Joey is celebrated by her friends and family and is survived by: her brother Kent Klopp, his spouse, Kathy, and their family; her daughter Kari and son-in-law, Ed Maggard; her daughter Juli Wilhelm; her granddaughter Sara Wilhelm Garbers and spouse, Andy Garbers; her grandson Luke Wilhelm; her granddaughter Evangeline (Evin) Babington (Maggard) and spouse, Jacob Babington, along with their son, Harvey; her granddaughter MacKenzie Maggard; and her dear friends and other family members. She is also survived by her beloved Vikings, Judge Judy, and Jack Van Impe. She was proceeded in death by many other friends and family, including her husband, Bob Stahlberg.
Gifts or donations may be given in her honor to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
I haven’t had the words ever since you died. I’ve cried. I’ve talked about you. And most of all, I have missed you.
I miss your crazy sayings.
I miss your smell.
I miss how you would have held me and called me “baber” and I would have known the world was safe and I was going to be OK.
When Kari called and said that you had quit eating and drinking…well, I thought I had already said my goodbyes, and perhaps I had at the time, but in that moment as I cried, I looked up the flights and knew I had to be with you.
On that Monday I spent a lot of the day laying next to you, singing the songs that you had taught me, because they say songs linger even in the midst of dementia. Songs sung through tears, like:
Pretty little dandelion, growing in the grass
With your pretty hair of gold, merry little lass
When your pretty hair turns white, pray what will you do?
Will you plant a thousand more flowers as bright as you?
Did you know that one day–about three years ago–I was walking with Andy in the West Loop of Chicago and I was talking with him about my grief of watching you live with dementia, when I saw a dandelion growing out of a crack in the concrete? In that moment I knew at least part of what I wanted to say about you upon your death: G, you were my dandelion.
Dandelion, that weed that you fought with every spring of your adulthood on hands and knees, armed with your tool in your gloved hands (I never knew this was ACTUALLY for dandelions until now!).
Dandelion, that weed that you tried to expunge from your vision so that everything would look perfect and green.
Dandelion…that weed that like any child, I didn’t see as anything other than a flower.
I made crowns from the dandelions in your yard on Audubon Lane; I picked you bouquets; and generally, I didn’t understand why you thought there was something wrong with them. And I suppose, in this way, we both saw you as a dandelion. For my whole life you were a thing of beauty. But for you, your experience of your self was much more suspect.
And although I knew you were complicated, and your humanness hurt me sometimes and one time greatly…you were and will always be a bright flower in my life. And more than that, like a dandelion, you had developed and honed the capacity to survive and thrive, to root in, and to persist no matter what life brought you. And you, like the dandelion, your hair became gray, and from that life you birthed the possibility for my life. You have, indeed, planted a thousand more flowers a bright as you.
G- I am because you were. You survived, and I cherish you for your fierce capacity to keep on going, and to do more than that, to still give life and love back. I am filled with joy each spring at the coming
of your goodness, and I wish that everyone (esp. you) could likewise see that the beauty of the dandelion flower as one of the instances of evidence of God’s grace in the world…grace that survives even in the struggle that seeks to choke its life.
It took until about ten years ago, but you finally began to believe us, to believe me. I won’t ever forget the moment in your bathroom when you looked in the mirror and then turned and said to me: “You always tell that me I’m beautiful, and you know what…I actually think I am kind of cute!”
G- I thank you. For surviving. For persisting no matter what the weather or soil.
And G- I carry you with me.
You with your fierce devotion to care for us.
You with your love of the Vikings (well, I don’t carry that part! Nor the Judge Judy…nor Jack Van Ipe…sorry, G).
But I carry on your expectations about my laundry (though I don’t iron my pillowcases).
I carry on your ability to work hard and long into the night.
I carry with me a deep-seated belief that love is showing up to help with unflinching generosity.
And I remember…
I remember the stories.
I remember the food and the way you sent us home with leftovers for the week ahead.
I remember the shopping trips.
I remember the popcorn and fudge and ice cream dessert.
I remember summers on the porch.
reorganizing your cupboards
feeling safe at your home
dancing in the living room
you being my papa bear so I could have a tea party
the way you looked at me
how you came over and did laundry for us and stayed up all night.
And then there are little things that I can only now remember and appreciate as an adult: like the way you stood in the gap; the ways in which you wanted us to be well-cared for.
I remember and hold in my being all of the ways in which you were for me.
Re-meeting you as you moved through dementia was like witnessing my prayer for peace come to occupy your soul and body in a way that it hadn’t yet known. And this Christmas, even though your words were fleeting and not comprehensible to
our minds, we placed you in the wheelchair at Kari and Ed’s, and put you by the Christmas Tree. You saw the cardinal ornament on the branch, your reminder that God was for you, and your face started glowing. You said: “I’m so happy.”
And so it should not have been surprising that on the week when you would die, my thoughts were seldom far from you. It all began on Palm Sunday when I went for a bike ride along the Cedar Trail with Greg and I heard the cardinals…and I thought of you as they sang their songs. We biked by your old house and your old lakes and I thought of you and all the life you had hoped for and life you had lived.
The cardinals knew. Or maybe God did and so God sent them (and so did you) to tell me that I was going to be ok and that the love you gave me would always hold me.
So I flew to be with you and Kar and her family (she loved you so well, G) and on the day you died, I just laid by you and kept on smelling your smell for the last time, knowing I would never again lay next to an adult who was in all ways a parent to me. For as my therapist helped me realize, you were my first attachment figure, G. So I just smelled you and I cried. I stroked your hair, told you that you were beautiful, said thank you a thousand times, and I told you that it was OK to leave…that we were, that I was OK, and that it was OK for you to go. And I know you knew I was there with you. And I never loved you more because maybe for the first time I’ve been able to really see all of your complexity, brokenness, and beauty…and I love you, G. More than you will ever know.
On the night when you died I began to urgently tell the nurse aid about you (I had a preminician in my gut as I was sitting with you and I needed her to hear, I needed to say aloud who you were to me). I told her about all you had survived. I told her about the abuse. I told her about how you always hated your teeth and your toes and so much about yourself. I told her how you were trapped in a marriage and how you were a mother and you were angry but wanted everything to look perfect. I told her how you did so much to raise Luke and me. I told her about your sayings (“Ish da bibble” “Yuck and ugh” “Grodie Odie” “Yikes Elmer”). I told her how much I loved you and how your life made mine possible.
And when I told her that after Bapa died and that Izzy made eyes at you at church how you blew it off and said: “Oh Ish! Why would I want to marry another man? He’d just up and get die on me!” You were, in your way, a feminist, though more really because you are from a line of women who survived. And in this way, as a survivor, and you birthed in me the possibility for the life I now lead. And so I told the nurse aid: “She really hated men…well, except for Jesus and my brother Luke and the Vikings.” And I laughed because this is part of what your surviving meant, and it was part of the very real, human you that I always adored. And in that moment I looked down and, and I realized you had left.
And that, G, was just about how I’d expect you to leave.
G, I love you and I will forever carry you with me. May you be free in the glorious presence of the God who loves you and created you perfectly and wonderfully. As you always said: “I want to go home and be with Jesus.” Well, now you
are, G. And I miss you terribly, but you, my beautiful dandelion, well, I’ll look for you every spring, ok? And I’ll celebrate the kids, who like me, know the truth: dandelions are flowers in the world.
I love you more than you will ever know, G. XOXOXO
To Joey’s friends and family: please feel free to share your memory with G in the comments.