Honoring the Body — Remembering Ruth Gold: July 6, 1921 – April 19, 2017

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Beautiful Mom, about 1948.

For most of my life, my mother was my best friend. As she began to leave us, almost a decade ago now, the inexorable blade of dementia sliced her memory into ever smaller pieces. During these years of decline, I often wondered how I would endure, who I would become without her richly textured presence in my life. What I witnessed was remarkable: the very essence of who she was became ever more finely distilled, until only a small but brilliant shard of light remained. Slowly, I began to understand — it was enough. Even though I no longer had access to all the pieces of my mother, the stories and memories I had come to know over the decades, what I did have was lovely. In truth, it was a strange and beautiful gift. Not a gift that either of us would have chosen, but a gift nonetheless.

Not every dementia story unfolds the way my mother’s did, a truth which makes me grateful on multiple levels for this particular and exquisite experience. For the last five years, I have wandered through grief, shed copious tears, railed at God for the cruelty of this growing epidemic in our land and across the world. I have also fallen to my knees in gratitude for the shining core of her, that glorious flame that blazed up and out and into the core of every single person she encountered. As the limits of her world grew larger and darker, as she lost the desire to eat, to drink, to walk — even then, she found a smile, a sweet word of gratitude, an exclamation of complimentary joy. “You look so beautiful today!” she would say. “Thank you so much for your help.” Not one other syllable made sense toward the end, but those words of kindness remained.

Ruth was born in Duncan, a small logging town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, the second child and first-born daughter of Harry and Elsie Hobson. They gave her a long, cumbersome name, which included the names of some female relatives who eventually left mom two small diamonds. She gave those to me — and I managed to lose them both. Mom’s full name was Edith Lemody Ruth Hobson and she was a beautiful baby. They called her Ruthie.

Two years later, the Hobsons gathered up their little family and boarded a train, with siblings and cousins, and emigrated to southern California. Two little boys, my little mom, a second daughter ‘in the oven,’ two parents, three maiden aunts, a cousin or two, and an elderly grandfather arrived in 1923 and settled into a variety of Los Angeles neighborhoods. Mom rode the street car, roller-skated or walked all over what is now Hollywood and graduated from Hollywood High School in 1938. She went to UCLA for two years, and then quit when her family ran out of money; she always regretted never finishing her college career.

Mom’s father was a difficult man, and her mother worked. My mom became a surrogate mom to her siblings and found safe harbor in a local Methodist church. She met my dad there and they married in 1941 when mom was 20. I was born four years later, while they lived in San Diego. My dad taught math and physics at a military academy in that town during WWII — he was deemed entirely too spindly to join the army. In 1947, my brother Tom was born in a tiny town in central California where dad had an in-between teaching job while he waited for an opening at Los Angeles City College. When that job opened, we moved back to Los Angeles and bought our first house — a small, post-war tract home in North Hollywood. I was four years old.

All four of us attended that old Methodist church in downtown LA for the next eight years. I loved that place. My dad was the pianist, my mom sang in the choir, my brother and I went to Sunday School. It was at Trinity Methodist that I began to love choral singing — at the tender age of six. My mom made lifelong friends in that community and was the last one left from the old gang when she died last Wednesday afternoon.

Everywhere we lived, everywhere we worshipped, my mother made friends. Fast friends. I described her to the caregivers where she lived as, “The most flaming extrovert I have ever known.” Her gregarious and compassionate nature made her an excellent neighbor, an even better friend. In the earliest days of her dementia, I discovered that she regularly purchased small boxes of candy to take to her neighbors, to let them know she was thinking about them, to tell them they were loved.

In 1955, when I was almost 11 and Tom was almost 9, our youngest brother Ken was born. One month later, we moved across town to a different valley, from San Fernando to San Gabriel, buying an English Tudor style home in Glendale, CA. I endured (and enjoyed) adolescence in that home, learned to drive on the curvy hills of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and drove off to UCLA at the age of 17. Wanting to get my youngest brother into what they thought was a better school district, my parents moved to north Glendale while I was in college. That house was never my home in the same way that the previous two had been. I married a year later, graduated six months after that, and then my husband and I sailed off for two years of living and working in Africa.

While they lived in Glendale, my parents were active members of Glendale Presbyterian Church. Each of them served on Session, my mom on at least one pastoral search committee. They thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday school teaching of Paul Jewett, then a theology professor at nearby Fuller Seminary. My mother read widely, with a lively sense of curiosity and a commitment to growing in her faith. She read everything ever written by C.S. Lewis, Catherine Marshall, and Paul Tillich along with a long list of fiction writers. She instilled her love of language, reading, writing and beauty into the core of me at a very young age. 

She was also a ton of fun. She had an earthy sense of humor, loved to laugh, introduced us kids to British humor early on (anyone remember the “Carry On” movies??), and threw grand parties. She also decorated our homes on very little money, made most of my clothes and baked great birthday cakes. One of my daughters said to me last week, “One of my strongest memories of Momma was that she was always, ALWAYS, so happy to see me.” And that was real — she took delight in her family. De-light. Yes, she worried about us (especially Ken, whose life was difficult at many points and who died eight years ago.) But she loved us all and we knew it. Deep down, we knew we were loved. It was like oxygen — something that surrounded us always, something that gave us energy and life.

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Five generations – from lower left – Elsie Hobson, Ruth Gold, Diana Trautwein,
Lisa Fischinger, 
Ben Fischinger — taken in Orange County, 1991

My parents worked hard to create a good home for the three of us. There was one salary in our home, and that one a teacher’s salary, so we didn’t do fancy things. But we listened to all kinds of music on my dad’s home-built hi-fi set (or from his fingers at the keyboard), we camped all over California, and we enjoyed extended family gatherings on both sides, especially gatherings at some of the beaches along the southern California coast.

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Mom, doing what she loved more than almost anything else: boogey-boarding, Huntington Beach,
sometime in the 1980s, I think. She would have been in her early 60s.

Toward the end of his career as a professor and administrator at the junior college level, my dad had some serious health issues that required them to move out of the valley and closer to the sea. They lived in Oceanside for two years, then settled into a lovely town home in Mission Viejo, in Orange County. They loved that community and lived there for about fifteen years. In 2002, we moved them to a retirement community in LaVerne CA. My father died two and a half years later in February of 2005. My mom lived there independently until 2012, when Alzheimer’s put her into assisted living. The next year, we moved her to The Samarkand dementia unit, just ten minutes from our home here in Santa Barbara. 

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My parents, when they lived in Orange County

While they were in Orange County, I took the train south once each month for a long midweek visit. After they moved to LaVerne, I drove south monthly, then twice monthly, and stayed with our daughter, who lived about 30 minutes from there. All of those visits were an attempt to be as present as I could be with the two of them, and then with my mom, while their bodies breathed earth’s air.

Those bodies of theirs were holy to me, often in ways I didn’t fully understand. They had birthed me, loved me, tended me when mildly wounded or critically ill, clothed me, fed me and gave me away to my husband. (Yes, that is an outdated term, one that I no longer use, but it’s the truth of my lived experience in that season of my life.) I was with my father three days before his death, praying the blessing of Aaron over his unconscious, frail frame, telling him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for his care for me. When my brother called to tell me he had died, I asked that his body remain in the room until I could get there. Our bodies are supremely important collections of cosmic dust; they bear the image of an invisible God, they carry our stories, our selves. I wanted to honor him by honoring what remained.

Last week, I had the privilege of doing the same thing for my mama. Her journey took eight days, and every one of those days, I was by her side. Most of the time, I sat in front of a window, using only natural light. I put Pandora onto a hymn station and played it for hours. I finished a large crochet project. I called for more meds, as needed. I got up and blessed her face, stroked her shoulders. I ate the lunches I packed, I took occasional walks. I thanked every one of the Hospice team who came and cared for her so lovingly. One woman offered sponge baths, one offered quiet company, another brought her guitar and sang. The nurses were supremely skilled and compassionate, as were the caregivers at the facility. My pastor came twice, my friend Sherry, Samarkand chaplain for over twenty years, came daily.

Room 62 became holy ground during those long days.

At 4:32 p.m. on Wednesday, Sherry and I stood beside her and my friend said, “Look! Her eyes are open!” Those eyes had been closed for most of the previous five days. Her breathing was quite labored at this point, but as her eyes flew open, the noise stopped. She gasped twice and looked right into my eyes as I blessed her, thanked her, loved her. And she flew. I mean she flew to Jesus in those moments. I had been visualizing my father, my brother, her siblings, her parents and so many of her friends all around that room for days. And I do believe that in that moment, she saw them. And she was not afraid.  

All those dear ones welcomed her home — with love, joy and laughter. This I know, in the deepest part of me, this I know.

We will bury her on Tuesday morning, dropping her earthly remains into the grave plot she will share with my dad. We will hold a special service of worship to celebrate her life on May 20th at 2:00 p.m. in The Chapel at the Samarkand, the place that she called, ‘my church.’

Over and around the fatigue that I feel at this end of the journey, the strongest emotion in my heart is gratitude. It absolutely overwhelms me at some moments. There is sadness, yes, there is sadness. But over and around and in between everything else, there is thanksgiving. For 95 years, she graced this earth, 72 of them with me in the center of that grace. 

Thank you, Mama. And thank you, God.

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November, 2015, last formal portrait

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April 7, 2017

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Comments

  1. Diana, I am sorry for your loss. May your mom be in peace and may you find comfort that she is home.

    You responded to a comment I posted in your article, “Parsing it Out: Sacrifice or Duty?” in SheLoves. Thank you for sharing your story about dementia. It is so helpful for those of us who are on that journey with our loved ones.

  2. This is a holy space, dear Diana. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. I love you.

  3. Pamela Green says:

    Beloved by all and will be greatly missed but oh what a glorious homecoming when we will be with them , enjoying perfect love , peace. You were a loving daughter , who gave very generously of herself . Love to you Tom, Dick, Sandy and all the grandkids.

  4. I read every word. Every wonderful word. Slowly. Thank you so much for finding a way to tell it.

  5. “I have also fallen to my knees in gratitude for the shining core of her, that glorious flame that blazed up and out and into the core of every single person she encountered.” Oh, Diana. Such a beautiful tribute. I see your mother’s beauty in your kind heart. Much love to you during this bittersweet. Xo

  6. Such a beautiful tribute to your mama. God bless and comfort you and yours.

  7. Jacci Turner says:

    What a beautiful tribute to you wonderful mother and I’m so thankful she had you to care for her as you did for so long.

  8. Throughout your journey you’ve found the words that brought your beautiful mother off the page and into our lives. Thank you for sharing your precious memories with us — the happy ones and the difficult ones.

    I shall be thinking of you on Tuesday and again on May 20th, praying for comfort in your loss and joy in the celebration of her continued life in Christ.

  9. Love and hugs to you, Diana! <3 May God give comfort and surround you with His love. You have many wonderful memories, and that is great! Thanks so much for sharing your mother's life with us.

  10. Gwen Acres says:

    Dear Diana, For a long time you have written the story of these bittersweet years and they always touched my heart. And now the story has come to an end. What a gift you received to be with your Mama as she ‘ flew to Jesus.’ And now you too have a benediction over you, as one amazing story ends and another starts.
    You have such a rich heritage. Thank you for sharing it with us. I love you. Gwen

    • A friend texted me yesterday with that word, ‘bittersweet’ – it’s perfect. Thanks for your lovely words, Gwen. Much love to you.

  11. Oh Diana! I’m so sorry for your loss, tears flowed freely as I read your love-filled tribute of your sweet momma! What a gift! The loss of a parent is so very tough; the hole that remains aches. Prayers for you and your family! May God catch your hearts as you continue down the treacherous road of grief.
    I’m a follower from a far, introduced to your writings by dear friends, Carol H and Donna B. Thank you for your honest candor and sharing your life with us! I’m always blessed by it!

  12. I love you, Diana. This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your precious mama and her stories with the rest of us. It was an April 19th and the week after Easter that my mama ‘flew to Jesus.’ I will always think of you and your Ruth on all the April 19ths to come. xox

    • Oh, Patricia! The same date?? That made me gasp. We have always been connected in such a lovely way across these miles – now we are linked forever. Thank you so much!

  13. Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Diana, this is the first thing I’ve read this morning . . . even before my bible. And indeed, as someone has said above, this is holy ground. I am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved mother, the beloved Ruthie. You knew this day drew nigh, and yet how could you possibly prepare or even anticipate this rending? Thank you so much that in your grief you gave us this gift . . . and that you honored both your mother’s spiritual and physical presence in this world. Suddenly the thought came to me, about how Jesus said in Hebrews 10 how He’d come into the world and how God had “prepared a body for Him.” He sacrificed that body. . . in part for beautiful Ruth, who has now been made whole in His presence. Oh my! It’s this body of hers you are missing, her being here with you for so many years . . . her laughter, her touch, her wit, her warmth, her eyes–those beautiful crystal-blue eyes through which you peered to the depths of that shining core of hers. And oh . . . it’s that core, that bright and shining core, which the dark ravages of her disease simply could not snuff out!! You saw it. Your real mama shimmered forth at every twisted turn of dementia. Nothing, absolutely nothing could snuff out her light. And nothing ever will. Through your tender words, your palpable grief, you are shimmering forth her beauty here and now. I feel so privileged you would give us a glimpse, that you would invite us in to what is holy, hushed, beautiful, and painful. Thank you. Thank you so very much. May the Lord surround you with *His* palpable presence, may He lift you up in His everlasting arms and give you peace and comfort. May He continue to bless you with gratitude as you miss your mom. I can’t imagine how hard this is. Please know I send much love and continue to lift you and your family in my prayers.
    Love
    Lynn

  14. Gwen Jorgensen says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. It is a beautiful, inspiring, and important story. I too am walking down the dementia road, as my mom journeys through dementia. I identified with many things you said.

    Thankful, for such a great woman, who clearly left a lovely legacy here, and walks in full healing, now.

    -Blessings to you

    • Thank you for your kind words, Gwen. And so many blessings to you as you walk this hard and beautiful road with your own mama.

  15. Continuing to pray for you.

  16. I have had you on my mind the last few weeks, kind of figured where you were. We all have been privileged to have read your chronicles of the last couple of years with her. The image of her flying towards Jesus will always be etched on my mind, such a powerful and affirming end. We lost my father-in-law last fall, and I can so much identify with that picture(he was a retired minister and one of the sweetest men I have ever known). Thoughts and prayers with all of you at this time. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  17. Such a poignant and moving tribute to your beautiful mother, Diana. The love you shared with her all those years shines in your words, and brought tears to my eyes. May God bless and comfort you at this time, and fill you with His peace and love, dear friend.

  18. What an absolutely stunning tribute to your Mama, Diana. I lost it when I came to this line: “…she flew to Jesus…”

    Grace and peace to you, my dear friend.

  19. Dearest Diana,

    This is so beautiful – so precious. It’s the story of life well-lived, a daughter who has loved so well, and the difference the Lord makes in our lives. That you should come through this long, difficult time and end with gratitude is a testimony to the truth of all He is. Thank you so much for sharing your heart through all of this. It has blessed me in so many ways. Sending you love and a huge hug. xoxo

  20. Ro Elliott says:

    Such a beautiful tribute to your momma… and I think she left a magnificent inheritance to you and in you… May God’s great comfort carry you on… and may you rest in His care for you!!!

  21. Beth Werner Lee says:

    I’m grateful to read this beautiful tribute to your mom and to God who loved through her. Just amazing how the core of her was loving and thanking others! Thank you for writing this, Diana. It will echo in my heart as I think of you in the coming weeks. Gratitude is the best way to grieve, I have found, and you are doing it masterfully!

    I’m feeling convicted because I don’t usually pray for those I think are better and stronger than me (you are definitely in that category), but that’s got to be wrong since Paul often asks the believers for prayer. Certainly comparisons are not helpful when sisters sorrow. I do feel myself a younger and weaker sister in the Lord, but Diana, do be assured of my sympathy and loving prayers in the weeks to come.

  22. Jean Woodruff says:

    Diana, Thank you so much for this tribute. I am saving it with the family genealogy materials. I knew your Mama was from Canada, but didn’t remember Duncan, right where I have been visiting the Cutlers! My favorite picture post here is Ruth on the boogie board:) If I remember correctly, your Dad just tolerated the beach because the rest of you loved it. My Mama loved the beach too, which is somewhat curious because she was not a swimmer. However, I think the draw was that those times were spent with extended family and friends. I am so thankful that Sherry could be with you as your Mom flew off to heaven. Sherry totally understands the privilege it is to be part of the last days of one’s earthly journey. I am also thankful that Ruth and Mama could be together in Heritage Court, even though Mama couldn’t really verbally communicate. Much love to all the family, Jean

  23. Elaine Reed says:

    Diana, I am so sorry for your loss. But a loss that happens over a long period of time is especially hard. My own mother was in a coma for a year. Now may you rest in God’s peace knowing that she is with Him in His care. You have been such a beautiful daughter and your words and deeds are an inspiration to us all.
    Peace to all of you and yours. Elaine

  24. So full of emotion reading this.

    And not wanting to say much. Just to echo…

    “the very essence of who she was became ever more finely distilled, until only a small but brilliant shard of light remained”

    …and to hold the diamonds, lost and found.

  25. I breathed a sigh of sorrow upon opening this post, realizing you’ve said good-bye to your much-loved mother for the last time. And because of the previous posts you’ve (so superbly!) written about her, I felt acquainted with her, and that added to the sorrow. What a beautiful, poignant tribute you’ve written for your mother, Diana. And just as you KNOW her loved ones greeted her with love, joy, and laughter, I KNOW she’s as proud as any mother could be of her loving, caring, gifted daughter.