Visiting Chicago for the First Time Since Mom and Dad’s Death; Family History in Illinois

This past weekend I was in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago is my Mom’s hometown and where she grew up. This post is about my family history in Chicago and visiting the city the first time after Mom and Dad’s death. 

“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

“Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.”

Emily Dickinson

Chicago Tribune Tower and Aon Center in the background

History of the Chicago stockyards

This past weekend has a weird and hard one. Before I explain what the weekend was like let me write up some family history. 

Mom the second one from the right at DePaul in the 1950’s…

The Family History in Chicago, Illinois 

My Dad was from Montana but Mom was from Chicago. My Mom’s father immigrated from Poland in the early 20th century. My grandfather signed, as a part of his immigration to the United States, an oath that he renounced the Kaiser Wilhelm II. My grandfather came from a part of Poland that was under German control. In Chicago my grandfather John worked for decades at International Harvester. My Mom grew up on the south side of Chicago in the Brighton Park area. Played tennis at the public park, and went to a Catholic School. Mom told me about how her elementary school visited the Chicago Stockyards where she watched a cow being butchered. Mom explained that she saw a cow being hit by a sledge hammer to kill it. My Mom went to DePaul where she studied nursing. She worked as a night industrial nurse at International Harvester. My Mom and her father went to Comisky Park in the 1950’s and saw many baseball legends. My grandfather was a big White Sox fan, and  that was passed onto Mom. 

My Dad went to medical school at the University of Chicago. He met my Mom at a party and for the rest of his life talked about how he chased down Romona and asked for her phone number in front of an elevator. They met and got married in Saint Pancratius Catholic Church on May 23, 1964. My grandparents lived in the Brighton Park area until my grandmother had a stroke in 1981. My grandfather was moved into a nursing home in Fresno, California. I remember when Mom wanted to take me to a nursing home as a 5 or 6 year old. I resisted and it was hard. Now, knowing what I know, I wish I would have attended more often. But Chicago was Mom’s home and she loved to visit. Each and every time she visited she loaded up on Polish food she brought back to California. She always wanted to visit Marshall Fields on State Street and Randolph. Going to the Walnut Room and having a chicken pot pie is what Mom always wanted to do. When I lived in Milwaukee and attended grad school at Marquette Mom, visited and and she always wanted to visit Chicago. I actually liked to visit as well. I often drove down to the city and took it in. Before I headed north on the 94 back to Wisconsin I always drove down Lake Shore Drive to look at the skyline which I think is one of the neatest skylines in the United States. But the family history also continued with my sister going to law school at Northwestern as well. That is our history with Chicago . 


The Chicago River

The Wrigley Building in Chicago.

First Time in Chicago Since Mom and Dad’s Death 

Mom died in Fresno, California on April 1, 2017. Dad died on November 21, 2018 in the same hospital in Fresno, California. Dad went back to Chicago a few months before he died. He went to the University of Chicago and visited the campus at least seven times. He was so proud to go medical school at such a prestigious body of learning. Going to Chicago in light of their death was incredibly hard. It felt so weird not to have Mom and Dad there in Chicago. After all this was Mom’s home and how could she not be there? This hung over the entire trip. When I walked down Michigan Ave I had memories of staying in the Westin Hotel opposite the John Hancock Center years ago. When my sister and I drove past Roosevelt University I remembered seeing the musical Miss Saigon with Mom and Dad after I graduated high school in California. As I walked around the area i stayed in as well as along the Magnificent Mile I had memories of going there with Mom and Dad. In honor of my Mom and Dad my sister and I visited the Old Marshall Fields (now Macys) and went to the Walnut Room. As I sat at the table and faced my sister I looked at the table next to us and thought, “Mom and Dad are just in the restroom, they’ll be back any second.” And then reality hit hard. When my sister and I were in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago we walked around the school, and my sister pointed out to me that one of the lecture classroom we passed Dad sat in a lot when he was in medical school. Just being on the University of Chicago campus led me to cry. It felt bizarre, after all Dad should be here and not myself. It was a painful trip in that context. Death, loss and grieving are very hard.  And I have the feeling like the size of the loss grows the more you move out from the funeral. Sometimes when you experience loss like this, every day seems to be the anniversary reminding you of something you lost. This trip had many memories of that experience. That said I deeply loved my Mom and Dad and wish they could be back. I miss them so much.