The End of an Era: Rachel Louetta Skiles Davinich

Rachel Louetta Skiles Davinich

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today, January 9, 2014, would have been my mom’s 93rd birthday. We lost Mom to a stroke in October of 2013, so she didn’t quite make it to 93.

Mom was a member of the Greatest Generation, and our country is the richer for having had her and all of her generation and all they did.

Mom was born in Parkesburg, PA, and lived in Pennsylvania until her family moved to Maryland when she was a young teen. Unusually, for a woman of her generation, after high school graduation she went on to earn a degree in nursing from the University of Maryland.

The attack on Pearl Harbor came when she was taking her final classes for her degree. She and her classmates volunteered for military service, and served in the U.S. Army’s 42nd General Hospital.

 University of Maryland 1942 Nursing School Graduating Class aboard the USS West Point.

Her graduation photo was actually taken on the USS West Point (a naval troop transport ship)! Mom is in the first row, second from the left.

In WWII she was stationed in New Zealand, the Philippine Islands and Australia, and for a short time on a troop ship taking care of the injured as they were transported to the United States. Near the end of the war she served in an Army hospital in the United States. She resigned her commission after WWII upon marrying a handsome young naval officer she had met in Australia–my dad.

Mom raised five children, of which I was her “caboose child.” I’m sure at times she would have gladly fled back to active service to get some relative peace and quiet, with as rowdy a bunch as we were …

She taught me so much, and I was blessed as an adult to have wonderful regular conversations with her right up until her death.

I was looking through some old photos of Mom today, and found one of my favorites, from when she was stationed in Brisbane, Australia:

 Rachel Skiles WWII Brisbane Australia

Makes me smile.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I hope it’s been a great day!

The BSD Book Bunny recommends: Surviving the Death of a Sibling

The Butter Side Down Book Bunny highly recommends Surviving the Death of a Sibling for any adult who has lost a brother or sister

Four years ago today my sister Dorothy died in a car accident.

As long-time readers of BSD know, this was doubly horrific for our family, as my father was killed in a virtually identical accident in September of 2000. From statistics I was able to hunt up on this, only 39 families a year in the United States suffer the experience of losing a family member in a second unrelated car accident after previously having lost a family member in a car accident.

What happened is… indescribable. Her death was a terrible shock and loss for all of us–her husband, her children, my mother, our siblings, our spouses and children and all our related family and friends.

I miss Dorothy every single day. I always will.

One of the most helpful sources I’ve found, following Dorothy’s death, of practical, down-to-earth support and advice is T. J. Wray’s 2003 book, Surviving the Death of a Sibling.

I wasn’t sure at first, when I recently found this book, if I even wanted to read it. However, I was hooked when I read on the fourth page, “The sad fact is this: When an adult loses a brother or a sister, society often fails to recognize the depth of such a loss. Witness what I call dismissive condolences, offered by well-intentioned but sorely misguided friends, acquaintances, family members, and coworkers: “Well, you lived in different states, so you probably weren’t very close.” Or “Thank goodness it wasn’t your husband or one of your children.” And “Your brother/sister died? How awful! How are your parents?”

Whoa. I had heard every single one of those condolences myself, offered by well-meaning individuals after my sister died! And it had bothered me tremendously, although at the time I couldn’t explain why. You know what? After reading this book, now I know why! “Intellectually,” Ms. Wray writes, “we may understand that people mean well; they’re attempting to be helpful and to offer comfort to us in our sorrow. Yet dismissive condolences have the opposite effect. They make our loss seem trivial, and they also make the surviving sibling feel as if his or her grief is somehow unwarranted.”

Eureka! That’s it exactly.

While Ms. Wray is a faculty member at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, this book isn’t a dry academic study written by a detached observer. Instead, the book came about after she herself lost her adult brother, and found little or no information or support anywhere to help her deal with the loss.

It’s a one-of-a-kind book. It offers practical, nuts-and-bolts advice on what helps — and what doesn’t help — when dealing with the loss of a sibling. It’s written primarily for the mourner but it’s also a great guide for anyone who has a friend or acquaintance who has lost a sibling.

If you’ve lost an adult sibling, or know someone who has, this is the book I’d recommend.

For more information about the book, and a forum on adult sibling loss, you can check out Ms. Wray’s website on adult sibling grief.

If you’re a member of Bookshare, you can get an accessible copy of the book here.

For everyone else, here’s the book information. Surviving the Death of a Sibling, by T. J. Wray. Published by Three Rivers Press, copyright 2003. It’s 247 pages in length, and available in paperback and Kindle editions. also has a sneak peak of the contents. Surviving the Death of a Sibling does not contain any explicit sex, graphic violence or strong language, but the material is written specifically for adults, about death and loss.

–This post dedicated to the memory of Dorothy Michalek, September 7, 1946 – February 27, 2007.

If… you’ll be a Man my son!

Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get to see a child you helped raise in a light that tells you that they are, without a doubt, a human being you are proud to know.

Today was that day for us, regarding a young man I’ll call A. We helped A along the path of life when he, his sister and his mother were in the midst of sorting out how to move on after escaping from a brually abusive father and husband. The courts had banned the father from any contact ever with them (yes, it was that bad). We were matched through the county social services agency with them to help give the mom parental support and give A and his sister, who were 10 and 11 years old at the time, the loving support and attention and safety they needed. It worked for all of us, and gave us a sort of semi-blended family that’s been a great blessing for us.

This morning, as they were walking out of the funeral home where A’s grandfather’s memorial service had just been held, Michael and A witnessed an elderly couple, mourners who had attended the funeral, mistakenly pull out in front of another vehicle on a four-lane high-speed highway. The couple was struck broadside, with no chance for the driver of the other vehicle to avoid hitting them at a high rate of speed.

Without pause, Michael and A sprinted full out to the two vehicles, knowing one another so well that they didn’t waste time telling each other what needed to be done, who should do what, or how. A took charge of the occupants of one vehicle while Michael took the other, assessing injuries, directing other volunteers as they arrived, managing traffic around the accident site on this busy major highway and handling 911 information to brief the emergency personnel as to what to expect when they arrived. It was a terrible accident, but I am happy to say that in spite of the seriousness of the situation, everyone survived.

You can’t teach a kid to do what A did today. You can provide an example, you can teach them what you hope is going to get them through life, you can love them to bits, but what A did today? That comes from within. Very few people can handle what Michael and A handled today, much less deal with that kind of situation while they are literally walking out the door from attending the funeral of a beloved family member.

We couldn’t be prouder of A, or happier with the kind of man he has become.

Detroit’s Greatest Generation

The week of Memorial Day over 500 WWII veterans gathered at Willow Run Airport to participate in a photo shoot for a new documentary, “Detroit: Our Greatest Generation.”

The Detroit News ran a nice article about it afterwards, with a good summary of the event.

For some terrific photos of the event, check out the special page the documentary’s production company, Visionalist, has put up about it.

For another nice photo album with some shots of the event, check this out, courtesy of the Ann Arbor News.

My SIL took my mother so that Mom could participate (thank you, Mary – all the stuff you do is so appreciated!). Mom, who is 88 and served in the Pacific Theater, says it was a wonderful event. She was one of the few women WWII vets present, not surprising as female commissioned Army officers were as scarce as hen’s teeth even during the War, much less 65 years afterwards.

The organizers asked the vets to bring a photo of themselves in uniform from WWII, if possible; wearing of uniforms and medals was encouraged. Pictures were taken of each group of vets holding up their photos, and in a few weeks each of the vets will get their own group photo from the documentary makers. The vets are also all invited to a special preview of the documentary before it airs on television in December.

There’s more information about the project and documentary at: Detroit: Our Greatest Generation. A Documentary Film About Common Folks with Uncommon Courage.

It’s always great to see our veterans honored and remembered.