Ira Glass and the deal with mothers

I recently saw Ira Glass the media heavyweight who does This American Life among many other things at the Ace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday Night.

I’m not sure what kind of show I was expecting but it turned out to be interesting. There were some nuggets in there and some big surprises.

The biggest surprise for me came during the question and answer at the end of the show.  During the show, Ira had mentioned several times that his mother had passed away about a decade ago. Ira started the show with an interesting clip about a mother and daughter conversation that didn’t show the mother in her best light.

The question from the audience was “How were you able to deal with the death of your mother, mine passed away 11 months ago and I’m still having a hard time with it”. The lady who asked the question did not get the answer she expected, nor did we.

Ira wasn’t flippant with his answer. He looked anguished for a few seconds before starting to answer. You could see the wheels turning as he grasped with how to answer such a personal question in a very public arena. Turns out that Ira Glass and his mother were not on the best of terms. Based on his answer it seemed that his parents never quite approved of his choice of a career.  Can you imagine that? Ira Glass pretty much checks off every single successful checkpoint that a parent could have about what they would hope their child would accomplish. And yet, that wasn’t enough for his mother. Ira fought valiantly with his answer and blamed himself for not doing more to build the bridge.

I just left the show with the idea that if Ira Glass couldn’t please his mother then who could?

My own mother passed away two years ago this month. It had been a long time in coming so when she did pass away everyone in the family was prepared. I thought I was. I wrote the obituary.

Katherine Cordell Gurnee passed away on November 10th at the age of 86. Katherine was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1929. Her parents were Red and Cordell Koerner of Madison, Wisconsin. She was married at West Point, and her marriage lasted for 65 years to her high school sweetheart retired Lieutenant Colonel Paul L Gurnee; they had five children, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Katherine traveled the world with her military husband, having children in Puerto Rico, Alabama, and California. The places she called home as an officer’s wife were: Panama, Puerto Rico, Glendale California, Kentucky, Huntsville, Taiwan, Glendale,  El Paso, Boston, Kansas, Germany, and Alexandria VA. When her husband retired from the military, they moved to Glendale, CA and spent the next 35 years there. During that time she assisted in her mother’s seamstress business and was much sought after for her seamstress skills.  In 2006, in an effort to be closer to their oldest son they moved to Ferndale.

By that time Katherine was in ill health but tried to be as active in the Church of the Assumption Parish as her health would allow. Over her lifetime she spent many hours working with various Catholic charities, devoting her time and money. In Ferndale she became a voracious reader and was a regular at the Ferndale Library.

She is survived by her

Husband Paul L Gurnee

Siblings: William Koerner and Marette Troller

Children: Paul (Gretchen), Peter, Chris (Cheryl), Tom (Debbie), Phil (Verdell)

Grandchildren: Heather, Justin, Sara, Josh, Tanya, Kalia, Eli, Eme, Ani

Greatgrandchildren: Cain, Cameron, Damien, Ayden, Holden

Her four Ferndale grandchildren were all valedictorians at the local Ferndale High School.

Her service will be held on Friday, Nov 20th, 1:00PM at Church of Assumption Catholic Church

The reception will be held after the memorial service at the Ferndale Omelette Factory in downtown Ferndale.

I’m not particularly proud of that obituary. There was no soul to it, it could have been written by an Autobot. I think a key reason was that by the time my mother had passed away we had not been able to have a meaningful conversation for years, and she had become a very embittered woman who was not a joy to be around.

Still, I wasn’t ready. I was the only person to speak at her service, and I thought I’d be able to handle it well. I didn’t.  I barely got through the beginning, my point of speaking was to let the congregation that had shown up know who my mother was. They only knew an old lady in a wheelchair who had shown up eight years ago. They were unaware of all the work she had done raising her children, her grandchildren, and being a very active member of every Catholic church she became a part of.  I think I accomplished that goal.

My mother had made lots of friends over her lifetime but by the time she passed away none of them would be there for her service. Just family and strangers who happened to attend the same church.  I always think about stuff like that. If my Mom had passed away at the age of 60 in Glendale, Ca her service would have been loaded with people she had befriended.  Now, nothing but family and strangers and even some family who lived in town didn’t make the service.  My ex-wife sent some gorgeous flowers, it was greatly appreciated by myself and my father.

My mother was far from perfect but in retrospect what she was great at, was simply being a mother, and for a good part of her life a good grandmother. She wasn’t a good grand-mother at the end, but when the grandkids needed her to be a grandmother she was there for them and helped their families through some very tough times.

She was certainly judgemental, but what she didn’t do was allow those judgments to ever cloud her love for her children.  All of her children had made decisions that were questionable, and while she may not have approved of them, she did her best to deal with us and continued to love us in the measure we needed from her. Her greatest disappointment had to be in our choices of worship. Her catholicism was the biggest part of her life, yet none of her five children became practicing Catholics. A few of us aren’t believers at all.  She even dealt with that well, even though it had to eat at her.

As I hear from friends and watch other relatives who have had rough relationships with their mothers, I feel lucky that my mother felt that being a mother overrode her own thoughts on what her children should be accomplishing with their lives.

I had a mother

I was lucky


1 Comment

  1. 68elcamino427

    This is a nice Thaksgiving piece.

    When you’re a kid, mom is on a pedestal.

    Some people are blessed to have a mother who is just simply wonderful.

    Some kids grow up with a mother who never wanted the child.

    Lots of people had a mom who was imperfect and the older and wiser the child became
    the more prominent the imperfections appeared.
    Sometimes to the point that the mother falls off her pedestal in the mind of her child.

    There is just no perfect.

    My mom did her best for me.

    She was not perfect.

    No one loved me more though.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: