The obituary I’ll never forget

Mrs. Louise Bickford, playing piano with her children in the 1960s.


By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: October 19, 2018

A few years ago, a friend sent me the link to an obituary she’d read in the Boston Globe that morning. I didn’t know the woman who had died. Mrs. Louise Bickford was a complete stranger to me. However, my friend shared the article because Louise had been a military spouse, like me. 
The obituary made no reference to an impressive career or professional achievements on Louise’s part. It didn’t mention awards or attempts to change the world. None of the traditional barometers of success. 
But this seemingly unremarkable newsprint about a military spouse I never knew somehow tapped into my psyche and left an indelible mark. 
After reading the obit, my friend and I exchanged messages such as, “She did the New York Times crossword in pen. I can’t even do it in pencil.” And, “Wow, I can only hope that I leave that kind of legacy.” And then my friend and I went back to our busy routines, leaving behind the shared tidbit about Mrs. Louise Bickford, the 85-year-old Army wife who died on December 9, 2015. 
The only problem was, I couldn’t forget. 
The 600-word description of Louise’s life had seeped into my subconscious, surfacing when I needed to quell doubts about my place in the world. The memory of the obituary has become a mantra that I conjure to soothe the fear that my life is insignificant or unimportant. 
Even though the article didn’t describe the accomplishments that are normally deemed print-worthy, the essay about Louise is a portrait of a life that truly mattered.  
I’ve been thinking more about Louise lately. With my husband retired from the Navy and our last child off to college, I recently interviewed for my first out-of-the-house job since 1996. I’ve spent the past two decades raising our three kids, moving, managing the household, volunteering and freelance writing from home. As I brace myself for rejection, I wonder, have I accomplished enough in life? Will this job save me from oblivion? Will my children be proud of me? 
According to the obituary written by Louise’s five children, Louise was born in 1930 and raised in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town. The valedictorian of her high school class, she went on to get her teaching degree and to marry James Bickford, her husband of 40 years. “Jim’s Army career took him, Louise and the five children plus pets to postings in France, California, Kentucky, Iran, Wisconsin, Virginia, Turkey, Florida and, finally, Pennsylvania,” the obit read, adding that Louise parented the kids alone during Jim’s unaccompanied tours in Vietnam and Korea. The obituary described their mother’s “love of travel, curiosity about other cultures, organizational skills and pragmatic nature” that made her “well suited to her life as a military spouse.”
After Jim retired from the Army, one might think he and Louise settled into a stable life without hardship. However, “a tragic accident left Jim a quadriplegic in 1976.” Louise “spent the next 18 years as his primary caregiver until Jim’s death in 1994.” But she had always had a “great capacity to roll with the vicissitudes of life, accepting whatever difficulties life threw at her with humor, grace and style.”
Louise spent the rest of her years “caring for her extensive brood,” and pursuing her many passions. Her children proudly described her as a “multi-faceted individual” who “taught swimming; was a substitute teacher; led Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops; ... did the NY Times crossword puzzle in pen; played the piano; sang in choruses; organized an international supper club; and was a gracious hostess her entire life.
“Louise’s life was grounded by family, from her early life until her death,” and her family of five children, 12 grandchildren and a great grandchild “loved and admired” Louise for “her great wit, integrity, love of laughter and independent spirit.”
Mrs. Louise Bickford had it right. Regardless of the pressure to live up to traditional measures of success, ultimately, a life grounded by family is a life well-lived. 
Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: themeatandpotatoesoflife.com