Johanna died in San Carlos surrounded by family. Born in Middelharnis, The Netherlands, Johanna lived through the German occupation of Holland during WWII. As a teenager she made several solo trips through the Dutch countryside, by bicycle, trading family valuables for food for the family. In 1955 she came to the U.S. for the summer, met her future husband William May in San Francisco, and lived for the next 62 years in the Bay Area. She is survived by her brother Gijs Buijze, her daughter Cindy and husband Rick, son Byron and wife Kris, son Mike and wife Kathy, and 4 grandchildren: Alexa, Jessica, Peter and Kelly. She will be greatly missed.
Donations can be made to the ALS Foundation or the Nature Conservancy. More: mikehere.com/mom
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on June 11, 2017 - See more and sign a guestbook at
June 11, 2017, Golden Gate Park
I don’t want to say goodbye Mom.
I don’t want to say goodbye to your beaming face in the lazy chair when we would come for a visit to the condo
I don’t want to say goodbye to checking out your latest digs in Seattle
I don’t want to say goodbye to hearing about your and dad’s latest bicycling adventure on the peninsula
I don’t want to say goodbye to camping with you and dad
I don’t want to say goodbye to checking my photo album for a new entry in the “funny things my kid said” list
I don’t want to say goodbye to Christmas mornings on Dublin drive
I don’t want to, but I have to.
Here we find ourselves. We knew in our minds that it had to happen, but in our hearts it just does not seem possible.
Today we say goodbye, actually, to three things: goodbye to our mother; goodbye to our parents; and goodbye to a generation. Here, in 2017, we have reached the end of a generation; we here are now the eldest generation of Mays. Uncle Laurel; Aunt Lorraine; my dad; and my mom. They were the backdrop, the setting for our lives. How can we carry on when the backdrop is gone? How can they not be here, how can my mom not be here? It just so hard to grasp. So inconceivable. Certain things just seem permanent.
Then again, look at us. Lucky us; we are old. Old enough to be the setting for other’s lives.
My mom’s life contained so much. So much. Our lives, by comparison, are kind of like a short quiet passage excerpted from hers. For which, for the most part, I am very grateful. She was our personal connection to the drama and suffering of World War II. May we remain astonished by, and gain wisdom from, the stories, and may our imagination, and our children’s imagination, remain the only way through which we know such trials.
To come through that, then journey to San Francisco, meet Dad, and come to realize she was not on a journey of exploration but of immigration. Then raising us.
In many ways mom was a role model for how I approach life.
With lots of humor. Wry humor. Astonishingly, she kept this pretty much to the very end. She lost a lot of her memory, but the humor remained. And how can you get through this amazing crazy trip but with a good dose of humor?
She was an intellectual, reading books by authors like Jessica Mitford and Bertrand Russell. I remember one book that caught my young eye: “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.”
My friend Willie and I were pondering a physics question, that came from I think his high school physics teacher. If you have two bowling balls, same size, same weight, but you were told one was hollow, and the other was not, how could you tell them apart? She knew the answer immediately, instinctually. (You roll them.)
She did her best to not get caught up in petty things. “Life is too short,” she would say.
She also lived life with music and theatre. She loved opera and the symphony. And she would treat our musical tastes with respectful humor. Even if she couldn’t get over the big burly guys of Earth Wind & Fire singing falsetto.
Significantly, mom has trust in us. She and Dad were light on the rules, trusting us to do the right thing. And for the most part, we did.
Mom gave us time to get used to her being gone. We still weren’t ready, but she was ready. After all, she told us as much, in that frank manner she had, on more than one occasion.
Mom didn’t like long goodbyes, so I better close. Goodbye to a wonderful mother. You get to rest now mom. We’ll be fine.
More soon, including memories of our dad William May
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