Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Mom and Our Wedding Decisions

While I like to think I am the best of both of my parents, my mom and I were very close and watching her health decline while Rick and I  were falling in love, celebrating our engagement and planning our wedding was difficult. Fortunately, she made no secret of her happiness for me, she adored Rick and was thrilled I had finally found my one. The photograph above is and will likely always be one of my most cherished pictures from our original wedding. We planned this hometown wedding in Waukesha, where I was born and grew up, so it would be easy for my parents to attend.  My mom had dementia and her short-term memory was declining thus why we chose to hurry up and get married.

Rick and I had many heartfelt conversations about how, where and when to have our wedding, many that ended in my tears. Being a wedding planner most certainly did not exempt us from the stress, emotion and challenges of planning a wedding or two, in fact, it actually just complicated the situation. The goal and the only real non-negotiable was to have all our parents in attendance. Easy? Not so much, but happy to report: mission accomplished.  Thanks to my wonderful husband and my amazing and accommodating in-laws for making it happen. Having my mom at our wedding offered me so much comfort in her final days. She passed away peacefully two months after our wedding.

Our other ask was that our nieces and nephews and siblings were in attendance. That's all we really needed. Of course, we wanted our friends, aunts, uncles and cousins, but given the situation, an intimate immediate family wedding in Wisconsin sooner, followed by an encore celebration in Boston with extended family and dear friends, later was the decision we landed on. Turns out, it was an excellent decision! If anyone was offended for not being included in our original wedding, hopefully after my mom passed they were more understanding to what motivated our difficult decision.  Neither wedding was perfect, life happens and is unavoidable, but we did have two beautiful, wonderful and very memorable wedding weekends with those we love.

I will attempt to share much of our back story, the planning and of course the fruits of our labor in the weeks and months to come. First I want to talk about my mom briefly, because she was superb, deserves to be honored and will be remembered always. She was a passionate, lively, courageous, strong willed, big-hearted woman. She loved her family and children most. In her prime, milestones, birthdays and holidays never went unacknowledged. She was thoughtful, generous, festive and loving. I am a better woman, friend and event planner because of her and I plan to honor her memory by being a loving wife and devoted mother, cherishing my family the way she treasured hers.  My husband read the eulogy I wrote at her funeral. We played songs from Elvis and The Beatles and filled the room with old photographs, mum plants, dear friends and our extended family.  It was a sentimental and appropriate tribute to my life long friend, companion and mother.

Thank you for indulging me as I get personal-- it feels necessary in order to be authentic-- something I pride myself in personally and professionally. 

My mom on our wedding day.

My mom's eulogy:

Donna had a huge heart and was one of the most generous souls. Her commitment to family was unmatched and she spoiled her loved ones with thoughtfulness and affection. She was a devoted daughter to Vi and Joe Graf, wife to Tom, but lived for her kids Tammy and Dan and made sacrifices so that they wanted for nothing growing up. From Tammy’s twirling of a baton to Dan’s first day of t- ball practice when the coach had to tell Donna that Dan probably shouldn’t wear cowboy boots on the field. Donna made sure they had ever opportunity available to them and never missed a lesson, practice or activity. She and Tom were at every school conference and in the front row at all events -- be it a play, a concert or a game. 

Donna lived her entire life in Wisconsin. Meeting Tom at the age of fourteen, HE was her first and last love. She has a collection of amazing and loyal life long friends some who are waiting for her in heaven, others who are here with us today. Raised as an only child, she left this world surrounded by the love of the four sisters she inherited when she married Tom almost 45 years ago, after their 10 years of crushing, flirtation and eventual courtship. Tom said that he couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life. As a protective and extremely proud mother to Tammy and Dan, both who adore her and will treasure the memories of their loving mom always. She was so happy to see them in loving relationships with wonderful partners. One of her greatest joys in life was her grandchildren. Callen and Hattley were her little sweetie pies. They made her life complete and brought much happiness to her final years. 
Donna enjoyed family trips to Wisconsin Dells and Great American each summer, and their big vacation to Florida. Donna and Tom also enjoyed bus trips, gambling outings
and using their timeshare in various locations. Some of her most memorable trips included gambling and shows in Las Vegas, a horse drawn carriage ride in New York City, and touring Scotland, Ireland and England with Tammy and Linda.

Donna was burdened by many health complications throughout her adult years, but they only encouraged her to live life to it’s fullest. 

Once her nest was empty she started to ease up on her overprotective acts of parenthood and focus on having fun. She loved live music, followed many musicians, and invited her friends to discover new bands. She liked to listen, dance and socialize with her old friends, and the new ones she made along the way. There wasn’t a festival she didn’t like, but the state fair may have been her favorite summertime activity.

Donna enjoyed going out to eat, she loved a good steak and Friday’s were made for Tallengers and a fish fry. She loved visiting the puppy bins on her frequent trips to the local humane society.

She was the master of making birthdays and holidays magical for her family.

Donna is at peace knowing that her kids are happy and loved. Hattie and Rick (her favorite son-in-law) made it just under the wire as her vascular dementia compromised her short-term memory. She was thrilled to see her family grow with the addition of grandchildren and in-laws.

Her final days were filled with visits from family and friends—she was able to express her gratitude to her visitors, reciprocate their love and make jokes until the end.

So next time you drink an ice cold bottle of water, enjoy a steak, plan a night out with live music or see a puppy, think of Donna, she’ll be looking down at you and smiling.

Thanks to all those who loved her and to those who have been loved by her, may you find comfort in the memories and think of her happily often.

Here is my mom's obituary and a tribute to her life.


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