Thursday, May 18, 2023

Jeanne E Bensema 1933 -- 2023

"My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today" -- richard adams

 My brave and beautiful old mother passed away May 1 after a short stay in Boulder Community Hospital.  Although her last days happened a little too soon, she had been on a downward trend for several years and was in poor health.  She and Dad had just completed their three-day seasonal migration from Tucson to Boulder, riding in a friend's car.  They arrived at the ancestral home the evening of April 29th*.  She uncharacteristically stayed up late, fussing around in the kitchen and otherwise making herself at home.  She was so glad to finally be there.  Dehydration and other conditions went undetected.  The next morning she was unresponsive.  The 30th and 1st she spent basically unconscious in the hospital while the news worked its way through relatives and friends.  On the 1st the decision was made to unhook the respirator and let her go.  Cause of death is listed as septic shock, respiratory failure (lung collapse) and renal failure;  contributing conditions were hyperkalemia from dehydration.  A cat had reached the end of its ninth life.

California, 2018

 *Earlier publication of this post had this date as the 28th.  My apologies for the error.

The migration between Boulder and Tucson was something my parents had done every year (except 2020) since 1987.  Although other family members thought it would be a bad idea for so fragile an 89-year-old to travel that far, no one was really willing to stop her.  Dad explained:  "I kept asking her whether we shouldn't stay in Tucson, and she kept saying, Of course we'll go, We always go to Boulder in the summer!"  This from a woman who couldn't walk more than a few shuffling steps, who needed an oxygen concentrator to sleep, who had a notable widow's hump and who hadn't had enough extra energy to answer emails for several months.  In the past 3 years she'd survived breaking a femur and surgery for a blocked small-intestine.  Mom had battled lung issues for many years.  Yet she had recently graduated from a course of physical therapy in order to sit straighter and walk better.  She could run up a flight of 8 steps with handrails (I saw this).  She really had wanted to go to Boulder.

When an Ellis sets their mind on something, they do it or die.  A stubbornness we all knew was there emerged and had its conseqeunces.  The rest of the family, though stunned at the unexpected speed of her death, recognized that this was a mercy.  This post will be given to my own experience of that speed, but the pictures will be from all phases of Jeanne's life.

Four sisters and one daughter; Jeanne at right

My attention and love did not pass to her caregivers (except for Dad) because she had none.  Not for my Mom the long-drawn-out descent from friend to ward to animal, the slow erosion of humanity.  No prize cow, no distant entity she.  With this one the transference went straight to my remaining relatives, friends too:  her neighbors, her immediate family. Surely this is how death was meant to be.

Still those 2 days must have been an eternity.  Saturday night (29th), the original collapse;  Sunday morning (30th) lost consciousness and removal to hospital by ambulance.  Dad reports 2 ambulances, I've never been able to find out why.  Sunday (30th) Dad's phone call that she was in the hospital.  Sometime that day Dad's mass email touched off a flurry of communication, me notifying my 1st close friends Gre and three others; but still the only diagnosis was dehydration and UTI.  So comfortable our armour!  So many times she'd recovered before.

March, 2023

Sunday night (30th) the phone call with my brother Allen, when he told us Janet (my sister) was flying out.  This same evening we'd been to Carl and Judy's for rootbeer floats, and talked it all over with these ancient, 79-year-old friends (everybody agreeing that it most likely wasn't life threatening).  Us answering Allen that a UTI was recoverable from, that Ruth (my mother-in-law) had recovered from one.  "We're with Dad not Janet," was the line, referring to Allen's report of Dad not thinking it was much while Janet was dropping everything.

circa 1966

On Monday (1st) came the morning group call with Dad and Janet (and possibly Christina and/or Allen?) from the hospital room.  When I heard the word 'service' I knew.  That was my moment of notification.  Technically she wasn't dead at that time but the conversation included the phrase "pull the plug."  It also contained the term "brain dead."  I found out later the plug was pulled at about 1:00 that day.  She must have passed right away -- I've no details here.   Death is always a mystery, no matter how smooth and appropriate and merciful and modern.

Boulder, 2014

With Ruth we know our favorite hospice worker, Carolyn O., was there holding her hand.  We have no such for Mom (Janet said they simply left before).  With Ruth we received an official notification phone call from a minor factotum:  blunt, sorrowful, embarrassed, poorly done, so ashamed and scared that I wound up comforting her;  I had it to spare then.  So this is the way of the world.  With Ruth I could be very calculating and scientific, numerically exact:  100 years 2 months 18 days.  With Mom I have not done so, although we have the dates.  With Mom the detail is that she was 89 and not 90 as the number of years would seem to indicate.  With both of them -- ah here is a Great Collusion -- we can proudly, and definitively, state:  It Was Not Covid.   I did not lose my 2 mothers to the scourge.  Neither one succumbed to Covid, which has taken millions, which is a defining fact and the world war of our times.  In each case and in unique ways of their own they both escaped.

Taken at Crested Butte, Colorado

Oh their lives were impacted, Ruth's by control of hospice workers and caregivers and Jeanne's by 3 years of house arrest.  But so were we all.  That was the framework of the world at the time.  If I can remember the Before Times -- 60 of my 63 years! -- that is my curse and my blessing.

Boulder, 2008

My mom was a piano player, and gave me the supreme gift of music and music-playing (not to mention heaps and heaps of sheet music!).  To this day I play piano and it restores my soul.  She gave me so much that I can truly say:  she is with me still.  I would like to post about her memorial service (May 10) and so much that was said about her then.  But this post is already long enough.  Perhaps it can be understood this story will be covered in waves.

I will end with the Irresistible Ice Cream shot.  This photo was taken by Christina Pilz, a dear family friend, who kindly did the grocery shopping for my folks during their last 2 years together while in Boulder.  Mom had been restricted from such rich foods for most of her life, so actual doctors orders to indulge and gain weight (she had gotten too skinny and would not gain) were followed with much glee.

Illicit Ice Cream
She was happy and a delight to be around up to the end.


  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your words are so eloquent; I’m sure Jeanne would be proud.
    Pam N.

  2. So very sorry for your loss (((hugs)))