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. ❤

hurricanes and heart attacks

“Storm Landscape” by Franz von Stuck

The mixture of the calm with the storm is not haphazard. Quite the contrary. My growth is at the center of each. I will trust its message.
~ Karen Casey
(Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women)

It’s been an unsettling week, to say the least. We’ve been keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Earl since Sunday, hoping it stays on its predicted course and brushes past us to the east tomorrow with minimal damage. The tropical storm watch was upgraded to a tropical storm warning today at noon. Cape Cod is now under a hurricane warning and for some reason I have a desire to go there.

Sometimes it seems that all there is to talk about is the remarkable weather. Yesterday and today we’ve had a heat index of 100º. Today many towns nearby are letting their schools out early because of the heat. The weed pollen levels are “very high.” And there is an air quality alert to boot. The advancing storm should be eliminating all these problems when it arrives. I don’t usually watch the news at noon, where I learned all these bits of information, but I was curious about the hurricane.

Any threat of hurricanes stirs up frightening memories for my father and his sisters. The Great Hurricane of 1938 descended on my father without warning as he was walking home from high school in the afternoon. Fierce winds were snapping branches off trees and other trees were being uprooted as he struggled to keep walking. According to Wikipedia it “remains the most powerful, costliest and deadliest hurricane in New England history.”

When Dad got home he discovered that his mother wasn’t home, only his father, two of his sisters, and a baby nephew. At the height of the storm they were all trying desperately to keep walls from crashing in on them, bolstering them up with heavy furniture and the weight of their bodies. Still, the hardest part was not knowing if his mother was safe, and his sister’s husband, too.

After the storm passed by Dad’s mother returned home. She had decided it would be safer to stay at the neighbor’s house where she happened to be when the hurricane struck. Auntie’s husband was caught at work in New London which had flooded with the storm surge, so he stayed there to help rescue people. Not knowing what had become of him for several days was hard for the family to endure.

Well, thanks to modern technology we can worry a little less about the storm coming tomorrow. And modern technology was at work for Tim’s family this week as well.

On Monday Tim’s younger brother, age 51, had a heart attack. He lives overseas in Luxembourg so we found out about it on Tuesday. It was such an emotional jolt. Since Tuesday Tim’s been trying to make contact with him at the hospital using Skype and finally this morning they connected and had a long conversation, comparing notes, etc. This is still more evidence of a genetic factor at work here, their maternal grandmother died of a heart attack at age 54 – the age Tim was when he had his – and their great-grandmother died of a heart attack at age 52. Tim has four more younger brothers and it’s pretty sobering contemplating the possibilities, although we can all be very grateful for the advances in medicine that no doubt have saved two lives so far.

Our inner selves understand the journey; a journey destined to carry us to new horizons; a journey that promises many stormy seasons. For to reach our destination, we must be willing to weather the storms. They are challenges, handpicked for us, designed to help us become all that we need to be in this earthly life.
~ Karen Casey
(Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women)