Donna Arkel


Our Beautiful Mother
We have been tasked with writing the obituary for my mother—a heartbreaking, dull assignment. We can’t think of a tribute less fitting to the extraordinary creature who so recently left us than the typical laundry list of facts and statistics that usually gets printed. So, in honor of the indomitable spirit and utterly inappropriate attitude of Donna Van Arkel (Ruggles)… here’s how it was.
In no particular order:
She was a believer. A dreamer. A truth seeker.
She drank whiskey and took her coffee light and sweet. She smoked Misty Menthols but rarely finished one. She taught her children how to order from a menu by the age of five. She rode her bicycle with no hands.
She got her heart broken. She hated her disease.
She had fabulous taste and draped herself in turquoise set in silver.
She planted flowers for God, and she loved David Letterman. Cake was always a yes, ice cream was always a no.
She laid brick patios and built fences from cedar. She planned rodeos. She read Hemmingway and Dave Barry.
She was a libra and a lover of classic rock. She always voted and she raced grocery carts in the HyVee parking lot.
She was allergic to everything.
She was a feminist and raised her daughters to be the same. Fiercely.
She was married, then not. She drove like a demon with its tail on fire. She did things for luck and for love, but mostly for fun.
She had regrets, and she had triumphs. She had friends and lovers. She had children and pets and a passion for stand-up comedy.
She was her father’s daughter, and she had his laugh. She saw the wonders of Yellowstone through his eyes. She found a home for her heart in the mountains.
She preferred milk chocolate and Renaissance art.
She wasn’t supposed to be here, yet somehow, she was. And that is her most revealing tell. The truest testament of stubbornness in all things. She was here because she chose to be. And we are luckier for it.
She believed that to see your loved ones in the afterlife, you needed to understand what they believed. I have no doubt that her first stop is to the belt of Orion to visit her sister, then onwards.
This Chapter: September 24, 1959 – June 19, 2024

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