Julie McDonald Commentary: A Season of Mourning Can Follow a Life of Loving


As I sat in a pew at Westminster Presbyterian Church for a funeral Saturday, I reflected on the season of loss experienced lately with COVID-19 deaths, fractured relationships, mass shootings of innocents shopping at stores or sitting in classrooms and the deaths of friends.

“I always knew losing my mom would be the worst thing that ever happened,” Jill Ramsey said at the funeral of her loving, joyful and encouraging mother, Beverly Ramsey, a dedicated wife, mother of two boys and two girls, and tireless servant of the church. She died Nov. 15, 2021, at the age of 83, but her funeral was delayed because of the pandemic.

Bev worked for the family business, Ramsey Logging and Equipment Hauling and later Cascade Loggers, sang in the choir, rode motorcycles and devoured books voraciously. She was a book club member for more than four decades and gave hour-long lectures every other year for decades as a member of the St. Helens Club. She quilted, sewed and organized holiday lunches, bazaars and Operation Christmas Child, shopping to fulfill otherwise unmet wishes of needy children.

As Jill Ramsey spoke, I empathized with her loss as her mother’s funeral fell on what would have been my mom’s 87th birthday — if she hadn’t died in 2007 at 72. I miss her often, just as I miss my father, who died in 1998 at 69. It’s awful being an orphan, no matter your age.

Three weeks ago, I joined many others at Westminster to honor the life of Suzi Vander Stoep, the mother of two daughters and a son, who died on Mother’s Day at the age of 97. She was an avid fan of the Washington State University Cougars, her alma mater, and the Seattle Mariners. She was a former history teacher, an avid reader and a 35-year leader of the Girl Scouts. She also wrote a society column for the Chehalis Advocate. In 1966, she joined the St. Helens Club, and five decades later, she became an honorary member. She still attended the club’s meetings, which is where I met her. Just before she died, I spoke with her about her granddaughter Isabel Vander Stoep’s great work for The Chronicle.

The Rev. Ralph Carr, who served as pastor at Westminster Presbyterian for 31 years, spoke at the services of both Suzi and Bev. He mentioned Saturday the longevity of the St. Helens Club, which a dozen women formed in 1895 to promote literature, art, science and vital issues of the day. As Carr put it, the group was created “to show women had brains and could put two words together.” 

When I joined the St. Helens Club in 2014, at the invitation of Donna Loucks, of Centralia, I knew only that the women’s club had launched successful efforts in the early 20th century to preserve the historic Jackson House, the early home of John R. and Matilda (Koontz) Jackson. As a lifelong learner, I love the group’s focus on educating its members through regular lectures. I’ve met wonderful women in this group, former teachers, nurses, librarians, artists, government and nonprofit workers and so many others.

In 2016, Suzi told me that her husband, Jim, always sent her flowers after she gave her hour-long lectures, which required months of dedicated research and preparation. She also told me her children were her greatest pride.

Watching photos of Bev Ramsey flash on an overhead screen, I could see the love she held for her family. While they enjoyed their St. Helens Club membership, Suzi and I’m sure Bev cherished most their roles as mothers — as I do.

The St. Helens Club also recently lost another honorary member, June Hansen, who was a former WSU extension agent and teacher who died May 11, fewer than two months before her 102nd birthday. I never met June, but the nice thing about the club is that she and all those who have passed away are listed every year in our annual program booklet under an In Memoriam headline. Among the names on the list are many familiar in Lewis County — Kate Millett, Anna Urquhart, Laura St. John, Grace Robertson, Adaline Coffman, Frances Kennicott, Kate Gregg, Anna Koontz, Sara (Ghormley) Urquhart Murray, Margaret Steck, Mary Judd, Grace Turner, Ethel Bishop, Helen Doane, Mary Lee Brunswig, Ann Trout Blinks, Marion “Mel” Johnson, Florence Kennicott, Jean Smith, Alice Forth, Marian Ruth, Carolyn Shaw, Jane Minear, Robin Chadwick and Linda Ropka.

I’m honored to belong to a club once graced by such illustrious women.

Last week also brought sad news with the death of Grace Andree, the Dutch woman from Centralia whose story I shared in my previous two columns. She passed away June 1 at 94.

That same day, I lost a writer friend, Micheal Hurley of Mossyrock, who was 81 and Irish (hence the spelling of his first name). I featured him in an Aug. 25, 2009, column, when I wrote about his 580-page book, “I Solemnly Swear: Conmen, DEA, the Media and Pan Am 103,” published in April 2004. It details his version of what happened in December 1988 when terrorists bombed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and killed 270 people. Two journalists published a book in 1993 blaming the bombing on a sting operation by the U.S. government and, in particular, on Hurley, who was a Drug Enforcement Agency regional supervisor in Cyprus. They claimed the sting enabled terrorists to evade airport security, but Hurley, who grew up in Castle Rock and Longview, denied any wrongdoing and won a lawsuit against the publisher.

I met Micheal through Toastmasters, which meets at Centralia College, and later worked with him in a writers’ critique group that met at Centralia Unity Church. He was a Navy veteran, former California police officer, and DEA agent in the Middle East. After retiring in 1994, he ran a sawmill on 128 acres above Mayfield Lake. He also helped organize the early Southwest Washington Writers Conferences, always staffing the registration desk until his health prevented it.

Despite the season of loss, I can’t help thinking how blessed we are to mourn people. After all, if we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t miss them when they’re gone. I treasure the time I spent with my mother and father, with Bev and Suzi at St. Helens Club, with Grace Andree a few weeks ago, and with Micheal through the years.

Coincidentally, in his Sunday message, Pastor Joseph Martin of Toledo First Baptist Church addressed grief, loss and mourning.

“Grief comes along and we’re not expecting it,” he said. “We treat it like an interruption of our normal life. We just want to get over it.”

He continued, “It’s like an alien invader that just somehow showed up in your life and you just aren’t really sure how to grapple with this. But over time, you begin to learn that grief becomes more of a companion.”

The shortest verse in the Bible addresses mourning, after Jesus spoke in Bethany to the sister of his good friend Lazarus, who had died. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” It wasn’t just a tear or two, according to Pastor Joe, who said the Greek word means to wail and sob. If Jesus can cry in public, why can’t we?

The next verse states, “Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!”

It’s so hard to say goodbye to those we love, whether through death, divorce or fractured relationships. But that season of mourning means we were blessed to have loved in the first place or it wouldn’t hurt.

How awful it would be to die without anyone mourning your loss.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.