As much as we all know that death is unavoidable, most of us are hit hard when it happens to one or both of our parents. Here, six Indianapolis-area women share how they’ve each chosen to find unique, meaningful ways to keep the memories of their loved ones alive.
Indy Maven’s Editor-at-Large Abby Gardner had a special bond with her mother, Maureen. “We were really close,” Abby said. She recalled how Maureen was someone who said what she thought, as well as being a good friend and loyal person. “My mom also was my person to call, the person on my side, and my biggest fan,” she added.
Maureen died in January of 2014. “What was surprising to me in the beginning was that the physical manifestation of grief in my body took my breath away at times,” Abby said. “It has gotten easier, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t miss her all of the time.”
Abby said she keeps her mom’s memory alive by having her picture in a lot of different places in her apartment, and by sharing and hearing stories about her mom. Looking for a way to help others, Abby also started volunteering at a summer camp for grieving children called Experience Camps five years ago. “It’s kids who have lost a parent, a sibling, or a primary caregiver,” she explained. “I thought about how it felt like the rug had gotten pulled out from under my life, and I was 38 years old when my mom died.”
Since Maureen was a schoolteacher, Abby said being at the camp one week every summer feels like a very natural thing to do. “I don’t have kids, and they call me their ‘camp mom’ or the ‘cool mom,’” she said. “I always feel like I’m channeling some part of my mom when I’m there.”
Leslie Bailey, the co-founder and CEO of Indy Maven, said she became close to her mom, Carolyn, at age 18 after she moved out of the family home. “I got an apartment maybe like 10 minutes away and then we instantly started getting along after that,” she recalled. Leslie said her mom’s battle with cancer likely affected their early relationship: “My mom had been sick most of my life with cancer or repercussions of having cancer, so I think it was often hard to bond as a kid,” she explained. “I had a lot of big emotions I didn’t understand, and couldn’t understand, until I became an adult.”
Carolyn passed away in 2017 when Leslie was three months pregnant with her first child, a son. Since Carolyn loved food and loved cooking, Leslie, her brother and his wife and son, as well as their father (who lives in Michigan) get together to have a meal in memory of Carolyn. She had several recipes, including “chicken stir-fry, linguine with clam sauce, or Indian food,” Leslie said. “We pick a recipe that she loved and then just get together and have dinner.”
Leslie believes their tradition is well-suited: “Everything we did was centered around food, so I think it makes sense that is the way we honor her,” she said.
Amy Lynch‘s mom, Janet, will have been gone two decades in July. Amy said she asks herself how it is possible that “I haven’t hugged my mom or heard her voice in nearly 20 years?” She said her mom wasn’t here to see her get married (or divorced). “Also, it breaks my heart that she never got to meet her grandson,” Amy said. “But I tell him about her often.”
As time has moved on, Amy said she’s found ways to keep Janet’s memory present, like “wearing her pearls on special occasions, buying flowers on Mother’s Day, and keeping her photo on my mantel,” Amy explained.
But mostly, Amy said, she just remembers her and now that she’s a mother herself, “I know that wherever she is, she still loves and misses me, too,” Amy said.
Carolina Wuestefeld said her Pai (Portuguese for “dad”), Reinaldo, was the life of the party. “He was a very happy and loud person,” she recalled. “He always made his presence known everywhere he was.”
Reinaldo lived in Brazil and passed away in May of 2021. He had cardiomegaly and cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that he had fought for years. “At one point they said he was going to have to have a transplant, but because of his age he did not qualify,” Carolina said. However, Reinaldo went into remission, so “we were grateful for the time he was here, and grateful God kept him with us for a while,” she said.
Carolina said living in the United States meant her son, Adam, and daughter, Jojo, grew up away from her dad. But she and her husband, Mark, always made sure that Carolina’s parents were part of their lives with visits to Brazil. “Another thing that kept us together was soccer, we are pretty big soccer fans,” she said. So, it is only fitting that part of how her family keeps Reinaldo’s memory alive is by watching soccer on TV. “When we watch soccer now,” she said with a laugh, “Adam will call the referee bad names in Portuguese just like my dad would.”
In addition to their gameday shenanigans, Carolina keeps photos of her dad in places that are important to her. “I have a little picture of my dad inside the plastic of my Brazilian ID,” she explained.
Stephanie Daily‘s dad, John, was her best friend. “He was someone I could always depend on,” she said. “We appreciated each other a lot.”
Stephanie attributes her mindfulness about being a good person to her dad. “I am definitely the best version of myself when I am my father’s daughter,” she said.
John passed away in September of 2009, and Stephanie feels she does something to honor her dad every day. “I own a business called Send A Friend Lasagna, and one of my lasagnas is named after him,” she said. Stephanie also said her love of music was passed down from John: “I have all of his albums,” she explained. “I probably play one of them every day.”
Football was also something John enjoyed, and Stephanie said they would watch games together every weekend. “It was hard for me after he passed away to watch football,” she said. “But I’ve kind of been able to get back into that, and it’s been fun sharing that with my son,” she said.
Marla Taylor‘s parents, Karen and Phil, were both nurses, so taking care of people and giving back to the community was important to them. “They really believed in helping others,” Marla said.
As a result of her parents’ spirit of volunteerism, Marla has also chosen to focus on helping others in her career and life. “One of the places I’ve volunteered most consistently and for the longest that has been the most meaningful to me is Brooke’s Place,” she explained. “They work with kids in Central Indiana who have lost a loved one.”
Karen died in 1996 when Marla was 11 after a car accident that they both were in. Her dad never remarried, and instead focused on raising Marla and her sister. “My dad was who I was extremely close to; he was my absolute best friend,” Marla said. “Much of our relationship grew because of the loss of my mom,” she said.
Phil died in 2015 after being diagnosed with leukemia, and Marla said that she keeps mementos of both parents to spur memories.
“When I was in my early 20s and met my now-husband, Alex, my dad actually gave us the wedding rings that he and my mom wore to use for our wedding,” Marla said. “That became even more special to me after my dad died,” she said.
Marla said that her parents are brought to the forefront of her mind daily: “Every time I see my left hand and see my wedding band or hold my husband’s hand and feel that ring, I think about both of my parents.”
Diane Moore, who is a communications professional, writer, and fitness instructor, just lost her beloved mom, Prudence, in February. She is still pondering the best way to honor her life and memory long term.
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