Celebrating the Amazing Life of Dickie Smeets

Mom was 86 years old in this picture, taken in her front yard in 2014.

Many of you had the great fortune to know my mom Dickie.

I'm very sorry to let you know that my mom passed away peacefully the morning of July 17, 2015 at the age of 87.

She'd probably be upset at the fact that I divulged her age, as she never would tell people how old she was. She used to say, "Live your life, not your age." 

My mom viewed life as a grand adventure and never wanted to be left out of anything.

She lived life with gusto.*

When your mom is wrapped up in your daily life like mine was, the loss seems unbearable. The grief comes in waves -- sometimes I'm drowning and other times I can just keep my head above water.

I know the sun will shine again but for now my heart has cracked open and there is a raging storm inside... Pain and sorrow unlike any I have experienced before. Words are inadequate.

Mom and I spent our days intertwined...she'd join me for my yoga classes 3-5 days a week, then go for water aerobics, swim laps in my pool -- this, in between her book club, college classes, field trips, bird watching, art classes, card games, concerts, frequent travel and so much more.

How much fun we'd have doing the daily things like running errands together, going to the bank, post office, grocery store, sharing the coupons and cartoons and recipes she'd cut out for me from the newspaper, discussing current events (she was more current on pop culture than I was) browsing through clothing catalogs and travel brochures, sharing library books.

Reading was one of her great passions. She'd devour several books at once, reading widely and always being on the lookout for new and different authors. The library was her second home, and she was on a first-name basis with the librarians.

In addition to attending a variety of college classes, Mom loved to keep her mind active with word games, board games and brain teasers. Mom would try to outsmart the contestants on Jeopardy and oh how she wanted to go on Wheel of Fortune and win big! She also loved the horse races and the thrill of the cheering crowds. In her earlier years when Dad was alive, they were championship bowlers and loved the social aspect of it as well.

My mom's friends and extended family meant the world to her. She was a prolific letter and card writer and would complain that email was too removed, too detached and too impersonal. She saved all those cards and letters she got over the years and would have fun sharing them with us in recent years, and she was right! You could get the emotion and tone through someone's handwriting much more than through an email.

Mom intentionally cultivated a wide variety of friends, of different ages and backgrounds. She knew the value of staying socially active as she got older...and she always tried new things, new classes, new books, new places to visit. She was open minded and taught us the value of looking at all sides of an issue.

Travel was a huge passion of my mom's. She traveled all over the world with my dad, and sometimes with us, exploring China and Russia (back when it was difficult for Americans to get in) all of Western and Eastern Europe, Turkey, Morocco, all of South America, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji (her favorite). She traveled many times to Canada, Mexico, Hawaii -- and every state in the US except Delaware.

Once, while in Russia when it was still very much a police state, Mom was setting out on her own, camera in hand to explore the city a bit before the tour group was up and running. She accidentally wandered down the wrong staircase in the government hotel and ended up in the kitchen, open-mouthed and wide-eyed as the hotel employees stopped in their tracks and eyed her suspiciously. She stammered out something no one could understand, turned around several times and finally slipped away, biting her lip to keep from laughing out loud. Adventure was Dickie's middle name.

On many weekends, Mom would drive herself 100 miles to visit my sister Nancy to watch her theater performances, horse competitions, attend concerts and art shows and flower shows and explore new cafes and restaurants.

But she always loved coming home to her beloved Dana Point and on a daily basis would say how grateful and blessed she was to live in such a gorgeous place. She knew every inch of the city and loved taking visiting family and friends to the Dana Point Harbor and out for beach cookouts...which was her very favorite thing to do in the whole world. She loved the beach and the water more than anything.

Most recently Mom, Nancy and I spent two weeks in Paris, trudging up and down the Metro steps, exploring the city on foot, with mom dancing until 3:00 am, making fast friends with taxi drivers, restaurant servers and fellow Parisiennes.

She brought LIFE and LIGHT with her wherever she went.

This was a smart, vibrant woman who lived independently, driving herself everywhere, no eye glasses, no hearing aid, no medications, no nothing other than a complete fascination with life, opening to each experience and -- as a friend put it -- bringing a ray of sunshine with her everywhere she went.

My mom was an emergency room nurse for 40 years (she completed nursing school at Charity Hospital in New Orleans) and was as practical as she was fun-loving...and ahead of her time! She wanted to be a brain surgeon, but back in the 1940's it was very difficult for women to be admitted to medical school. (In fact, the first female neurosurgeon did not appear until 1966.)

What most people did not know about my mom was the amount of COURAGE it took for her to life her life with such enthusiasm and engagement.

It would have been far easier for her to just stay under the covers and hold back from life.

You see, my mom was too well acquainted with grief from her own personal losses (her husband/my Dad died in 2005; she also lost two adult children/my brother and sister; and a deeply-loved son-in-law/my sister's husband) she used her "will of iron" as she called it, to rise above self-pity and to keep going.

She was known as the Mighty Oak.

"Not my will but Thy will be done" was another of her sayings, and her strong faith kept her rooted and grounded in all the ups and downs in life.

She always looked to God for her strength and sought out beauty in simple things like flowers, music, and nature. She had a way of trying to put aside the sad memories and look forward instead.

One afternoon just days before she passed, Mom and I were in her backyard, listening to the birds and smelling the sea air when a few warm, soft, fat plops of rain dropped down. Mom sighed and said..."Life is Beautiful." I will remember that moment forever.

When moments of regret creep in I try to focus on the totality of her life instead of individual instances when I wish I would have done things  differently. Been more patient. More understanding. Less rushed. Less selfish.

But every life and every relationship has its ups and downs and ins and outs. Just because you have friction from time to time doesn't diminish the totality of the love.

Again that word "love" is so inadequate to express the deep, undying emotion that is in my heart and soul, my breath and blood and bones.

Dickie was a force of nature, a strong, opinionated woman who loved to get into spirited discussions. She did not sugar-coat things and you knew exactly where you stood with her. A perfectionist of sorts, she liked to be in control and to be right. (Hmmm...sounds like she passed those traits down to me!) I definitely inherited her passion for healthy living.

A few weeks before Mom passed away, my sister Nancy and I had a sense that her life was coming to its earthly end. She was in no pain, but bit by bit her body starting to wear out, especially her ability to swallow and eat. Not one to go to the doctor, Mom nonetheless went to different specialists to see what could be done. In the midst of it all, she kept her “focus on the positive” and lived each day fully, joyfully.

In fact, the last few weeks of her life were so full of glorious adventures and love and laughter – it was a perfect ending to her extraordinary life.

On what was to be her final day on earth, we went to the beach, enjoyed ice cream (mint gelato was her current fave) and went for a swim in my pool, which was her normal routine. She did her laps, did her yoga stretches and smiled from the inside out with a peaceful, ethereal glow.

There was nothing I could do to stop the sun from setting, other than to be fully present, connect with her heart and heart and soul to soul, breathing in her very essence to bond it to mine forever.

That evening she opened some birthday cards she had set aside to savor, and we laughed out loud over the funny cards, and shared a few tears over the sentimental ones. Our hearts were overflowing with the love of family and friends, the true treasures of life.

Mom (still in her bathing suit from earlier that day) headed into the kitchen to make up a batch of banana daiquiris, which had been a favorite treat she hadn't had in a long time. They didn't taste quite right, so we moved onto making frozen margaritas in my dad's honor, as those were his signature drink.

My sister Nancy walked in the door seeing mom there in her bathing suit, telling Nance, “I want to have a party!” And we did. A farewell party of sorts, though we didn't realize it at the time.

God orchestrated a perfect ending, just as mom would have wanted it...with no medical intervention, no suffering, no lingering.

My amazing mom passed away on July 17, 2015, experiencing a peaceful, natural death, with me and my sister at her side (actually sharing the same bed, holding hands with her.)

At one point, as she was relaxed and drowsy, Mom took our hands in hers and raised her arms skyward, in a "V for Victory" gesture. She did that two or three times.

My sister Nance and I looked at each other with eyes wide, not sure exactly what was to come.

...Some time later, Mom passed onto her new life exactly as she would have wanted to, on her terms and in her own way. We saw her take her last, quiet, peaceful breath before she was reunited with her loved ones forever.

Earlier that day we had all gone to the beach and then mom swam laps in my pool, which was her normal routine. 

Water and sunshine and fresh air were her favorite elements (along with her flowers and classical music) -- she told me they "opened her soul".

Her soul opened fully to her new eternal life, with me and my sister by her side. It was simply her time to return to God.

Dickie was a shining example of living life PRESENT each day, with courage and curiosity, completely engaged and participating in this precious gift of Life.

I actually thought she might outlive us all.

"Focus on the positive" was Mom's motto, and I will honor her by trying to do the same.

Many people told me I'm so strong...but I don't feel like that right now. Instead, I feel like a lost little girl who just wants her mommy.

I know it will get better.

With God's grace, the comfort of beautiful memories and caring friends, and realizing all the blessings of knowing this incredible lady, my mom Dickie.

with deep love,

~ Peggy (Smeets) Hall

* Back in the day, home telephones used "party lines" where more than one household shared the same phone number.  My mom and her sisters suspected that their neighbor friend Mary Ann was listening in on their phone calls, so they devised a way to catch her in the act by saying they were going to the movies "with gusto" and they went out dancing "with gusto"...and sure enough, Mary Ann asked, "Who is Gusto? I want to meet him too."

Now whenever I hear someone talk about doing things with gusto, I get a warm feeling in my heart and feel like it is an embrace from my mom, with a wink of her eye and wrinkle of her nose, like she always used to do when we would share a joke that just the two of us understood.

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Mom was an emergency room for 40+ years, helping to save countless lives and comfort many

Born in Joliet, IL as "Bernice Elizabeth Ginejko"...known to all as Dickie Smeets

Dad and Mom after 11 years of marriageDad and Mom after 30 years of marriage (they celebrated their 50th anniversary before Dad passed away in 2005)

Dad (John) Mom, Nancy, John, Peggy, Cathy (late 1960's)

Mom with her 90-year old brother Joe, who gave her the nickname "Dickie"

After swimming her daily laps at the pool last summer (age 86)

Mom enjoying Paris (April 2013)

Mom did yoga 3-4 times a week for nearly 20 years (here at 86)

Mom (age 86 here) doing one-leg down dog -- her favorite pose

With granddaughter Jillian, Jillian's husband Jeremy, me and David in February 2015

Mom goofing around with me and Nancy in a photo booth (Feb 2015)

My favorite picture -- Mom and me sharing our love of the water when I was about 2 years old. (My Dad is there on the left.)

P.S. Your caring words and prayers have been a lifeboat for my soul.