Harriette May Shake

I suppose the easiest way to begin is by saying that my mom died Saturday night—somewhat unexpectedly and yet not—in my sister Caron’s and my brother Matt’s embrace. Just a week earlier, she'd taken a fall and had broken her femoral neck—something I doubt she’d have done except for Alzheimer’s and its decade’s decay of her mind and body. In a San Diego hospital she underwent emergency surgery to replace the ball of her hip. The operation went well, so she was transferred to a skilled-nursing facility for rehab, but she developed pneumonia. It was touch and go back in the ICU, her vitals fluctuating wildly, while my brother Matt lovingly called to inform me of any changes in her state.

Like she'd done so many times before, we thought maybe she’d dodge this bullet, thinking that perhaps her fighting spirit and sheer zest for life would pull her through. But in the end it was just too much for her to bear and so we let her go. Mom was just shy of eighty-six.

My sister crafted a beautiful note to family and friends. In it she wrote:

As all of you no doubt know my Mom was such an exceptional and special person. She was kind, funny, beautiful, smart, curious, adventuresome, and sweet beyond compare.

My Mom was a tough and strong woman all through her life and particularly late in life living with Alzheimer's and fighting to stay strong throughout.  

Caron finished by saying:

At this time I don't know what the next steps are regarding my Mom, but I would like her to be remembered for all her inspiring attributes and let you know that after death she did one last commendable act, she donated her brain to medical research for Alzheimer's in hopes of finding a cure.

My sister-in-law, Matt’s wife Stacey, posted a poem she wrote on Facebook, along with a gorgeous photo of a cloud-laden San Diego harbor sky opening up to a spray of sunbeams:

She's in those clouds somewhere
I know
I heard them say, "Angel up"
when she had taken her last breath
no longer tethered to this earth
nor gravity's captive
"Angel up" I heard them say
She is now the moon, the constellations
and these clouds
Angel up.

Several times throughout her life, my mother told me of her desire to one day have a Viking funeral, to be set out to sea on a flaming boat, and to have this poem read. I hope I can be there when she finally sets sail:

Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
    Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crost the bar.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

I am no religious person, not one who believes in the God of scripture. But I think of myself as spiritual. And so, I like to imagine my mom, and my dad who died nearly twenty years ago, as swirling around in the cosmos as stars or moons or comets, meeting no resistance in their space, just gliding along and perhaps colliding with each other in one big beautiful, glittery bang. No pain. No fear. No worry. No constraints.

Harriette May Shake, November 6, 1929 - October 3, 2015


  1. I'm sooo very sorry for your loss Christy..I remember your mom as always funny,
    happy and caring of her big beautiful family... She will be missed greatly.. And you know
    she's happy, carefree and in bliss in the big cosmos... Someplace we all be in a relatively short time...

  2. yes indeed, Big, Beautiful, Glittery, Collisions of Love

  3. We remember her on the ship, so feel a personal touch with this news. It's always hard to lose a parent, Christy, and we reach out with love and care to you as you absorb this part of life. She will always be with you, that we know.

  4. So very sorry for your loss. Your words about your mom have always displayed your mutual love. Hoping peace in your heart during this time. Your sister-in-law's poem was gorgeous.

  5. Christy,

    I am very sorry for your loss! Just remember that, even long after the pain of the separation is gone, the beautiful and happy memories will still be there and remain with you forever.


  6. I'm sorry. It's bittersweet this loss.

  7. This is a beautiful memorial to your mother. I'm so sorry that you lost her.

  8. I felt as though I knew your mother, what brilliant words and thoughts of love. My heart goes out to you and may you rest in peace knowing she has met her pilot face to face.

  9. Thinking of you tonight Christy as I take in this sad news. Sending love and appreciation for you, for your Mom and for the sweetness between you. I don't think that goes away even now that she is swirling.

  10. I'm so sorry to read about your mom. You are in my thoughts.

  11. Dear Christy, I share your loss and will treasure my own mother even more after reading about Harriette. Strength to you and your family, David

  12. I am very sorry to hear about your Mom. I loved all the poems and notes, especially her poem. I remember reading that in school. I hope you are able to be there and read that when she sets sail. We are thinking about you and your family.

  13. I am so sorry that you've suffered so much loss. Your words, though, are gorgeous -- your imaginings profound. You have been loved so deeply -- and love so deeply, Christy.

  14. I am so sorry for your loss, Christy. My heart goes to you and your family. I can tell from the picture that she was such a beautiful person inside and out. I totally believe what you said that she is now united with your father in somewhere peaceful.