A Life Well Lived

My mother, Astrid Linnea Brown, seven years before her death at age 93.

 On October 1, 2020 our dear mother Astrid Linnea Brown passed away. She died of natural causes at the age of 93 years and eleven months. She lived through the last century and this one with an unflappable kindness that family and friends counted on. She spoke humbly and often did not realize how much wisdom was embedded in her comments on everyday life. I miss that voice and know I will begin to hear it rising from within myself.

On the morning  of her last day of life, Christina and I had a brief Zoom call with her. She remembered that Christina recently had cataract surgery and asked how she was doing. Even though she had entered hospice, we had no idea that she would shift from frailty to dying just a few hours later that afternoon. Thanks to technology, my sister, Kathy, who lives nearby, was able to alert and help gather all four of us daughters so we could be present to our mother’s last hour of life. While Kathy held her hand, we other daughters (in Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina) held vigil via Zoom. We shared scripture and music and the promise that we would take care of each other. We gave her permission to let go. As we played Dvorak’s Going Home from the New World Symphony, our mother, the organist, let go of this life and moved on to her next.

Mom’s casket. Three of us daughters, three grandchildren, and five great grandchildren attended a simple graveside service observing Covid protocols, acknowledging that we were each standing in for dozens of family members who could not travel because of the pandemic. Photo by granddaughter Kyle Anderson.

 

Since our father’s death seven years ago, after 65 years of marriage, Mom transferred out of the family home to an assisted living campus near Kathy. My sisters and I phoned her nearly every day for the last couple of years, being especially diligent as she shifted into nursing care and during this time of pandemic isolation. Many times she called us before we reached her. We were her lifeline as her capabilities diminished. It was an honor to have these conversations and shared insights into one another. Mom tackled her last phase of life with the same resilience and steadiness that led her through the birth and raising of four daughters, the arrival of thirteen grandchildren and then 28 great grandchildren.

Susie, Kathy, Mom, Ann, and Margaret on a 2018 trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior.Photo by waitress.

 

She was a classic woman of her generation—wife, mother, community member, and also a talented piano player and church organist. In many ways our mother was the epitome of the American Dream. Her parents both immigrated to this country as teenagers with their Swedish siblings. They were poor and hardworking. Mom lived through the Depression and never forgot the frugality and hard work of those years. She lived her whole life with the values of love, kindness,  and honesty. These are the values that endeared “Astie” to her many descendants. These are the values needed now more than ever in our country. Thank you, mom, for this powerful legacy. We will not forget.

There are so many stories to share when you live as long as our mother did, but the one I  choose to focus on here is how much I learned from her about writing. Her penmanship was impeccable. Her commitment to writing letters was multi-generational. And she always paid attention to the proper use of language!

My immigrant grandmother, Vendla, taught herself to read and write English. She never got back to Sweden to see her family, so she counted on letters as the link to that other life. Mom often spoke about watching her sit down at the dining room table, Swedish/English dictionary at her side, writing those letters.  The imprint was strong. Mom in turn always took time to write her four daughters as we moved far from home. Actually, our father also wrote us letters because his father had written letters to him during his service in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The importance of communicating via the written word remains with us and has been passed on to our children and grandchildren. (In the younger generation texting and email has, of course, often replaced actual letters but the IDEA of writing is deep in the extended Brown family.)

Mom’s writing went beyond letters. In the late 1990s she and her younger sister, Helen, took one of our PeerSpirit writing seminars. I was delighted by the writing  she shared in a group much younger than herself. She joined a writing group when she moved into her long-term care center after dad passed away.

Mom on one of our writing outings.

One of the things I cherished doing with mom when I visited in recent years was driving to a nearby park to be inspired by the beauty of nature. At first she could walk, then she used a walker, and still later I pushed her in a wheelchair. We would sit and look, sometimes read a Mary Oliver poem, and then take some time to write our reflections. It was a beautiful way to witness my quiet, introverted mother as she articulated some of her deeper thoughts.

A sample journal entry by mom

This snippet of her writing that I share here came from a shared moment with my sister, Margaret. After a fall,  mom had been moved from the assisted living wing into the nursing wing. Susie had come earlier to help our local sister, Kathy. Margaret and I arrived to help disassemble her assisted living apartment. Mom, Margaret, and I paused for an afternoon tea break and took a moment of quiet to reflect on the statement at the top of her page: Little things make a big difference.

You see here her beautiful penmanship even at age 92, her appreciation of our presence, and her getting used to the name of the new place that would be her home for the rest of her days. By having parents who lived for so many decades, I have gained a deeper understanding of what it means to live into old age. And I had a chance to internalize what an extraordinary role model my dear mother was for me. I walk now in her footsteps, in my own way, as best I can.

Graveside service bulletin. Photo by granddaughter Kyle Anderson.

82 replies
  1. Deb Lund
    Deb Lund says:

    What sweet memories and stories. I appreciate this glimpse into your mom’s life and see a bit of what makes you such a caring, kind, and quietly strong person. What a gift that you could all be as present as you were during this time. I’m sorry for your loss and already know what an amazing legacy your mom left behind in her Whidbey daughter. Love you…

    Reply
  2. Kristie McLean
    Kristie McLean says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a life well-lived and loved! Thank you for sharing this rich legacy with us. How powerful to shepherd your mother along to the next chapter through prayers, gentle presence and music. Extra blessings and comfort to you all during this poignant time of transition!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Appreciating that warm love and the hug that I know will accompany it when we have the privilege to come together again. Love, Ann

      Reply
  3. Jeanie Robinson
    Jeanie Robinson says:

    Ann,
    The well chosen words make me feel close to your mother. And sad for you. I can hear Dvorak’s lovely song.
    How sweetly you were able to honor her passing,
    Fondly,
    Jeanie
    Loving

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Jeanie. Years ago when we were thinking of songs for dad’s funeral she did not want Dvorak’s “Going Home”. She thought it would make too many people cry. When it came time for our first family musician to pass, her daughters needed to cry. It was the perfect song for all of us.

      Reply
  4. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Dearest Ann…

    Thank you for this lovely tribute to your mother. What a beautiful spirit! To you and Christina, to your three sisters and all your extended family, I send much love. I still vividly remember the day my mother died in 2001, standing at a window in my home, watching a stunning sunset and thinking, “The sun is setting on the last day of my mother in this world. Now it falls to me to be the family elder.”

    Hugs and love,
    Meredith

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Mom passed on the night of the full harvest moon. As it set over Puget Sound the next morning, I walked down to the beach with a similar feeling and the words, “Be with me mom. The world is a terribly complicated place. I need my ancestors more than ever.”

      Reply
  5. Carole Tyson
    Carole Tyson says:

    How lovely – you were all lucky daughters for sure, but she also was so fortunate to have the four of you. I hold you all close in my heart, remembering how it was to lose my darling mother 12 years ago.

    Reply
  6. Pamela Sampel
    Pamela Sampel says:

    Such a loving tribute and a great portrait of your Midwestern-Swedish mama! And yes, I am in AWE of that penmanship!!!! I’m so glad you were able to be “with her” on her list day to walk the holy road home with her. Thank you, dear friend, for sharing this important story. Much love to you and Christina across the waters…

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      When we started doing weekly Zoom calls with mom last spring at the beginning of the pandemic, she initially sat in wonderment asking us if we were all out in the lobby. Gradually, she and we came to count on those calls. I give the nursing home enormous credit for introducing and facilitating that gift. And, truly, it was a miracle that mom’s one wish for her passing—the presence of all four of us—could happen in that way.

      Reply
  7. Barbara Joy Laffey
    Barbara Joy Laffey says:

    A beautiful tribute Ann. I am so very sorry for your loss. You already carry her legacy in so many ways. Many blessings to you and family.

    Reply
  8. Alison Bremner
    Alison Bremner says:

    Dear Ann, sorry to read of the loss of your Mother. What a blessing that you were all able to be with her at some level even if these challenging times. It’s lovely to read about her, and her story. You look so alike. Hugs from me xx

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Alison. We were often told how much we look alike, which pleases me very much. One big exception—she looked young far beyond her years.

      Reply
  9. Martin Siesta
    Martin Siesta says:

    Ann, thank you so much for sharing this extraordinary story, this extraordinary life. As I struggle with diminished capacity, this is inspirational

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      With appreciation for your honesty, my friend. Mom was an incredible teacher about navigating the challenges of aging. She didn’t like it anymore than I do, but she just kept adjusting and finding ways to be of service to those around her. She played the piano right up until 3 weeks before she died.

      Reply
  10. Kathy Jourdain
    Kathy Jourdain says:

    Dear Ann, so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute. So much love. It brings tears to my eyes as I continue to reflect on mortality, having lost my dad in January. I feel him with me every day. Sending love to you, Christina and all your family.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      So sorry for your loss, Kathy. Though my loss is more recent, I already feel that strong presence at my back and so treasure that we have furniture of mom’s, saved letters, and so many photos. Acutely missing the dailyness of phone calls, though.

      Reply
  11. Marti Beddoe
    Marti Beddoe says:

    Most beloved Ann,
    Thank you for sharing a sense of your mother’s Goodness and the roots of your wisdom, generosity and lovingkindness. I know her Goodness lives on in the spirit of her descendants.
    All my gratitude and purple love dearest Ann.

    Reply
  12. Tenneson Woolf
    Tenneson Woolf says:

    Attributes of the mother in the daughters. And of the daughters in the mother. That’s beautiful. With thanks to Astrid, whom I did not meet in this life, for the ways that she influenced you Ann and Christina, who I’ve loved communing with so regularly. Nice tribute Ann. With blessings.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      It was my greatest hope that this wee tribute to mom would “introduce” her to friends who did not have the pleasure of meeting her. Your words mean a lot, Tenneson.

      Reply
  13. Laura Collins
    Laura Collins says:

    Oh Ann. I’m sorry for your loss but what a full and wonderfully rich life she had. You are blessed with so many memories and many of your dear mother’s characteristics. I’m pleased to have met her at the journal writing retreat in 2003. I remember a gentle, bright, warm and open woman. May you and Christina be wrapped in peace and joyful memories in the weeks and months ahead. Love to you.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you. Laura. May this find you well in your faraway home. I remember the writing class so well and am so very glad that you got to meet mom.

      Reply
  14. Melissa Bailey-Kirk
    Melissa Bailey-Kirk says:

    Thank you for this lovely peek into the life of the woman that delivered you to the universe. My prayers and love are with you and all who were loved by Astrid.

    Reply
  15. Arlene A Tallberg
    Arlene A Tallberg says:

    How beautiful a tribute, Ann!! She was indeed a wonderful mother and role model for all who came after her. As was reflected in all 4 daughters who later cared for her. I’m struggling with advancing age, 68! and I wonder how I’ll cope. Your message, from your Mother tells me to live one day at a time, each with Grace. Thank you for sharing. I love being part of your peerspirit group.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, Arlene, mom did live one day at a time with as much grace as she could muster with declining health and that ever present optimism and kindness. A powerful teacher for me!

      Reply
  16. Sara Harris
    Sara Harris says:

    May be odd to say, but I feel quiet joy in reading both of her life and her transition to the Great Mystery beyond. She was well loved and cared for and truly lived the fullness of her days here. I rejoice in that. You may miss one form of her for awhile, but she lives so deeply within you , she will never be gone to you. Sending you a tender hug, Ann.
    And a bow of respect for this holy process,
    Sara

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, Sara. When one lives the long, good life that mom did, graveside services and memorials naturally take on an aura of celebration. We all should be as lucky as mom. The mind knows this, but the heart still aches and that is a good thing. Love, Ann

      Reply
  17. Sukie Curtis
    Sukie Curtis says:

    Dear Ann,
    What a beautiful tribute to your mother and her life well-lived, and the shared gifts of writing and appreciating the beauty that surrounds us. May you and all of your family be surrounded by love and (real and virtual) hugs in the midst of grief. Sukie

    Reply
  18. Judy Dixon
    Judy Dixon says:

    Ann, hugs in your heartbreak, loosing a Mother breaks our heart in such a profound way. I miss mine everyday and I’m sure you will remember yours each day as well.
    I am blessed to have met your Mom and Aunt at a writing retreat, and then lovingly making the two of them a remembrance out of feathers. It was my first attempt at the craft of harnessing the energy of spirit animals. What fun for she and your Aunt to have been the recipients. Love and hugs to you two in these turbulent times, may we be on our way to healing soon.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, Judy, those feathered talismans were quite the unusual gift for both of them. They spoke about them for years. It was a tangible symbol that they indeed had a most unusual adventure together! Looking forward to returning that hug to you, Ann

      Reply
  19. Karl Olsen
    Karl Olsen says:

    Dear Ann.
    It is “no small thing” that you took the time to honor the graciousness of your mother while she was alive, and to write this tribute after her well-lived and well-loved life was done. Thanks for sharing her, and for sharing you. A glimpse inside two beautiful souls. Wishing you peace.

    Reply
  20. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Resilience. Steadfastness. Unflappable kindness. You are your mother’s daughter, dear Ann. Thank you for this gorgeous way to know her a bit in words and photographs. Much love to you as you learn to be with her in a new way.

    Reply
  21. Margaret Grace Rogers
    Margaret Grace Rogers says:

    Dear Ann,
    Thank you for sharing the story of your Mom; now I know you at a deeper level. My Mom left when she was 49 and I was 24. My Dad, whom you and Christina met, lived for a full century. I am 81 now and so much more aware of the “other side” and my ancestors who are waiting for me. When your tears dry you will experience even more joy in being a member of your Swedish ancestral tribe. Someday your Mom and Dad will welcome you home into that Great Light. Blessings and love until we meet again.
    Gracie

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Wow, a century of life is a powerful journey. As you enter your 80s, may your ancestors call you gently from afar and guide your days. Blessings, Ann

      Reply
  22. Jennifer Crow
    Jennifer Crow says:

    Beautiful. Condolences on the loss of such a vibrant woman, and it seems as though your life and hers were inextricably intertwined, full, and rich.

    Reply
  23. Mary Ann Woodruff
    Mary Ann Woodruff says:

    Ann, what a lovely tribute to your mother. She was blessed with four daughters who made space for her in their lives as she aged. May memories of her continue to sustain you as you live with her loss. Love, Mary Ann

    Reply
  24. Judy Todd
    Judy Todd says:

    What a beautiful sharing of love, deep attention to one another, and most of all, kindness. Thank you Ann and blessings to you and all your beloved family members. You have re-kindled my own mother’s life and death today–with gratitude.

    Reply
  25. Barbara Lamb
    Barbara Lamb says:

    Dear Ann,

    A lovely and loving remembrance of your mother – thank you for sharing yourself and her with all of us. You are clearly a daughter of hers…… so glad we all get to know you….
    Blessings on you as you move forward, with her still by your side and in your heart…..

    Reply
  26. Diane
    Diane says:

    Dear Ann Linnea,

    Losing a Mother……
    I am so sorry for your loss of her physical presence, but you will know
    she is also there with you. Beautiful memories.
    Peace to you.

    Reply
  27. Brenda Peddigrew
    Brenda Peddigrew says:

    Oh Anne…with all the good memories, and years of having your Mother, her loss is always a jolt…both Joan and I send understanding and gratitude for hearing about her as you have so beautifully shared it here. Blessings abound from her life…

    Reply
  28. Barbi Taylor
    Barbi Taylor says:

    Dear Ann,
    Love,kindness, and honesty. What a wonderful legacy. What a beautiful woman! and you look just like her. As the Autumn leaves brighten in preparation for their departure it is actually a beautiful time of year for remembering. Today is the 16th anniversary of my Mom’s passing. In Ohio we released the brilliant maple leaves into her grave…
    but no matter when or where it is an ache to loose your Mom… Heartful sympathy from Montana

    Reply
  29. Paula
    Paula says:

    Ann,
    What tender memories. Thank you for sharing about the passing of your mother. Sending lots of love as you continue to grieve and celebrate her life.
    Hugs,
    Paula

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Grieving and celebrating do indeed go hand in hand with mom’s passing. She was such a force for good in our family.

      Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, and thank you for being the one that encouraged and tutored me into blogging! Hugs back across the big ocean that separates us.

      Reply

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