Farewell, Auntie Lil

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux (1915-2016)

Last autumn we lost our aunt, who lived to be 101 years old. The various stories behind the above drawing presented a puzzle for us but after comparing memories we finally decided that the sketch was probably drawn on one of Auntie’s cruises. She kept it hanging above her bed for as long as I can remember, flanked on either side with the senior high school pictures of my sister and me.

Following is the obituary I wrote for the newspapers:

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux, 101, of Storrs, Connecticut, died on October 27, 2016, at Mansfield Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, after a short illness.

Lillian was born on January 30, 1915 in New York City, the daughter of the late William & Katherine (Fusiak) Chomiak, both immigrants from Ukraine. She married Leo Oscar Rioux on November 30, 1934 at Montville, Connecticut. Her husband died on June 5, 1957, leaving her a widow for 59 years. Lillian was predeceased by their two sons, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984) and Lance William Rioux (1950-1979).

Lillian was also predeceased by six siblings, Mary Riback, Jon Stephen Chomiak, Augustine Chomiak, Augusta Jean Hereth, Olga Chomiak, and Theodore William Chomiak. She is survived by her sister, Ludmila Sabatiuk of West Virginia, her grandchildren, Leo Rioux, Jr. of Montville and Sarah James of Tennessee, seven nieces and nephews, four great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.

Lil was a graduate of Norwich Free Academy and was a seamstress employed at Hendel Manufacturing Company in New London for many years. She was a long time resident of Montville and later moved to Juniper Hill Village in Storrs to live closer to her brother. An avid traveler, beach bum and shell collector, she loved to sew, cook, grow orchids, do jigsaw puzzles and work with her hands.

A memorial gathering will be planned for next spring. Memorial donations can be made to Mansfield Town Senior Center, 303 Maple Rd, Storrs, CT 06268.

We had our memorial gathering for her on May 6, spreading her ashes on the graves of her parents and her husband and two sons, as she had directed. My Aunt Em read to us her memories of Aunt Lil’s earlier years.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s parents, William Chomiak (1882-1965) & Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943), Comstock Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut

Every year on Memorial Day, my father would drive Aunt Lil to these two adjacent cemeteries, so she could plant geraniums in front of the headstones, each one a different shade of red or pink. When my father could no longer drive, my sister and brother-in-law stepped in to take her. As he has been doing for years now, John once again planted the geraniums that meant so much to her, this time with family spreading ashes and telling stories.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s older son, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

The story Auntie told me was that it was not permitted for her to be buried in the Catholic cemetery with her husband and sons because she never converted to Catholicism. But she married a Catholic and had her sons baptized in the church. It was her wish to join them in the cemetery by spreading her ashes on their graves.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s husband, Leo Oscar Rioux (1913-1957), and their younger son, Lance William Rioux (1950-1979), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

At the last grave Tim read a poem my sister Beverly wrote in memory of Auntie for the occasion.

They were worker’s hands, never soft, never still.
It took me fifty years to catch them, hold them, keep them safe and warm.
A thousand times I watched them go:
knit and purl
peel and chop
turn the pages
stir the pot.

If hands could talk what would they say?
It took me fifty years to hear them, know them, find out how they spoke.
A thousand times I felt their love:
show and tell
hug and pat
acts of kindness
pet the cat.

I’d come to love her knobby hands
that always showed me what to do.
How those hands have touched my life!
They’ve one more job before they’re through:
stitch and mend
my broken heart.

~ Beverly Chomiak
(Her Hands)

Then we all went to eat at one of her favorite restaurants, Old Tymes in Norwich, finishing the meal with dishes of Auntie’s favorite black raspberry ice cream. ❤

delightful dots

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Katie and Barbara ~ 1.17.15 ~ Billerica, Massachusetts

Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.
~ Lois Wyse
(Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother)

a quiet moment with Grandpa
a quiet moment with Grandpa Tim ~ 1.17.15 ~ Billerica, Massachusetts

Saturday we spent the day north of Boston, visiting Katie, who was visiting some friends there with her mother. Katie the observer, she is definitely an observer, bright-eyed and curious. She had grown a lot in the month since we saw her last.

Things have been relatively quiet around here. We’ve postponed some plans because a few relatives and friends have caught that severe flu going around. I haven’t had the flu since 1988 and I hope to keep it that way! We get flu shots every year, but this strain mutated and this year’s vaccine is only about 33% effective.

And the nursing home where my aunt lives is under quarantine, because of the flu outbreak, which may interfere with our plans to celebrate her 100th birthday on the 30th. So far she hasn’t caught it.

happy child
happy Katie ~ 1.17.15 ~ Billerica, Massachusetts

Zoë, who normally has excellent litter box habits, got the trots. Poor thing was doing her best to get to the box on time but we had a day of cleaning up after her. She wouldn’t eat and she didn’t want to be around us, but she is now back to her hungry, sweet, affectionate self.

And so I am enjoying my winter rest, puttering around the house, watching the birds, wishing for a little more snow, pruning my family tree (still), and making travel plans. My eyes get very bleary reading these travel guides……

We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Conduct of Life)

dragonfly tidings

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
dragonfly magic ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

On our mother’s birthday, October 17th, my sister Beverly and I went early to the cemetery in Harwich for some time alone with our parents and our memories, bringing along Papa’s ashes in a nature-inspired wooden casket. After we placed some flowers around the gravestones of our parents and grandparents, a small red dragonfly landed on our parents’ stone. Its presence was a special gift…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
more dragonfly magic ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

A little later, as we were remembering our grandparents, the dragonfly flew over to perch on their gravestone, too, just above the “E” in White.  And there was another special moment after the rest of the family started arriving. A small red dragonfly landed on my brother-in-law’s shoulder and stayed there for a long while. John was the one who was Papa’s primary caregiver for all these years, and it was good to have him appreciated and acknowledged in this meaningful way. I like to think it was the same dragonfly, but can’t know for sure…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

When we had all gathered around in a circle, Tim read my little essay about my father – I knew I couldn’t read it without sobbing – and then my cousin Matthew read messages from his father (my uncle) and his sister (my cousin). And then everyone began sharing their own memories. After that, Beverly lowered the casket full of Papa’s ashes deep into the ground, and then most of us took turns shoveling the earth back over him. It was a beautiful autumn day and our little ceremony felt so natural and intimate.

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
returned to the earth ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

Our parents are together now. The next thing I knew, everyone – there were 14 of us – wanted to go to another cemetery in Dennis, to see where our great-grandparents and two generations before them lie buried. (Swan Lake Cemetery) It was quite something to show my granddaughter the graves of her 5th-great-grandparents, who were immigrants from Norway and Ireland, and tell her how they met here in America and raised their family on Cape Cod, and how he was a sea-captain…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts
favorite things, Papa was very fond of this baby lynx picture in his last years, we kept it hanging on the wall in his bedroom ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts

After that little expedition we all made our way over to Yarmouth to eat at the Hearth ‘n’ Kettle, a favorite restaurant of the family. We toasted those who came before us with Cape Codders (vodka, cranberry juice, lime wedge) and enjoyed a delicious leisurely dinner. And then we returned to our rented house and had my parents’ favorite birthday cakes as we gathered around the spacious dining room table – lemon jello cake in honor of my mother and chocolate butter-cream in honor of my father.

10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts
10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts

In the evening we piled into the living room and watched a football game while shelling and munching on peanuts, and drinking Papa’s favorite beer. It was my kids’ idea – they have fond memories of shelling peanuts with their Grandpa while he was watching football on TV. It was good to be with family – sharing memories together – some of us had not seen each other in a very long time.

Whenever we were at a funeral, for people or pets, ever since I was a little girl, my father always advised us to remember the good times. And so we did.

wedding in the woods

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15 June 2013, Orange, Connecticut
Camp Cedarcrest, by the Wepawaug River

6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
Dima waiting patiently
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Grandma Nina and Vladimir, father of the groom, waiting patiently
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Larisa and Tim ~ photo by Susan Kwan
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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Larisa reading her vows
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Dima reading his vows
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a kiss
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matron and maid of honor, Alyssa and Alicia
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Larisa & Dima…Tim & Barbara
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our dear friends from Macedonia, Bojan and his sister Ana
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Larisa
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Dima
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Larisa made the dress with help from her friend, Brit; Janet and I went to New York City to help Larisa pick out the fabric
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Svetlana, mother of the groom
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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tradition is that the person getting the bigger bite “controls” the marriage
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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best man, Dave
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Tim, father of the bride
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Vlad, father of the groom
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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Aunt Delorma, who has been a mother to both Tim and me, and a very special grandaunt to Larisa
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the lights of my life, Nate, Larisa and Jon
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cousins Erica, Larisa and Erin
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cousins Nate, Jon, Larisa, David, Erica and Erin
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Larisa and me
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Tim and Larisa
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Nate and Larisa
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Nate, Tim, Dima, Larisa, Barbara and Jon
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Larisa and Eliza
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Toby and Larisa
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Drew, Janet and Tim
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my favorite picture!

Shea helped me out with a lot of the picture-taking, and Svetlana made all the lovely decorations. Dima & Larisa created an amazing wedding and reception, in a perfect setting, and we could not have asked for better weather. A very special day for all of us to remember forever.

An interesting side note – all of the women in the bridal party and the mothers and grandmothers and grandaunt have names that end with an “a.” Larisa; her attendants, Alyssa, Alicia, Erica and Lisa; the mothers, Barbara and Svetlana; Dima’s grandmothers, Nina and Anna; and Larisa’s grandaunt, Delorma.

Larisa: Master of Social Work

Larisa Katherine Rodgers

Storrs, Connecticut, May 8, 2010
University of Connecticut School of Social Work
Master of Social Work in Case Work
Mental Health & Substance Abuse in Social Work Practice

Tim and Larisa
Larisa, Aunt Lil and Barbara
5.8.10 ~ Dima, Larisa, Mookie, Alyssa

The sad thing was that Larisa’s most ardent supporter, her Grandpa, was not able to attend, and neither were her Aunt Beverly and Uncle John there, because they remained home to care for Grandpa. But Auntie Lil braved the pouring rain and was pleased as punch to witness the grand event. We all went over to the house afterward and had a little party inside to celebrate and tell Grandpa all about the ceremony.

My parents met at UConn, when my mother was an undergraduate and my father was a graduate student. Dad got his PhD there, too, when Beverly and I were little girls. My sister attended UConn, too, where she met her husband, John, another UConn grad. Beverly went away and got her PhD at the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology. I have a feeling Larisa might follow Beverly’s path and go for a PhD at some other university. It will be fun seeing where her next adventure will be!