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. ❤

fairy tale forest

“The Fairytale Forest” by Edvard Munch

All forests are one. … They are all echoes of the first forest that gave birth to Mystery when the world began.
~ Charles de Lint
(Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, Spring 1990)

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should shut and the keys be lost.
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
(J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth)

sunshine on a rainy day

1.31.16 ~ Essex, Connecticut

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted much of anything besides quotes and paintings. That’s mainly my way of coping with stress, distracting myself with beautiful images and wise words.

Tim has been ill with recurring bouts of diverticulitis for several years now, getting more frequent and more severe this fall, and so the decision has finally been made to proceed with surgery, a sigmoid colon resection. Friday. My sister is coming to stay with me and sit with me during the operation. Larisa and Katie will be coming up after Tim gets home from the hospital. Recovery time is expected to be 4-6 weeks.

1.31.16 ~ Essex, Connecticut

We had our basement renovated this fall. I’m thrilled with the results — we now have heat in the guest room and the powder room and two new closets for storage and updated lighting and electrical outlets and fresh paint on the walls. But being the way I am it was stressful for me having noisy workmen in and out of the house at unpredictable times. I had to give myself a pep talk every morning for several weeks to keep my wits about me. But it was worth it in the end.

My aunt Lil died on October 27. She was 101 years old. I still have unresolved and complicated feelings about our relationship. She had a hard life, becoming a widow at an early age and then losing both her sons, one in a car accident at the age of 29 and the other from a fatal heart attack at the age of 48. Perhaps understandably, she became a very bitter person, and I had sympathy for her at times but it was so difficult spending time with her.

1.31.16 ~ Essex, Connecticut

And then there is the dark cloud hanging over our country now…

But…

1.1.17 ~ Larisa and Katherine enjoy taking selfies for the grandparents, even on rainy days. They’re coming to visit soon!

I am full of gratitude to be living so close to many places where I can go and find grounding and healing in the natural world. And when I cannot get outside I hear the song birds singing, the gulls calling, the Canada geese honking — I love that sound — and enjoy the lovely water-reflected light that flows indoors.

There are many blessings we continue to enjoy, including our darling granddaughter. We’re looking forward to having her puttering around the house while Tim is recovering. Like her mother, our amazing daughter, she is a sweet ray of sunshine, even on a rainy day. 🙂

And our wonderful son, the computer wizard, who lovingly keeps things running smoothly here on my blog. I couldn’t maintain a presence here without him funding and watching over the many things that I fail to understand in the technical world. We had to cancel a January trip to Georgia to see him and his family, because of the surgery, but will reschedule as soon as possible. 🙂

I am surrounded with love and present moment awareness. Life is here/now.

helping hand

RenoufHelpingHand
“The Helping Hand” by Émile Renouf

The first time I ever saw a print of this painting was at an estate sale, not long after my father died on September 19th in 2013. The expression on the man’s face reminded me of my father and the little girl reminded me of myself so I bought it. It’s not in the greatest condition and the coloring is way off. Perhaps the coloring on this digital copy is off, too. Some day I may replace it with a better copy.

He’s been gone for three years now and I still miss him, my favorite teacher. Papa taught me how to wash my hair, how to cross the street, how to trust my own instincts, how to treat animals, how to be compassionate and kind, how to swim, how to ice skate, how to paddle a canoe, how to chop an onion, how to look up words in a dictionary, how to do research, how to enjoy bird-watching, how to garden, how to walk (and play) in the woods — the list goes on. I think of him every time I do any of those things.

It’s almost autumn and I will be eating as many Macoun apples as I can while the season lasts. They were his favorites. He often told me the following story when I was growing up. (It first appeared almost 6 years ago on my blog!)

When my father was a boy growing up on a New England farm during the Great Depression, his family picked as many apples as they could and stored some of them in a barrel in the root cellar. Of course he ate as many as he could while picking them, but his parents had a rule about the ones in the barrel he found exasperating. If anyone wanted an apple later in the fall or winter, he was required to take one that was the least fresh. By the time they got to the fresher ones they had also become much less fresh! So all winter he was having to make do with eating not-so-great apples. If only he had known he might have called on Iduna to keep the apples fresher longer!
~ Barbara Rodgers
(Iduna: Keeper of Apples)

But perhaps I miss him the most whenever I hear a story on the news about a threat from a new virus or other infectious agent. Dad was a microbiologist and was utterly fascinated with microorganisms — viruses, bacteria, spirochetes, amoebas, fungi, parasites. He would never tire of explaining things about them to me and correcting any misinformation the media might be passing along to his fellow citizens. And I never tired of listening. I find myself wondering what he would have had to say about the Zika virus. It’s not easy finding someone so interested in this subject!

I didn’t notice it at first, but my father died on his older brother’s birthday. Jon Stephen was born on September 19th in 1909 in Ukraine. My father, Theodore William, never knew his older brother because Jon died of a ruptured appendix on March 15th in 1919 in New York, when he was only 9 years old. Papa was born three years later on March 13th in 1922. A little bit of synchronicity there I think.

Still missing you, my dear old Papa!

dark places

theodorkittelsen.december
“December” by Theodor Kittelsen

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair; and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
(The Fellowship of the Ring)

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
~ Max Ehrmann
(Desiderata)

a trail of busted stuff

"The White Mantle" by Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) American Painter
“The White Mantle” by Willard Metcalf

1° F here this frigid morning… Winter storm Bethany dumped some snow on us Thursday and Friday, and this morning I peeked out the window to see what kind of shoveling job I have ahead of me this afternoon, when it should be a little bit warmer. It doesn’t look like many of our neighbors have been out to shovel either. The world seems so still in the cold.

It was a production getting the bathroom warm enough to take a shower in! But now that I am clean and swathed in extra layers of clothing, I decided to find a painting and type out a few words for a blog post. It’s a start.

Not surprisingly, after nine months of unrelenting stress, my poor husband has succumbed to a bad cold. He’s tucked in on the couch, watching old movies and science fiction movies – a well-deserved rest from his care-giving. I’m bringing him soup, tissues, medicines, hot tea with honey. It’s going to take us a long time to recuperate and rebuild after a rolling stone entered our lives, in the form of his brother Toby.

A rolling stone gathers no moss
But leaves a trail of busted stuff
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Busted Stuff) ♫

I hesitate to write much about the past year and the the joys and sorrows it brought, all blessings, some in disguise. Toby was easy to love but impossible to live with. Yet somehow we did it. I still had much to learn about family love and pain and trust and compassion. My heart is full of gratitude as I hibernate here in the winter to contemplate and heal…

Toby

Late this morning, Tim’s brother died here at our home, where he had come to live out his last days with terminal bladder cancer. He was only 53, and he struggled to live fully until the bitter end. We feel blessed by all the family who have come at various times to help us through this sad chapter in our lives. Fran and Josh were here at the end, and we are all relieved that Toby has been released from his suffering.

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.
~ Annie Dillard
(Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

a wooden way

"The Little Owl" by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) German Artist
“The Little Owl” by Albrecht Dürer

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #372)