by Ellen Thommesen
My grandparents always held hands. Even into their 70s, they reminded me of newlyweds, excited to show each other affection any chance they got.
Arch Leean, my grandfather, was studying abroad when he proposed to Mary through a letter. As soon as she read it she hopped on a boat to England to spend the rest of her life with him. They got married with their cab driver as the witness.
Married life was full of adventure. They lived in England, traveled Europe on a scooter, moved to New York City then to California where their two daughters were born. They finally settled as a family in Northfield, Minnesota where Arch was an art professor and Mary was a foreign student administrator at St. Olaf College. Settled in but always traveling, they frequently went on study abroad trips with students to places like Thailand and the Middle East. Camping trips, road trips, backpacking trips, you name it, the Leean family did it.
I couldn’t have asked for a better example of love than my grandparents. They were happily married for 56 years, completely devoted until death parted them.
Arch’s health began deteriorating in his late 70s, and he was diagnosed with a rare degenerative brain disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. After a 3-year battle with the disease, he passed away in April, 2011. Mary served as his primary caregiver in order to keep him at home with her in the dream house they built for their retirement.
After a lifetime of companionship, love, and raising a family together, Mary is left alone. She has transformed from a wife into a widow.
The loss of her husband has not been easy, and the transition into widower has been a difficult one. She notices that people speak to her in softer tones and often treat her differently now that she is alone. Many offer advice for how she should cope with her loss. Even though she acknowledges they are telling her what would help them in the situation, she believes grief is very personal. Everyone experiences it differently.
Mary chooses to embrace sadness when it comes and relish in the good memories of her life with Arch. She loves telling stories about him to my younger brother and I every time we see her. She feels blessed to have had so much time with such a great man and will continue the healing process with the help of family and friends.
*CLICK ON PICTURE ON LEFT TO LAUNCH MULTIMEDIA PROJECTBy Amy Rymer
Ana Maria sends half of her salary to El Salvador each month to provide for her family. After nearly three years in the U.S., Ana Maria doesn’t have savings, but now that she has paid off the debt for her travel to the U.S., she is planning for the future–with multiple options. After her husband died in a car accident ten years ago, Ana Maria took over his business in one of San Salvador’s two biggest markets, called San Jacinto.
Five years later, two supermarkets were built around the market. After trying to compete with their lower prices for two and a half years, Ana Maria couldn’t provide for her family any longer and decided to move to the United States for work.
Ana Maria’s travel to the U.S. not only cost herself monetarily, but it also affected her family. Her sister, Milagro, who raises her son Carlos, gave her own land as collateral for the loan that paid for Ana Maria to go to the U.S.
Ana Maria had to pay back a total of $12,000 to a coyote in El Salvador who loaned her the money. The average cost for someone to go to the U.S. illegally from El Salvador is $2,000 – $8,000*. Ana Maria paid more because when she realized she was in a scam, she had to convince multiple coyotes to take her the rest of the way. A trip that can last as short as a few days took Ana Maria two months.
*UNDP El Salvador Human Development Report 2005