Ruth’s celebration, Sunday March 7, 2010

Ruth’s celebration, Sunday March 7, 2010

Ruth’s celebration was held at Salem Chapel East Budleigh, Devon, on March 7th 2010.

Many who attended the ceremony expressed a desire to read the text of the remarks by the Humanist officiant, Alan Turner, Ruth’s sister Elsie, her husband Jed, daughter Ohna and son Dug. While Dug is planning a more permanent home for this information, here are some of the transcripts:

Elsie, Ruth’s younger sister made the following remarks

Ruth and I grew up in Brooklyn New York. We were three sisters-daughters of Norwegian immigrants. We were part of the American 'melting pot'. Although people immigrated to have a better life in the US, they hung on to their identities for a long time. Everyone in our neighborhood , which was predominantly Italian, Irish and Norwegian, identified themselves as belonging to the country of origin of their parents or grandparents. So we grew up identifying ourselves as 'Norwegian' and we shopped at the Norwegian businesses. Our eldest sister, Mary, spoke Norwegian as her first language and all three of us could understand our parents, although we answered in English. We grew up influenced by our parents' European culture. When we travelled--and we all wanted to travel--we were always asked if we were Dutch, or Scandinavian, surprising people when we said we were American. I think this 'dual citizenship' made it easier to take on the role of a foreigner living in another country. Mary and Ruth did quite well, when in 1969, they both left the United States never to return. Mary moved with her husband Dan and four of their children to Norway, Ruth and family moved to Paris, then to Italy, back to Paris and finally to Devon. With every move she had to adjust to running a household in countries with different customs and languages, make new friends, get the children settled in schools, and support her husband in his endeavors. Luckily she was very smart, practical, inventive and not fazed about being a stranger in a strange land. We were a small family. My mother and father came separately to the US, and met and married in 1929. The Depression and WW2 put a damper on further immigration and our relatives remained essentially unknown to us except for an occasional visitor. So birthdays, Christmas, and other occasions had the five of us as a core. In the 1950s, girls were expected to live at home until they married. Mary followed the rules and got married at age 19. Ruth, who was 4 years younger, seemed content to stay in the family nest. I wasn't. When I was 21 and Ruth was 26, I announced I was moving in with roommates in Manhattan. It was a wakeup call for Ruth who complained YOU CAN'T MOVE OUT BEFORE ME-it was too embarrassing to have your younger sister leave home first. So I moved out in July 1960 and she left for San Francisco in August. At that point our lives diverged, but that close beginning forged our basic outlook on life, and as our lives developed new chapters and new directions, we stayed connected. Whenever I saw Ruth we could start our conversations by finishing the sentences we had been speaking the last time. I may not know all the important events in her life as they occurred but we were right on top of OUR shared history that grew with every year. We saw each other infrequently, but corresponded often-real letters-not email. It was always exciting to see an airmail envelope in the mailbox with her familiar handwriting. It is very odd hearing people talk about Ruth as if they knew her. How could they know her-she was MY Sister-but then I have to concede that she was also YOUR wife, YOUR mother, YOUR grandmother, YOUR aunt, and YOUR friend. She had a different existence with each of you. The threads of her life were interwoven with many people. Now one thread of my life is broken. Goodbye Ruth.

Dug, Ruth’s son, made the following remarks

Ruth, my mother, was an enabler. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about the enablers in our lives.
We don't consider the air we breathe, we don't appreciate the water we drink and we don't even worship the sun anymore. So today I'd like to say thanks to my greatest enabler. My Mom who spent a large part of her life creating wonderful things for her family, for her friends. Today, I'd like to say thanks for all the gifts my mother enabled for me. These are precious gifts that will be with me until my own death. They are gifts I hope to pass on to my own children as well.
  • Thank you for making me capable of trying for the impossible
  • Thank you for the self-belief to push on doors and take chances
  • Thank you the peaceful sleep I enjoy even as I navigate seriously troubled waters
  • Thank you for letting me know what it feels like to be safe, to be cherished
  • Thank you for the keys to everything.
Finally, I'd like to read you a short message of thanks, a poem I copied out for Ruth in June 1969 and that she tucked away in one of her scrapbooks. "Pour ma mere" de Maurice Carême Il y a plus de fleurs
Pour ma mère, en mon coeur,
Que dans tous les vergers;
Plus de merles rieurs
Pour ma mère, en mon coeur,
Que dans le monde entier;
Et bien plus de baisers
Pour ma mère, en mon coeur,
Qu'on en pourrait donner.
Thank you.

Ohna, Ruth’s daughter, made the following remarks

My mother was the most nurturing, loving and caring person. She was my safety and was my point of reference. She was a hug when I needed it, and a sharp word when I needed that. She was 'home' wherever I was and for quite a while after I left. She was so welcoming and easy that my home became my friends' second home and she became their 2nd mom. After she died, I even received messages from siblings of my friends expressing their sadness and respect for her, wanting to share with me how important she had been in all our young lives. So much so that my childhood friends have come from Paris today to say good bye and share in her memories. She had no strong rules or formalities that we had to live by, and yet imparted a strong moral sense - that eventually my brother and I seemed to soak up quite unnoticeably. She was nurturing but also gave me a lot of freedom and independence. She made me feel trusted and confident, and gave me room to be me and grow. My friends' parents were sometimes quite taken aback with my lack of grooming. My French friends' parents taught me how to eat with the correct tilt of the bowl, and the correct way to sit and hold my knife and fork. My friend Sonia's mother used to brush my hair before she would let me out to play (I usually turned up with great big knots at the back of my head I couldn't be bothered to tease out). In fact, I missed out on being rebellious because I never felt I had anything to rebel against. She was also a very individual mom and role model. For a start, most my life she was foreign (as was I) and her ways were always her own, not like anyone else's. This meant I grew up never knowing that I had to be like anyone else, because it was a given I'd be different and it really didn't matter. She loved creating special occasions. She used to make beautiful gift packages made up of lots of little individually wrapped presents, which were always my favourite gifts to open. She put together picnics which always came fantastically presented with fabric tablecloths, real glasses and all kinds of delicious foods, and with my dad's help spotting the muddiest tracks to go hiking down and the most breathtaking settings to settle down in, made for many a memorable weekend. She knew how to throw the best parties I have ever been to. She sat with us making papier-mache pen pots and sculptures, she weaved beautiful rugs or sewed not only many of her own clothes, but my dolls' clothes too. I feel very privileged and lucky that I had my children when my mother was still young and fit enough to be able to contribute with huge amounts of love and energy. She made me and my children feel that they were the most special and perfect children in the world. My heart breaks every time I think of how oppressed she was by her many illnesses and ailments over the past few years. At times she was so tired of putting up a fight, she couldn't see the light. While she was in hospital she talked about the battle she waged against a silver army and that she just couldn't find the weapons to defeat them. But it encouraged me that she was still looking for them. Right now it is hard to say what I will miss the most, as so many things remind me of her. I feel happy when I recognise elements of her in things that I do, and I hope I will continue to learn from her even though she has gone.

Alan read out a passage from Apoa and Kiloh, Ruth’s granddaughters. They wanted to both speak and their text is in the form of a dialogue.

Apoa: I feel very lucky to have been able to know my grandma so well. We spent most holidays here in Devon and many of my childhood memories were here with her. Christmas has always been the strongest Devon tradition for me - the one time I remember trying it in London wasn't nearly as good. It always started with decoration the Christmas tree together and Grandma would point out all the old photos we used for decorations and we would pause to complete the puzzles hung in little boxes on the tree. Kiloh: I have so many fond memories of my grandma, when I think her the first thing that comes to mind is her laugh; it was such an infectious laugh it always made me feel happy and I felt great every time I was the cause of it.
I also loved the American way Grandma would say things, like tub instead of bath and diapers instead of nappies which is something I realized I've picked up off her. Apoa: I picture her often with curlers in her hair and remember her always fretting about us when our hair was wet, begging us to use her hairdryer. Kiloh: She was always a very keen gamer she had a great skill with puzzles; and we also played a lot of cards together. Apoa and I would teach her new games, but not too well so that we could still win as she always beat us at most games. Another favourite was Chinese marbles, which we have also taught to CLF, and Grandma was particularly good at. Apoa: Grandma loved books and read a Series of Unfortunate Events to us and I tried to return the favor, reading her the Northern Lights' one time when she was feeling ill. She had a keen love for detective stories, which I inherited from her. She once sent me an article (which I think Elsie sent her) explaining how it is a Norwegian tradition to go on holiday to read detective stories once a year, which explained to us why Hercule Poirot's crime-solving tales gave us such enjoyment. She also read children's stories like Jacqueline Wilson books and Harry Potter though I was never quite sure if she read them because she knew how much we liked them or if it was for her own enjoyment. Kiloh: She always spoilt us with treats, Mars Bar ice-cream were her favourite and she had a large stock and then she discovered Snickers which filled the freezer too, and these always make me think of her. She also gave us biscuits and Mr. Kipling treats in abundance when our parents weren't there, which always felt special, as it was something I never really got used to. Apoa: We will miss her massively but it's nice to know that we will always have such lovely memories of her and will forever have our grandma Ruth.

Jed, Ruth’s husband was the last to speak. He added the following remarks

Ruth was a big city girl who had supported her family through seven family moves: San Francisco, New York, Connecticut, Paris, Milan and back to Paris again. Now England and Budleigh Salterton were basically her choices, but I did wonder how my New York gal would fit in, in this very different community. Soon after settling in, I was working in my studio upstairs when I heard a strange noise below me in the garden. Looking out, through the classic Devon drizzle, I found Ruth in a rain coat and a rain hat dead-heading the roses and happily singing to herself. "Well Done!"I thought to myself"my New York girl's turned into a true Budleigh Gardener. We'll be OK here." And we were. Thank you for coming...

After lunch at Ruth’s home in Budleigh, we gathered in Jobbles Wood near the village of Coliton in Devon, to walk with Ruth to her final resting place. After a last message from Alan Turner, Richard, Paul, Eamon and Dug lowered her willow coffin onto a bed of pine needles and covered her with flint and earth.

The sun set during the ceremony and afterwards, lanterns and candles were lit. Those present stayed with Ruth for a while and wrote messages on a memory tree. We lit a bonfire and talked as the night set in over the woodlands.

It was a very special moment and I hope those present came away with a foundation for their future memories of my mother and a basis for working through their grief in a shared way.

On a personal note, while I still feel like crying at random moments during the day, I feel strangely positive about the experience. I’m glad my whole family was there and I’m glad I will be able to visit Mom and make patterns in flint and pine needles with my children and know that as Ruth returns to the earth she does so in her own space which she loved and in a way that her family can share with her.