In May of 1924, Eleanor “Lori” Lyons was born. From there, things got interesting.
A devout Catholic, Eleanor had four daughters and three sons before deciding that enough was enough, although she rescinded that decree for a while in order to raise her oldest grandson herself. This bounty of children was sufficient to ensure that she had well over fifteen grandkids, and even a pair of great-grand children. She read from the Bible and the works of great theologians constantly, preached of peace and forgiveness, and nursed a feud with her own sister that lasted over thirty years. She had the instinctive and utterly unconscious racism of her time (“stay away from that area of town, it’s dangerous. That’s where the hispanics live”), and yet her best friends for two decades were the Latino neighbors next door. She was a force of nature in most ways, but she could be pulled around (literally) by a twenty pound dog. She had so many kids she tended to cycle through names when addressing someone, “Listen, Denis, I mean Tom, I mean Matt, I mean Arnold, I mean Mike.” Yes, she included the dog in her list of ‘male names’ when trying to find the right name.
She believed some fairly outrageous things, but she also believed in the capacity for people to be good, if they tried. She took an utterly screwed-up kid and turned him into an adult that is at least well-adjusted enough to fake it in society. She loved her children, even when they didn’t get along. She cried whenever she got into arguments with them. She wanted to make peace, even when she didn’t know how to reach out.
She was in poor health as long as I knew her. Some of it was psychosomatic and hypochondria at work, but much of it was not. Despite this, she kept going and going. She was a stubborn juggernaut of a woman: disease and pain might slow her down but by God it would not stop her. She went to Church as often as she could. She went to the market, even if she had to take a taxi and she walked so slowly that it took her an hour to purchase ten items. She was frail, but immortal.
For the last few years. she needed more help. She lived in a nursing home a couple of miles from her house. She struggled with the concept of the ‘cell phone’ so she could keep in contact with her kids. Advances in technology were never her strong suit: she never once used the Macintosh computer I gave her, instead preferring to write her letters on a thirty-year-old electric typewriter until they simply stopped making ink ribbons for the thing. But she gamely tried to learn the cell phone, and when she needed to, she asked others to make her calls for her. She wasn’t going to let a simple thing like lack of understanding interfere with her life.
Three days ago, they discovered that her kidneys had failed. Her children put aside squabbles and drove or flew out to be with her, although she was on morphine for pain and never really woke up for the last two days. On the second day, she stopped breathing and the nurses told everyone ‘it is time.’ Of course, that’s not how Eleanor rolled, as the saying goes. She started breathing again, just to prove the nurses wrong. Stubborn to the end.
Late last night, she opened her eyes for the first time in two days. Her daughter Theresa was holding her hand. They looked at each other, and then Eleanor passed away.
As with so many things, I think the Bard said it best. “Good night,” and “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Good-bye, Gram. I love you, and will miss you terribly.
RIP Eleanor Lyons, May 4, 1924 – December 1, 2011.