Loren Berckey to Arlene Herner

Loren Berckey to Arlene Herner

Dear Arlene,

The thing that I’m most happy that I got from you was my faith, my belief that there’s something more guiding everything and putting everything together. That God put this whole thing together. You knew it was important but you didn’t force me to go to church, subscribe to any certain kind of religion or anything like that. You just put it in me and let it grow. 

You were also the one that got me interested in Lawrence Welk, and I will totally admit that is a guilty pleasure that, even long after you were in the home and I couldn’t stop at your house on a Saturday night, I still would watch it (I haven’t watched it in a year, but still).

I never got to tell you either of those things, but knowing that you’re up looking over me, I know you know how important they are to me and what they’ve helped me become.






Catherine Weigley to Emma Weigley

Catherine Weigley to Emma Weigley

Dear Mom,

It feels like I just started to get the chance to know you again and then you were gone.  You had always been such a private person, but when your memory started to go, our closeness began to grow again.  Maybe your memory loss caused you to forget that you were a private person.  I didn’t know that you had a dog when you were a kid or that you had uncles that you were or weren’t close to.  I saw a warmer side of you that I didn’t get to see so often.  I’m grateful that I got to know you better over that last year, but I thought that we would have more time.  I wanted to know more.  I wish I knew more.

I also wish you could know more about what I know.  I want you to know that I remember our weekly cheesecake outings that turned into Pickle’s Plus bagel outings after I ate a lifetime’s worth of cheesecake.  You wanted a special relationship with your only daughter.  You saw me and knew me at an early age and encouraged me to be the best version of myself.

I know that you were strong, determined, and fought for what you believed in. I honestly thought you would live to be 100 purely because you wanted to and that the power of your desire could make that happen.  

I know that you were ahead of your time.  You were the first person in your family to go to college.  You earned a Ph.D. during a time when it was not so common for women to do so, and I know you fought hard to get it.  I heard your stories of camping out to see your advisor. You became a published author.

You loved people, but you were shy.  You were really funny and had strong comic timing, but never got enough credit for it.  Jared and I speak about how we think you were funnier than dad.  I don’t know if he would like to know that, but I think you would.

I don’t know that you felt seen. I saw you.

I worry that you didn’t know what was happening when I was suddenly no longer coming for visits and that you may have felt confused and alone. I wanted to let you know that there was a pandemic and that I would be there if I could  and that I would visit as soon as I was allowed.  I felt that because of our renewed closeness, I could explain things to you in ways that you would understand in a way that no one else could.  Did anyone pass my many messages along?  I wasn’t there in body, but I was there in spirit along with so many other people.

When you got sick, everything happened so quickly. This strange world was so new and we knew so little. People were asking about you and were concerned. So very many people reached out to me when you passed.  It was incredibly touching.  I have a big stack of cards Mom, and they’re all about you. For someone who called themselves shy, you had an impact on a lot of people.  Please know that you are loved and valued and you have made a mark and won’t be forgotten.





Lisa Garrison to Paul E. Garrison

Lisa Garrison to Paul E. Garrison

Missing Daddy, a poem to remember Paul E. Garrison

Twenty eight steps to the corner mailbox

(Step on a crack break your mother’s back)

Christmas lights flicker after the holidays

Time to take them down

Nothing to celebrate last year


Two-way street closed forever

I love you daddy

Ditto nevermore

Bare branches poke holes through a setting sun

Can you hear me now?


Five pm pickup daily

Yellow legal pad now left blank

Envelopes unstamped

No reason to beat the pickup anymore

Bottom line, I don’t need it.


In memory of my beloved daddy, Paul E. Garrison

11/8/30 – 11/25/20





Ezra Tischler to Grandpop Florencio Cruz

Ezra Tischler to Grandpop Florencio Cruz

Dear Grandpop Cruz,

I’m writing to let you know I’m proud to be your grandson. You already knew that, but it’s worth reiterating. There are so many reasons to be proud of you. I’m proud of your service to our country during World War II. You were a true sailor, always sharing your love of the sea. With your exceptional cooking skills, you taught me how to embrace our Filipino heritage. Most of all, you showed me the meaning of family. You and Grandma, married for 73 years, created such a beautiful and loving family. You set an example for all your children and grandchildren to strive for.

When I think of you, I think about all the fun times we had on School House Lane. It was such a treat whenever we got to visit you and Grandma for birthdays, holidays, or any occasion. All of the cousins running up and down the stairs of that big old house in Germantown. There was always something delicious cooking in the kitchen. A feast you and Grandma were happy to share with your seven children and all of their children. So much laughter and love was born out of those moments. Of course, I can’t think of those times without hearing you say your catch phrase, “We’re really living now!”

When I was younger I didn’t fully understand what those words meant. You’d say those words, with wide eyes, and all the other adults would let out some deep belly laughs accompanied by ear-to-ear smiles. I’d say to myself, what’s so funny?, thinking I’d missed the joke. Now, with a few more years under my belt, I think I have a better grasp on what you mean. In all that you’d seen and done in your life it was in those moments, surrounded by family, that you felt most alive. I hope one day I’m lucky enough to provide a space where my children, and their children, can gather to create lasting positive memories. If I am so lucky, I’ll be sure to announce, “We’re really living now!” so everyone can hear it, and remember it.



Anonymous to her Mother

Anonymous to her Mother


I was on my way to teach our community weekly outdoor Zumba class when I got the call that you had died.  I hadn’t even known you’d been sick!  The news of your terrible suffering was almost worse than facing the fact of losing you, at least at first.

I had no choice but to go ahead and lead the expectant participants who had already gathered.  Shock and numbness somehow made this possible.  Lurking grief made it necessary.

Of course, the loss became reality over the next days and weeks.  I was consumed by anger: For your safety, I had avoided seeing you for nearly a year!  You got sick anyway!  And, apparently, horribly so!  Why, oh why, hadn’t I just ignored recommendations and visited you anyway?  I didn’t even get to say goodbye. 

I had stepped away decades ago, in response to the family’s refusal to responsibly manage a child abuse situation, and in recognition of the dangerous maladjustments and flaws that had long defined us and been embraced by our family as normal.  But after many years of separation, as a mother myself, I had to admit that nothing could be crueler than causing parents to go to their graves in the absence of connection to their children.  I am grateful that I was wise enough to make the decision to recreate a relationship with you and Daddy in recent years.  While neither acknowledgement of nor amnesty for atrocities effected was part of our new association, at least we got to converse a bit and enjoy some precious time together, most memorably an outing to Chanticleer in Wayne.  

Since  Daddy’s passing a few years ago, I got to connect with you even more meaningfully.  For the first time in my life, I called you my hero: A mother raising five youngsters, and the hardest worker I’ve ever known, you made it all look easy and welcome, a feat I never mastered while parenting my own three children.  I’m glad I got to tell you that.  

I want to thank you for inviting me to share, in these last couple of years, my paltry-in-consequence-but-huge-in-personal-triumph accomplishments by way of posted video recordings as I grew in my experience as a Zumba instructor.  Many times I felt as gratified as a toddler seeking encouragement and praise by shouting, “Mommy, look at me, look at me!”

Now, every few days I find I am struck surprised, as if for the first time, by the sudden realization that you are gone. There is still numbness and shock.  The grief no longer lurks — it looms.

Perhaps above everything else, losing you has made me ponder every child’s loss of her mother.  It’s something that almost all children will experience, and whatever their relationship with their mother, it might be the most profound experience of their life!  This was actually surprising, new information for me!  I made a point to connect with my children about this after you died.  It remains an ongoing conversation. I’m grateful for my harsh education and the opportunity to act on it.

Mommy, there are no words prodigious enough to express my gratitude to you for bringing me into this world and for all your efforts to raise me from childhood to adulthood.   

I wonder whether your life was everything you wanted. I hope it was at least close.

I wish I could have said goodbye.


(Below is a creamer that the author inherited from her mother and symbolizes their connection)

Jenny Allen to Bill Strachan

Jenny Allen to Bill Strachan


You have been the one guiding force in my life I have relied on to steer me in the right direction, even when you weren’t aware of it. 

You’ve always downplayed your role in raising four responsible, successful adults, but you should know that everything I have accomplished has been because I thought about what I was doing and whether or not it would make you proud. 

I have carried you with me every day, framing every trip I’ve taken, every book I’ve read, every new and exciting food I’ve tried and thinking about how I would describe it to you.  I will always do this, because I want you to see all that is wonderful in this world and how you’ve made it possible for me to experience it. 

We will make sure Mom has everything she needs and that she is surrounded by love, just as she was every day with you. I love you always and forever, Daddy.

Jenny Allen

Karl Zimmerman to Craig A. Newton

Karl Zimmerman to Craig A. Newton

Letter from Karl Zimmerman to Craig A. Newton

Craig:  You have been a constant & enduring blessing throughout most of my life. We were friends for 49 years, longer than I knew my own father. I was a painfully shy history major from the sticks and you were an urbane & approachable history professor. I can’t, to this day, put my finger on exactly what it was that drew me to you; your ‘openness’ is the best way I can express it. I only knew that as far as my limitations allowed, I wanted to be like you. I guess I was lonely; I had few friends & I found that I could talk to you. And bless you, you were kind enough to listen to me. You had much to do; you were writing a book, had classes, curated the local historical society and yet you made time to listen to my ramblings–even about girlfriends. I followed you from class to class like a child following the Pied Piper, even though most of your lectures were over my head. I loved military history; you hated it & skipped over it– a constant source of frustration for me, but still I followed you. You helped me become more tolerant. You were patient & understanding; when I let you & the History Department down by abruptly dropping out of grad school, it was you who gave me a second chance for the Master’s degree by supporting my efforts to obtain it during active duty in North Dakota. On the day of my orals, my car broke down; you drove miles out of your way to get me there. Without your help, no Master’s, no ROTC assignment, & no Air Force Academy professorship; in other words, any professional happiness & fulfillment that I managed to achieve over the years would have never happened had it not been for you. What I most loved during my military career was advising cadets; I was merely giving them what you gave me. Your friendship to me as an undergraduate led me to pursue a second degree in academic counseling–all of this was my attempt to be like you and pass on what you gave me to others.

After you retired from teaching, you continued to serve others by becoming a pastor and a volunteer hospice chaplain. You retired for good at 80. Little by little, you slowed down. We spent our last years together watching Philadelphia sports–which aged us both considerably (you were born the year the A’s won their last pennant). I let you down sometimes over these last years; I’m sorry I didn’t do better. You rescued me from the rural working class. You were my second father.

So, farewell for the present, my friend, my father. I’m sure you remember that Biblical verse about the mansions. Find one for me? Make sure it has a garden, OK?

love, Karl