Jacqueline Mertes Bird 1926-2014

It was going to be Antigua That is where I am today – another little slice of paradise in the Caribbean. Like many of the other islands, the story of the island involves explores from South America via boats down the Orinoco, European colonial powers, slavery, disease and long battles for self determination. Instead I am going to divert to more personal matters.  Most of the time, when someone writes about an essay/obituary it is all about the good, wonderful things the person did. This is more about reaching an understanding for myself about how life experiences shape you, influence your choices and interactions with the world. Some of it made sense to me growing up, other parts are my interpretation being long past the point of my  life where any of it is personal, which may say more about me than her.

Jacqueline Mertes born 23 Sept 1926 died Jacqueline Bird 29 Jan 2014.

To be a small child during the depression is something that I can’t imagine. To worry about your next meal, to not feel welcome in the home where you and your mother live, to wear hand-me-downs. It is not an experience that I can claim any coherent understanding. What I do know now is that it formed the core of Linn’s being and personality. To hold part of oneself in reserve and to always expect the axe to fall. My mother and grandmother Esther lived with the eldest of  Esther’s sister in small town Minnesota after they left California when Linn was small. To be a child without two parents in the middle of a narrow minded community would have been a challenge for the most strong of will. Doing well in school would have been an exit strategy.

Attending the University of Minnesota, Linn graduated in 1948 with one of the liberal arts BA which qualified you to be a secretary (if you could also type) or a MRS which is what I think she really wanted. To be part of a family, to be on the inside rather than an observer.

My parents were married in 1948. I was born in 1950, April in 1954. I am sure that my mother was not what my grandparents had envisioned  for their “prince of a son.” I don’t think she understood the uphill battle she was facing. Thinking back, I can’t imagine two people less suited for each other (past the flash of initial attraction) with one sure he ruled the world and the other just waiting for something to go wrong. .It did, which should not have been a surprise and I am sure that there was plenty of blame to go around. But my sister and I were caught in the middle and suffered all what I know are the normal reactions of children trapped in a silent battle ground. April was cute, I was smart and the two of us were never encouraged to be close by either of our parents.

Looking back, I now know that Linn did what she needed to in order to survive and put a roof over our heads. I will tell you that in line with the average teen I had more than the usual amount of hostility and anger being caught in the mess and not understanding much of what was happening. Self-centered is a way of life at that age. She remarried to Melvin Bird in about 1965. None of which I understood till I was in my mid-thirties with a terrific husband and an incredibly lovely daughter to think about having to start over at that age with nothing but two children who needed love, food, stability. She did what the women of her generation did.

I really don’t know much about her life between when I left home in 1968 till 1985. She came to our wedding in 1978 and exhibited disapproval at the way I was living my life. Or I though it was until I realized that she was mostly scared that something bad would happen to me.  She and Mel visited when we moved to DC the first time. The experience was not a positive one to put it mildly.

I next saw Linn ~ early 2000 when I attended a meeting in Albuquerque, NM. Meeting on a middle ground was the best I could do. I never saw her again which meant I could keep my prejudices intact about her smoking, drinking and priorities of which I had not felt that I was one.

Now, dealing with the aftermath of her death in Arkansas it is probably time I grow up as well. To let go of hurts and slights. To examine how it has affected me and my choices. To hope that she had good years with the choices she made. It is not the same as when George’s mother died; a person who had devoted her life to her husband, son, grandchildren, family and beliefs. Her passing was a hole in our lives that has healed. Linn has not been part of my life for decades.

I can’t find tears, feeling or emotions at her death; I lost those back in my teens. What I can do is feel relief that I was able to do at least a minimum for her: to make sure that her wishes were respected with regards to DNR, excessive measures.  To make sure that anything she left behind goes to April, the daughter who had the longest and most difficult burden.

Linn was lovely and loved. I will grieve for the person she was before Alzheimer’s took her away. I can have regret for choices that we both made; ones that set us permanently on different paths. If she hadn’t been who she was I would never have had the drive to go to school, achieve, support myself and hug my children.

Those are not insubstantial gifts and will last far longer than the basic gift of life and breath.




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