Obituary: Catherine Farrell

October 3, 1947-June 20, 2023

Growing up my mother used to look despairingly at the messes my sister and I had made, and ask, “Were you raised by wolves?” To which I always replied, “Alpha Wolf Catherine.” I never figured out if she was amused or irritated. She was clearly more charmed that my sister, Sary, called her Mommy Bear. Whatever your apex predator of choice (weird analogies for a part time vegetarian), our mother was strong, loyal, courageous, and the ultimate survivor.

Though my sister and I were incredibly different, we were somehow both exactly like our mother. To my sister, Mom gave her love of nicknames and wordplay and the strength and courage to face remarkable odds. Mom and Sary loved playing Jeopardy against each other and kept score in a notebook next to the TV. To me, Mom gave a love of languages and gardening and sweaty hands. We could often be caught pulling weeds out of random people’s flower beds and competing to buy each other new mysteries by our favorite authors first. To both of us mom gave a keen sense of justice, the will to fight, and a commitment to eating dessert.

Mom loved road trips. Sary and I grew up hearing stories about her trips to Europe and the epic road trip she took out west with two friends during the summer of 1969. We spent summers driving all over the Midwest to Irish dance competitions, and many of our spring and winter breaks trekking to points south. One memorable spring break, we drove to the Gulf of Mexico and back in four days on what became known as the Stupid Trip. After I went to college, Mom and Sary decided to visit all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites together. Our last family road trip was through western Europe, and included finding the village that our German ancestors came from.

Mom had a strong affinity for rabbits, nuns, and the name Jane. Two of her best friends were named Jane and both her childhood dachshund, Pretzel, and my sister shared the middle name Jane. Her last pet rabbit, somehow not named Jane, likes only one person, and it isn’t me. When Mom retired from teaching, her retirement hobby became, of course, teaching. She was a volunteer English teacher for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in south Minneapolis. Her students hailed from all over the world, and she particularly loved learning words and phrases in Somali from her loyal cadre of Somali grandmothers who studied at the school. Those were some of her happiest days in life.

One of mom’s favorite t-shirts said “Ask me about my artificial parts” splayed prominently across her chest. For someone who pretended to be aghast when her children swore, she could have a questionable sense of humor. There were many artificial parts, none of them quite as sexy as the shirt intimated – both hips, lenses in both eyes, and a heart valve. She also survived brain surgery and breast cancer. Her final battle with dementia was both terrible and blessedly short.

Though deeply introverted, Mom was surprisingly good at chatting up strangers. She also had a sly grin and often cocked her left eyebrow in a way that made you know she was up to something. It resulted in her having the most devoted friends a woman could hope for. In her final months, her friends kept up their phone calls and visits, even when she could no longer hold a conversation. She gave me the gift of aunts and aunties who made my childhood wonderful and the past 10 months bearable.

Mom follows her baby, Sary Farrell (Bonzie); brother, Richard Farrell, Jr. (Icky Dickie); and her parents Judge Richard and Irene Farrell into the next adventure. She leaves me, Anna Farrell, and Josh Lambrecht (Sonny); her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Keith Bednarowski; sister-in-law, Pam Farrell; nieces and nephews Josh and Kitren Farrell, Molly Farrell, Betsy and Jason Conway, and Paul and Sonia Bednarowski; and many friends.

I am deeply grateful to Donna DePape for being the rock Mom and both needed as well as the staff of Aspire Senior Living and Compassus Hospice for their care. In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift in Mom’s honor to the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society (yes it is real) or an education organization of your choice. A memorial will be held at Hope Church in Sturgeon Bay on Saturday, September 30th. Visitation at 12:30, memorial at 2:00, ice cream social at 3:00.