PianistMarge Cassingham

(Reading Time: 6 minutes)
A hand-colored portrait of my mother at 16 years old. (Family photo)

Born in Los Angeles, one of Mom’s neighbors as she was growing up was a kid named Gene Roddenberry. He, however, was much more focused on Mom’s older sister; Lottie wasn’t interested. Mom remembered when the first freeway in Los Angeles opened, which has never been rebuilt and is still snarled with traffic today. Growing up she played classical piano starting at age 4, thanks in part to her music teacher mother, Gladys, and received her bachelor’s degree in Music from Occidental College. She then divorced her Caltech professor husband and took a job at Bendix Aviation, which made airplane parts. Her boss didn’t mind that she was a single mother.

As I did the final cleanout of her files, I found a demonstration of her attention to detail: the carbon copy she made when she typed up her Personnel Security Questionnaire form in 1953, which included every address she had ever lived, every job she had until that point. Her fingers, strong from years at the piano, made her a demon of a typist, even in the days of manual typewriters. The form also listed her membership in organizations: the Sigma Alpha Iota women’s music fraternity, and the American Association of University Women. She proudly maintained both memberships for the rest of her life. When I notified SAI of her death, Executive Director Ruth Johnson quickly replied: “Your mother was one of the SAI Philanthropies Project Directors when I first began serving in this office. She is well known to me. She was initiated September 22, 1942, and had received just about every award that SAI gives.”

Before I was born: mom working at the nursery school. My oldest brother is at her shoulder with his flute, which he still plays today. (Burbank Daily Review, 1958)

Then she met my dad [Honorary Unsubscribe v4, 23 December 2007]. She had four children in all; I was the last. When she realized she needed regular breaks from all the kids, she didn’t push us into daycare, which probably wasn’t available in those days, but instead joined with some other ladies to convince the pastor of their church in Burbank to let them start a nursery school; it still operates today. Growing up, there was music in the house every day, usually live, and always top notch: Chopin, Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart. Community Concerts was a big thing in Burbank, and I remember many of them since she recruited someone to turn the pages of her music for her as she played: me. I couldn’t read music, so we communicated with such subtle body language that the audience was impressed by their resulting impression of how well I was “able to read music”! I never did learn to read it: when I took music lessons the teacher just assumed I could. Still, thanks to inheriting my mother’s perfect pitch, all the teacher needed to do was play a new piece for me and I could play it right back as perfectly as my skill allowed, which was “not bad.”

The nursery school was a big operation by the time it was my turn. Don’t tell me you’re surprised that I’m talking! I distinctly remember Mrs. Phinney, seated at left. (Family photo)
Mom at her Steinway, c1982 (Randy Cassingham)

Like my father, she didn’t mind any friend I made — Black, Asian, Jewish, whatever. She always simply regarded everyone as human, and I followed her example. She was encouraging, but not pushy: no “you should be a doctor” or whatever. She let me choose what I wanted to do, and proudly read my work until she was in her 90s. Meanwhile she did what she wanted to do, joining the local Two Piano Club when we moved to northern California’s Silicon Valley, and the Fortnightly Music Club. When they bought the house, Mom needed one with a large living room so she could, in fact, have two pianos, making our house “the” place for practice sessions. Her Steinway grand was her pride and joy. When another member of the Two Piano Club moved into a retirement community, she gave Mom her Steinway so both pianos were Steinway grands — and the living room was still not at all crowded. As usual, I’d go to sleep each night listening to live music.

Mom thought I was “playing” with my camera and didn’t have film in it, so she didn’t put on any sort of “look.” I’m so pleased with how this captures her essence: her intelligence, her wit. (Randy Cassingham)

She also worked day jobs, still as a secretary. Syntex Laboratories, a drug company, was nearby, and she became the Project Secretary for getting a new drug through the FDA approval process: Anaprox (sodium naproxen), an NSAID now best known as Aleve. The sodium, she explained, was to buffer the drug since its first version was hard on the stomach. After that she worked for a company that sold static protection gear to Silicon Valley chip factories. That actually was perfectly within my dad’s expertise, so he came out of retirement and joined the company too, helping giants like Intel not lose so many chips to being blown out by static sparks. Unfortunately, Intel didn’t pay in shares of stock!

In 2005 Mom moved to a nice retirement community nestled in a redwood forest. No room for two pianos in her apartment, but it was big enough for one, and this time her Steinway dominated the room. She still played concerts, both in town and for other residents, and at her church. Not just playing the piano as needed, but singing in the choir, and playing in the handbell choir. As she did all along, she made a lot of friends. They admired her musical ability, but also her humanity — she was a good friend. At least one of those friends, Kirsten, didn’t just keep in touch when Mom moved to assisted living, which had meant giving up her piano after 90 years at the keyboard. Kirsten visited every week when she was in town, and kept us informed about Mom’s condition. Last year Mom moved into memory care, and Kirsten kept coming. A few months ago as Mom was closing on 100 years old, Kirsten told her, “It’s my birthday today: I’m 82.” My mother considered that for a moment and replied in a clear voice, “Am I supposed to be impressed by that?” Yes, that’s right: I got my wry sense of humor from my mother.

The last time I saw her conscious, October 2023. She was very content in general. (Randy Cassingham)

In October, as her Medical Power of Attorney, I signed her into hospice care. Last Monday her doctor called to say she was getting close, so Kit and I jumped in the car and drove the 550 miles to be with her. She was unconscious, but for the first few hours would open her eyes when I talked to her. Several folks from the church came to visit, and sing to her. The next day I was watching her closely, and could tell time was getting near. I could see her pulse in her neck, and watched as it slowed, and stopped. I was glad to have Kit there to hug me, which was better than when I sat with Mom’s mother when she died in 1987. It’s an honor to sit with someone when they die; it’s a part of the human experience that most miss — we’re isolated from it. Between patients, family, and friends, I’ve been there for many more than my share. Perhaps as a result of that I don’t fear death, I just prefer not to do it yet since I have so much more that I want to accomplish. But Mom’s time came well after she finished what she set out to accomplish, and I was happy for her. Marjorie Ellen Cassingham died on January 24, six weeks short of her 100th birthday.

Note: In a switch from tradition, I’m allowing Comments on this post as a trial of the idea. I will be pretty selective in approvals in favor of meaty remarks about the featured people over condolences. (Let me make that more clear: condolences will be deleted. Read the comments, especially this one, to understand why. Thanks.)

The Comments trial ended in May: despite the outpouring on this particular entry, they were rare otherwise.

From This is True for 28 January 2024

90 Comments on “Marge Cassingham, Pianist”

  1. What an absolutely delightful, enlightened soul! I love her open mind and her encouraging spirit. You are definitely a credit to her and her outlook on life. Marge will definitely be missed, much like a cool breeze on a hot summer day.

  2. A truly amazing woman, and an amazing life. It seems to me that people who lived over the last 100 years had so much more going on personally, and were so much… broader in their experiences, skills, and life in general. Today’s generations, me included I guess (baby boomer), seem to be less “generalist” in nature, and life experiences are getting narrower and narrower.

    Kudos to your Mom for living one hell of a good life!

    Funny: I, as a baby boomer myself, always considered myself as a Generalist — specifically using that term. For one project at JPL, I even referred to myself as the “Staff Generalist”! But never considered it was a generational thing. Thanks for prompting me to think about that. -rc

    • I don’t think she can be categorized as “generalist” as she play piano and type on typewriter a lot. She should be “fingerist”.

      (Sorry, can’t resist :D)

      Cheers for the great lady!

      Part of what I got from my mom is the ability to see the humor in pretty much every situation. She would probably chuckle at this exchange. -rc

  3. Great lady! And a reminder to take a few moments to remember my own mother, another great lady.

    Indeed. If you have the chance to call or hug your mother, do it! -rc

  4. I can see where you got your sense of humour, your tenacity, your wit, your intelligence and probably your sense of the ridiculous. She was a wonderful woman and a wonderful mother. I know you will miss her very much, and eventually you will get used to not having her here. Best wishes to you and Kit.

  5. My mother played the violin. She called it her oldest friend. She died at 98 and had played for 90 years more or less. I went to many community orchestra concerts in Brooklyn, NY. If your Mom didn’t call her piano her oldest friend, I’m sure she thought of it that way.

    She had two good friends named Stuart (well, one of them was actually Stewart). You made me smile just now. -rc

  6. She lived a good long life with a wealth of activity throughout. It would have been a privilege to meet her and hear her play.

  7. The value of our lives are in the people who we’ve touched, in no small way, through our actions.

    In this way, your mother was one of the richest people in the world.

    • Indeed!

      A long life and well-lived, making the world a better place for all around her. Highly worthy of a place in such esteemed company, regardless of any familial connection. In fact, I’m sure they would be honoured to included with her.

      And speaking as someone that tries to avoid taking naproxen as much as possible, I shall be extremely grateful for her part in bringing the gentler ‘with sodium’ version to market every time I do find it necessary to take my usual high dose, even though I do make sure to always take it with food and an antacid.

  8. Her life was a beautiful melody of dedication, love, and music that touched everyone around her. Her legacy as a gifted pianist and a kind-hearted soul will always be remembered and cherished. May you find comfort in the memories and the music that filled your lives.

  9. Good moms are a treasure. Good moms with music are the world in life. Family singalongs with mom or an aunt at the keyboard are singular family treasures. The gift of music is irreplaceable. Moms, music and a stable view of life are treasures that gird us with courage, sense, and an evenness that makes us grateful. You had a wonderful teacher.

  10. Yes, holding Mom’s hand as she took her last breaths has strengthened me in the years since, for her hands shaped me as a child, and mine held her up as she aged.

    I got the idea of taking a photo of me holding her hand from a friend, and I’m thankful to him. I did it twice: once shortly after his suggestion, and again when I saw her last. I will treasure both photos for the rest of my life. -rc

  11. A life well lived is a precious gift. Thank you for sharing her life with us.

    Paraphrasing a line from a favorite book of mine: “They are not truly gone while we live and remember”.

  12. Amazing how much she was able to accomplish in only 100 years! Most of us never got to know her, except through your loving tribute, Randy. Truly a life well lived. (Your keyboard may be different from hers, but you clearly inherited a wonderful virtuosity from her; she must have been very proud, and rightfully so.)

  13. It sounds like she had a very good life, and also important, a good death. It’s wonderful that you could be with her at the end — I’m sure that made it easier for her to go on to whatever comes next. And God bless hospice care, it’s such a gift for us all!

    • You put the finger on what is irritating me about the condolences (I’ve edited them out of several comments): making it into a tragedy (at 99!!) takes away, denies, or minimizes the concept of a good death. We should all be so lucky to have such a good death. It is not, in any way, a tragedy.

      • I get it! Death is part of the cycle of life.

        Exactly. And understanding that is a major step in letting go of the fear of it. -rc

  14. She was an amazing woman.
    She did a lot of things in her life.
    I am glad you got to be with her at the end.

  15. My mother and my mother-in-law both died while I was out of the room (I think they waited), but I had your experience with my husband. We had time to call friends and fellow choir-members, and the ICU was kind enough to let us all crowd in. We did sing to him, and it seemed that his heart rate strengthened briefly, before slowing and stopping.

    I’m very glad I was able to be with him. I’m glad you were able to be with your mother. May her memory be a blessing.

    That is wonderful ICU let so many people be with your husband. He knew, at the end, that he was loved. -rc

  16. Truly, a life well lived; not any mention of money at all but the riches she possessed in musical skill, conviviality and initiative would be in uncountable to be sure. May we all be so lucky as to be remembered in a fashion similar to this.

  17. I wish I could have shaken her hand, and told her, “Thank you for being the mother of This Is True. This publication, made by your son, has gotten me through some weird and very tough times.”

    She would have been so curious! She’d ask things like, how did it help? Whatever it was, she would be gleeful that TRUE helped (and so am I). -rc

  18. Fate is strange in that if your original plans of sailing the seas had materialized, you would not have been able to be by her side. An amazing woman, and an equally amazing son.

    We of course have had that thought too. For a variety of reasons we feel our delay has been fortuitous. -rc

  19. Two Steinway grands in her living room; hard to beat that! May she have one in heaven to make God happy.

  20. “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” —Leonardo da Vinci

    I like it! -rc

  21. Like so many others you have honored in HU, your mother saw a need and worked with others to meet the need, whether for parenting, by music, or in her profession. She shared her energy, creativity, and talent to make the lives of her family and others better. What more effective reminder and lesson for all of us? Thanks for sharing from your love for and experience with her.

  22. Thank you for honoring your mother for her life in this way (“Obituary” doesn’t do justice to what you wrote).

    Thank you for your beautiful “unfear” of death. (if you can say “unsubscribe” to describe a person’s death, I can say “unfear”!)

    ​Heh! Yes you can. -rc

  23. What an amazing life she led! I love stories of strong women, especially from the times when it was much less prevalent. Sounds like she put a ton of herself into this world, making it a better place for everyone.

    So many men are fearful of strong women …which necessarily means they’re not strong men. Thanks for setting a good example. -rc

  24. Your comment re calling or hugging your Mom is so true. At 80 my Mom fell and broke her hip. I was at the hospital with her but left her room to speak with nurses to give them my brother’s contact details as I had a flight that night. I heard my Mom calling for me and a nurse told her I was gone. My mom said in a clear voice, “he is not gone!” The nurse asked how she knew that. Her reply was, “he is not gone because he didn’t kiss me goodnight.”

    I never left my Mom without a goodnight or good-by Kiss.

    Wonderful story! -rc

  25. I just recently lost my older brother and now my family of 9 is 2 (me (the baby at 67) and my older sister), so I understand.

    It looks like she led a great life with a great attitude towards it. To be surrounded by music your entire life, I envy you that.

    Keep those happy memories around, they will help you over the next few days/weeks/months/years as things jump and surprisingly bring memories back to the forefront. I recently found a picture of my parents (Mom died ’79, Dad in ’96) of their last anniversary. Cried for hours….

  26. Thanks for sharing not only an inspirational sampling of your mother’s accomplishments, but also a glimpse of her values and sense of humanity. How fortunate for everyone that she passed these life-affirming qualities to you.

    Glad it was clear that was just a sampling. Another: Mom was very intelligent, and diagnosed and cured a medical problem she had when doctors couldn’t figure it out. How? She spent hours in the Medical Library at the nearby Stanford Medical School, doing her own research. She would have been a great doctor. -rc

  27. Reading about your Mom’s life made me remember afresh my Mom’s life and how much she meant to me. I know I didn’t have her long enough, even at 100 years it wouldn’t be enough for you either. Blessings to you and your family. She was a very remarkable lady.

  28. There are very few people in this world who could match the quality of life your mother experienced in her lifetime. You were so lucky to have her as a mother! I just wish I could have met her.

    I am indeed lucky, but I think there are very many who have had great lives. I can only honor one each week, and most weeks I have many to choose from who are worthy of such an obituary. It just so happens I was able to write this one without research! -rc

  29. It is indeed an amazing story, worth of the HU not only for being your mother.

    On a more light note: maybe there was a “higher reason” why your endless cruise did not start yet: no way to reach her in due time from the middle of the ocean.


  30. I’m glad that you were able to visit her and be with her when she passed. Her strength shows in you. I’ve been reading your “This is True” for years and have been a Premium member for many of them. Your Mom was someone I wish I could have known.

  31. In all the comments, I don’t think I saw anyone remark on what a good job this remarkable lady did raising her children to appreciate good music and community service. She obviously instilled these qualities by example, helping to start a childcare facility at church, playing community recitals, etc. It shows in the years of public community service her son served as a first responder/medic. I know she must be at rest with her God enjoying the reward she has earned.

  32. An absolutely lovely and touching tribute to your Mom — sounds like she was an amazing person, and a terrific role model. And talk about a long life, very well-lived! Thank you for sharing, and may your memories of her be a blessing to you and your family.

  33. So interesting to hear that you, too would listen and mimic the piano song — boy, did I get in trouble for doing that! She forced me to learn to sight read because it would give me freedom and independence. I also remember she would find duets for us to play; I always loved when my simpler song would be made glorious by her part played on the grand piano! Of course she was much more than a teacher and neighbor to me; a lifelong friend who was funny, sweet, perceptive gentle, and honest to a fault. I am so blessed to have had her in my life and really enjoyed your tribute, Randy! Let’s celebrate her amazing life and gifts.

    I wish my lessons were on piano! But it was brass. Still, the concept holds. -rc

  34. I’m glad you got to have your mom for as long as you did. It sounds as though she had a wonderful, full life. I’m happy for you and your family.

    My mother was a school teacher her whole career. She was about four and a half years older than my father and left us first. I think she waited for Dad and me to leave her hospital room before she let go. She was 80.

    Dad, a minister, preached her funeral and went in for knee replacement surgery about ten days later. He recovered quickly, and attended a convention for hymnists shortly thereafter. He taught music lessons, voice and piano, at every posting he was assigned. He was also a generalist. His degree was a bachelor of science (though he also had a divinity degree), but he could substitute teach any subject. He didn’t just babysit the classes. He taught. English literature, social studies, history, math, choir. At one point, he had his teaching certificate and taught chemistry and physics. And he wrote the alma mater for one high school after learning that they didn’t have one. (A coworker, met relatively recently, told me that he attended that particular school, and obtained for me a program from the most recent graduation, which included the text.)

    Dad left us on December 30, 2016. I think he also delayed until we’d left his hospice room, as the hospice person told us he’d passed shortly after midnight. He was 84.

    He sounds like someone I would have liked to meet. -rc

  35. I had the privilege of knowing Marge through choir. She became our interim choir director as the church conducted a search. She trained us to pitch, as hers was perfect, and it was terrifying to sit beside her when singing and have her remind you it was a G#, not G natural. She became a lovely friend with whom I spent happy times discussing life, faith and marriages. She gave me an incredible gift which I listen to constantly: a recording of the wedding music she played for a child’s wedding. I will always think of Marge whenever I hear Rachmaninoff Variation 18 Rhapsody on Themes of Paganini.

    Thanks for posting your memories! -rc

  36. What wonderful memories her friends and family have within to remember the beauty of her music and of her soul…

    The heavens are overflowing with music.

  37. What an awesome life she lived and look what she planted into you — heaven gained an angel.

  38. That was a beautiful eulogy for your mom. Now we know why you are the way you are. 🙂

    And I agree with you about being with someone when they die. My mother died 15 years ago and I was with her when she did. Being able to say goodbye like that has a value that cannot be measured.

    It makes me sad for those who were kept from their loved ones during the “we don’t know what is best” phase of Covid. I really feel for those who wanted to be there, but couldn’t be. -rc

  39. What a wonderful lady. I know, as do you, what a house filled with music will do for your soul. Also, I know, as you do, how wonderful it is to be there at the end.

  40. You are absolutely right that it is an honor to sit with someone in their final moments. I sat with my wife two months after we married as her Dad died, then nine years later with my sister and Mom with my own Dad passed. Nine years ago I stood with my sister as her husband was disconnected from life support. The past summer my wife and I sat with her Mom in hospice care for 3 weeks until her time came. Difficult? Damn right. Would I go back in time somehow and not be there? No way. I must believe that my family members were aware they were not alone but surrounded by the people who loved them most as they died. I must believe that as hard as it was for us, it somehow made it easier for them. I hope someone does that for me someday. I hope that thought helps you in your grief for losing such an amazing woman.

    You’ve certainly had more than your share. I’m glad you were able to tell others of your experience here. -rc

  41. She must have been a strong lady to have raised someone like you. And I say that only with the greatest of admiration for what you’ve done with This is True.

  42. Thanks for sharing this beautiful tribute, Randy. Your mom was a wonderful person. I’ll think of her when I take an Aleve — which is pretty often these days.

  43. I was there for my mom, but not for my dad. It’s an experience that seems to transcend so much of our lives. It was a very difficult time for me, because of the circumstances surrounding her last week. She’d had arterial graft surgery to save her leg and was in a lot of pain, but because of emphysema couldn’t tolerate the dosage of morphine she needed, so we intubated her. But she’d made us promise years prior to “never let a machine breathe for her.” I couldn’t make her understand why we did it, so our last conscious time together (about 10 days before she died) was her begging me around the tube to take it out, and me having to leave to drive the 120 miles back home. We were both in tears. She had a stroke a few days later.

    I’m glad you had a mother like her and that she had the death she had.

    Very rough. My mother also insisted on no “heroic” efforts. I had to hold firm on a few “wants” by the medical staff, but when I repeated that I was conveying her requests, they relented. -rc

  44. A life well lived. I am struck by the comparison with Gene Roddenberry and his well-known ideals. I suspect that he and your mom rubbed off on each other without necessarily knowing it.

    I think it was more of a case of growing up in the same environment rather than having any specific impression one way or the other. My mom was several years younger, hence his interest in mom’s older sister. -rc

  45. Thanks for sharing Randy, some of us have already gone through this and probably many more of your younger subscribers are yet to confront this situation. I hope they can look back to this text and gain some comfort — parents dying is the natural order of life, the alternative causes more suffering.

  46. I love the way you have honored your mother. I’m also very happy to know that you were able to be there as she passed. I was with my mom and both of my sisters, and I truly believe it brings a much more peaceful closure for us. I also think that being there and letting them know you are okay with their leaving, (even though they may not be conscious), makes it easier for them.

  47. My mom’s in memory care. She’s starting to lose words. But she still loves singing along with us, and *those* words come out loud and clear. For many people musical memories are the ones that last the longest.

  48. I’m glad you were there for her last moments. 4 years ago 2 weeks before Christmas my mom died a couple of hours before I got to her room in assisted living. I had seen her 2 days before, and her brother the night before. She was 90, but I know she was ready to go. My mom taught upper level high school French for 40+ years but was also fluent in German, which was an asset when the little town of Powderly, TX housed WWII German soldiers (north of Paris, TX) where she grew up. Yes, mom taught French and she was from Paris. Texas. She and her father would help translate back and forth with intelligence gathering and transcribing letters coming in and out of the POW camp. My mom gave me the wanderlust bug when we traveled throughout Europe in 1971 for four months (I had just turned 12) and we studied French at l’Universite de Poitiers in Tours, France. We went back with some of her students several times and she probably made more than a dozen other trips with students. It sounds like you have some amazing stories about life during that time from your mom as well as do I.

    How cool that you had such a memorable trip with her! I’m glad you saw your mom just before she died if circumstances kept you from being there when she died. -rc

  49. My Mom’s been gone 5 years, but more & more I find her in my comments, reactions, movements. I also sometime hear my Grandma’s laugh coming out of my mouth. I love that they are a part of me! (But yes, the older I get the more I wish I could ask her how she felt at this age.)

  50. Thank you Randy for sharing your love. We will cherish her gift to the world as we have through all of your editorial comments and laughable remarks. Safe journeys, Marge.

  51. I was honored to be able to write and deliver the Eulogies for both my parents. It really helps the grieving to focus on the accomplishments and meaning of their lives. You’ve done your Mother proud here!

  52. Well, you got 20 years more out of yours than I did. I am happy and sad for you. And I have a question:

    I’ve always wondered why, these days, we call that “naproxen sodium”, rather than, as you rendered it (and as standard nomenclature would suggest), “sodium naproxen”. (Also whether the ‘x’ is silent; sometimes it’s actually spelled “naprosyn”.)

    Did that tidbit ever trickle down to you? Was there a question on that/those point(s), that early on?

    Naprosyn was the first version of the drug. It was definitely “sodium naproxin” (the X was (is?) pronounced) for the second version that she worked on. I did notice that the words switched position along the way, probably to put the active ingredient first. -rc

  53. I agree that it is such an honor to be present for that moment. Our mother, at 83, told us she was “not gonna change these clothes again”. She died the next morning, as my sisters and I held her and seven of her twelve children surrounded her. She was a firecracker of a lady, and I think she would have gotten along fine with your mom.

    Stevenson’s “glad did I live and gladly die, and I lay me down with a will” comes close to that certainty that a purer existence awaits, and we should all be as comfortable with our shared fate.

    Well written, sir.

  54. She sounds like a wonderful person, mother, friend….

    She will be missed by you but it sounds like she had a fulfilling life.

  55. You honor your Mom so beautifully with your writing, so much so that I wish I had known her and I am happy and honored to know you Randy. Much love to you and to Kit. I keep you in my heart always.

  56. Sometimes it’s incredible to see what our parents’ generation accomplished — the drive and persistence, sometimes low-key yet continuous. I once asked my mom, how did you do it all, raising three kids as well? “Honey, we didn’t have the stress you have today.” She made it sound so easy… PS I see my dad more often than my mom in dreams. Last time we met at an airport lounge — fitting, since he served in the RAF during WWII, a Yankee volunteer (navigator).

    Love the dream symbolism!

    I know you’re referring to a comment I made on Facebook, so I’ll copy it here: Since my dad died (2007) I’ve had several dreams where I’ve been talking with him …and knowing at the time he is dead. Still seems natural. I know it’s in my mind only, but it’s still comforting to be able to talk with him. Hope that happens with my mom too. -rc

  57. What a beautiful tribute, brother! I’m not good at bidding farewell, you make it look like a beautiful ceremony, holding her hand with your hand, just like with your hand to turn the music page when she played piano, you were always there, and know the timing. What a gift and connection!

    With your hand touch, she’s traveling forward with love. Love is beyond and through this physical world!

    What a neat way to look at it, Jia! Thank you for that gift. -rc

  58. Seems your mother was a wonderful person who obviously passed on a lot of sterling traits to you, Randy. Wish I’d known her, but at least I get to know you.

    Like you, I don’t fear death. It eventually claims us all and the best we can hope for is to have lived well and accomplished our goals. Your mom certainly did that!

  59. I also really like that picture you took of her. Such an interesting woman and it seems she led a full and wonderful life. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew and loved her!

  60. Thank you for your mom’s story, it reminds me of my mom. She also was involved with nursery school and piano. She was a volunteer for the Julia Ann Singer Nursery School, and the school had acquired an upright piano but had nowhere to store it. Mom agreed to have the piano at our house as long as I could use it for piano lessons, which I started around age 6. I took lessons at a place then called the Neighborhood Music Settlement. A 2001 LA Times article describes it better than I could

    We moved to a bigger house in 1963, gave the upright piano back to the nursery school, and my parents bought me a used Baldwin small grand — “Don’t call it a baby grand,” my piano teacher told me. By my last 2 years in high school I was studying and giving recitals at the USC School of Music. Stopped taking piano lessons at 17 when I started college. I wish I had perfect pitch; sure would’ve made a lot of things easier learning music. I can play things somewhat by ear after hearing them once, but usually with lots of mistakes.

    Last thing I have to mention is that when I started at JPL in March 1980, the very first interoffice memo to land in my inbox — a paper memo, and a steel inbox, that is — was regarding the mandatory use of pink polyethylene anti-static bags to store or transport electronic components to protect them from static electricity damage.

    Almost certainly not sold by the company they worked for, but the same sort of item, for sure. Glad to bring up some nice memories for you, Bill. -rc

  61. Loved your comment about not being afraid of dying, you put into words what I have always felt: there is so much to live, learn, laugh, discover… it’s a pity we don’t get more time to do it!

  62. Your mother was certainly a remarkable woman, especially for her times. And fully agree about sitting with someone as they slip away.

    My first wife had cancer. In 1984, after a final metastasis, she was no longer conscious. I spent the last five days in her hospital room except for one trip home for a shower. The last day her breathing was very loud and labored, but that night it quieted. I was asleep on a cot next to her bed when the nurse woke me, and I was standing stroking her brow as her breathing finally stopped. It was two weeks past her 39th birthday.

    Ten years later, my mother, who was in assisted living with dementia, fell and broke her hip. The fracture was not bad, and she was back at the home with a nurse and occupational therapist working on using her walker, when she collapsed backward. By the time I got to the hospital, she was intubated, and the doctor told me she was brain dead. We had them stop all life support, as was her wish, and I was holding her hand as her breathing slowed over about twenty minutes until it stopped. She was five days short of her 81st birthday.

    There is a lot of comfort in knowing I was there for them both.

    Yes there is. And it sucks to die at 39. Life can really be unfair. -rc

  63. She sounds so like a dear friend of mine’s mother and our high school choir director. That title is simply lacking. Juanita was so much more. She was a champion of her students both the amazingly gifted ones and the one’s not so gifted. Your story brought to mind so many great memories. I appreciate the walk down memory lane. Music is a great gift and meant to be shared, much like memories.

  64. What a lovely read, despite the circumstances. You must feel truly lucky at having such a wonderful person as your mother.

    While my own was only educated to age 16, she nonetheless had some interesting moments.

    In WW2 she lived in Birkenhead, and was bombed-out in the blitz, then to add insult to injury, all her childhood possessions were looted.

    As a first job she briefly worked in the famous “Liver Building” in Liverpool (just across the Mersey river from Birkenhead), but then joined the forces for the remainder of the war.

    After that she met and married my father, and moved to the Isle of Man, where I was 4th of 5 sons, only two of whom survived.

    Sadly both parents passed in the 1990’s, but I still think of them often, and smile.

    I have lived and remained on the island my entire life (67 years so far). It’s a wonderful and peaceful place to live, except for the annual mayhem of the TT motor-cycle races. Look me up should you ever get this far.

    SO many in your mother’s generation rose up to fight back against the Nazis. What a credit to their generation. -rc

  65. My mom had a Baldwin baby grand. We often sang as a family around the piano. We were also dragged to church to be the choir, as there are five of us. I still stop to listen to Beethoven’s Für Elise.

  66. Thank you for the enterprising idea of inviting comments in this sort of forum. I’m sure we all are grateful for every one of them. May I mention that I have never before seen such an online conversation quite like this, where the author of the subject piece responds right there and then as he sees fit. It becomes more than just a forum; it is a real conversation, a powerfully human use of the internet, and truly a tribute to your mother and the values she instilled in you! I felt deepened by all the exchanges, and your responses.

    If only more newsy sites that allow comments would have someone, presumably the author, there to respond as needed, as you did, it would result in a much higher level of discourse and shoo away so many mischief makers. Your insightful action has so magnified the value your mother’s live gave us all. Thank you for this Honorary Unsubscribe, perhaps your best ever.

    A “good” comments section is a lot of work. Not just to read every one of them and respond “right there and then as I see fit,” but to fight off some of the worst of humanity (spammers and scammers), deal with technical glitches, and more. That’s why it is still, at this point, an experiment, but I’ll continue the experiment for awhile. If nothing else, few Honorary Unsubscribes will get quite this many comments! I appreciate your feedback and kind words. -rc

  67. My mom was an organist and a single mom. I remember sitting beside the church organ as she played in a couple different churches. For some reason there was always a chair there. She also had a good and long life, dying just shy of her 101st birthday. Thanks for reminding me of those memories.

  68. Glad you were able to pass on some of her appreciations of life, and your appreciations of them, to us. What a wealth might be found inside each human, if we only connect!

  69. How fortunate we are that you had such an amazing woman as a mother. Her legacy lives on, I am certain, in all those who had the good fortune to get to know this positive force. I am sorry to not have met her.

    Six weeks short of 100 years? She truly lived well into completing her 100th year. In my book that counts mightily.

    Over 35 years ago I sat at my mother’s deathbed, holding her hand. There is a special emotion that presents itself when we are present at the time the person who brought us into life leaves us to continue life’s journey on our own. I can’t explain it, but it remains as a type of joy. The circle is unbroken.

    ***cue: Ode to Joy***

  70. “To each is given a set of tools
    an hour glass,
    and a book of rules.
    And each must build
    ere time has flown,
    a stumbling block
    or a stepping stone.”

    Stepping stones are important!
    They not only help the person who sets them,
    but remain for the benefit of others for
    days, weeks, months, years, decades,
    or even centuries.

    In her life, Marge Cassingham, set
    many stepping stones.
    THAT is her legacy

  71. Think of the ripple effect of the preschool she helped start. That in and of itself is a legacy. Imagine the joy through music and nurturing your Mom brought to new generations of preschoolers offspring.

  72. Your mom reminds me of my mom. One of the first 3 women to go to New Jersey Institute of Technology (then Newark College of Engineering) in 1953, getting her Associates in 1955 when dad got his bachelors. Smart, caring, loving, often criticized and did the right thing anyway. She stayed home to raise 3 kids and when the youngest went to college, she went back to college to get her bachelors in economics.

    She and dad were partners, and dad appreciated her view points when not the same as his. Dad was the musically talented, invited to try out for The Juilliard School, and just missing out by a little. He would have loved either baby grand.

    Grandmother to the world! She loved babies, and would wind up holding one whenever in the room. None of this race or economic status garbage. People are people, God wants us to love them all. She knew her kids were people who were different than they were in a changing world, and worked to understand us.

    Mom did suffer health wise with multiple operations (she/we lost count at 20s+), and mental health challenges. Didn’t stop her and dad from enjoying life, having fun, traveling the world, supporting the church, her supporting dad’s rise in management, really wise with money, and early retirement in mid 50s to spend last years enjoying each other.

    Mom passed at 66 in 2002. Dad passed at 82 in 2016. Admirable people like your mom and dad.

    Learned resilience, volunteering, always reading, enjoying life, learning and loving each other especially children. (Was the fun uncle, now promoted to fun great uncle) We were exposed to the world, arts and people. They made a great life for us to follow and grow from. Why work as engineer and write for learning.

    BTW grief is a bear. Still miss them.

  73. This is far and away the best Honorary Unsubscribe I have ever read.

    I was transferred out of my hometown by my employer early in my career but I was able to be there when my Mom died 21 years later and when my Dad died 6 years after that.

    It was very important for me to be there when they passed as a small token of respect and appreciation for all the times they were there for me.

    I write this on the day my Dad was born 100 years ago. The anniversary of my Mom’s birth (also 100 years ago) will be in a few months.

  74. Not sure what I could really add to this conversation, but I will say this — I commend you for your stance on being with someone when they die. For mostly selfish reasons, I was not there when either of my parents passed away. Though at least I got to see my mom roughly a week before she died, and there’s at least a chance she knew I was there. I will say that regardless of anything you’ve written here about your mom, it’s obvious that judging by the man you seem to be (again, going by you’re writing since I’ve never met you), she must have been an incredible woman.

  75. At age 84, I do not fear death. We have no choice in the borning, and not always in the dying. We have only the time granted us between. Your mother, wise and loving, shared her between-time and her exceptional talents with those who filled her life, felt her caring, learned and flourished in their own lives. Her legacy is strong and remarkable.

    I have attended several deaths now, during my own life, of treasured friends and dear family, and even of many animal companions who enriched my life. Each has left an indelible mark in how I’ve come to perceive my own being here.

    But the most remarkable passing was when holding my father as he struggled to arise from his bed of pain, I felt the instant his spirit left his body so tortured by illness. His silent exultation as he broke free was palpable!

    That was the single most overwhelming and rare sweet privilege I’ve experienced.

    You’re born, you live, and you die. You can control only the living part, rarely so the dying. Your mother did her best to fill life with joy and happiness. You were blessed to be her son.

    Thank you, Mary-Alice, for sharing your observations. Sometimes that last exhalation is so …well… final that it’s both surprising and clear in its meaning. That is the way I have “felt” several people die. -rc

  76. Can you even imagine leaving the kind of legacy on this earth such that when their youngest calls a national organization of note such as SAI to report their passing, they share their condolences first of course, then immediately say they know of them? Well, Randy, that is a legacy I’d be ok with leaving.

    Start early. 🙂 -rc

  77. It is with deep sadness I will be unable to join the many who admired Marge and looked to her for strength in so many ways.

    I feel I can share with you that I cannot be at her memorial — my daughter passed away just a short time ago, and I fear I am not up to it.

    I wish I could say, “I can. I must. I will attend…” but I cannot.

    I hope Marge and my daughter will meet in heaven.

    Marge was always so proud of you…I can tell why!!

    My condolences to you, Irva! Mom definitely considered you a close friend: she mentioned you often. She would have been terribly distressed to hear about your daughter, and would certainly understand the strain. I wish I could see you in March, but I understand too. Thanks for commenting. -rc

  78. Thank you for sharing this, Randy. It connected with me on several points.

    I am a pianist as well as a member of SAI. I have been a church musician for many years, mostly as pianist, although currently as Minister of Music.

    When I was first prescribed Anaprox in the 1980’s, I considered it a wonder drug. It kept me from being at home sick a couple of days each month.

    Finally, I lost my mom to dementia in 2021. She was 94 and had been in memory care for several years. Fortunately, she was only about 30 minutes away, but of course once Covid hit, her facility locked down quickly and we couldn’t visit as often. It was hard to watch her decline from a distance.

    I am grateful my mom didn’t need memory care for long. That said, SO many suffered from the distance during Covid, and we think the isolation Mom endured is what ended up pushing her into memory care. The isolation so many endured is one of the tragedies of Covid. Thanks for telling me about all of these touchpoints. We all have so many things in common, and usually have no idea about what they are. (Another is, Mom was a True reader for many years herself!) -rc

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