Objectively, our mother, Marilyn Moore Bigelow, would hate the format of a standard obituary. Sure, you find out the facts about a person, but you don’t usually find out their story. Our mom was all about stories—whether it was through books (in her work as a librarian, an elementary school teacher, or co-owner of Bigelow’s Quill Bookshop with Dad) or the way she had of effortlessly pulling someone’s life story out of them. Which was great, except when you were the one at the grocery store with her and she’d run into the fifth person she was “just going to chat a minute with,” since you got there.
So we could tell you that Mom was born in Plainfield, Indiana, in 1937, the only child of Ruth Atkinson Moore and Charles Moore; that she graduated from Earlham College in 1959 and married Dad, Paul Jay Bigelow, a few days later; that they raised three kids—Beth (Dan), Becca (Ian), and Mark (Charlene)—in Pelham, Massachusetts, and that Charlie, Ruth, and Paul all preceded her in death, but those are just the facts. Mom would want us to tell the story.
When Mom was little, when she wanted to do something like see the ocean, her parents had to tell her, “We’ll do that when you’re older.” First the country was in the middle of a world war, and then when the war was over, her father became ill and died. So Mom knew from an early age that you should not put off doing the things you love, or that you’re interested in, or that you think are important, because you just don’t know how much time you get.
We camped because she wanted to be sure we saw the world outside our state. We went to concerts and plays; we talked about books. We all sang Christmas carols while she played the piano at her annual open house. She taught us to play games, from the serious (bridge) to the goofy (charades, twister, etc.). Our house had stretchy walls because family and friends (who honestly were quickly converted into found family) were always welcome—and if there was lobster and homemade ice cream involved, well, so much the better.
Mom enjoyed getting to know people’s stories because as she saw it, people weren’t always alike, but that was okay; after all, “Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?” And that life philosophy rolled into another: We’re all meant to pitch in and make the world a better place for everyone in it. She didn’t much care how people did that because we are all unique, but for her it took the form of volunteering and political involvement. She served on myriad committees for causes and organizations she believed in and was elected to the school board, the Pelham Board of Selectmen, and the Hampshire County Commissioners over the years. People didn’t dare suggest “someone” should do something about some issue or another to our mom, because she was sure to sign them up to help. The Quaker saying, “If not thee, then who?” was definitely one of Mom’s guiding principles.
She loved traveling with our dad and visiting us kids; enjoyed catching up with assorted friends and cousins; doted on her nieces and nephews and, as the family grew, their spouses and children; but most of all, she adored her grandchildren: Sarah (Damon), Matthew, Heather, Nick, Amanda, Josh, and Alex. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s robbed her of the chance to get to know her first great grandson, Emerson, and he, her, so we’ll just have to tell him her stories when the time is right.
Mom passed away on November 20, 2020, after contracting COVID-19, which caused her to go into decline, and a short stay on hospice. Since many stories have morals, we feel sure that Mom would urge you to wear a mask. It is a kindness to others and hopefully will prevent more loss to another family. We definitely know she’d tell you to wash your hands—after all we shared many family dinners with her.
But the true takeaways from Mom’s story are these: really listen to people, strive to make your little part of the world better (another guiding principle: “I can’t do everything, but I can do something”), and most of all remember life is short; tell people you love them while you can.
Because of COVID, a celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to the Pelham Free Public Library (http://www.pelham-library.net/friends), Earlham College (https://earlham.edu/giving), Beth’s team honoring mom through the Alzheimer’s Association (http://act.alz.org/goto/bethluceroalzfundraiser), or the charity of your choice.
© Rebecca Bigelow, November 20, 2020