Cousin Erk Aldrich, Dillon Lynch, Betty and Sheila Lynch. All photos courtesy Sheila Lynch, unless otherwise indicated.
Everybody knew of the most exalted Elizabeth, by mere virtue of birth, Queen Elizabeth II of England. Among her polar opposites was Elizabeth Lynch of Wisconsin, known humbly as Betty, of Irish-German extraction. One of my oft-obscured middle sisters among six, she was a princess in my book, though I doubt she acted like one a day in her life. That’s why she deserves this remembrance, at the least.
It’s tough writing several obit-remembrances in a few weeks, two for favorite and justly famous artists, author Russell Banks and saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter. This one is far more painful, as Betty’s life was shorter, by two and nearly three decades-plus, than theirs.
Our beloved Betty Lynch departed yesterday afternoon to the next phase and adventure of life beyond. I have faith her suffering and pain will we be redeemed in some manner, which we might imagine but not really know in this temporal world. She inherited her mother’s predilection for colon cancer, though she died nearly 20 years younger than mom.
I will do my best to limit my remembrance right now to a few remarks about the quietly wonderful woman I knew and loved, and then some brief captions to describe and document the photos shared here.
The fourth of my six sisters, she was the second one to have passed. The loss of a younger sibling carries a true burden on the heart. Yet I am glad we can imagine her somehow joining her parents, Sharon and Norm Lynch, and her older sister Maureen and, if so, rejoicing in reunion.
My spiritual sense of things – and I believe I am probably among a majority of living humans in this regard – tells me something like this will happen, some life-force that shapes a nascent re-presence, maybe not reincarnation, but not mere “the worms-crawl-in” nothingness.
Is the “soul” just a sentimental notion? Where does soulfulness come from? What is music? Form and sounds, and a myriad of sorts of content, mustered by humans and…?
Or the power of soul? Existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzche spoke of “the will to power,” but where does the will come from? “Free will,” yes, perhaps, but that’s still not getting to the heart of the matter, for me. What drives Ukrainians to fight so magnificently against a much larger, criminally genocidal, invading foe? But I digress. 1
Thanks to sister Sheila, I was happy to be able to speak by phone “with” Betty two consecutive days before she passed, though she was in a coma. I hope she heard me. I’m told hearing is the last of the senses to go and her brain was not dead until later. In that sense, I was speaking with her, not simply to her.
It was also a way to return some of the good feelings she gave us in the many, many long-distance phone calls that she made from sun-blessed Florida to me and all members of our immediate family over the years. She had a natural disposition and skill at communicating with others, even over the phone in her loving, sometimes laconic, and slightly luminous ways. Sometimes it was just a pause, an invisible smile and a small sigh. She could call up without anything in particular to talk about and yet begin a perfectly enjoyable conversation merely because she wanted to connect, a manifestation of her love of family and of humanity.
Her temperament, tone, sensitivity, skill and love helped make her a valuable community resource specialist in her professional career, in health care, specializing in senior clients.
She was born 64 years ago June 27, one of three Lynch children born within a week of each other, on separate years (the folks were “rhythmic” Catholics). She was the most musical of my six sisters; she played the flute, and loved the best of popular music, most of all The Beatles, of course.
She could come off as shy and “aw-shucks” self-effacing. (OK she didn’t say “aw shucks” very often, but more elevated characterization wouldn’t feel right.) She was more like a slightly meek, “Hi Kevin,” when I answered the phone or called her, almost as if asking if it was OK to greet you by name, yet still imparting that small Betty moment of grace. The meek shall inherit the earth, Jesus of Nazareth once said.
A girl from the North Country who loved balmy climes, she moved to Florida (from California) when my parents relocated to St. Petersburg for a few years for my dad’s job transfer. That didn’t work out well – he was tasked with trying to save/manage a dying branch of his industrial metals company.
This looks like Betty’s “so-long frozen suckers!” farewell, before returning to her home in Florida where she stayed permanently after a short family relocation. Looks like the camera film got bit by the frozen tundra.
So, the folks moved back to Milwaukee, along with baby sister Anne, and second-youngest Sheila went to Cincinnati. But sun-bunny Betty stayed in St. Pete and finished her education there, and later bore and raised a son, Dillon, now 23.
Betty’s frequent phone calls to any of the six siblings, her parents or friends were her way of reaching out, slipping past anyone’s personal posture or attitude, of letting you come closer to her, and perhaps pulling you out of yourself, especially if you were in a lousy mood.
My sole slight pique arose when she called to gloat a tad when the across-the-bridge Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers in a playoff game a few years ago. Now, her slight chortle over the outcome is a precious memory.
Of course, she would suffer through plenty of poor moods due to declining health towards the end, which is why to remember her in her hearty days is so important.
Many if not most people think they’re younger than they are, time-wise. I’m sure Betty couldn’t believe she was approaching death’s doorstep, even when the stage-four diagnosis came. “Time is the greatest mystery of all,” Norman Mailer once wrote. 2
With her psychology degree, and as a Certified Resource Specialist, she applied her special skills and temperament in a long career in health care, especially for senior clients, as a case manager for Suncoast Center, for 12 years, and later as a Community Resource Specialist/Case Management Support Professional at Humana at Home for nearly a decade, both in St. Petersburg. “Strong community and social services professional skilled in Computer Literacy, Crisis Intervention, Family Therapy, Case Management, and Conflict Resolution.” her LinkedIn page reads.
Here’s her LinkedIn professional referral profile photo:
Here’s her LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lynchelizabeth/
Betts was a sweet person, almost to a fault, in that sometimes some people might’ve been inclined to take advantage of her. But she made life more tender, warm, and bearable for her presence.
I could go on, but for now I’d like to comment on a few of the pictures I’m sharing to illustrate who dear Elizabeth “Betty” Lynch was.
It goes back to earliest family days in Milwaukee, first, maybe, from life in our bungalow on South Quncy Avenue, just north of Gen. Mitchell Field Airport, back in the “SONIC BOOM!!!” days! Planes taking off would sear the sky, right over our quaking little house. Here, sequential sisters Betty (left, in the photo) and next-youngest Sheila — the only two blue-eyed sisters in the brood — began forming their natural bond. Their young hearts swell as sugarplum visions dance in their heads while visiting Santa.
I admit, when Sheila sent me this photo a few days ago, it really got me. Betty, you really got me. Tears begone.
One formal portrait from 1963, below, of the first six Lynch kids, maybe the earliest shot I have of Betty the blondie, from my scrapbook assembled by our mother, Sharon J. Lynch.
There is also this formal family below portrait photo from family archives, shot beside the fireplace on Beverly Road in Shorewood, where we all seven children grew a bit older together, the first house with sister Anne (far right) born to this home. In the detail photo below, you see Betty sitting on the floor, the sole blonde in the family, with her shy smile which helps convey her youthful beauty.
See also a feel-good snapshot (below) of mother Sharon, brother Kevin — and Susie the dog again – and, long-limbed in short-shorts, befitting my nickname for her, Betty Boop. This photo reveals, I think, how much Betty blended her father’s and her mother’s looks, even if Betty was much fairer than mom. Picture Betty in long dark hair pulled up in a stylish perm: Betty Boop!
Of course, her blonde hair remains a mystery, but we never had a blonde milkman, that I recall. Our big dimples came from the Lynch side, as in Uncle Jack and Grandma Frances Lynch.
“I see September ’80 in corner. Just before we left for Florida! Anne probably took picture! I sure was white then!” (Betty’s Facebook comment on this photo, taken by youngest sister Anne.)
Then, please behold below one of the happiest days of our family’s history, the 1987 marriage of the eldest daughter of six, my Irish twin, Nancy Lynch to Tony Aldrich. Betty is in the back row (second from the left), warmly radiant in a blue dress suit. Also pictured (L-R) Sheila Lynch, Maureen Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Sharon Lynch, Tony Aldrich, bride Nancy Lynch Aldrich, Norm Lynch, Anne Lynch, Kevin Lynch, Kathleen Naab Lynch.
Scrapbook shots: Below it’s me and six sisters (count ’em), including Maureen’s spouse Rob Traub, at far right. And below that, Betty’s graduation picture from the Lawton School of Medical Assistance.
Betty and Dillon visited Milwaukee very occasionally in the summer. Here’s a fun outing at the Milwaukee Museum, with Uncle Kev hamming it up (frozen Tyrannosaurus Rex face?) for Dillon’s amusement. Betty and Dillon in foreground, Grandpa Norm seated in background. Photo by Sharon Lynch
Another generation of Lynches. Dillon Lynch, 23, today. He was with his mom when she died. Thanks a million, dear nephew! Now, go Make Betty proud.
In honor of Betty Lynch, the flute player, here’s a piece I think she’d love, “Be Still My Soul,” adapted from music of Jean Sibelius, performed by Rhonda Larson, a blonde flutist.
- Because the notion of “the power of soul” is compelling to contemplate for this music writer, I’ve also posted Idris Muhammed’s hit soul-jazz tune “Power of Soul.” See, Betty hung on, on her own breath, in a coma for much longer than anyone anticipated, after they took her off resuscitation. The rhythm of the breath is a powerful force. This is not elegiac or even polite music, but I don’t like strict cultural conventions. And I know the African-American funeral tradition, at the very least, is about lifting spirits. Betty’s son Dillon is part African-American. Not too many seven-minute instrumentals become radio hits. This one did, I know. Take it or leave it:
- Mailer’s personal anthology of his writings doubles down on the mystery, with its title, The Time of our Time. Also, staff writer Jennifer Senior has a thoughtful, well-researched article “On the Weirdness of Aging,” regarding the self-perception of our place in time, in the April 2023 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine.