Wilson family, in general, came to pay their respects.

For someone who would have been 96 on April 24th, it was a great turn-out.

Her three children (Craig, Regina and Mark) were present with the grandchildren: Scott (46); Megan (28); Matthew (26); Stacey (26); Michael (23); and Hannah (20). Grandchild Emma (22) is studying at the University in Limerick, Ireland in a program from the Rochester Institute of Technology, so was unable to attend. There were many flowers, donations to St. Anne’s Church, and I wore “the diva coat” (white mink) she gifted me with at least a decade ago, saying, at the time, “I think you’re the only one in the family this will fit.” I said that I felt like Grandma was hugging me from heaven and my new prescription sunglasses (LaCoste frames) contributed to the “Who’s that behind those Foster grants?” feeling.

Believe me, when it’s -20, you want to be wearing a fur coat! This winter has been particularly brutal, both physically and emotionally. Caring for Grandma at home since 2 days before Thanksgiving, my husband became the chief Night Shift and spent nearly every night sleeping there. Her youngest grandchild, Hannah, came home from college and provided some respite during her college break from Western Illinois University, which was great. Daughter Regina and son Mark (from St. Louis) were present with her during her final week, and Craig and I were there nearly every day, along with 2 lovely ladies who formed the “day shift,” Lynn and Doris.

Grandma had hip transplants in 1986 (November 15, 1986). One hip was totally out of the socket and the other she was able to perch on for only brief periods, so helping her to the rest room and administering showers, etc., was challenging. It was difficult to get her into the walk-in shower we installed (tearing out the tub) and, at the end, she was bedridden. She quit taking all pills (about 13 a day), with the exception of the Lasix pills to keep the fluid from building up around her lungs.

Helen’s “long, slow fade to black” really started approximately October 20th and lasted for not quite 4 months, with hospitalization for pneumonia followed by a period of time at Illini Restorative Care until she returned home 2 days before Thanksgiving. Grandma would have been 96 on April 24 (born 1918). She had been a widow for 22 years, with her husband of nearly 50 years, Kenny (Samuel Kenneth), dying Feb. 10, 1992, only 2 days before Grandma’s date of death.

The parish priest said that there had been a rash of funerals where too many people got up to speak and said inappropriate things. Only one speaker would be allowed, and he should not speak more than 5 minutes and be “appropriate.”

Grandma Wilson had told her oldest grandchild (of 7), my son, Scott, that she thought it was so lovely when a grandchild had eulogized his grandmother at a funeral she had attended many years prior. Scott (age 46) had eulogized my own mother in 2003, along with her 2 other grandsons, Chris and John Castelein, and he did a beautiful job. Pall bearers for Helen were her 3 grandsons (Scott, Matthew and Michael Wilson), my nephew Chris Castelein, Tim Daebelliehn (Wendy’s younger brother), Dan Rowe (son of their long-time neighbors Lou and Anne Rowe) and Honorary Pallbearer Joe Daebelliehn, Jr.

Scott, who was born in 1968, was the sole grandchild for 18 years. It wasn’t until 1986 that Helen’s youngest child, Mark, 12 years younger than brother Craig and a resident of St. Louis with his wife Wendy, had Megan, now 28, and that was the second of the seven grandchildren. But, for 18 years, it was just Scott and his Grandmother Wilson. She took him everywhere and people would remark on his curly hair and say, “He’s too pretty to be a boy.” Scott was a very happy and malleable child and Grandma was smitten. She used to say to her friends with many, many grandchildren, “Quality, not quantity.” I think Scott’s entry on the scene sealed my place in the family, as, otherwise, she had selected a different girl for Craig. (And, yes, I know who it was).

So, Scott eulogized Grandmother Helen at her funeral and Stacey, his 19-years-younger sister wrote a poem to go along with the playing of Grandma’s favorite song, “Unforgettable,” as her casket was wheeled from the church.

We loved you, Helen, and we miss you already.

EULOGY for Helen Wilson on Saturday, February 15, 2012.

“I’m Helen’s oldest grandson and the son of Connie and Craig.

Grandma was truly unforgettable.

She was the core of a wonderful family that she raised and stayed close with for her entire life. She helped to shape who I am as a person.

To me, she was easily the coolest Grandma around. With her Oakley sunglasses and her vodka tonics, she would prompt you to grab a beer, pull up a chair and play some poker. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

I will admit that I am completely spoiled when it comes to Grandmothers. I had two of the best and had both of them with me into their 90’s. I’ve also had the honor to be able to represent my family to speak on their behalf at each of their funerals. I am also blessed that my twin 5-year-old girls were able to spend time with Grandma and really bond with her. It makes me happy to know they will have lasting memories of the time they spent with their Great Grandma Wilson.

The main thing I can say about Grandma was the extreme JOY that emanated from her. She was just so pleasant to be around and didn’t have an enemy in the world. You could talk to her about anything. She was a straight, no-nonsense shooter and extremely thoughtful, considerate, caring and kind and warm-hearted. The list goes on and on…

When I look back and reflect, it will be on all the little things about her that I will remember the most:

The way she treated everyone like they were part of the family.

Her GREAT memory, even to the very end, bringing up high school or college friends of mine by name and asking how they were doing, decades later.

She LOVED Guy Lombardo—not so much Lawrence Welk.

She was the opposite of a pack rat. She gave everything away! You’d have to scrounge around to find a proper pot or pan to cook a meal, as she’d given most of them away. I just learned that she had burned her wedding dress in the incinerator—it was taking up too much space. In the last week or so, when she was bedridden at home and unable to really communicate, my father told me that he would turn on the Guy Lombardo Show on TV for her to listen to and enjoy. I asked, “Why didn’t you take her CD player in to play her big band CD’s that she loved?”

He said, “I would have, but I didn’t realize that she donated all her CD’s and donated her CD player, too!”

I’ll miss sharing ice cream with her after packing up her favorite turtle sundae from Whitey’s.

The way she used to remind me that “nothing good happens after midnight.”

Her wonderful china paintings that decorated her house.

Her beloved hat pin collection that she gathered over the better part of a century. (She eventually got rid of that, too!)

I LOVED that delightful relaxed voice and the way she pronounced things, like “Mundee,” and “Tuesdee” and “Wednesdee”. And the way she answered the phone with that wonderful “Haaalow!”

My twins referred to her as “Gentle Grandma” and I am happy that, after her many world travels and her 95 years on Earth, she was able to join Grandpa in heaven the way she always wanted—drifting off in her sleep, in her own home, surrounded by her loving family.

I would like to end with a poem that my sister, Stacey, wrote for her Grandma and asked me to share:

The one that we will miss so much
The one that made us smile
The one that loved to paint, play cards,
In the kitchen, where we’d pile.

The one who loved her family so
And they loved her as much.
The glue that held us all together,
The house where we grew up.

Her gentle, soothing presence,
And her easy-going way.
The times we spent together,
All the games that we would play.

We’ll miss her now but not forget
The way she touched our lives,
And so, today, I want to say
These few but sincere lines.

We had a great time with you, Grandma,
We loved you dearly, so,
We’ll raise our vodka tonics,
And we hate to see you go

Grandma was truly unforgettable.”