July 6, 2020
I write this message with the heaviest of hearts. My beautiful mother – Marja-Liisa Lennhoff Eskelinen – died on Saturday evening, the 4th of July.
My family is all down in TX, and it is heartbreak on top of sorrow that I was not able to be with my mom when she died. The coronavirus pandemic has made travel complicated, treacherous, and at times, impossible. So many families around our nation, and the world, are going through the same thing – grieving at a distance, and unable to bask in the light of love that is sometimes possible and necessary at the end of life.
I want to tell y’all a little bit about my mom, and about her love for CCHCC and the work that we do. This is not an obituary for my mom, but a bit of a celebration of a beautiful life, and how that life contributed to the beautiful organization that we all have built – CCHCC.
Marja-Liisa Lennhoff Eskelinen
My mom was a World War II baby, born on May 31, 1939 in Finland. Her father was a scout on horseback for the Finnish military, which was fighting Russia at that time. My mom’s father was killed when my mom was 2 years old. From then on, my mom had a very hard life – poverty, abuse when sent to live with another family, various illnesses including encephalitis, and more. But she was tough and resilient. She was a survivor.
Eventually, my mom was able to travel to the United States, the ward of a Finnish lady who was a domestic servant for a rich family in White Plains, NY. That Finnish lady is who I knew as my grandmother (she adopted the name “Mary Lake” to try to seem more American) when I was growing up. My mom arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15. She entered nursing school and worked as a domestic servant with her foster mom. Eventually, my mom became a nurse and worked at the White Plains, NY hospital, where she met my dad, Miguel Lennhoff. I treasure my mom’s gold pin that she received upon becoming a nurse.
My dad was doing his medical residency in White Plains, NY, where he arrived from Mexico. He grew up in Mexico after his mom fled Austrian Nazis. That’s a whole other story that I won’t get into now.
My parents fell in love and got married, and then had to move to Mexico so that my dad could finish his medical school. Both of my parents spoke English as a second or third language. That was the language they had in common. But then, of course, my mom had to learn Spanish when they moved to Mexico. And she did.
My parents had three children while in Mexico. I am the middle daughter in between two brothers.