For My Mother – Part 4: The Final Years

As my sisters and I grew older and more independent, my mother began to consider working outside the home. She attended classes to become a keypunch operator and was the first person in our family to work with computers. This was the 1970s and few people at that time had ever seen a computer, much less worked with them. As technology developed, my mother progressed to keytape and keydisk and excelled in her chosen profession.

Jane Niedzialkowski Danko at Work - 1972

Jane (Niedzialkowski) Danko at Work

SOURCE: Jane (Niedzialkowski) Danko at Work. Photographer unknown. Photographed 22 May 1972 at Albany County Social Services KeyPunch Department, Albany, New York.

On 14 March 1978, my mother’s father died. I was living in Oregon at the time, attending graduate school. I did not learn of my grandfather’s death until after his funeral.

In the Spring of 1980, in recognition of her excellent work and her ability to lead others, my mother was offered the position of supervisor of her department. At about this same time, my mother began feeling unwell. She had no particular symptoms, just a sense that something wasn’t quite right. At this time, I was still in Oregon and my younger sister had moved to Florida. Only my mother, my father, and my older sister still lived in the house at 43 South Allen Street.

On Easter Sunday, 06 April 1980, my father, mother, and older sister drove to Worcester to spend Easter with my mother’s mother, who was then 83 years old.

Barely a week later, on Tuesday 15 April 1980, my mother called in sick to work. Her general feeling of being unwell had progressed to the point of a real illness. My father called our family doctor (who still made house calls) and he prescribed antibiotics. A few hours later, purple blotches began to form on my mother’s skin as her capillaries began to burst. My father called an ambulance. As the EMTs were transporting her to the ambulance, my mother went into cardiac arrest. The EMTs were able to restart my mother’s heart and rushed her to St. Peter’s Hospital.

My sister called me in Oregon and told me to get home as soon as I could. I had no money for airfare, but the Chairman of my department at Oregon State University quickly arranged for an emergency loan from the Oregon State University Foundation, and so I made preparations to fly to Albany.

The doctors at the hospital diagnosed my mother with sepsis and attempted an experimental technique to reduce the level of toxins that had built up in her blood. Their efforts failed. My mother died at 10:50 PM on 16 April 1980. I arrived in Albany the next day.

The wake was held at Magin & Keegan Funeral home, across the street from the Church of St. Vincent de Paul where the funeral was to be held the next day. Because of the circumstances of my mother’s death and the fact that her skin was covered with purple blotches from where her capillaries had burst, the wake and funeral were closed casket affairs. When asked why the casket was closed, we simply told the mourners that my mother wanted it that way.

During the wake, a fire broke out in St. Vincent de Paul Church. We watched as the fire department arrived to save the church. Nonetheless, due to the extensive damage, the funeral could not be held there. Instead, the service was moved to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the chapel in the Vincentian Institute High School (VIHS) from which my sisters and I had all graduated. Father John Mealey, the former principal of VIHS who had known my family during the time my sisters and I attended high school, celebrated the funeral mass.

We buried my mother with her diamond engagement ring, her wedding album, and a cat toy.

On 23 November 1980, seven months after my mother died, her own mother died of a broken heart.

Copyright © 2007 by Stephen J. Danko

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7 Responses to For My Mother – Part 4: The Final Years

  1. Miriam says:

    Steve, this is such a moving tribute to your lovely mother; it brought tears to my eyes. She would be so proud of the way you’ve honored her here!

  2. HappyDae says:

    A fine, heartfelt tribute to a wonderful woman, Steve. May her descendents honor as much. Without your willing intention, you’ve explained much about yourself too, haven’t you? Bless you.

    Happy Dae.
    ShoeString Genealogy

  3. Apple says:

    A beautiful tribute to your mom and a very moving piece. I think she must be just as proud of you as you were of her. I’m sorry you lost her when she was still so young.

  4. Cheryl says:

    What a tough time this must have been for you and your family. Your mother passed on my daughters first birthday. She sounds like she was a wonderful woman, and I think you take after her! Thank you for sharing your story, it was a great tribute to your mother, may she rest in peace.

  5. Linda Ulanski says:


    What a great story! I wish I could be as eloquent as you in telling my family history. Keep up the good work. Look forward to seeing you at the next conference.

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your kind words. Steve

  7. Colleen Adams says:

    Steve – I stumbled on your site looking for an old post about a memorial for Doreen Gaul and have been sitting here reading and smiling for the last hour!! I especially love this piece about your mom. Please keep on writing…it really brings me back to a simpler time. I grew up in the North end of Albany and graduated VI in 1968….but much of our childhood memories are mirror images. Thanks for the ride!

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