I'm so sorry for all of you who understand what this is like. I mean I know that life is a giant exercise in learning compassion through experience, but I wouldn't wish this on anyone. It's so raw and painful, and it doesn't matter how old your loved one is, or how sick they were, you just aren't prepared, or at least I wasn't, I think we all think we're going to have just a little more time.
I've been holding the feelings, oh, just a wee bit at bay by keeping myself wound up and overly busy planning her service and the "party" at the club afterwards. But I had this huge grief hiccup today when Scott dropped me off at the bank to make a deposit. I had been driving but there weren't any spaces so we switched seats so he'd be able to drive around the block if anyone pulled in behind him. I was only alone for a minute or so, but standing there waiting, without any real distraction, or the drugs I take at night, (Vicodin, Celebrex, and Skelaxin for the pain, and super low doses of illegal Mexican Valium for the feelings), meant I had time to think and just be there in the moment.
An older man crossed in front of me and I immediately felt this sense of warmth and love for him. I really love older people, I think I always have, except for maybe a brief time in high school when I was utterly lacking in compassion for my wonderful Grandmother. Anyway this man looked a little bit like my Dad, he was wearing a short sleeved shirt and I saw his arms as he passed by, those beautiful tanned thin skinned and freckled arms that older people have. To me, of course, they are beautiful, because they are the arms of my parents, the arms of the people I love the most. So naturally I thought of my Father with his tanned and sun damaged arms from years of playing golf, and then suddenly I flashed on my Mom's arms, those arms I know so well, and her hands, and her pretty long nails that she was so proud of, and having such a visceral memory of her just hit me so hard. Like a punch in the gut there was this pain, this incredible pain and I started crying. The thought that I would never ever see her arms again, or her fingernails, never hold her hand, even though we were both so shy about this because she couldn't handle the intimacy for too long. And I remembered that I was planning to have this lady from her hair salon come give her a manicure in the hospital but she just kept getting sicker, and I remembered that one of her nails was cracked and needed patching and I put a Band-Aid on it for her, like you would put one on a little girl. Her arms, her beautiful arms. And I remembered filing her nail for her because she couldn't do it herself, and it felt so good to be able to do this one simple thing for her, to do it perfectly, better than anyone, to make it smooth so that it wouldn't bother her any more.
My Mother's arms, and her hands; I just lost it. So by the time Scott made it around the block and back I was in tears, and he hasn't seen me like this too much because I've been holding it all in. And even then I buttoned it back up as best I could because it's too much, too much for anyone else, and way too much for me, but it just kept coming, bubbling up and spilling over, so I put my big dark glasses on like some glammy widow at a funeral. Sunglasses at night to go to the market. But I just couldn't handle anyone seeing me feeling this way, I wanted to hide like the kid at the bakery who wears his bangs so long and when I tried to brush them back off his face I got that he wears them that way on purpose. He feels safer behind them.
And just now Ziggy, (Iggy Ziggy Stardust Kitty), came and sprayed me and my pillow. Ya know, when life gets too painful, it's these absurd things that make you think, "Ya just gotta laugh." I'm laughing alright, laughing through the tears.
I managed to get a lot done today, rushing here and there, trying to attack the mountain of phone calls I have to make on my cell while driving. I went to the club and planned the food. Appetizers, hot and cold to be passed out by waiters, mini hamburgers, (Mom wasn't a vegetarian and it wouldn't be right to impose this on her friends), crab cakes, chicken tacos, shrimp, quiche, quesadillas, potato skins with sour cream and caviar because my Mother so loved caviar, (I was buying it for her in the end just to try to get her to eat anything other than chocolate ice cream, she never lost her appetite for that), a desert station and a full bar. I ordered the valet parkers, called the musicians, (A Hawaiian ukulele player and his band, Hawaiian songs from the thirties and forties with a dash of Gershwin and Cole Porter thrown in), the florist, the videographer, and the photographer who turned out to be an old friend of the family.
I still need to finish writing her eulogy, keep making those phone calls, take Mom's urn to the mortuary and pick up her ashes, fun, find musicians for the church, meet with Father Doney to select the readings, clean all of the antique Victorian and Edwardian mourning jewelry that I bought to give to Mom's closest friends, except for Jani who thinks a lock of her hair is too "ghoulish" (Weird, I never expected that from her, especially because she asked me for her own little ash container to bury in her garden, I was thinking of getting some cremation jewelry for myself, little mini container things you can put a token amount of ashes in to wear -- maybe I am getting too morbid here, I don't know, I find it comforting though, death doesn't freak me out that much, Mom is mom, her hair is still her hair, I held her hand for hours after she died, kissed her face, brushed her hair, it was so hard to let go, to leave her behind, to accept that her body was empty in some way and wouldn't be breathing again), scan and print all of the pictures of Mom and my family and her friends that I want to arrange on the black poster board we are going to put on easels around the club, and I still have to take Esther and Andrea and Concha shopping because they can't go to my Mom's funeral in sweat pants or shorts.
Scott came in the afternoon and was a big help. We picked up his suit, and finally got Beau fitted for his. He would have put it off forever if I let him but we couldn't wait a single day longer and so he simply had to go. We picked out conservative shirts, somber ties, a pair of dress shoes and cufflinks. I gave all of my Father's and Grandfather's better cufflinks to my ex. It never occurred to me that I should have kept some for Beau. It seems to me that my Mom has a jewelry box of my Father's in her room at home but whatever was there that was of any value has long ago been picked over by greedy housekeepers. Wouldn't it be wonderful if one day some strange alchemy happened that returned everything that had ever been stolen to its rightful owner, and it happened all at once, with little tags attached to everything bearing descriptions of all of the places where your missing items have been all this time?
And now one of the cats is throwing up, probably just a hairball, or one too many Whiskas. I'll keep an eye on him. Just one more thing to worry about. The cats remind me of babies sometimes. Babies just keep on needing. They don't stop needing to be fed, burped, changed, rocked, comforted, fed, burped, and changed again just because you're in crisis. They go on living, oblivious to the needs of anyone else around them. My cats are a little more self sufficient and sensitive, they'll come and cuddle up with me or even pat my face when I'm crying, but you get the point. Life goes on. In the midst of all of this the cats still piss and shit and puke. It's actually kind of nice.
My Mom's obituary will be in The Los Angeles Times today. If you don't live in LA you can read it on their Legacy page but it was so long in print that they've truncated it on line so I'm going to post it in it's entirety here behind the cut for anyone who might be interested.
I seriously need to get some rest, but for once I got to stay up late without having to feel guilty, which has been kind of nice.
Happy Mother's Day Everyone. It's also Beau's EIGHTEENTH birthday, if you can believe that, wow!
Mom's Obituary Is Here
Jeannette Hunt Hyland passed away from complications of cancer and pneumonia at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA, on April 25. Jeannette Hyland was predeceased by her beloved parents Wendell and Peggy Hunt, the renowned fashion designer, and her devoted husband George Black (Jack) Hyland. She is survived and will be missed terribly by her only daughter Jacqui Hyland and her Grandson Robert “Beau” Carrillo.
Jeannette, a native Angeleno, was born on July 31, 1916, and was ninety-one years old at the time of her passing. Still as beautiful as she ever was, doctors and nurses were amazed at how youthful she appeared, and would frequently check their charts in disbelief. She remained totally alert and lucid up until the day she died. She attributed this to her lifelong passion for bridge, crossword puzzles, and her voracious love of reading. She read The Los Angeles Times and the Harold Examiner (Until 1989) every day of her life, but her secret passion was for romance novels, particularly anything by Danielle Steel. One of the last things she read was an article about a friend and fellow alumnus in the Marymount News. She was also passionate about politics and as a staunch Republican and a loyal friend to both Roweena and Roberta McCain, she was eagerly following the election proceedings and rooting for Senator McCain. She was feeling hopeful about the future because of these upcoming elections.
Jeannette was a good Catholic who believed strongly in and derived comfort from her faith. She instilled this same sense of faith in her family, particulary her daughter who she would take with her to mass every Sunday no matter how tired or busy she might have been. She did this until her health made it too difficult to continue to do so. Jeannette graduated from Marymount High School in 1934 and was proud to have been one of Marymount’s oldest living alumnae. She was happy to have been able to send her daughter to Marymount, who adored her school, and has remained friends with the R.S.H.M. Sisters all through her life. She was thrilled with the fine education that they both received there.
Lucky to have lived such a long, rich, and rewarding life, a life filled with so many friends and memories, she could be relied upon to remember almost any event in history. Jeannette had a wealth of first hand information about life in Los Angeles before the advent of cars, refrigerators, radio, television, or any of the modern conveniences that we all take for granted now. She loved history and was always available to answer any of her Grandson’s many homework questions. She was at a filling station with her Mother on March 10, 1933 when the Long Beach earthquake hit. She remembered thinking that some boys who had been hanging around the station were teasing her by rocking the car up and down. When she got out of the car she remembered seeing all of the buildings crumbling, and as she looked down the street she could see the sidewalk rising up from the ground and rolling towards her. Later in life she was able to share these memories with her Mother-In-Law, Louise Black Hyland, who had just returned from Japan was staying in San Francisco when the Great San Francisco Earthquake hit.
With her natural platinum blonde hair, blue eyes, and terrific figure, she looked so much like the film star Jean Harlow that she was given the nickname Jean Harlow Hunt. In 1937 after the sudden death of Ms. Harlow during the production of Saratoga, she was approached by MGM and offered a movie career if she would help complete the film. Naturally shy, despite her wonderful personality and fabulous good looks, she turned them down. Taking one year off from college to study at her parent’s fashion design school in Downtown Los Angeles, Jeannette returned to complete her Bachelors Degree in Japanese History from Stanford University where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1939. She was a member of The Kappa Kappa Gamma Women’s Fraternity.
She was romanced by some of the most famous men of her time but was completely unfazed by their success or fame. She dated Conrad Hilton, called him Connie, and enjoyed a lifelong friendship with him due to their mutual love of business. He was fascinated by this beautiful, successful, young business woman and asked to see her books offering to show her his statements in return. She remembers being utterly perplexed by them, and was flattered by his attention, but ultimately turned him down, as she felt the difference in their ages was unseemly. She taught him how to dance the mambo and together they won a fifty dollar gold piece as the top prize of the evening at Mocambo, a famous nightclub in New York. She also danced with Howard Hughes but wasn’t interested in him because she thought he was strange for wearing tennis shoes to the Coconut Grove. She dated billionaires and captains of industry but cared much more about love and compatibility than wealth. She cared for and remained friends with her first husband Dennis Alexander and enjoyed a long and successful marriage to her second husband George Black (Jack) Hyland.
Jeannette was a natural athlete, excelling at most sports, with the one rare exception being golf. She swam, rode horseback, played tennis and paddle tennis, owned a speed boat with her first husband Dennis Alexander, and enjoyed water skiing and snow skiing. She even tried surfing. Although she tried hard to improve her game, so that she could play alongside her second husband Jack Hyland, she simply couldn’t compete with someone so good that he had been the captain of the golf team at UCLA, a winner of more trophies than they had room in their home to keep, and Club Champion of Eldorado with a scratch handicap at age seventy. With a handicap so high that she would not want this information divulged she finally threw in the towel, but was always happy to cheer him on and support his love of the sport.
Following in the footsteps of her Mother Peggy Hunt, (The noted fashion designer who founded the California apparel business as the first manufacturer of children’s and women’s clothing), and her Father Wendell Hunt, (Who wisely guided the business end of Peggy Hunt Inc.), she borrowed a small amount of money from her parents and set up her own company under the name of Jeannette Alexander, (Her first husband), in a corner of her parent’s factory. She quickly became an apparel industry pioneer in her own right as the first manufacturer of shoulder pads. She sold these pads to major department and retail stores throughout the country. Her new business was a hit from the start, far exceeding anyone’s expectations, as shoulder pads became a mainstay of women’s clothing in the 1940’s. With stores clamoring for more Jeannette began traveling regularly with her Mother to New York to purchase hard-to-find fabric throughout World War Two. She never had trouble finding a room as Mr. Hilton, and later Mr. Frank Wangeman, Executive Manager of the Waldorf Astoria, and a director of the Hilton Corporation, always insisted on finding her the best of rooms. As recently as three years ago the hotel was kind enough to upgrade her from a standard room to one of their finest suites and she was so pleased remembering the good times she had had with her family and friends during all their years of doing business in New York.
With the profits from her first business venture she then began her own successful apparel line, eventually owning her own factory, employing dozens of people, many of whom remained friends throughout her life. She began by making quilted skirts and quickly added what she called every day dresses to a collection that rapidly expanded to included dresses for all seasons as well as resort. She sold these dresses all across the country and had showrooms in most major cities. These dresses were unique in that they had to be made more affordably so as not to compete with her parent’s end of the business. This forced her to become more creative and innovative in her designs. She did this by cutting out and appliquéing parts of the various prints she used on the bodice of the dresses. She was the host of the first live televised fashion show ever to be broadcast in Los Angeles. So few people owned televisions at that time that her parents had to rush over to The Brown Derby in order to see her. She remembered being made to wear black lipstick and being pulled off camera and pushed back on after commercial breaks. She remained in business until the early 1970’s when women began to wear jeans and pretty dresses were no longer as much of a staple of a woman’s wardrobe as they once were. As with anyone she employed she was always kind and considerate. They thought of her as a friend, a mentor, a sister or a Mother. She remained friends with her secretary Esther Kroner and her assistant designer Joyce Gale for over sixty years. The three women would meet regularly for lunch to catch up and talk about the old days, and they were particularly happy to have been able to enjoy a tea and fashion show recently honoring the work of Peggy Hunt and Jeannette Alexander.
As a successful manufacturer and designer of women’s clothing Jeannette had a wealth of knowledge about fashion. She loved clothing and was always dressed impeccably. She was always available to answer the many inquiries she would receive from students, researchers, and authors. She knew and was friendly with most of the major designers and some of the top couturiers of her time. On a trip to Paris in the late sixties she was pleased to introduce her young daughter to the legendary designer Coco Chanel.
After retiring she continued to assist her husband with building and remodeling homes as this was a great passion of hers. She particularly enjoyed improving older homes and loved decorating her own. She was the ultimate Lookey Loo and would readily admit this. She was endlessly fascinated by architecture and design, and would rarely pass up an opportunity to tour an open house. She had been mentored in design by Mrs. Gladys Belzer, the well known interior decorator, the Mother of Loretta Young, and together they traveled to Europe on buying trips where she learned about furniture and design. She devoted the rest of her life to raising her daughter, enjoying the company of her husband and many friends, and contributing to the many charities of which she was a member. She was a member of The Colleagues, The Los Angeles Orphanage Guild, The Costume Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Assistance League of Southern California as well as many others.
She was passionate about travel and considered herself lucky to have visited so many countries around the world, returning several times to the places she was particularly fond of. As a teenager in the 1930s she accompanied her Mother on a fine lace and fabric buying trip that took her to Minnesota, Iowa, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, and Cuba. It was on this trip that she was a passenger aboard the SS Morro Castle on its last successful run before the tragic fire at sea that cost the lives of 137 people. She traveled through the Panama Canal shortly after it became possible for Americans to safely do so. Her first trip to Honolulu, Hawaii was aboard the SS Lurline in 1937, thereby beginning a love affair with the Hawaiian Islands and her people that lasted throughout her life. Along with Gershwin and Cole Porter her favorite music was Hawaiian, she learned to play the ukulele and she would often sing old favorite songs along with her family. Her last trip was to Maui shortly before her ninetieth birthday. On a trip to Buenos Aires she was introduced to and began a short-lived friendship with Eva (Evita) Peron as she was already ill at the time and died shortly afterwards. She visited London, Rome, and Paris many times. She traveled all through most of Europe. She cruised the Nile River in Egypt and visited Japan and China. She went to Russia. She often travelled to Mexico and visited many parts of South America. She sailed to Alaska. She sailed aboard The RMS Queen Mary, the RMS Queen Elizabeth One and Two, flew on the Concord, and rode aboard The Orient Express. She generously took her Daughter and Grandson to Tahiti and Hawaii several times. She enjoyed spending a great deal of time with her family at their various homes in Palm Springs. She had just returned from a cruise to Mexico last Spring, and was planning a return trip to Japan, especially for her Grandson, before she became ill.
She owned homes in Los Angeles, and Palm Desert. She was a member of The Beach Club, The Los Angeles Country Club and Marrakesh. She loved flowers and gardens and was a member of The Bel Air Garden Club.
As a Mother and a Grandmother she was unparalleled, tremendously loving, forever devoted, endlessly helpful, understanding, generous, forgiving, and kind. She leaves behind a very tiny family who while they are happy that she is no longer in pain, are grieving deeply and are devastated by her loss.
Her list of friends and acquaintances would read like a Who’s Who of some of the most successful and influential people of our time. Despite this she was modest and remained unfazed by her own success or the tremendous successes of her friends. She was a true friend to all, the finest of friends to her intimates. Anyone who knew her, would remark on her warmth, generosity, sharp mind, terrific sense of humor, braveness, optimism in the face of adversity, her wonderful laugh, and that sweet smile that lit up her lovely face. As a friend she was loyal, considerate, constantly available to lend an ear or offer a shoulder to cry on, and always ready with the best advice. Despite this she was unwilling to burden anyone with her own troubles and didn’t want her daughter to upset anyone by telling them about her failing health which is why this announcement may come as a great surprise to many. If life is a seafaring journey then Jeannette would have been the captain of the ship, and there are many people who are feeling lost at sea without her.
Services will be held on Thursday May 15, at noon, at Saint Martin of Tours Parish Church, (Corner of Sunset and Saltair in Brentwood, one mile west of the 405 Freeway), with a celebration of her life to follow. Her family will warmly welcome anyone who knew her. Memories and photographs would be appreciated and donations may be made to The Los Angeles Orphanage Guild or the Kris Kelly Animal Rescue Foundation (310) 699-5566.