Yesterday I was blessed with the honor of writing and delivering the eulogy for my Great Aunt Loretta’s funeral, and while I fear that I am writing too many memoires in my blog lately, death is just another part of life.
I am publishing this here in case you didn’t have a chance to attend, and wish to read it, and of course, to save it for all eternity.
This is not just a eulogy for my great Aunt Loretta, it is a Memoir, a reconnaissance of her life. She was Aunt Loretta to almost every one of us in this room.
Loretta Marie Okonek was born January 23rd, 1937 in Yelm, Washington, to her parents Pauline Sheldon and Francis Okonek, and she weighed just over two pounds.
She was one of two babies born prematurely in the home that day. When the doctor left after tending to Great Grandma and the babies, he told her that they would be lucky to live through the night. Aunt Loretta defied that doctor for 80 years, as did her twin sister, Aunt LaDonna, who we are lucky to still have with us. Aunt Loretta is also survived by her older brother Frank Mundt, known to most us as Grandpa.
Loretta was a devout Catholic, belonging to Saint Alphonsus church in Seattle for many years and she was a proud parishioner of Holy Rosary Parish here in Tacoma for over 30 years. She did her best to get to church every Sunday. Although, I promise, you never wanted to sit behind her at mass. 🙂
Aunt Loretta’s favorite color was green and her favorite Holiday was Thanksgiving, as she loved nothing more than spending time with family. I daresay though, that it was more about the meal. She loved taking home the turkey carcass to make into soup, which she swore up and down was Uncle Frank’s favorite. She was also a stuffing aficionado, it was the only other food she ever wanted to take home from Thanksgiving dinner as leftovers. She always called it dressing though, and did not hesitate to let everybody know if it was too dry, too wet or had too much seasoning.
When I was young, most of the family lived in Seattle. Aunt Loretta, Aunt Donna and Great Grandma lived in Ballard. When grandma babysat me, it was inevitable that she would go into her bedroom and take a nap. That’s when the fun would begin for me and Aunt Loretta. She and I often would walk across the street to the Ballard Locks to watch the salmon go up the ladder, or to 7-11 for a Slurpie for me, and a Diet Pepsi for her. She was the one to take me on my first bus ride. She wasn’t supposed to. We were back before grandma woke up, and it was a secret. The story didn’t come out to the family until many years later and the truth was questioned almost up to the day Aunt Loretta left us. I will tell you the truth today though, she did take me on that bus ride.
Aunt Loretta was an artist. When I was younger she would do these paintings, with ball point squeezy paint pens on cloth pictures. She had every color you could imagine, and she would never let me touch them. My favorite was one of several horses running through a field. That one was elaborate and took her a very long time to finish. I used to try to make a sneaky plan to get at those paint pens when she wasn’t looking, but I never did get to try them.
Honing in on her art skills later in life, Aunt Loretta loved to paint ceramic figurines, plates, cups and piggy banks. I have so many of them that I will cherish. She was so proud to give them to loved ones and family members for birthdays and Christmas gifts.
One Christmas about ten years ago, she gave me the ultimate set. The owls you see before you now. There are so many pieces. The light in her eyes when she watched me open each piece was unforgettable. Owl after owl came out of those gift bags. I cannot imagine how long it must have taken her to do each piece. Glasses, mugs, a cookie jar, a pitcher, salt and pepper shakers. She had asked me several times months before if I liked owls……… I had no idea what I was in for.
Almost all of these ceramic works of art she made at the Lighthouse Senior Center, it was one of her favorite places to go, and she would usually attend several times per week. Thank you to anyone here today from Lighthouse, you were a big part of Aunt Loretta’s life.
If you have one of her pieces, and I know you do, I hope you hang on to it forever, and that you cherish the love that she put into it, because if you have one, it meant that she loved you.
Oh and if you are wondering about this snazzy sweatshirt I’m wearing up here today…… Aunt Loretta made this for me too.
Aunt Loretta was passionate about Bingo and slot machines, and lucky too, she would often win. She and Aunt Donna were still taking the shuttle to bingo right up until Aunt Loretta just couldn’t do it any more. She would glue multiple sets together and go so fast up and down those rows of numbers. She never missed a beat and would even have time left over in between numbers.
Aunt Loretta was also a champion bowler and belonged to a bowling league for many years, she was very good at it.
Aunt Loretta, she loved to go shopping. I think her favorite store was JC Penney’s, but maybe that’s because she and Aunt Donna could get their hair done at the same time. She always wanted to look her best, she often changed hair color and had many a permanent.
Aunt Loretta loved her family above all I think, and always looked forward to birthday parties and holidays. She knew everyone’s birthdate, down to the year that they were born and their age that day. She knew which day of the week your birthday would fall on, even six months in advance. Of course in the same way she knew birthdays, she knew phone numbers. Aunt Loretta was incredible with numbers. She would always call on your birthday, usually at 6 am, and if you didn’t answer, she would try again. And you would do your best to answer that call because you did not want to make Aunt Loretta angry. She had a habit of swearing at you like a sailor if you made her angry. I was called a “Damn Jackass” on more than one occasion, and I’m not the only one.
It was important to her that you knew that she was thinking of you.
When Loretta was diagnosed with incurable cancer, it did scare her, just like it would scare any of us. It did not however, effect her spunk or her stubborn attitude. When going to doctor appointments, she told each and every doctor and nurse that she was “fine”. She would never admit to feeling bad, or having pain, or a lack of appetite.
She would look straight into the eyes of those doctors and nurses and say, “No shots!” Nobody gonna cut my body open. Nope. No way Jose!” That was her answer to every one of their questions. She would tell them of her plans to go to bingo and to her club adventures that were coming up, and how she didn’t really have time to bother with any doctors and hospitals.
The home care nurses loved to see her, they would laugh with her, and inquire about her monsterous fat cat, Bootsie. I swear Bootsie weighs 35 pounds. She was full of love, opinions and just that little bit of vinegar, all the way up to her last days. She wanted to keep living, she really did, and she fought til the last minute.
Even as we had to make the decision to get her to 24 hour care, she would still say “I’m fine”, when she clearly wasn’t. She wanted to get to one more round of Bingo, one more game of Canasta at the Center, one more Diet Pepsi in the white can, one more bowl of good clam chowder, and paint that one more piece of pottery.
She was looking forward to Thanksgiving, and to drawing Paul’s name once again for Christmas. Simply put, she looked forward to life. She gave it her all, but did it her way. No needles, no pokes, no medications, and no hospitals. The cancer won her body, but could not take her spirit.
She missed a party or two during the last few weeks she was with us, and she said it’s because she didn’t want everyone to stare at her, so as we take this time to remember Aunt Loretta, we won’t be staring at her now either.
Aunt Loretta went to the big Bingo game in the sky last Thursday, October 5th, 2017 around 8 pm. Rest in peace Aunt Loretta, you are so loved, you are remembered and we miss you already.