Home Schooled

Getting schooled at home is quite different than what we’re used to, but we’re doing the best we can with the preparation we have had…. which is nothing.

Nothing prepared us to get tossed into a virtual world of learning, with parents teaching a curriculum they don’t know, during the hours they do not have since they also need to continue working full-time.

But somewhere in between Phy Ed class on the lawn, mom’s back-to-back meetings, virtual scavenger hunts over Google Meets, unclear science lessons, and keeping Genesee alive, I overhead mom say that home schooling during a pandemic was quite the “ship show.” I don’t know what boats have to do with any of this, but I’m excited to find out!

The Obituary

Gene David Florence | December 15, 1945 — March 21, 2020

Gene David Florence (Pee-Wee/Armpit) was born to eternal life and reunited with his long lost 1969 Shelby GT 500 KR and his beloved wife, Margarita Navidad Florence. He made it home, but late for supper, on Saturday, March 21, 2020, after a sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of 74.

Gene was lovingly survived by his daughters Helen Renee (Jonathan) Fuller, Chelsee Rebecca (Ernest Graham) Florence and Amanda Regina (Joel) Goodenough, and his dear brother Norman (Gerry) Florence. He was the adored Papa of Brooklyn, Jaeger and Genesee, and the great-grandfather of Isalina. Gene will be greatly missed by his faithful furry companions Sugar, Bella and Lulu. This ripple of grief will also be felt across countless cherished friends and relatives.

He will reconnect in the afterlife with his parents, Raymond and Helen Florence; his sister Patricia Florence; and his brothers Raymond (Marjorie) Florence Jr., Wendell Florence, LeRoy (Virginia Phillips) Mitchell and Richard “Dickey” Mitchell.

Gene’s many impressive lifetime achievements were a result of his unprecedented work ethic. He was a dedicated family man, a tireless provider, an always-helpful companion and a talented mechanic. There was nothing Gene couldn’t fix with a rubber band, bungee cord or zip tie. He was a man of great character who was unapologetically honest and didn’t take people’s sh*t unless they paid him to (through his successful septic pumping business).

The world was not ready for the force of Gene Florence, but he remained resilient beyond measure and paved a better future for all. A Marine of multiple wars, Gene served this country in Vietnam, fought for the right to marry interracially, picketed for Union rights alongside Teamster brothers, stood up to Mukwonago’s racial discrimination, and fearlessly faced his final battle against cancer.

A celebration of Gene’s life will take place at Waukesha’s Church and Chapel Funeral Home on a summer or fall date yet to be determined. Until then, you can find Gene in the aroma of Papa Murphy’s pizza, hear him in the lyrics of Gregory Abbott’s “Shake You Down,” or look for him in the clouds above any used car lot.

Church and Chapel Funeral Home is serving the family. Online obituary, condolences, and future memorial service information can be found at www.churchandchapel.com.

The Homegoing

With essentially no food or water intake for weeks, Papa stopped talking in his final days on earth. But somehow, he mustered up the energy to have one last phone conversation with Genesee and I before he left.

And then he was gone.

On March 21st at 9:45 p.m., Papa passed away peacefully, surrounded by the love of my mom and my aunts. They held his hand and sang his favorite song as he went to start his spirit journey.

We are heartbroken, but grateful that he didn’t suffer for long. This whole situation happened very quickly, in fact. …Imagine being “well” enough to drive yourself 40 minutes to the emergency room in a stick-shift vehicle, spend 2 weeks in the hospital before learning a devastating diagnosis, returning home on hospice, and then only surviving 2 additional weeks. That’s what we watched happen to our Papa over the last month.

Sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes life is too short. Sometimes love is painful.

But as they say, “grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we love. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.”

And so, for now, we grieve….

Not a Murder Scene

When you’re independent and decide to secretly paint your toenails by yourself, but you “accidentally” miss and paint your face and bed instead.


The Homecoming

On March 6, 2020, Papa was released from the hospital and sent home on hospice. This wasn’t the homecoming we had been hoping for. But once there, his furry female roommates showered him with kisses and we ordered him one of his favorite meals: Culver’s batter-fried fish dinner!

Papa made it home just in time because the world started to drastically change in the days that followed. A COVID-19 pandemic has caused hospitals to minimize or ban all visitors, stores and restaurants have begun shutting down, and even my school closed its doors.

Communities have been encouraged to engage in virtual learning and remote work, social/physical distance, wear masks, and quarantine if experiencing symptoms to flatten the curve of the coronavirus spread. Some people say it feels like the world is ending. And even though Papa’s diagnosis made it seem like our world was sort of ending before the pandemic struck, mom says it’s also important to find other perspective, like this one:

When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, don’t say to yourself, ‘It looks like the end of the world.’ What you’re seeing is love in action. What you’re seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other, for our grandparents, for the immune-compromised brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet. People will lose jobs over this. Some will lose their businesses. And some will lose their lives. All the more reason to take a moment, when you’re out on your walk, or on your way to the store, or just watching the news, to look into the emptiness and marvel at all that love. Let it fill and sustain you. It isn’t the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness.” – Author unknown

So, as we move through the tragedy of Papa’s failing health during a global pandemic, instead of only grieving the loss of what was, we also let ourselves feel what is indeed remarkable: love and solidarity.

The Diagnosis

2020 was off to a good start until we hit day 50; On Wednesday, February 19th, everything changed when mom had a feeling in the pit of her stomach after a phone conversation with Papa. He wasn’t well. So mom abruptly left work and drove across the state to find Papa in the Intensive Care Unit at the Milwaukee VA Hospital.

We were supposed to attend the Greater Milwaukee International Car & Truck Show that weekend with my car-loving Papa, but instead, Dad brought us kiddos to the hospital, too, hoping we might be medicine for Papa’s soul.

And while we did manage to bring a smile to Papa’s face, particularly when we took him for a spin in his new set of wheels, we were no cure for the diagnosis that Papa was suddenly facing: Cancer.

I don’t know much about that little word, but in the moment, it felt bigger than I could handle, especially as I studied my mom’s saddened face. And even though we were soon joined by loving family and close friends, I understood that this was not a happy reunion.

It was hard to see Papa like that, but it was even harder to leave him and return to school. Since my heart knew these moments were precious, I sobbed uncontrollably once he was out of my sight.