Almost Dying Changes You – 52 Ancestors #348

Before you read any further – I’m fine. Now. But I wasn’t.

I’ve been really debating about whether or not I should write this article. After it was written, I debated about whether I should publish it. It’s one of those all-or-nothing propositions.

Obviously, because you’re reading this, I decided to share this chapter in my life’s journey.

Thankfully, it was not the closing chapter but was far too close for comfort.

You might want a nice cup of tea, coffee, or maybe something stronger for this one😊.

Shift Happens

You might have noticed over the past few months that my 52 Ancestor stories have changed a bit. They’re a lot more like this one with fewer historical articles. Don’t worry – they will shift back soon.

They changed because I’ve been making some significant changes in my life and I just didn’t have the time for the required research to do each ancestor justice. I’m almost through that knothole now.


Sometimes we decide, of our own free will to make changes in our lives. We decide to go to college, or get married, or maybe not.

We make decisions about our jobs and careers. We decide where to live. Our ancestors decided to migrate or remain in their home village. So do we.

Many of the significant changes in my life have been the result of a rather rude push. Off of something that looked a lot like a cliff at the time.

For example, I received a “shove” to leave Indiana that came in the form of life-threatening domestic abuse. At the time, I was utterly terrified, alone with my young children, two pets that survived, (he killed one), and heartbroken. That chapter shaped who I’ve become a great deal.

In hindsight, it was one of the best “shoves” I ever received and absolutely for the best. Not the abuse of course, but the fact that I had to leave to escape. I learned courage, resilience, tenacity, and to advocate for myself when there was no one else. In other words – survival skills – baptism by fire.

Back then, there weren’t domestic violence shelters and women were often blamed when their husbands were abusive.

In leaving and beginning anew, doors I never could have imagined opened. I established a new, abuse-free life and found the perfect career.

A few years later, another unexpected push off that cliff came when I had to find a new job. The company I worked for, and loved, was acquired. I was very unhappy at the time, but now, looking back, I realize that I took extremely important life-lessons about problem-solving and thinking outside the box with me, along with a bright shiny college degree. I didn’t want to, but it really was time to move on. The next door was opening. I just didn’t see it that way – at least not yet!

Life is what happens when we’re making other plans. I don’t know who said that first, but it’s oh so true. All of life’s events are strung together like a chain, every single one essential to getting us to where we are today. Changing one thing changes everything.

I’m sure every single one of you can relate similar experiences.

Near Death

I’m one of those extremely fortunate people who is alive because of medical advances, specifically antibiotics. Had I been born just a generation earlier, I assuredly wouldn’t have survived.

Aside from my difficult birth, my first much-too-close encounter with death was when I was 10 years old and critically ill with meningismus, a close relative of meningitis. By all rights, I should have died, and I very nearly did. I recall an event vividly, although I was in an oxygen tent and my mother assured me that I was NOT conscious when I told her about this “memory” later. She did, however, confirm that what I saw happened exactly as I described, which simply confused both of us.

The doctor asked my mother to step out of my hospital room with him and I decided to “go with them.” They walked quite a way to the end of the hall. I was “floating along,” slightly above and behind them, but it didn’t seem at all odd. I realize it sounds odd now.

They sat at the end of the hall, alone, in a small waiting area. The doctor asked my mother if there was anyone she needed to call. She didn’t understand what he meant. He explained that it was unlikely that I would recover, and he wondered if there were grandparents, siblings, my father, etc. that would like to come to the hospital to see me while they still could. He offered to help her make the necessary calls.

My mother was clearly shocked, stood up, looked at him, and declared emphatically, “My daughter is NOT going to die!” With that, she left him sitting there and walked resolutely back to my room. In my floating state, I returned with her, and I saw myself lying in bed beneath the plastic oxygen tent zipped around most of me, apparently “sleeping.” I remember thinking that I looked small.

I remember nothing else.

I’ve had a few other brushes with death – close calls – but perhaps not THAT close.


In the 1970s, I was involved in an automobile accident where my car flipped end-over-end in a field several times after broadsiding a vehicle that ran a stop sign in front of me. I couldn’t see the vehicle approaching because the corn was above car height.

By Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden – Ford Pinto runaboutUploaded by Oxyman, CC BY 2.0,

Thankfully, my vehicle, a much-disparaged Ford Pinto, ironically for safety issues, literally collapsed around me like a protective cocoon, leaving me with injuries that warranted hospitalization, but that didn’t leave me in critical condition.

Yes, events do “slow down” in the seconds when a crisis like that is occurring. The seconds between seeing that car pull in front of me, slamming on the brakes while throwing the transmission into reverse to slow my speed, crashing into the car, feeling the jolting impact, then spinning over and over with my vehicle finally coming to rest on its roof seemed like a slow-motion eternity.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice it to say I was trapped in the car and bleeding badly. The important thing is that my child was not in the car with me, and I survived, as did the other driver.

One of the supreme ironies is that after a fatal accident a couple of years earlier, my step-father had been part of organizing a local fundraiser to purchase jaws-of-life for the volunteer fire department, and a new ambulance to cover that part of the county. Little did he know they would both be used to save his daughter’s life.

Pain Medication

In the early 2000s, I either became or always had been allergic to morphine and never knew it.

In the wee hours of the morning, I awoke in the hospital, following surgery earlier in the day, and observed an entire circle of doctors and nurses, along with a crash cart, surrounding my bed. Apparently, I had a reaction to morphine that involved my blood pressure and respirations dropping to a critically low level.

A few years later, my dentist prescribed Tylenol with codeine after a procedure. It never occurred to me that my years-earlier morphine issue might also extend to codeine. I took one pill before bed. Thankfully, only one, which was half the prescribed dose. Otherwise, I would probably have died on the floor where I spent the night flat on my back.

That experience was quite interesting.

I felt ill in bed, got up and attempted to reach the kitchen for something to settle my stomach. On the way, I felt faint, leaned over the couch, realized I was losing consciousness and wondered if I was dying just before everything went black.

I recall rousing slightly during the night on the floor. I couldn’t move, but I realized I was cold before slipping away again. Sometime a little later, I struggled to consciousness again amid the realization that I literally could not die because I wasn’t “finished.”

To this day, I don’t know if I “thought” that or “someone” was speaking to me from the other side.

Near morning, around dawn, I finally roused enough to crawl back into the bedroom and awaken my husband. I realized that I had gone to bed more than 6 hours earlier.

No more morphine, codeine or opioid-based pain meds for me – ever.

Unfinished Business

Regardless of where that message “came from,” it arrived nonetheless, and I heard it loud and clear. I knew exactly what business was unfinished, and that’s where I’ve been focused on a daily basis since that epiphany. You might have surmised by this point that my unfinished business was and is genetic genealogy, and specifically one aspect of my research work.

I have always felt that I was guided, or pushed, to where I needed to be and this is no exception.

2020 & 2021

These last two years have been incredibly challenging for everyone in a myriad of ways. Literally, let me count those ways. I’ll need my fingers and toes and maybe yours too😊

I’ve been fortunate because my income and my husband’s have both been mostly spared and we have escaped the worst aspects of Covid. That’s to say, neither of us or our immediate family, meaning spouse, child, or parent has died from it.

However, I’ve lost many friends and close relatives and the deaths continue to mount. My husband’s best friend died. One of my close friends has lost either 5 or 6 close family members to Covid, one just today. Two others have lost both parents, just days apart. Sadly, there are so many that I’ve lost count.

Even more friends and family members have Covid right now, residual long-Covid, or are suffering from Covid repercussions. Families are irrecoverably fractured by differences in both politics and Covid beliefs.

And by fractured, I do NOT mean a disagreement. I mean a forever rift that cannot be repaired. Polarizing politics, Covid, fear, abandonment, betrayal, and sometimes death all thrown together in the most toxic of stews.

Some people have managed to survive all that but have suffered from and are still experiencing the effects of being physically isolated from family members and friends. And of course, for many, the employment landscape has changed dramatically.

After two years, there is no longer a “normal” to go back to.

I thought 2020 was the worst.

I made countless masks and quilts for people in need or suffering.

We mask-makers viewed ourselves as “can do” Rosie the Riveter, 2020 version, all pulling together with what we had on hand to help others out, especially those in medical, public safety, and public-facing jobs who had to work to care for others.

We were all terrified, especially as people began to sicken and die and Covid progressed from the abstract happening someplace else to the grim-reaper stealthily moving among us and our family members.

I made myself a quilt from just a few of the mask scraps that I named Black and Blue, because that’s how I felt in the spring of 2020. Beaten, bruised and isolated as we attended Zoom funerals.

We made the best of things, hoping for an end soon.

I was so hopeful for 2021, especially with the vaccine becoming available. Unfortunately, things haven’t turned out exactly as I expected, and here we are, still struggling and embattled in January of 2022, enduring the worse surge yet.


By spring and summer of 2021, after a year of being locked down, people became very restless. Covid fatigue. Zoom just wasn’t cutting it anymore. We had spent months trying to find things to do separately but together.

Me, right along with them. I began focusing on outside activities as the weather warmed.

I was never so glad to see spring arrive in my life. Green leaves, flowers, and release from the houses that held us hostage yet at the same time protected and sheltered us during 2020 and the following cold, grey Covid winter.

May 2021

Gardening was in full swing by May. Colorful blooming flowers everyplace soothed my battered soul, even though I still couldn’t see friends and family members in our normal settings. We were finally beginning to see family members outsdoors, still masked. I was so grateful and that felt SOOOooo very good. I had missed them incredibly.

The garden had come to life, insects were buzzing and I was spending lots of time outside.

One morning, I felt something brush my face, by my eye. I didn’t know what it was, but I reflexively fanned it away with my hand. A second or so later, I felt a sting, then another one.

Both stings on my face near my nose.

Within seconds, I felt intense burning rise to my eye, through my nose, and the palate of my mouth begin to swell. The swelling was moving swiftly towards the back of the roof of my mouth.

I suddenly realized what was happening. I was having a severe, intense reaction, and if my throat swelled like my face and the roof of my mouth were doing – I was going to be in extreme trouble in about a minute.

My husband was nearby and I somehow managed to find my way to him. I distantly heard him say to someone on the phone, after glancing at me, “Uh, I have to go. I have a really big problem here.”

We made it to the hospital where all I could do was attempt to choke out the word, “bee” and motion to my throat as I gasped, but I don’t know that they could hear or understand me.

Except, it wasn’t a bee. The culprit was a hornet, the most toxic and life-threatening of stinging insects.

Emergency Room

The lobby of the Emergency Room was full of coughing patients.

The staff pointed to the seating area, wanted me to “take a seat and wait,” but I was frantically trying to gesture that I couldn’t breathe. They summoned a nurse who was quite alarmed.

We were immediately hustled into a triage room where a flurry of people were scrambling around me, cutting my shirt off, asking questions and starting IVs.

I remember little, except a sense of relief that someone understood just how much trouble I was in.

A few hours later, hooked up to what seemed like every electronic monitoring device possible, I was drifting in and out of sleep with Jim sitting in the chair at the foot of the gurney. I heard the nurse step behind the curtain of the person in the area beside me and tell that patient that he was Covid positive and that they were going to transport him “someplace” as soon as they could stabilize him and find a bed.

Still quite groggy, I asked Jim if I heard what I thought I heard. He slowly shook his head in the affirmative. We stared at each other in wide-eyed shock and disbelief, combined with fear. We had both tried so hard to avoid Covid, yet, here it was, right beside us with no precautions taken to separate people with Covid symptoms from the rest of us.

We had all been there for hours, just feet apart – and my neighbor was positive. I was trapped.

I asked the nurse and while she could not confirm that the man next to me had Covid, she said that they did in fact “have Covid in here.”

We had all shared a lobby, the triage room (he was already there when I arrived,) restrooms, and hallways – for hours. Wonderful. Just wonderful. We spent several more hours side by side too until he was transported.

There was no hospital room available, so we remained in the ER until they were sure I could breathe, my vitals stabilized, and the swelling had abated somewhat.

I was sent home on high doses of anti-inflammatory drugs. And to wait…

You Know What’s Coming…

I was home, but I was not “OK.” Anaphylaxis is an immense shock to the system and your body is literally flooded with chemicals. You become very ill. And you don’t just get over it as soon as the meds take effect.

I had never experienced an anaphylactic reaction before, but went to bed and expected to feel better soon. However, I continued to feel very crummy. Extremely tired, weak and dizzy. For many days.

I finally called my doctor who instructed me to go and get both a Covid PCR test and a Covid serologic antibody test. She wanted to know if I was positive for Covid at that point, hence the PCR test, and if my system was having a reaction to the Covid exposure, meaning I had had Covid. You can read about the various types of tests, here.

I was not positive for Covid at that time, but my antibody numbers were literally off the chart.

You can see on my results above that 8 is the top end of the chart, and my results were 8.11.

Yes, my body was fighting both that double hornet sting AND Covid, at the same time. No wonder recovery took a long time and I felt miserable.

I knew I had come perilously close to dying.

Something Changed

I don’t exactly know how to explain this, but something changed. A paradigm shift.

Maybe something had been changing all along and this life-threatening event just cinched it. Pushed me over another cliff of sorts following a whole lot of cumulative smaller shoves.

Covid has made us all think about and reconsider things. Lots of things.

  • What is important?
  • Who is important?
  • Some people have come to view their career and employer in a different light.
  • Jobs have changed too with many people now enjoying a work-at-home or hybrid position that shifted from an in-the-office job.
  • Other people left the workforce and have not rejoined.
  • We were somehow more restricted but less tied.
  • Numbers vary by age group and location, but more than 20% of Americans have moved during this time.
  • Relationships have morphed and changed too – sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. Many ended. Some began.
  • We have been conflicted – both grateful to be working at home, which is both more convenient and productive, but also lonely for in-person human contact.
  • We have more social media and electronic connections than ever, although many of those platforms have become hateful and toxic. Yet, it has been the only way for us to keep track of friends, family, and acquaintances, so we’ve tried to sidestep the increasing toxicity.

Somehow, whether we intended or wanted to or not, we’ve all taken stock of what is important as a result of living with the constant threat of a miserable death.

Not one person that I know has been untouched by this threat. All of us have family members who have died. Some of us nearly died.

Trauma changes you, especially sustained trauma. Some people have developed PTSD, but we aren’t exactly into the “post” part of post-traumatic just yet, because this trauma continues.

Life has changed in big ways and small.

June 2021

I knew that I was done. I knew that somehow a chapter had ended and another had already begun. That cliff might have been invisible, but I was already over the edge and there was no return.

I had been delaying several changes – some through procrastination pure and simple.

I had been reluctant to make other changes due to restrictions and factors that had shifted in subtle and not-so-subtle ways over the previous 18 months, and longer.

The hornet stings, Covid exposure, resulting reactions, plus Covid-induced lifestyle and relationship changes all morphed together to create an avalanche thundering downhill.

  • It was time to clean out.
  • It was time to downsize our surroundings and upsize our life.
  • It was time to stop procrastinating, even if the reasons had been “good” and were justified.

“Someday” is not a day of the week and doesn’t just happen without focused effort.

We thought we had “forever” left – but forever nearly turned out to be minutes and not years or decades.

It is time to fully live for us and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I’m not retiring.

I absolutely LOVE what I do. That epiphany on the floor all those years ago still holds true. I’m not done. I just needed to reprioritize, shift to a different environment, simplify things and eliminate some dead weight.

With the summer solstice arrived the season of change. Soul-searching walks in the labyrinth confirmed what I needed to do.

I won’t tell you I wasn’t fearful and apprehensive, because I was. But I also knew. The path existed and I was on it, even though I couldn’t yet see through the mists where it led. This journey hadn’t yet been unveiled, but there was no turning back.

I was headed into the darkness of uncertainly as a result of escaping the darkness of death.

Swedish Death Cleaning

I wrote about Swedish Death Cleaning a few weeks ago. Suffice it to say I really had no concept of HOW MUCH STUFF I had accumulated.

Sifting through all that was both cathartic and incredibly painful.

I found things I had entirely forgotten about – until I saw them again. I was reminded how blessed I had been to have been forced over those cliffs of uncertainty all those times in the past.

Yes, that’s a much younger me at Twentieth Century-Fox – a landmark opportunity in my career.

My life passed before my eyes one piece of paper, one found photo and one item at a time. I found the bear I made my mother for Mother’s Day as a child. It resided on her bed all the days of her life.

Some treasures made me smile, some cry, and some, both.

Many family photos are minus many or even most of the other people.

Yet, they are also some of life’s most joyful moments.

I relived the great joys, and the great sorrows of my life, one after another, all in the space of a few weeks.

Some were unspeakably bittersweet.

Mom’s last birthday card to me as her health was failing

I never knew what the next box or envelope I opened would hold.

In many ways, I had to say goodbye all over again to family members, both human and animal.

We spread the ashes of our long-departed fur-family members as we prepared to move on.

I found this gravestone rubbing made by my daughter when we visited Aurora, Indiana with Mom back in the 1980s.

They are gone, not forgotten, and will live in our hearts forever. We don’t need the stuff to take the memories.

The future was once again a blank slate in front of us, waiting to be filled with our new life.


During this time, I made an unexpected discovery. I received a great deal of satisfaction by gifting things that I had always cherished to others. Things near and dear to my heart. 

I gifted my grandmother’s china to my 1C1R (first cousin once removed), who is also my grandmother’s descendant.

My cousin’s mother was my Mom’s niece who she absolutely adored.

My cousin is relaying the china to a different 1C1R. My family already has what they want and I’m thrilled to find a way to keep Grandmother’s china in the family.

My grandmother, her sisters, aunts and mother painted the gold edging in the early 1900s. One is initialed by my grandmother’s aunt and dated 1905.

Here’s the sad part. My mother never used that china. Neither had I. Everyone was terrified of breaking it, so it sat forever in the cabinet, revered but unused. I hope my cousin uses that china that belonged to both my grandmother and her mother, my great-grandmother, as well. My cousin is at least the fifth generation, if not the 6th.

Regardless of whether she uses it, or simply loves it, the china is still in the family and I’m not carting it around only to have it wind up in a rummage sale someday, or worse. At least now it has the opportunity of remaining in the family for more generations.


When my cousin came to pick up the china, she looked so much like her mother and my grandparents. That was startling and made me weepy. Even weepier than I already was. She didn’t know it, but she was visiting on what would have been my Mom’s 99th birthday.

My cousin brought me a lovely gift as well – my grandfather’s masonic apron, shown below on a table cover that I hand-quilted, for his daughter, my mother, years ago.

I am thrilled beyond words – and I enjoyed visiting with my cousin immensely. I have several things from my grandmother, but nothing from my grandfather – until now.

Additionally, my mother had crocheted shawls for all the females in the family, plus a few extras. Her shawls were extraordinarily delicate and beautiful, winning many ribbons at fairs and exhibitions over the years.

There was one shawl left. I offered it to my cousin who, of course, had known my mother. She was thrilled, saying THAT was the highlight of her visit.

She adopted Mom’s last afghan too.

I’ve enjoyed sharing the love so very much – and I know Mom would approve as well. I felt her with us.

In fact, I’ve felt her with me many times during this process.

Use the Crystal

As I sifted through what to sell and gift, and what to keep, I had to weigh the importance of each item to me, combined with the possibilities of where it would go in a new chapter of its life. How I felt about where it would go, and with whom, made a big difference in my decision.

Mom had some crystal that was also my grandmother’s. She used the crystal bowls from time to time, unlike the china. I remember various crystal pieces on the table.

I decided to keep those, and as I was wondering exactly what to DO with them, I heard this voice in my mind. Mom said, “Use the crystal.”

Use the crystal. Now that I think about it, I think the fact that I could remember those dishes being used created a bond I didn’t have with the much-loved but unused china. The crystal was actually a part of our life.

It doesn’t matter if I use the crystal for its original intended purpose or something else. I can feel close to Mom by simply using it in my life.

Right now, I’m using one bowl for tangerines and another for chocolate.

Chocolate was Mom’s perennial favorite, so no matter what I did with anything else, her unwavering gaze would be affixed on that chocolate in her dish😊

Yep, Mom surely approves.

I think I’ll use her water pitcher as a vase when I’m not using it to pour iced tea. My hubby already used one of her crystal glasses for a sip of wine last night.

Regardless, the crystal pieces are no longer going to reside, unused, on the shelf in the cabinet.

We are already using her crystal.

Reshaping Life

I’ve utilized this reshaping opportunity to decide what is, and is not, important.

I’ve donated and donated and donated.

If something doesn’t bring me peace, joy, or happiness, it’s off to bring that to someone else. Money already spent is a sunk cost and not a good reason to keep something that no longer meets that criteria.

And really, who needs a dozen pairs of shoes. Now genealogy books, well, that’s another matter altogether😊!


I’ve realigned my life with what’s important at this stage. I’ve focused on what I want and less on “should” based on what I think is expected of me.

I realized that I wasn’t important to everyone who I thought was important to me. Investing in relationships and people who don’t care and aren’t appreciative is a vicious cycle of pain and disappointment. I stopped. As Dad used to say, “let go or get dragged.”

I’m less tolerant of BS. Life is just too short.

Yes, it truly does take a village. I don’t mean just to raise children, but for all of us. You truly know who the people who love you are when you need help, or nearly die, and they show up, or don’t.

Whoever it was that said, “We are just walking each other home,” had that exactly right.

Family of heart is our family of choice, and I would be truly lost without them. Choose wisely, Grasshopper, because those people are your “village” residents. Those who will share their food with you in a drought or masks and TP in plague times, or who will shrug and let you perish as collateral damage.

I care less about other’s people’s opinions of me.

I’ve removed negative and toxic people from my periphery.

I’m not allowing the key to my happiness to live in someone else’s pocket.

I’m focused on spending time and resources on people who are positive and kind.

Love and loyalty are not simply words and concepts, they hinge on actions. Without corresponding actions, they are nothing but deceptive, manipulative, hollow words, or worse. Like my mother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Believe the behavior.


I’ve thought a lot about the first few words of my obituary.

In other words – what do I want my legacy to be? We are the only people who can make that happen. Our legacy isn’t so much what happens TO us, but what we do about it. We write our legacy every day, every minute, of our lives.

  • She was…
  • She will be remembered for…
  • She loved…
  • We miss her because…
  • She left…
  • The best thing about her life was or is…

Every single one of these things has to do with people, and how we make them feel. Not a single one of those things has to do with “stuff,” unless it’s making sure that others have their needs met.

It’s not at all what we have or accumulate that matters, but the legacy we leave behind.

I can’t help but think of Betty White who died just days shy of her 100th birthday and we STILL thought that was too soon. Be like Betty.

I’ve tied up as many loose ends as possible so that my daughter doesn’t have to make (as many) difficult decisions.

I’ve reaffirmed and acknowledged, again, how important genetic research is to both me and others. Not just individual others, but the genealogy community and world at large, now and in the future.

I’m thinking about the Million Mito Project which will benefit mankind (and womankind) as well as individual genealogists. Tracing our way back in time and lighting those dark crevices with knowledge one step at a time. Eventually, those tiny steps evolve into a journey.

I’ve recommitted to my 52 Ancestors series. I’m not writing for me, but for them, and for the future. For people probably not yet born. There are stories and tidbits that will be gone, forever, when I am. I’m trying my best to make sure they aren’t!

I’m doing what I love and will continue as long as I manage to avoid those pesky hornets.

I’ve hired someone to help with the outside home maintenance. Not only do I not care for that task, I’m making it as difficult as possible for those hornets to kill me😊.

And speaking of those evil flying assassins, in case you’re wondering, I now carry an EpiPen in the bottom of my purse and in a drawer by the back door at all times. I’ve already needed it once too – not for me – for someone else.

Had that hornet NOT stung me, I would not have had the pen on hand for a young man who was stung and also had no idea he was severely allergic. Speaking of a worthy legacy, a huge thank you to Sheldon Kaplan who invented the EpiPen and thereby saved and continues to save countless lives. HE made a huge difference. Be like Sheldon too!

Oh, and the back door is now located elsewhere, meaning I relocated, and the new patio is screened.


I’ve made the same journey my ancestors did. Migration. I’ve thought so much about them, their choices and sacrifices these past few weeks and months – and their legacies.

Their lives have passed before my eyes as I embarked and walked along that same pathway. In some cases, I’ve revisited those locations, such as Aurora, Indiana, on the Ohio River where a Christmas wreath adorns a boat.

I’m glad to see the home belonging to my ancestors, Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel is getting a much-needed facelift. It was here that the Haviland China was painted more than a century ago, probably in the parlor. My great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore was born and raised here. My grandmother, Edith Lore spent a great deal of time with her grandparents and that Haviland china was probably painted by three if not four generations of women chatting and painting happily together. I’ve always wondered if it was my grandmother’s wedding china. I can’t help but wonder if my ancestors know I’m here, visiting, passing through on my own migration journey exactly a century after Barbara Drechsel Kirsch sold the Kirsch House to live with her widowed daughter.

I’ve gained a new and much greater appreciation for their lives and the challenges they faced. Although modern travel is much easier for me, well, except for the 3 Mad Cat thing😊.

I don’t dare complain one whimper, because compared to those months-long transatlantic ship voyages that were dependent on the wind and weather, my headaches were nothing. Jacob Lentz and his wife, Fredericka Ruhle, lost a child and possibly her parents, were shipwrecked, set adrift in the Atlantic, nearly starved, then stranded for a year in another country before having to indenture themselves and their family to pay for passage a second time where they encountered a hurricane. Nope, my trip was NOTHING in comparison.

Once again, I’m following in the collective footsteps of my ancestors. They paved the way and have sheltered me on this journey. I feel their presence. Every journey is different, and mine, especially recent decisions, has been challenging in many ways that I never anticipated.

So yes, I am using the crystal, Mom’s silverware, and the heirloom quilts! I hope you will too. If not now, when? Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

No Regrets

My goal at the end of my life is to have no regrets.

I can tell you as I’ve gotten older, I do wish I had done some things differently, but my major regrets are things that I DID NOT do, not things I did.

Most often, what prevented me from doing something was fear, disguised as lots of other emotions. Responsibility, especially for my children, guilt, and focusing on what I “should” do instead. What might happen if…

What I wanted to do was all but suffocated for a long time under that weight – for so long that I didn’t even know how to figure out what it was that I wanted – until I almost didn’t have that opportunity anymore.


Like I said, nearly dying changes you.

I’ve decided to live more boldly now. I’m lighter, both in terms of stuff and emotional baggage.

I have donated more than I kept – and I do mean that literally – to Lacasa, our local woman’s shelter that helps women escape domestic abuse by providing safety, protection, and whatever else they need. Many women leave with absolutely nothing except what they are wearing, their children, and if they are lucky, their pets.

There was a time in my life that I needed that type of assistance, but it wasn’t available. I left with the clothes on my back, a clunker car that he burned, my children, and 2 cats. He killed one pet and tried to kill us, including the children, and promised he would succeed if I left him. He nearly succeeded.

I was utterly terrified, young and alone, but left anyway, knowing instinctively that escape was my only prayer of survival.

I discovered that restraining orders are completely and utterly useless.


I still carry multiple scars, but I’ve come to realize that scars are the marks of warriors that won their battles. Reminders of valor and courage. Beauty marks – perhaps my best attire, as someone once said, made of hellfire itself.

These are not the permanent marks of suffering, but of bravery and survival. They are my secret source of strength, my superpower because they remind me that if I can survive that, I can survive just about anything. I wear them with pride and dignity. It’s not the scars themselves I want you to see, but how they transformed me, and through me, others.

Most women don’t talk about abuse and their abusers. It’s degrading, embarrassing, humiliating, and often involves rape and other unspeakable, horrific violations.

Worse yet, many people still blame the victims one way or another. A lot of second-guessing, “well, why didn’t you…” or “you should have…” goes on. There’s implied judgment and blame FOR THE VICTIM in every one of those words.

Every woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship situation knows she made a poor choice initially, but the question becomes one of survival. Women can’t go back in time and request a redo and other people back away. Men don’t advertise themselves as abusers – that behavior generally emerges after the woman is already dependent.

I was shocked when I learned my mother, at one point, had been a victim too. Many family members were embarrassed by her divorce and would have preferred that she “find a way” to remain married to her brutalizer.

It was hard enough for me, but even more difficult a generation earlier, because it was even more challenging for women to work and their wages were universally low. Not to mention the social and societal aspects of being viewed as “damaged goods,” a failure, “difficult,” a “loose woman,” and somehow a threat all rolled into one.

Unfortunately, women’s shelters didn’t exist for either me or my mother. Thank heavens they do now.

Shelter and Hope

Today, Lacasa has both a brick and mortar and online retail store stocked with donated items. Lacasa clients shop at no charge of course. All money raised goes to fund things like their 24-hour hotline and safehouse. All services for victims, survivors and their families are provided at no charge.

Not only did I donate a boatload of furniture, like this bookcase that used to hold quilt items, I also donated all kinds of household items, in addition to books. Reading is so important, and truthfully, I think this is the only way I could have parted with many of my books.

In addition to several friends who helped, I found a lovely couple to pack my remaining things, including moving the heavy furniture, so I didn’t need to do it or agonize and second guess my decisions about individual items.

Seeing my things in the Lacasa shop, like these bookcases being reassembled for use, made me cry. The service these items will provide in their new life is far, far beyond any use I would ever have gotten out of them. They held books for me. Now they hold out hope for others!

A path to safety and a new life. A transformational opportunity to break the cycle of abuse.

Donating to Lacasa made the shedding of excess baggage that I needed to accomplish for my metamorphosis so much easier.

We rented a storage unit for Lacasa to house the items that won’t fit in their store right now. Women will be able to “shop” here too, and Lacasa will stock the store as needed.

I own a whole lot less but am much richer than when I started this journey months ago.

Live Boldly

Everything has changed, and so have I.

It’s kind of like my magnetic poles have shifted.

I’ve sold and given away the majority of my possessions including heirlooms, quilts and books I cherished. There is something infinitely satisfying and rewarding about sharing the love – sewing those seeds to spread across the winds of time into future generations.

I’m using Mom’s crystal.

I cut a quilt into smaller pieces to repurpose and use differently as table runners.

I would/could have never done that before.

I’ve realized in many ways it was time to move on, and I have.

I trekked abroad to think and ponder the future before the Delta variant made travel too dangerous again. To the land of the midnight sun – to walk the continental divide between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, to experience a volcano erupting, and to explore the world of ancient DNA.

Ahhh, DNA and genealogy, my lifelong passion. DNA has both created and transformed my life.

I will not leave this world with any stone within my power unturned. I will educate about genetics, DNA test myself and others, write and research in the most productive ways possible, including this blog. In addition to my book published in 2021, there is likely going to be another in 2022.

I will travel and walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.

I will stop to smell the flowers and allow them to inspire quilts that burst with summertime joy in the midst of winter.

I will celebrate the sun on my face and the love of my ancestors in my heart as I trace their pathways.

Furthermore, I promise, I will never, ever, be a well-behaved woman.

I would regret that immensely, and life is just too short to live within the restrictions imposed by the expectations of unknown and unnamed others.

Besides that, history is just waiting to be both made and revealed. It’s not like it’s going to simply reveal itself!

I am incredibly grateful to be so fortunate. I’m able to laugh and smile – a lot – and find joy in something every day. I haven’t just survived, but thrived with the help of my village – my family and family of heart. I feel a karmic obligation to repay my good fortune whenever possible by sewing both quilts and seeds.

I firmly believe that when you have an abundance of love, (or other things), that you need to give it. Literally, share the love.

Love is an unlimited, regenerative commodity. Love is not pie. There is always enough to go around. In fact, love is self-sustaining, increasing with the amount given.

OK – It’s Your Turn

I hope you too will live boldly – whatever that means to you. The future, and our legacy which is the rear-view mirror reflection of that future, is what we make it.

You don’t have to almost die to make changes. I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

What’s your legacy going to be?

What do you want to write in your own history book?

On your tombstone?

What are you going to do?

What’s stopping you?

What is your superpower?


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65 thoughts on “Almost Dying Changes You – 52 Ancestors #348

  1. Wow is an inadequate term. I expected something important. Wow. First, you are so incredibly strong. Amazingly strong. And brave, Very brave. So much, so many turns. i have bookmarked this to come back and read again. Just let me say that I am glad you are here! What a thought provoking and inspiring post.

  2. Roberta, sharing your journey during this difficult time is a gift. I’ve been sharing with others that all of us are going through the stages of grief as a nation for all the things we’ve lost the last couple of years

  3. Roberta, thank you for sharing. I think you have made good choices. Congratulations.

    As I sit in my lonely family room watching TV, or in my lonely genealogy cave, I miss having Linda around, but she has to be in the memory care center with skilled nursing as her hip healed poorly and she is stuck in bed or a wheelchair. I can visit her for an hour each day. Now we talk and play Uno and not worry about things. She has been there for seven months now.

    I miss friends and neighbors. Zoom has been fine to see an talk to genealogy colleagues around the world. I’ve been to church maybe 20 times since COVID hit. I’ve been out to lunch or dinner maybe 10 times with my daughters or friends.

    Our stuff is still here, and every room is filled to the gills plus the garage. I don’t use 99.9% of it. If I die soon, my daughters may just throw everything out, or donate some stuff, because they are not close by. There is, of course, a pot of gold at the end of the tunnel for them.

    Our daughters have their own lives and we cannot visit as often as we did before COVID. The grandkids are growing up and have interests of their own. One daughter and one grandkid has medical problems that seem intractable.

    Now I have what I hope is a minor heart problem. Are heart problems ever minor? I’m feeling mortal every day. Genealogy really helps me escape everything else.

    I’ve been thinking of legacy too, and have started working on the genealogy part.

    I hope God blesses you with many years now and I look forward to how you are doing in your repurposed life.

    I have many wonderful memories of seeing you at RootsTech and watching some of your presentations and reading your blog.

    • I have been following your and Linda’s journey for some time now, holding you both up in prayer. I’m glad you can at least visit. I know this is probably more difficult for you than her, because she doesn’t realize. I hope you can make some changes that will make you happier. As I was considering the next step, one universal piece of advice was to make the change while you are still healthy, have choices and aren’t dependent on others entirely for the move. I look forward to seeing you again, hopefully sooner than later. I was so pleased to discover that we are distant cousins, I think a couple different ways.

      • It was one of your posts Roberta that recommended Randy’s blog, and I now regularly read both. I tend not to comment but as well as appreciating the contributions to genealogy of both of you, in some small way I feel like I have got to know you both a little.

        Your love of Linda is abundantly evident from your posts Randy. She could not have chosen a better partner in life.

        I’m very pleased that when you diced with death (again) Roberta that …well, you know. I figured something major had happened but was reassured recently by your post about the moving and the mischevous cats and your husband as I was worried something had happened to one of them.

        • I read Randy’s blog every morning. That and Stephen Hollen’s ongoing story about Limestone Ridge on Facebook. Without fail. Some days they are the only sane part😁

  4. Thank you for having the courage to share the way you do. You have made a huge difference (POSITIVE) in all of our lives — both with research and on a much more personal level.


  5. Your “journey,” written with such authentic feeling, certainly gives others permission to do the same. Thank You!!!

  6. Thank you for writing this. While I have not experienced abuse or the closeness of COVID deaths, I have been going through a LOT of things including family things and if my children don’t want them I am working to find the best home for them in museums, charity resale shops, and a women’s shelter. 2020 and 2021 was a year of cleaning out a lot, but there is a long way to go. I find myself wanting very much to simplify my life.

  7. Oh Roberta, Best Article Ever!!! I am so glad you shared this. I hope to some day meet you and let you know what a wonderful journey through history you have inspired me to take. And by the way that little girl whose spirit followed her mother down the hall will some day find her mother again.

  8. Wow! A life as colourful as the quilts you sew, Roberta. Speaking of the quilting, they too are made up of parts of a puzzle to be put together, just like your life has been. Same with genealogy, it too is building the puzzle pieces you have worked through. DNA the same. Thank you for sharing your life journey with everyone and every blessing for today, tomorrow and forever. X.

  9. I am incredibly touched by your courage for life’s challenges. Whenever my life seems difficult I think of my ancestors and the lives they survived. I struggle to make sense of the DNA I have tested and hope my mental acumen doesn’t fail me. Thanks for your inspiration.

  10. Roberta, Like many others I had no idea of your journey and more difficult times in the pas t and the last couple of years. With your talks and blogs, you’ve been a big help to me, an inspiration for me to do more, and provided resources that I’ve been able to share with others. May your journey continue with the same passion and gifting you’ve done in the past. I haven’t read all your blogs but am more inspired to never let another go by without reading them. Best regards, Jim

  11. I don’t have the words to describe my emotions as I read your story. I found myself holding my breath as I read. It was so touching and inspirational at the same time. You have used your negative experiences for good. I’m so glad that you wrote it and put it on your blog, I read your blogs and they help me enormously.

    I discovered genealogy when I retired 10 years ago and wish I had started before, I don’t know how I lived without it, I’ve even spent 2 years studying with Strathclyde University. Every ancestor has real meaning, I’m so proud of what they achieved, their struggles and their achievements. The cousins I have found through DNA, DNA my real passion. Just so much to learn.

    So thank you for your story. It has really motivated me to work harder to learn more. I am now off to read about the Million Mito project to see if my mtDNA can be part of it.

    Have a lovely week.
    Moira Swinbourne

  12. I’m a fairly hard-nosed 75-yr old male living in Europe. I found your article most moving and a joy to read – if that’s the right word! Thank you.

  13. Wow! This is so wonderful, bittersweet, thoughtful. I am humbled and honored to be the recipient of several gifts from you. Thank you for this gift to all of us as well as all you do.

  14. Roberta, you don’t need any validation from me, but I loved this article. And to be honest, some of it hit home to me too. Your articles evoke a can-do ethos, which has paralleled your life in many ways. Your articles have been such a guiding light in my research- pointing the way, but but not walking for us-that we have to do ourselves on our own journey. You sharing your knowledge is one of legacies….but it’s not over yet 🙂 Thank you.

  15. I have enjoyed your shared life moments for several years. This has been a tough year for a lot of us. My life changed in August of 2021 when I had a brain bleed with symptoms of a stroke. After rehabilitation, I needed to decide what was important to me. Getting my genealogy records in order seem to be the most important thing. I have worked with DNA matches about six hours a day for the past three months. One of my adult grandchildren and a nephew are interested, so hopefully they will continue. Thank you again for sharing.

    • I’m so glad you have other family members that are interested. Nothing like a health crisis to spur reflection.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story. We all need a little perspective these days. You have motivated me to re-examine a few things in my life. We moved in 2017 and did a lot of downsizing of things. But I probably need to look at other areas of my life. Genealogy has been a lifesaver for me during COVID, but I do need to figure out the after-I-am-gone phase. Appreciate the push (shove?)🥰

  17. Thank you for sharing this moving, thoughtful, and wise information. I won’t intrude on your own beliefs, so I will also simply say I hope you have also made peace with God, or will seek to do so. As you so beautifully point out, none of us should take the future for granted.

  18. Truly a fascinating and riveting story Bobbi. I have been on my own journey, and it too has been littered with tragedy as you know. That said, doors open, doors close. None of us know the road we will travel, only the one we want to. My journey is not yet done either, and I know now it will not end here in America – there is more I want to see and need to do. I had always expected to store what little belongings I had, at mum’s place – she knew this – while I went off to do what I needed to do. Now I don’t have that place, but I do have the means to fulfil my wishes. It’s now my turn to take another road too.

  19. Thank you for sharing your struggles and your journey. I lost my mother almost 2 years ago. I am still sorting through her things. She I guess like many of her generation was saving things for a “special occasion “. I only remember her good china being used once as I grew up. I have it and am using it not everyday, but often. It is often hard to let go of “things” as you feel you are losing a part of your gone family member. I have been able to donate so many items and also share with other family members pieces of my mother’s life. I am also trying to whittle down my possessions as I don’t want my children to have to deal with my stuff.

    • I found that taking pictures helped. I often didn’t need the “thing” if I had the picture. And I formed a new very positive memory of the item in its new life.

    • Also, I had my mothers things at my house from when she passed which is part of why I had accumulated so much.

  20. The tears are flowing – your telling has pricked many emotions! After I finish my sinus clearing cry, I’ll reread this whole blog entry, again.
    Thank you for sharing.

  21. WOW! Amazing! I can’t list all the words to describe how your article made me feel! Please put this in a book, so much more people can benefit. I can literally experience your emotions as you take us through the last couple of years. Blessing, and pray for me as I will for you.

  22. Thank you for sharing this story (and your donations for such a good cause). Wishing you many, many more blessings during this new stage!

  23. Bravo Roberta! My big life change came in 1983 at age 37 when I was diagnosed with a rare ovarian cancer and was supposed to be dead in about 6 months (10% chance of survival!). How freeing it was to rid myself of those things and people who were a weight around my neck.Enjoy the journey!

  24. Roberta, we are kindred spirits. You and your writings are beautiful, inspiring and full of positive feelings about tomorrow and beyond. Much love and hugs and thanks to you.

  25. Crying here.
    I read your blog for the genealogy advice but your personal stories really resonate with me.
    Thank-you for articulating what many of us feel, and the changes we could/should make.


  26. Roberta, You are a wonderful story teller, but this post goes beyond that – it’s awe inspiring! You should get an award for Best Post of 2022. Even though it’s still January, I doubt anyone will produce anything more beautifully written.

  27. Roberta, thank you so much for sharing your journey in overcoming traumas and preparing for new life without so much baggage. I appreciate your courage and am further inspired to send things to their next home. God bless you and your husband in your new home.

  28. Thank you for your honest reflections.

    Monday, my adult son went to his doctor to see results of recent X-Rays of his painful back which has been badly damaged in the past. While there, his doctor gave him a covid test. A few hours later he received a phone call that said his test was positive. Shock. He lives with me, so I assume I am positive too. Neither of us are having hardly any symptoms, but we do always have allergies that can be mistaken for omicron covid. We are now stuck at home for at least a week or more. We have no idea how we caught covid. We mask and are careful. We are both vaccinated, and I have had my booster shot which is probably why we are not very ill. I had an allergic reaction to the 1st and 2nd shots, but not the booster. I coughed and coughed and could not breathe for at least five minutes after each shot. When the nurses were almost ready to give me the epi pen and call the ambulance, it quit. Now I am glad I continued to get all the shots, and I did not chicken out. The shots work. Without the test, we might not have known we had covid and unknowingly given it to my daughter’s three-year-old grandson who I often babysit which is very scary.

    Unlike many older people, I am around my children and grandchildren all the time. It is like we live together. I would not change that. I have given many things to them, other relatives, and friends. I am still getting rid of things I do not need. Yes, I use the crystal and the old dishes, or my daughter has them now in the china cabinet she inherited from my mom. I still have too many things.

    Abuse is not something to be ashamed of. Shame on the abuser.

    Keep writing. I love your stories, personal, or DNA and genealogy.

  29. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Been there! Done that!! I’m almost 80 and am happier now, versus then. Sad memories are clutter, and need to be shed at all cost. Happy memories give everyone renewed life when we share them.

  30. Wow! I have a lived life but not as many near death experiences. Heart and circulatory issues have brought end of life considerations much closer. I am building a Book of Family for my grandchildren and have started to give things to people who will appreciate them. I am sharing my research with others via Dropbox shared files. I am trying to save my children from having to clean up after my death. Thank you for sharing your story.

  31. You have been through the biscuit Roberta. When you were 10, you had an out of body experience when you are between life and death. It’s good that you escaped your situation. Keep well. You created some beautiful quilts.

  32. Roberta, Incredibly moving and eye-opening. I desperately need to “clear-out” and am having a hard time getting started. Your story has given me a added push.
    Love your blue quilt and btw I also have a Kirsch line from Sankt Wendel in Saarland.

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