Ed Ackerman, optimist

By Ed Ackerman

May 31, 2014

You didn’t know my Aunt Ethel. Well, maybe a few of you, but not many. She was married to my Uncle Robert Strubeck, my mother’s brother. He died three years ago and Aunt Ethel passed away last Saturday. The funeral was Thursday in Boonton, New Jersey, where they lived for more than 60 years and raised a lovely family of five, all adults now but each of whom have fond and vivid memories of spending a few days each summer “back home” in Pittston, often staying at our house and always with a one-day excursion to Rocky Glen Amusement Park.

The youngest of their children are twins, Linda and Lorraine. They themselves have grown children but to me they will always be toddlers running around our house when I was a teenager. At nap time they would delicately rub a cotton ball on their noses and cheeks as they fell asleep. The called those cotton balls “woofies” and when they’d return home to Boonton we’d find those woofies lying all over and miss those little tykes terribly.

Aunt Ethel was the former Ethel Collier of Searle Street in Pittston. She came from a small family few of whom are left and, as I said, few, if any of you, knew her. But all of you knew the woman her son, my cousin Gerard, talked about in his eulogy, particularly if you’ve ever known anyone with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This isn’t just about Aunt Ethel,” I thought during his talk, “it’s about every mom, every woman.” And I decided before he was finished I’d share it with Dispatch readers today.

The following words are Gerard Strubeck’s.

Today we mourn the passing of a very special woman, my mother Ethel Strubeck. On behalf of my siblings, thank you for being here and indulging me for a few moments as I honor our mother.

I’d like to tell you a little about her and how her life has made mine what it is today.

First and foremost my mother was a loyal and dedicated wife. Like in all families, things weren’t always perfect, but she managed to keep us all, including my Dad, in line.

We had structure in our lives and she provided the example. Simple things like family meals together took priority over other agendas. We had a good life growing up, so Mom, thank you for the life you made possible for your family.

There were seasons in her life when she had time for her own interests and friends, but there was no doubt that her focus was on her family first.

Still, at least for me, at a certain age when I was deemed somewhat accountable, it was not smothering, as I was allowed to develop, make decisions for myself, certainly make mistakes and learn from them. Thank you, Mom, for the adventurous spirit I find in myself and the independence that has served me well.

Thank you for your strength, your smile and your humor. Thank you for accepting our spouses and making them feel like family.

When I arrived at my Mother’s bedside in her final hours, I was happy to see that she somehow found the energy to wait for us to arrive so we could say our goodbyes and let her know that all would be well. But I couldn’t say goodbye. Instead I said “I’ll see you soon,” as I always did when I visited her.

She loved music, game shows, the Yankees, Johnny Carson. She had a lot of sayings and used some words I’d never heard written or spoken anywhere else, even in dictionaries. But these things did not define her.

Her pride in her children was only exceeded by that she had in her grandchildren. If she ever needed to validate the job she did as a Mother she could look at these now grown grandchildren sitting here today. To you, I hope you pick one attribute about your grandma that resonates most with you and do your best to emulate that in your life.

I imagine my Mother’s illness as if her life’s diary had been somehow shredded. All of the pieces were still there, but they no longer made sense.

How difficult that must have been for her to struggle to remember small things. Still, she could at times summons the names of her childhood. She could manage to string together enough notes on the piano to resemble a musical number that she had remembered longer than she had forgotten.

Sometimes when her eyes would seem distant we would wonder what she thought. But, those distant eyes would occasionally regain their sparkle perhaps because of a familiar face or voice or a simple activity that would stimulate her mind.

While failing in body and mind she would never lose her fighting spirit even in the end.

Now she can transcend the frailty of mortality and thanks to a greater plan, she can rejoin her husband, her Mother, her Father, her Grandparents and one day her children and grandchildren … forever.

In closing, I imagine two chairs side by side. A Yankees game on the television. My Dad watching the game, while reading a book, while taking a nap, and the other with my Mom watching the game and engaging Dad in conversation.

A better conversation. A more perfect setting. No more pain.

Just joy in a heavenly presence.

What could be more perfect than an eternity to live again?

Of course in heaven the Yankees always win.

See you soon, Mom.