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My Mother Has Passed Away

Katrine Aho

My mother, Katrine Aho, has passed away. She died at 7:54 p.m. on March 26.

As sad as her passing is, I’m very glad and grateful that I was able to return from Japan to the U.S. to see her one last time and say goodbye. In fact, I was nearly too late because I had planned to leave Japan on March 30, but then her condition worsened so quickly that I was urged to come sooner.

By the time I got there, on the evening of March 25, it was clear that she had little time left. Her eyes opened just once, when she realized I had arrived, and her voice was already a faint whisper. I sat by her side, held her hand, spoke to her softly, and choked my way through the letters my wife and children had written to her.

And I was with her when she died the next day at the age of 82.

I know 82 isn’t young, and I know my mother had lived a full and productive life, but the truth is, her health had been quite good…until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring. The prognosis for this type of cancer is very poor—many patients live less than a few months—but my mother gamely underwent chemotherapy and this helped extend her life by nearly a year.

My one real regret—and this is the heartache I’ve felt ever since I settled in Japan and had children—was that my mother and my kids had so little time together in this world. While I did all that I could from afar to create a close and continuing relationship between them (as I described in the posts 3 Good Ways to Boost a Bilingual Child’s Language Ability and Loving Bond with Grandparents; Bilingual Children and Distant Grandparents: What We’ve Done; and Bilingual Kids and Grandparents: Make the Most of This Opportunity), the hard reality is that the several visits we made to the U.S. to see her in person amounted to less than a month in total.

I know she wanted to spend more time with them (Lulu, in fact, was her only granddaughter), but the circumstances—the tremendous distance and cost, as well as work and school on our end—made this so painfully difficult.

And now she’s gone. And now there are no more chances. The finality of this fact is crushingly sad.

At the same time, there’s heartfelt joy that, despite the shortcomings of our situation, my children and my mother were able to know one another as well as they did. My mother was a very sweet, very talented person and a special, loving presence in my kids’ lives. I have no doubt that they will remember her, far into the future, with deep fondness.

And it’s true, as well, that they shared the bond of bilingual childhoods. A few years ago, I interviewed her about her bilingual past (see “I Spoke Both Finnish and English”: I Interview My Mother on Her Bilingual Childhood) and she mentioned being thrilled that her grandchildren seemed to have the bright bilingual future that she eventually lost as she grew up.

I loved my mother, and I always, always will. I feel profoundly blessed that I had the chance, before she passed on, to tell her this in person and thank her for all that she did for me and for my family. This post, with the pictures and videos below, is my small way of celebrating her life and sharing the great goodness that she gave this world.

My mother was the youngest of six children. Her grandparents immigrated from Finland to the U.S. and her parents were fluent in Finnish and English. She was actively bilingual in these two languages when she was a child, but then lost much of this ability as she became a young adult.
She graduated from high school in 1953.
And from college in 1958.
She studied music in college.
And played the piano in a graduation recital.
Around this time she met my father in France. He’s American, but spent time there as a folksinger. Those pearls around her neck were once her mother’s, and she wanted me to give them to Lulu, her granddaughter, which I did the other day after I returned to Japan.
They married soon after she graduated from college (but eventually divorced when I was a teen).
I love this photo of her. It was a happy time in her life.
I like this one, too.
My mother also played the pipe organ and was the organist in a number of churches over the years. She loved music and was a gifted musician.
I came along in 1962. ( I have an older brother and a younger sister. They live in the U.S. and did so much to help her during her illness.)
It looks like an art gallery but that was our living room—my father was an artist.
Another nice photo, probably taken by my father.
I bet my father took this one, too.
She loved playing the piano. And she loved teaching piano and organ.
She also loved cats.
Playing the pipe organ was one of the great joys of her life.
This beautiful pipe organ was in the last church where she served as organist. She only stopped playing there at the age of 81, after she became ill.
As she wrote to me before she died: “I feel that I have worshiped God with my music and I am thankful to have been blest with the talent to do that. I know too that my teaching gifts have brought many to love music and I’m so happy about that.”
She loved her grandkids and they loved her. This photo was taken during a trip to the U.S. in 2013.
Lulu was teaching her how to make origami.
I returned to the U.S. to see her last summer, when she was undergoing treatment, and brought this calligraphy made by my kids. On the left, made by Lulu, is the kanji character for “cat”; on the right, made by Roy, is the kanji character for “music.”

Short video clips of my mother from our visit to her home in 2013

Katrine Aho and Adam Beck

To learn more about my mother’s life, please see her obituary (which was compiled by my brother).

For a similar tribute to my father, with photos and video, please see this page.


35 Responses

  1. Adam, my condolences. I’m so sorry for your loss, and I know exactly what you mean about your mother and your children not having had more time to spend together.

    But I’m so glad you arrived in time to say goodbye.

    Your post is a beautiful tribute, I cried reading it.

    Sending lots of hugs to you and your family.

  2. Dear Adam,
    So sorry to hear… This is a loving tribute to a beautiful life. I wish you peace and comfort in finding much of your mother in your kids. I’m confident you will.
    Hugs to you and your family,

  3. How beautiful! I am so sorry to hear she has passed, and thank you for sharing a memory with us.

    – Jenny

  4. Adam, deepest condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts, and I hope reflecting on her life brings you comfort. Praying for you, so sorry for your loss.

  5. Adam:

    Thanks so much for sharing. There is so much life in those photos and, even more so, in the videos that you posted. It reminds me that, while my daughter has been able to meet her grandparents and other family members stateside, my son (soon to be 4 on the 4th of July!) hasn’t.

    You’ve done great things for your kids. Much respect, and condolences–but, more than that, congratulations on having a mother with a life so well lived, and children who have been able to share part of her journey as they make their way on a journey of their own!

  6. Thank you for sharing her story through pictures. I am so sorry for you all. How wonderful that you got to see her one last time.

    1. Condolences and thank you so much for sharing with us your pain and also the moments full of joy and love that you and your children spent together. I am also glad that you could see each other before she passed away.

      You shared us a great lesson, thank you so much!

  7. Adam,
    I am so sorry for your loss. My heart goes to you and your family. I can feel the love you have for her in this beautiful tribute. I cried while reading it, and then smiled while watching the videos of her and your kids. Those are wonderful memories!!
    God bless you.

  8. Dear Adam,

    My heartfelt condolences and thank you for sharing the loving tribute to show us a glimpse into the loves of your mum’s life. I read it two days after giving birth to Lynn, my third daughter, and the strangest thought passed my mind. Holding Lynn’s wrinkled hand, I wished for her that she will have someone to love and cherish her when her hand is this wrinkled again in decades to come. Thank you again for sharing your strength and wisdom for life.

  9. I’m so sorry for your loss, Adam.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and these beautiful pictures and memories with us. She sounds like an amazing person. I’m glad you were able to see her one last time before she passed.

    I know where you’re coming from when you say you wish she and your children had spent more time together. But please, no regrets. If there’s someone who did everything to make sure they were closer, in spite of all the difficulties, it’s you. You wrote a book on it.

    Sending you and your family a big hug.

  10. So sorry for your loss Adam, and thank you for sharing this truly beautiful tribute to your dear mother’s life and to the legacy she leaves behind for you and your children.

  11. Dear Adam and family,
    My deepest condolences. What a wonderful tribute to your mother. The photographs and videos are beautiful and show she had a full life. Even though your family was many miles away, it shows you had a bond with more love and closeness than many families who live much, much closer. I’m sure your children will treasure the happy memories they have and your mom would have been so proud of your work and how that enabled your children to communicate with her so easily when they had the opportunity. Many of the families you help with your book and blog have similar issues with distance from family and I’m sure we all aspire to enabling our children to be able to form such a good relationship.
    Sending peace and love to your family,

  12. Hi Adam,
    So sorry for your loss and thank you very much for sharing this moment and beautiful memories of your mother. It made me think hard on my journey and my parents as well. They are getting old and fragile and I will try to spend more time with them as much as I can, including my children.

  13. Please accept my condolences Adam! It does not matter at what age you lose your mum, it always hurts and makes us so sad and empty! You have been blessed with such a talented and beautiful mother and you enjoyed your life with her for many years! I lost mine when I was 11 but I cherish every moment I remember about her. Let your mum rest in peace.

  14. Adam,
    I am so sorry to hear the passing of your mother. This post is filled with love and the bonding you have created for your children with your mother. This deeply touched me.
    Love to you and your family,

  15. Hi Adam, I’m sorry for your loss. I too live far away from my family and my children see their grandparents only once a year. I understand the regret and I’m always scared of that ‘I wish I had done more with them, met up more, etc’. They are still alive, so thank you for this nice reminder. I’m sure whatever time she had with them will forever be sketched in your children’s memories and also impacted greatly on her as well. Plus all the skype/phone calls/the likes…never underestimate how it brings a family together. No, it’s not the same but we all do our best in our own circumstances. Much love to your family, thank you as well for your great work with this website and your book.

  16. Hi Adam,

    I’m really sorry for your loss. It’s nice to know that you could be there, and really nice to see so many great pictures of her.

    All the best,


  17. All the best for you and your family in these hard times. Your mom rests in peace and looks at you and your kids from the sky.

  18. Thinking of you and your family Adam. Thank you for sharing her full life with us. Lovely memories to treasure xxx

  19. My deepest condolences. A beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing, dear Adam.
    I feel it, how we wished our parents and our children could spend more time together. At least there are and there will be dear memories and beautiful stories.
    My thoughts are with you and your family.

  20. Adam, I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for such a loving and beautiful tribute to your wonderful mom. May God comfort and strengthen your family in this difficult time.

  21. Dear Adam,

    I am so sorry about your loss. Your mother seems like a wonderful person, just as you are. It was fortunate that you could be by her side when she moved on. Hope your family and you are coping well with the loss. Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with us…

  22. I’m so sorry for your loss. What an amazing life and legacy! Sometimes I calculate in my head how many more times I will see my parents in their lifetime, and it isn’t enough.

  23. Dear Adam and family,

    I am so sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing a memory with us. I was deeply touched.

    My thoughts are with you and your family.


  24. Dear Adam,

    I have always been a silent follower of yours but your post about your mum touched me so deeply that I could not help expressing all my closeness to you and your family in these harsh and somber days.

    Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your priceless job you are doing with Bilingual Monkeys. You are for sure a big part of my success if my Italian 6-year-old kid who lives in Italy speaks an outstanding level of English taught by two Italian parents.

    Take care,


  25. Adam,

    I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute you have written for her. She was a lovely woman. I’m so glad you got to be with her before she passed away. My condolences for your loss. Carrie

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the popular books Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for 25 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 19 and 16. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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