February 19, 2016

"I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to hang you. Will you marry me?”

A story, so unbelievable, so moving, it will be will be passed on for generations.  Dani Rakoff recounts it on Facebook

Rabbi Yosef Wallis, director of Arachim of Israel, talks to Project Witness about his father, Judah Wallis, who was born and raised in Pavenitz, Poland.

While he was in Dachau, a Jew who was being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at my father, Judah Wallis. He caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Upon opening it, however, he was disturbed to discover a pair of tefillin. Judah was very frightened because he knew that were he to be caught carrying tefillin, he would be put to death instantly. So he hid the tefillin under his shirt and headed for his bunkhouse.
At the 25th lash, Judah lost consciousness and was left for dead. He was about to be dragged to a pile of corpses , after which he would have been burned in a ditch, when another Jew saw him, shoved him to the side, and covered his head with a rag so people didn’t realize he was alive. Eventually, after he recovered consciousness fully, he crawled to the nearest bunkhouse that was on raised piles and hid under it until he was strong enough to come out under his own power. Two months later he was liberated.

"I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to hang you. Will you marry me?”
During the hanging and beating episode, a 17-year-old girl had been watching the events from the women’s side of the fence. After liberation, she made her way to Judah. She walked over to him and said, "I’ve lost everyone. I don’t want to be alone any more. I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to hang you. Will you marry me?”

My parents walked over to the Klausenberger Rebbe and requested that he perform the marriage ceremony. The Klausenberger Rebbe, whose Kiddush Hashem is legendary, wrote out a kesubah [marriage contract] by hand from memory and married the couple. I have that handwritten kesubah in my possession to this day.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:02 AM | Permalink

March 13, 2015

"He became the train that was carrying his little girl"

Like any boy David Warren loves railways.  He never met his mother's father, Oliver Holmes,  was a railway engineer who drove steam engines carrying coal all around Cape Breton and passenger cars  between Halifax and Sydney.   

This is his family story, part of post entitled Narrow-gauge railways.

My mother was then a young nurse at Halifax. Old Oliver knew he was dying, in the hospital at New Waterford (since defunct), in the moments when he was in his wits; but there was some question how long he would take. His wife, Annie, and his elder daughter, Mildred, would sit with him, and by the account of the latter (died 1989), he was something to see when out of them (his wits). He would pronounce on various matters, “like an Old Testament Prophet.” In his delirium one day he suddenly demanded that his younger daughter, Florrie (my mother), be summoned from Halifax. A trunk call was placed, to her ward matron, and up came my mama on the day’s last train.

My Aunt Mildred, church organist and ecumenical saint, whose every word could be absolutely trusted, stayed by her father’s bedside that evening. Grandpa remained awake and extremely alert. In the course of the evening, he became the train that was carrying his little girl. He would take her home. He could remember the whole route, every signal and station, every cutting and bridge — the whole ten hours. He could count off the times by the minute and the half-minute, following the clock exactly.

She had made Port Hawkesbury.

She was skirting the shore of the Bras d’Or.

She was approaching North Sydney! She was at Sydney Mines! And finally, she was pulling into Sydney Station.

“She’ll take a cab, she’ll be right over.” And to the minute, she walked in the door.

Mama: still dressed in her nurse’s uniform, and cap, and cape. She’d run from the ward to catch that train, packing nothing. They embraced, and old Oliver, looking strangely well and almost youthful, said, “You girls go home now, get some rest. We’ll talk tomorrow. Florrie’s had a long journey. Tell your mother I’m well, I need some rest, too.”

It seems almost redundant to add that he died that night.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:27 PM | Permalink

Revived by the power of love

Revived by the power of love: Incredible moment 'dead' premature baby came back to life after mother begged to cuddle him for a few last moments and ordered his father to take off his shirt and help
First-time parents Kate and David Ogg were heartbroken when they were told one of their twins - born two minutes apart at just 26 weeks - had stopped breathing and had just moments to live.

Thinking it was the only time they would have with the tiny boy they had already decided to name Jamie, Kate asked to be able to hold the lifeless child, and told David to climb into the hospital bed for a tender embrace.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.

 Parents Cuddle 'Dead' Baby

In this mother's loving arms, the little boy started moving, and his breathing grew stronger. Hospital staff rushed back to his aid and together brought the baby back to life.

Five years on, Jamie Ogg is a healthy, happy kid whose biggest problem regarding his troubled entry in the world is having a little brother who tells anyone who'll listen that he used to be dead but now he's alive.

 Ogg Twins At 5

When the twins were first told of their miracle birth, Emily burst into tears and wouldn't stop hugging Jamie.  Remarkably, Jamie has not encountered one medical problem in the five years since his birth

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:30 AM | Permalink

February 19, 2015

"In this tight-knit village, these men will not be remembered for their brutal murders"

An important story that reminds us that  real people and real families behind the bloody executions by ISIS.

ISIS Boasted Of These Christians' Deaths. Here Are The Lives They Lived.

The men were laborers, gone for months on end, who sent home hard-earned money to feed entire families. They left their impoverished home in Egypt to work in Libya for a better future, despite the dangers. What they found instead was a militant group hell-bent on humiliating and harming them because they were Christian. While most of the people killed by the Islamic State have been Muslim, the group's recent propaganda video made a point to threaten Christianity as a religion. The fact that the 21 men were Egyptian made them even more sought-out targets: citizens of a country cracking down on Islamists both within its own borders and inside Libya.

On Jan. 3 at around 2:30 a.m. in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, masked gunmen began knocking on doors, according to survivors. They were looking for Christians marked with traditional tattoos on their hands that identified them as Copts, an ancient Christian sect in Egypt. Some men were pulled from their beds at gunpoint. Others hid and prayed, only to later see their captured friends and family members decapitated in a widely circulated and highly produced Islamic State video.

But in this tight-knit village, these men will not be remembered for their brutal murders. They are remembered as beloved husbands, sons, brothers, cousins and friends. In death, their lives are celebrated.

Here are the lives they lived, as told by family members.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:29 AM | Permalink

October 20, 2014

Glimpses of the afterlife?

Top brain surgeon who claims he saw heaven while in a coma reveals the stories of others who say they have had similar life-changing experiences

Neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander was convinced out-of-body experiences were hallucinations — until he went into a coma himself and had what he now believes was a glimpse of heaven.  In this second extract from his book The Map Of Heaven, Dr Alexander, who has taught at Harvard Medical School, reveals many others have also seen what he described.
A man called David experienced exactly that, when his father died. With his three siblings, he was sitting in a private room at a hospice where his dad had been for 13 days. They had kept a constant bedside vigil, and it was plain that the end was near.  At 4am, with the room in darkness except for a single night-light in the wall, their father took his last breath — and as he did, a speck of glowing dust seemed to settle on his temple. It was like a pinprick of gold.

No light was shining on the old man’s face, yet this particle of dust was vivid and luminous. As David watched, it began to swell into a pea-sized orb. Now it was a translucent blue, like the light underneath a candle flame. White rays sparkled from it.

The orb lifted, hovered, and then drifted across the room, still effervescing with sparks, until it disappeared through the ceiling. David followed it with his eyes, not daring to speak, until it was gone — and then he turned to one of his sisters. ‘Did you see that?’ he asked.

His sister said: ‘You mean that light that just came out of the side of Dad’s head?’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:58 PM | Permalink

March 25, 2014

Giraffe in final goodbye that gave goose bumps to everyone watching

In the Netherlands, Giraffe licks dying zoo worker

 2Giraffe Licks Dying Man-1

A giraffe gave a lick to a dying man who asked as a last wish to be taken to Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where he had done odd jobs for 25 years.

Mario Eijs, who is mentally disabled, had developed a brain tumor and had difficulty walking or speaking. He wanted to pay a final visit to the co-workers and animals he loved.

The Stichting Ambulance Wens offers free transport to terminally ill patients.

Several giraffes became curious when Eijs was brought to their inside enclosure on March 19.

"Mario got a lick on his nose after a lot of snuffles," Foundation worker Olaf Exoo said in a written summary of the day. Exoo said it was "a last greeting to each other that gave everybody watching goose bumps."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:56 AM | Permalink

August 1, 2013

Tweeting the death of his mother

Goodbyes and Grief in Real Time

Scott Simon’s first Twitter message about his mother, dated July 16, squeezed a universal story involving heartbreak and humor into 21 words. He wrote: “Mother called: ‘I can’t talk. I’m surrounded by handsome men.’ Emergency surgery. If you can hold a thought for her now … ”

The ellipsis hinted that he’d have more to say later, and he did. “We never stop learning from our mothers, do we?” he asked on July 25. By then his mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman, 84, had spent several nights in the intensive care unit of a Chicago-area hospital. And Twitter users around the world were getting to know her, thanks to the short bursts of commentary by Mr. Simon, the host of “Weekend Edition Saturday” on NPR.

 Scott Simon Tweeting Grief

The tweets captured the attention of a significant portion of the social-media world for days.

Mr. Simon wrote on Monday morning that “her passing might come any moment,” and that evening it did, when she died after being treated for cancer. Borrowing from “Romeo and Juliet,” he wrote, “She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night,” and then stopped tweeting for half a day.

“When I began to tweet, I had almost no thought that this was going to be my mother’s deathbed,” Mr. Simon said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, after the outpouring of emotion — his Twitter audience’s as well as his own — had made national headlines. His mother, he said, had originally gone into the hospital for a blood test.

“As it got more serious, she was just so marvelously entertaining and insightful,” he said. “I found it irresistible.”
Mr. Simon said he wanted people to know that “I wasn’t holding my mother in my arms and tweeting with my free hand.”

He added: “As you may know, an incurable illness like this is a lot like war. There are moments of panic and anxiety, separated by hours of tedium.”
Sometimes Ms. Newman gave Mr. Simon, and by extension some of his 1.2 million Twitter followers, a reason to smile or chuckle: “Believe me,” she told him on Saturday, “those great deathbed speeches are written ahead of time.” Sometimes, she seemed to want Mr. Simon to share bits of advice. On Sunday, he encapsulated this thought from his mother: “Listen to people in their 80s. They have looked across the street at death for a decade.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:15 AM | Permalink

February 22, 2013

'Surprise - It's a double header'

Heartbroken husband, 94, dies on the way to his 89-year-old wife's funeral after inseparable couple had joked they would 'never leave one spouse behind'

A heartbroken husband who died on the way to his wife's funeral on Saturday was honored by his family in the way that he had lived - and laid to rest alongside his beloved spouse.
Norman Hendrickson, 94, died suddenly en route to his 89-year-old wife Gwendoline's funeral on February 16. The couple had been married for 66 years.

In the midst of their grief, the couple's daughters knew that there was only one thing to do - hold a joint service for their parents who had been inseparable throughout their lives.
Mr Hendrickson, a World War II veteran, was mourned at the same New York funeral home where his wife Gwen's funeral was already scheduled last Saturday.

Mrs Hendrickson was 89 when she died on February 8. Her husband died just steps from the funeral home where he had planned to say goodbye to his wife.  The couple's two daughters Norman and Merrilyne said it was a fitting way to say goodbye to a couple who had been together since meeting in Britain during World War II.  Norman was overseas with the U.S. Army when he met Gwen, who was serving in the British Royal Air Force. She immigrated to America and they were married in May 1947.

 Norman&Gwendoline Hendrickson

Norma Howland told the Post-Star of Glens Falls: 'After we had a little time to process the shock and horror, we felt we couldn't have written a more perfect script.
'My sister said the only thing he didn't do was fall into the casket.'

Mr Hendrickson, a former assistant postmaster in Cambridge, was being driven in a limousine to the Ackley and Ross Funeral Home for his wife's service when he stopped breathing.
After the limo pulled up, funeral director Jim Gariepy, who is also the local coroner, and funeral home owner Elizabeth Nichols-Ross helped move Norman to the sidewalk outside the business.
Gariepy began CPR while Ms Nichols-Ross and one Norman's sons-in-law raced across town to retrieve his do-not-resuscitate orders from the Hendricksons' refrigerator door.

Once the orders were in hand, an emergency crew that had arrived ceased attempts to revive Norman. He died on the sidewalk.

Nichols-Ross said daughter Merrilyne Hendrickson then requested that her father's body be put into a casket and placed in the viewing room with her mother's cremated remains, which had been placed in an urn.

Mourners who started arriving soon after for Gwen's funeral were greeted by a note Merrilyne posted at the entrance: 'Surprise - It's a double header - Gwen and Norman Hendrickson - February 16, 2013.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:34 AM | Permalink

February 14, 2013

"My love for you is eternal"

 Valentine Flowers After Death

Source Beauty in Spectras via Mme Scherzo

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:39 PM | Permalink

October 18, 2012

Irish Wakes

The truth about the Irish wake

Merrymaking was a common part of the traditional Irish wake and was a part of the grieving process, according to an article in the Irish Independent. Pagan ritual was a huge part of it and much of the carrying-on was frowned upon by the church.  Storytelling, mischief making, and games were all part of the send-off and eased the suffering for the deceased's family.

According to the article, the custom "most likely has its roots in the ancient Jewish custom of leaving the burial chamber unsealed for three days with relatives returning during that time to check for any signs of life.  "As in other Celtic countries, Irish mourners adopted the custom as a way to keep vigil over their dead until the time of burial, and it evolved into an occasion of sadness and merriment."
Common was hiding under the corpse’s bed and shaking it when someone walked in scaring the daylights out of them
According to the Independent, the wake began when neighbor women washed the body of the deceased. It was then covered in white linen adorned with black or white ribbons.  "Custom dictated that crying could not begin until after the body was prepared, for fear that evil spirits would be attracted which would take the soul of the deceased.  "Female keeners were often hired, and they wailed and cried and recited poetry lamenting the loss of the loved one, with the mourner at the head of the bed striking the first note or wail."

It's a good thing I quoted so much of the Anchoress' post on Irish wakes because it's no longer online.  The grand parties of Irish wakes imperiled

Not to be missed is her Irish aunt's description of an Irish wake in Brooklyn about 1926

“For two days, every adult careened between tearful remembrances and roaring recollections. The children milled about, snatchin’ bits of food and plain’ games, stopping’ by for swift kisses (or kicks) from their parents - two people took turns ‘watching’ each hour, in the liven’ room with the body, while the rest of us were in the kitchen or on the stoops, or in the street, sending him off in style. And didn’t everyone stop by! The policeman, the milkman - for the thing went on all day and all night - the knife sharpener, the ragman, the mailman! They would all stop in and pay their respects, and have a shot of the right stuff, in his memory!

The piano played, the songs were sung - I remember a donnybrook in the front, which seemed to include all the young men, pounding’ upon each other like mortal enemies, except they seemed to enjoy the bloody noses and raw knuckles - and when it was time for prayers, they’d come in, sweaty and respectful, they’d pray then have a drink, then head back out and fight some more! Wasn’t it lively - all that lovely life in the middle of all that death!

And the keening! The sound of the women howling’ in grief…well, it didn’t seem sincere, but it had a lovely sort of sting to it - it reminded us that life is pain. And wasn’t I tired after a bit, so tired that I stood looking at the coffin and saw him move! It seemed to me his arm slid down and I went screaming’ into the kitchen telling them, ‘he’s movin’, he’s movin’, he’s not dead!’ And didn’t my uncle Francis say, ‘ah, he’s just wanting to join the party, child!’ and they all went in and apologized to himself for not spending more time with him, and brought a plate of food and laid it on his chest and put a glass in his hand.

It was mad. It was glorious. In the morning, we just stepped over the sleeping bodies on the floor or on the grass, and went out to play. When we returned, it was all on, again, until the funeral procession and the Holy Mass - at which everyone held their heads for fear they might fall off! And wasn’t it, after all, the sanest response to death I’d ever seen? When I die, I should have so grand a party!”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:46 AM | Permalink

April 27, 2012

‘I feel so lucky that my parents wouldn’t take no for an answer.’

Dad rescues ‘brain dead’ son from doctors wishing to harvest his organs – boy recovers completely

LEICESTER, England, April 25, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - According to the Daily Mail newspaper, a young British man owes his life to an insistent father who would not allow his son’s organs to be removed from his body, despite assurances from four doctors that his son could not recover from the wounds he had suffered in a recent car accident.

Here's the Daily Mail story:  The boy who came back from the dead: Experts said car crash teen was beyond hope. His parents disagreed

They were told there was no chance of their son surviving after he suffered devastating injuries in a car crash.
But Steven Thorpe’s parents refused to give up hope – despite four specialists declaring that the 17-year-old was brain dead.
Convinced they saw a ‘flicker’ of life as Steven lay in a coma, John and Janet Thorpe rejected advice to switch off his life support machine.
They begged for another opinion – and it was a decision that saved him.

A neurosurgeon found faint signs of brain activity and two weeks later, Steven woke from his coma. Within seven weeks, he had left hospital.
And four years on, the trainee accounts clerk says he owes everything to the persistence of his parents.
From his home in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, Steven, 21, said: ‘I feel so lucky that my parents wouldn’t take no for an answer.’

Ghoulish as it is, people in hospitals are looking for fresh organs to transplant.    If a loved one of yours is ever in this position, insist upon a brain wave test before agreeing with the person is brain dead.  Even then, insist on pain-killers to be administered during the harvesting.

You should put this in your end-of-life  instructions as well.

If you haven't read What You Lose When You Sign That Organ Donor Card, you should

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:34 PM | Permalink

April 11, 2012

"I fell to my knees when I saw her"

 Analia Bouter+Husband

Analia Bouter finds 'stillborn' baby ALIVE in morgue 12 hours after she was pronounced dead.

A 'stillborn' baby was found alive in a drawer in a hospital morgue by her distressed mother 12 hours after the girl was declared dead, it emerged today.

Analia Bouter was 26 weeks pregnant when she gave birth to her fifth child prematurely at a hospital in Resistencia, in Argentina's northern Chaco province.

But after medical staff told her that the infant was born with no vital signs, her distraught parents went home with a death certificate.

Twelve hours later, Mrs Bouter and her husband decided to go to see their baby's body, which was being kept in a refrigerated drawer at the Perrando hospital morgue.

She  told Argentina's Clarin newspaper: ‘That night, we went to the morgue. We wanted to take a photo of our daughter.

'But when a worker opened the drawer, we heard a cry and she was alive.’

She said she ‘stepped back and fell to my knees’ after she ‘saw her stretching,' the mother added.

My baby was born at 10.24am and at 11.05am was already in the drawer. She spent 12 hours in the freezing cold of that morgue. I saw for myself the ice on her body.’
She said: ‘At first the doctors said that she was born dead, then said she had died shortly after birth because she was too small to survive.

‘I don't know who is to blame, and I'm not thinking about it at this moment. The joy of knowing she's alive is covering every other feeling. I'm a Christian, and I believe this was a miracle of God.’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:54 PM | Permalink

February 18, 2012

Hitler's Son and How Stalin Became a Catholic

New claims emerge that Fuhrer had a son with Frenchwoman

Now new information has emerged that adds weight to Jean-Marie Loret’s claim to have been Hitler’s son from a brief relationship with a French woman during the First World War.

-Hitler + Jean-Marie Loret
Hitler on the left, Jean-Marie Loret on the right

Mr Loret, who was born in March, 1918, grew up knowing nothing about his father, apart from the fact that he was German.

It was only in the late 1950s, just before  her death, that his mother, Charlotte Lobjoie, finally told him the story that was to haunt him for the rest of his life. At 16, she told him, she had a brief affair with Hitler while he was a young soldier fighting in northern France.  Her extraordinary story has divided historians for years.
Jean-Marie grew up to fight the Germans in 1939 and later, during the Nazi occupation, joined the French Resistance.
The news of his father’s identity appalled him and for 20 years he tried to forget it.

He once said: ‘In order not to get depressed, I worked non-stop, never took a holiday, and had no hobbies. For twenty years I didn’t even go to the cinema.’

'He had the feelings of many illegitimate children – the desire to find a past, however heavy...'

How Stalin became a Catholic

Tolstoy once remarked that we die as we live and that we can’t expect to die a good death except through living a good life. A friend has just sent me the obituary of Svetlana Stalin, daughter of the dictator, who died peacefully at a nursing home in Wisconsin on November 22 2011. This obituary, from the Christmas issue of The Catholic, published by a small community of religious from the Orkney Islands, describes the turbulent and often sad life of this woman, whose mother was driven to suicide by her father when she was six and whose father later brutally rejected her when she married without his consent.


Married three times, giving birth to three children, two of whom she became permanently estranged from, she lived in Cambridge for some years. It was there, in 1982, “on a cold December day, the feast of St Lucy… the decision to enter the Catholic Church came to me very naturally”, as she writes in her memoirs.. This decision had been influenced by a long friendship/correspondence with an Italian Catholic priest and the support and kindness of a Catholic couple she had met in America.

Svetlana writes that after her conversion “Only now I understand the wonderful grace that the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist produce, no matter what day of the year, and even on a daily basis. Before, I was unwilling to forgive and repent, and I was never able to love my enemies. But I feel very different from before, since I attend Mass every day.
The obituary includes Svetlana’s recollection of the death of Stalin himself. It seems he suffered a stroke on the night of February 28 1953. She writes, “The death agony was terrible. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of fear of death. Then he suddenly lifted his left hand. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace…”

New York Times obituary here

But she could not forgive his cruelty to her. “He broke my life,” she said. “I want to explain to you. He broke my life.” 

And he left a shadow from which she could never emerge. “Wherever I go,” she said, “here, or Switzerland, or India, or wherever. Australia. Some island. I will always be a political prisoner of my father’s name.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:50 AM | Permalink

January 17, 2012

Dead cert

That's what you call a dead cert! Gambler's family place tribute bets on day of his funeral... and they all win

The family of a prolific gambler who loved a flutter on the horses paid tribute to him by placing bets on the day of his funeral - and they ALL won.

Leonard Collacott, 83, made daily trips to his local bookies on his mobility scooter until his death last month.

So five of his closest family members bet on horses on the day of his funeral - and they all came in, including a 25-1 outsider called Divine Rule.

They netted £400 - which they spent on Champagne to toast Leonard’s life with his widow Dorothy, 82.

His funeral cortege was even directed past the bookies where he had spent so much of his time and money as a mark of respect.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 AM | Permalink

December 28, 2011

"The strong voice of Great-Aunt Ada has completely converted me to family history"

Lisa Jardine, a professor of Renaissance Studies in London, tells how she became  A Convert to Family History.

For several years, my sister Judith has been researching the family history of the Flattos - my father's mother's family - inspired by the boxes of faded family photographs discovered among my parents' possessions, dating from the beginning of the 20th Century, and inscribed with locations ranging from Lodz in Poland to Kyverdale Road in London.

Her attempts to identify and connect the sitters in the photographs has led her deep into genealogy, and obliged her to learn about European history in the early decades of the 20th Century. She has journeyed intrepidly to the ends of the District and Metropolitan Tube lines, to Jewish cemeteries at East Ham, Rainham and Bushey, to read genealogical data off the family gravestones.

I confess that, as a professional historian, I did not always take her efforts seriously - in genealogy, so much depends on guesswork and surmise, so many of the documents defy interpretation. ..
In one of our family boxes, for example, is a formal wedding photograph of my grandmother, Celie Flatto, barely in her 20s, with her new husband Abram Bronowski. Taken in 1906, it is stamped with the address of the photographer's studio: 436 Whitechapel Road, London.

  Abram&Celie London1906

But her eldest son, my father, was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1908. He did not arrive in London with his parents and two siblings until 1920. Nothing in the records explains why the couple were in London earlier nor why they had returned to Poland.
Then, last summer, Judith telephoned me. She had discovered that two nieces of Grandma Celie were still alive and happy to meet us.

So in early October we went to tea with Ruth and Dorothy, sharp-as-mustard octogenarian daughters of Celie's much-younger sisters, Ada and Mary. Over biscuits and cups of tea they studied Judith's cache of photographs, casually identifying people she would never have been able to match to her family tree. "Oh look, that's me with my mother and Auntie Rose," and "There are my aunts, all dressed up to go out dancing."
I study the period 1500-1800. All those who play a part in the stories I endeavour to reconstruct are long dead. What a thrill, then, to encounter the miracle of oral history - of having a person in front of you who was actually there.

And then, out of the blue, Ruth recalled that 30 years ago, when her mother Ada - born in 1895, so then in her 90s - was living with her, she had sat her down and recorded several hours of reminiscences about her family. Perhaps she might be able to locate the cassette tapes and we might be interested in hearing them?

So it was that I was able to listen to four hours of a voice from the past recounting, with absolute clarity and lucidity, events of more than 100 years ago. Daughter Ruth is there too, firmly steering her mother back to the point, whenever she tends to digress - a tour-de-force in gentle interviewing guidance.
The strong voice of Great-Aunt Ada has completely converted me to family history. She has put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and given me a real sense of inhabiting my own history as British.

We did not wash up on England's shores by chance. In dangerous, prejudiced times, Britain welcomed my family not once but twice as economic migrants.

Like anyone else who has begun to explore their roots, I am, of course, determined to find out more. I will certainly never be disparaging about family history again.

What a treasure there was in those reminiscences recorded 30 years ago by a woman in her 90s.  I'm sure it was a pleasure for Great Aunt Ada to record her family stories, the real treasure was unearthed 30 years later. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:10 PM | Permalink

July 1, 2011

I buried my mother 15 years ago... but now she's turned up ALIVE

You can't beat this headline.

I buried my mother 15 years ago... but now she's turned up ALIVE

A woman who thought she had buried her mother 15 years ago got a shock when the old woman turned up alive and in Florida.

Grace Kivisto, 56, from Knox County, Illinois, was told human remains found in a local brickyard in 1996 belonged to her mother.

But investigators using DNA analysis last week told her family the remains were not those of their missing relative.

Then, yesterday, detectives told Mrs Kivisto her missing mother had been found, alive and well, in Jacksonville, Florida.

She told WQAD.com: 'I was out gardening, and a detective came to tell me that they had found my mother. Alive!'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 AM | Permalink

June 8, 2011

Revenge from the grave

Elizabeth Edwards’ revenge from the grave: She 'secretly recorded death-bed video testimony to help nail John'

In a final act of revenge, Elizabeth Edwards secretly recorded a testimony in her dying days that helped prosecutors indict husband John last week, it was claimed today.

John Edwards is due to stand trial on charges that could lead to a 30-year jail sentence after he pleaded not guilty on Friday to using $925,000 in campaign funds to cover up an affair and love child.

The estranged wife of the former presidential candidate is alleged to have filmed a damning testimony that was central to the prosecution’s case for charges.

Friends said the cancer victim, who died in December, wanted to ‘haunt’ her estranged husband and his mistress Rielle Hunter, with whom he fathered a child and made a sex tape.

‘Elizabeth wanted to exact final revenge against John for destroying their 33-year marriage and their family by cheating with Rielle,’ a source close to the scandal told The National Enquirer.

‘It was Elizabeth’s idea to secretly record a video and tell what she knew of the affair and John’s horrific betrayal.’

Lawyers said the video that was recorded as Mrs Edwards died from cancer could be vital in the prosecution of her estranged husband.

Bruce Baron, an expert on federal law, said: ‘The value of a potential dying declaration, or tape, containing the testimony of Elizabeth Edwards, is devastating to any case or defence that Edwards would have.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:25 PM | Permalink

March 2, 2011

"Miracle Danielle"

The baby born after her mum was shot dead

It's a story of great joy at a birth, immense sadness at a death and the heroics of a young boy who called 911.

A pregnant woman was shot to death next to her husband, but doctors were still able to deliver her baby girl alive in hospital after their nine-year-old son called for help.

Tenishia Latham, 25, and Larry Latham, 28, were both shot by a man with whom Mr Latham was having an argument with in Clinton Township, Ohio, police said.

Their three children - aged four, eight and nine - were at home when the attack happened but remained unharmed, and the eldest son called for an ambulance.

Mrs Latham, seven months pregnant, was taken to Riverside Methodist Hospital and pronounced dead from a head shot, but the baby girl was safely delivered.

The 3lbs girl has been called 'Miracle Danielle' and is now being cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit before being weaned off oxygen, reported ABC6.

Mr Latham was found in a yard after being shot during the incident in the early hours of Monday and is now in a critical condition at Ohio State University Medical Center.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:19 AM | Permalink

August 19, 2010

"While the son lay in a coffin playing at the oblivion of eternity"

Then, years later, Julian wrote in his Memoirs: "Thus it was that just as my father passed from this earth, I was lying in a coffin during my initiation into Delta Kappa Epsilon." It is, indeed, remarkable that two such men would participate, unknowingly but at the same time, in the ceremony of dying, the father actually doing it at a distance from his son, while the son lay in a coffin playing at the oblivion of eternity for an hour or so.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Untold Tale by Jack Matthews in the Journal of Higher Education.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:03 AM | Permalink

July 20, 2010

Family secrets, sibling fury and an apartment to die for

The best precis of the Nightmare in Apt 9B is from The Browser

Hitchcock film in the form of a newspaper story. Dying widow, sex-change daughter, idle son battle for ownership of apartment on Central Park West. Ends with jail sentences, hired killer

The struggle over Apartment 9B is one of those real-estate fights that is about far more than real estate — although it may reveal in spectacular terms the lengths that some people will go for a great apartment. Brimming with claims about abuse and inheritance, the battle is about family secrets and sibling fury as much as it is about co-op shares.

It even made public a private gender switch. Mrs. Cheney’s daughter, Ms. Wells, was her first son, Jonathan, before a sex-change operation in the 1970s. The morning that the housekeeper found Mrs. Cheney on the couch was just two days after she had met with lawyers to reconsider her will. Ms. Gordon soon had an ambulance crew wheeling its stretcher across the hardwood floors that are a selling point in the El Dorado’s $4 million co-ops.
The Cheney family battle over whether she can remain is now headed toward a courtroom finale at a trial this fall in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court. Family members declined to be interviewed. But cartons of court documents include diaries, letters, transcripts and reports that detail the battle for Apartment 9B, a family fight that defies real resolution, like thousands of family struggles with bottomless emotions that occupy the courts every year.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:32 AM | Permalink

February 22, 2010

"A thumb in the eye of the Nazis"

2000 living descendants

WHEN Yitta Schwartz died last month at 93, she left behind 15 children, more than 200 grandchildren and so many great- and great-great-grandchildren that, by her family’s count, she could claim perhaps 2,000 living descendants.

Mrs. Schwartz was a member of the Satmar Hasidic sect, whose couples have nine children on average and whose ranks of descendants can multiply exponentially. But even among Satmars, the size of Mrs. Schwartz’s family is astonishing. A round-faced woman with a high-voltage smile, she may have generated one of the largest clans of any survivor of the Holocaust — a thumb in the eye of the Nazis.
Mrs. Schwartz had a zest for life and a devotion to Hasidic rituals, faithfully attending the circumcisions, first haircuts, bar mitzvahs, engagements and weddings of her descendants. With 2,000 people in the family, such events occupied much of the year.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:57 PM | Permalink

January 2, 2010

Villain to Hero

They were told he killed himself in a reckless stunt that also put the lives of children at risk.

But now the family of Bombardier Robert Key have discovered that far from 'showing off' with a live grenade, as the Army had said, their relative was in fact saving a child who had pulled out the device's pin.

Villain to hero: Disgraced WWII soldier sacrificed himself to save lives of 20 children

The tragedy happened in a small town in northern France in the latter part of the Second World War.

And the 'disgrace' meant that for more than half a century the bombardier's family refused to talk about his death.
The truth came to light only when the mayor of the town where it happened traced the soldier's relatives to tell them a road was being named in his honour as he was considered a local hero.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:14 PM | Permalink

December 24, 2009

Family Christmas Tales

One Advent and two Christmas tales to pass along.

The Advent of the Three Miracles

You will understand why I felt a glowing sense of almost giddy joy and exultation that Christmas. Nothing comes closer to expressing how I felt on that Advent Sunday 20 years ago than the inspired scene from the 1951 Alastair Sims Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. "

I'm as light as a feather, I'm as happy as an angel, I'm as merry as a school boy, I'm as giddy as a drunken man."

A tiny foretaste of the happiness for we have all been created.

Hans A. von Spakovsky recalls the brutal Christmases in Germany during and at the end of WW2, in a family story that will be handed down for generations, A Christmas Tale - 1944

My grandmother always enjoyed Christmas -- not because of the gifts, but because her family was together and safe. She had learned to enjoy the time you have with the people you love. She also knew that no matter what the future brings, you can find your way out of almost anything if you don’t give up hope. And she was confident that her grandchildren would never experience in America what her family had endured in Nazi Germany.

My grandmother taught me by her example that determination and optimism can take you almost anywhere, no matter what obstacles you face. Even what appears to be a terrible blow can sometimes turn out for the best. As we celebrate a holiday that is about the birth of hope and salvation, I remember that lesson and am thankful that my family came to America, a nation of new beginnings. It has been a refuge for more than 200 years for immigrants fleeing the tyranny and darkness that pervades so many other places around the world. Merry Christmas!

Tony Woodlief On the narrow path out with his children takes a risk with his son and a young aimless girl and others follow.

I am proud of my son and I want to be like him and I am afraid one day he will be like me, all of these thoughts in me at once, and so what I say is that I love him. Do you see, I ask, how people came to help her after they saw you helping her? He smiles. He is learning to think like an adult, but on this day he didn’t know any better than to give a girl with downturned face money and a smile, which is nothing but everything.
And if you are like me and you look back on the year and think about how once again you have done a poor job of it, of teaching them anything at all that is lasting, take comfort in this: that it is Christmas, that the cycle begins again, that there is still time while they breathe and you breathe. Teach them to watch the star that leads to the baby to the boy to the man to the grave to the life beyond death. Teach them about the joy that has come into a world of downturned, hopeless faces.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:16 PM | Permalink

March 23, 2009

Remembering the Dead Redux

In going through the papers of her late husband, Amy Wellborn came across this column Michael Dubriel wrote in 1995 entitled Remembering the Dead.

If my great-grandfather was present when visiting his wife's grave, he would speak to her in his native Polish in a quiet voice as though he was informing her of the latest news. My father was more reserved in the visits to his father's grave, but somehow I knew that these visits somewhat the same purpose -- to keep in touch with those who had formed and shaped our lives by their presence. Even though they were gone, they were still very much present to us.

My parents and grandparents did not forget the past. The visits to the cemetery were an act of reverencing and honoring the memory that was still very much alive to them of their deceased par ents and spouses. They dealt with the image in the rearview mirror by pulling off the road and confronting the image ob an ongoing basis.

What allowed them to do this was a belief that life did not end in the physical death of their loved ones. As believers in God who had rescued their loved ones from death by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they realized that those who had died were not gone.
That is not all. They believed tha they could still help their deceased love ones complete their spiritual journey toward God. These cemetery visits always concluded in the same way. All who were present would kneel on the ground over the grave, and we would pray, usually an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. These visits kept the memory of our loved ones before us as we remembered the way they lived and the impact they had on our lives as individuals.

Yet such is not the case anymore. During the past 14 years, I have been involved in various forms of pastoral ministry. I have witnessed a new phenomenon that is the opposite of my childhood memories. Rather than remember the dead, people actively try to forget that their loved ones ever existed. The ideal funeral of the 1990s seems to be the following, according to my experience: The deceased is cremated soon after death. The ashes are strewn either over the ocean or over some other peaceful spot. The problem with this is not that it is against any prohibition of the Catholic Church (it no longer is). The problem is that there is no place to reverence their memory or the effect that they still have on our lives.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:56 AM | Permalink

March 2, 2009

"Lost in an historical abyss"

Close to 30,000,000 people were killed by the communists in the USSR, not including deaths from the Second World War.

Russian civil war (1917-1922) 9,000,000 deaths.
Soviet Union under Stalin (1924-1953) 20,000,000 deaths.

Jon Utley's father was one of them.  Jon was only two years old when his father, Arcadi Berdichevsky, a Russian trade official, was sent to a Soviet labor camp by the Soviet secret police.  Because his mother was a British intellectual , she was able to escape with her young son and from there to the USA.

Beginning in 2004,  Jon Utley began a search to find out what happened to his father.  Reason.TV now is making available online the 30 minute documentary Jon Utley's Search for his father which I highly recommend.

So much of what happened under the communists has been "lost in an historical abyss", so it's heartening to see Russians in the north, the Komey republic,  constructing memorials to the executed prisoners who built much of their cities and piecing together files so that descendants can find out what happened to their parents and ancestors who died as prisoners in labor camps.

Jon Utley found the place where his father was executed.  He saw the surroundings, the land and considered a great gift to do so before he died.  There he found a sense of peace, a continuity of being with his long-dead father.

Seventy years later, witness is still being made.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:12 PM | Permalink

April 24, 2008

Siobhan's Miracle at Lourdes

Siobhan Kilfeather was a beautiful professor of English and Irish Literature at Queen's University, Belfast and happily married with two very young children when she was diagnosed with the deadly skin cancer melanoma.  Nine months later, x-rays showed that the cancer had reached her lungs.

She decided to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and her mother-in-law jumped at the chance to go with her.

         Siobhan Miracle Lourdes

Siobhán's "miracle" happened one bitterly cold day in the French Pyrenees in February 2000. There, my stepson's beautiful young wife threw herself at the statue of Mary in the shrine at the holy town of Lourdes.There, my stepson's beautiful young wife threw herself at the statue of Mary in the shrine at the holy town of Lourdes.

With hands outstretched and eyes full of fire, she beseeched the statue. "Holy Mary," she prayed aloud, "you know better than anyone on earth the love a mother has for her children. Surely you won't deprive my babies of their mother. "They need me. I beg you; find it in your heart to give me more time. Let me see them grow up a bit first - then I'll be ready."

Siobhán was begging not for survival, but merely time to see her children grow to an age where they would know and remember her. Constance and Oscar, then aged four and two, and back home in England, were too young to know about the cancer which was already ravaging their mother's body.
Although she was tired after our flight from London, by evening Siobhán declared she was well enough to walk in a candlelight procession with thousands of other pilgrims celebrating the Feast of Our Lady. Before her illness Siobhán had been a vibrant, energetic young woman. Now she walked painfully slowly and her breathing was laboured.

She took my arm as we struggled to keep up with the procession. Suddenly she turned to me and with complete conviction declared: "I felt a shift inside my body today. I believe the cancer has left me. Mary has answered my prayer. She says I'm to be allowed more time with my children."
Siobhán certainly never doubted that she had been spared by the grace of God. She never ceased giving grateful thanks for her reprieve and returned to the faith of her childhood with a renewed fervour.

When you have been so close and stared death in the face, life becomes more precious than ever. >Siobhán set about completing all the things she thought would be denied to her for ever.

Her mother-in-law Ellen Jameson tells her story in a soon-to-be  published book previewed in the Daily Mail,

Did Pilgrimage to Lourdes give my cancer-stricked daughter the miracle of seeing her children grow up?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:58 PM | Permalink

March 5, 2008

Even death couldn't keep this couple apart

Married 58 years, they die 90 minutes apart of different causes in the same hospital .

"I'm fully convinced my dad called my mom and said, 'Let's go.'"

Even death couldn't keep this couple apart

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:20 PM | Permalink

January 26, 2008

"He took pretty much all she had"

A doctor who works at Columbia Presbyterian scammed his 92-year-old mother out of nearly $1 million.

Minnie Motz, the mother who worked her whole life as a librarian never thought her Jewish doctor son would leave her virtually penniless and on the brink of eviction.


Dr. Robin Motz, an internist took control of his mother's finances in 2003 because she was failing physically.

In 2004, when her husband, Lloyd Motz, died, Robin Motz moved his mother's investments from her Oppenheimer account to a Merrill Lynch account in his name, prosecutors said. He liquidated the investments, which had been in tax-free municipal bonds, and began writing checks to cover his credit-card bills, the Manhattan DA's Office charged.

He's now under indictment and faces 15 years in jail.

A woman with a West-Indian accent who picked up the phone at Minnie Motz's apartment would only say, "How would you feel? That's exactly how she feels!"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:50 PM | Permalink

March 29, 2007

Memoir Week

Slate is having a memoir week about people who have written and published memoirs.  They asked a group of memoir writers  whether or not they alerted family members and friends that they were writing about them.

Usually published memoirs incorporate imaginative renderings to flesh out characters and conversations, so how family and friends reacted becomes quite interesting.    Those of you who are beginning to write your own memoir, not for publication, but for yourself and your family, will want to take a look.

Daneille Trussoni wrote a memoir about her relationship with her father who was a tunnel rat in Vietnam while she was living in Sofia, Bulgaria, after extensive research but had few conversations with family members or her father after he developed throat cancer

Sean Wilsey wrote
The way most memoirists have handled still-living people has been to outlive them and then publish. Or publish, then flee.

Yet Wilsey interviewed just about everyone he could think of to write about his mother who when she read the manuscript felt betrayed but was big enough to say
Sean, it's such an accurate portrait of so many people that I know that I've had to conclude it must be an accurate portrait of me, too. And so I'm really going to have to take a look at the fact that I come across that way."
His stepmother hired a lawyer and  threatened to sue.

John Dickerson wrote about his mother Nancy Dickerson
The book I wanted to write was about a journey from an angry kid to the adult who came to love this amazing woman.
Watching old film he found himself
rooting for her as if she were the child and I the parent.

When Frank McCourt wrote Angela's Ashes
I was denounced from hill, pulpit, and barstool. Certain citizens claimed I had disgraced the fair name of the city of Limerick, that I had attacked the church, that I had despoiled my mother's name, and that if I returned to Limerick, I would surely be found hanging from a lamppost.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:35 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

March 16, 2007

The Moments That Define Us

A new movie starring Sally Field and Ben Chaplin called Two Weeks, now in limited release, tells the story about what happens to a family when the one person who holds it together can't hold on anymore.

            Two Weeks Movie

Writer/Director Steve Stockman has a blog describing how he came to write the movie which was inspired by his own experience of being with his siblings as his mother lay dying.  What he found at various screenings was people want to tell their stories.

After one screening in Seattle, I heard about the woman who didn't really know her brother until she spent his last 7 days by his bedside, when he was dying of aids. The woman whose sisters-in-law descended on her mother's house while she was dying and made off with the antiques. The man whose mother refused to talk to him about the fact that she was dying-but knew, and left him 15 pages of notes on how to live. Some funny stories, some sad, some with lessons, some horrifyingly pointless. But all of them very personal and fascinating.

At the Hamptons Film Festival last month, a woman in the audience said that she had never talked about what happened when her brother died, and she was amazed at how similar “Two Weeks” was to what happened to her. Others in the audience agreed.

It turns out that end of life is something that happens to everyone. And lots of people want to talk about it—but it’s such a private and scary subject, they think they’re the only ones.

It’s been great for me to find out that we’ve created a film about an experience common to many, many people. And it’s been great, I think, for people who’ve been through it to realize they’re not alone.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:20 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

March 3, 2007

Anna Nicole's Funeral

  Anna Nicole Funeral-1

Andrea Peyser who was there called it a Wacky D-List Weepapoolsa and reports:

Anna Nicole Smith showed up for her funeral - in a church perched inside a shopping mall - with her coffin decked out in what looked like a giant, pink sequined pasty....
Anna's exit from this world was every bit as bloated, extravagant and needy - and angry - as her life. The onetime nude model and geezer's wife, who achieved her greatest celebrity mainly by dying, was shipped from this world not with a service, but an extravaganza.

And as with all spectacles, there was an animal act.

That came when Anna's companion, Howard K. Stern, took to the pulpit like a Doberman pinscher - condemning Anna's mother, the media, even the lawyers and Florida judge, in a speech so inappropriate, they'll talk about it around these parts for years. So much for the dignified family funeral.

Things kicked off with a vengeance at nearly 11 a.m., when some scary hired muscle men unfurled an actual red carpet onto the parking lot of the Mount Horeb Baptist Church, nicely located next to a convenience store.
I've seen people sob at funerals. Maybe laugh. But the crowd who gathered under the blazing sun to watch this oddity cheered, jeered and made obscene gestures. And that was just outside. Inside, it was worse

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

January 26, 2007

Funeral Shock

Herzlinde Eissler didn't understand why her family didn't visit her in the hospital over Christmas.  When she was discharged, she went home only to discover her family organizing her funeral.

Her son Leopold Eissler, 39, said he had gone to visit his mother shortly before Christmas only to be told she was dead and had then spent the festive period organising her funeral.

He said: "I'm not sure whether to be delighted because my mother is alive or furious that they could have made such a mistake at the hospital.

"At least it explains why they could not find the body when we wanted to pay our last respects.

"I could not believe it when she walked in through the front door and the whole family were all sitting around dressed in black and planning the funeral."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:04 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

January 24, 2007

This is low, even for a thief

How low is this!

Thief Steals Video Dying Mother Made for Son

Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Melanie Worthington was concerned that her 5-year-old son Theo might not remember her after she was gone.

"When Melanie found out she was sick, she wanted to use the camcorder to make tapes for her little boy," her mother Carla Worthington said. "So we taped her making cookies with him, playing up at the cabin, anything that he might need to look back on and see how they did things together."

A few weeks after she died, someone walked through an unlocked door in the Worthington home and stole virtually all of the video remembrances she recorded.

Police have no suspects in custody, and the family has no duplicates of the tapes.

"It was like someone had come out and taken her away from us a second time," said her sister Marnie.

Carla Worthington, 61, said she and her husband, Phillip, 63, are both on disability, but managed to scratch up a reward of $200 for the return of the merchandise and the tapes.

"Maybe this is one way we can get them back," she said. "I guess I'm hoping for some kind of miracle."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:42 AM | Permalink | TrackBack