Every diary, no matter how long it is kept, has a final entry.
Connie Brown made hers Oct. 23, the day she entered Memorial Medical Center for surgery.
The 83-year-old Modestan began that day just as she had every other since Jan. 1, 1935, when she made her first remarks in the diary she'd been given for Christmas at age 10.
I wrote about Connie in March 2006 -- of her diligence in keeping her diary through life's highs and lows, from the joys of raising her family to the sorrows of personal tragedies. Daughter Melanie, 23, died in an automobile accident in 1982, and illness claimed another daughter, Colleen, in 1995.
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Mom Connie kept writing, taking brief breaks only to grieve the deaths of her children. Then she began writing again, using the diary to help ease her pain. And she wrote to leave a record for the next generations of Browns and their kin. Her husband, David Brown Sr., called her work "a history of an American family."
In her more than 72 years as a diarist, Connie made roughly 27,000 entries and filled nearly 72 volumes and four other journals.
She began her writings during the Great Depression and kept on through five wars (World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the two in Iraq) and 12 presidents. She wrote about the family's moves from city to city, and of landing in Modesto in 1987, where her husband worked in the insurance business and she worked at a social services agency. She wrote about their travels, including trips to watch their beloved University of the Pacific basketball team.
And she kept on writing even as cancer attacked her body over the past year. She had her first surgery in March, followed by chemo and then another operation.
A couple of years ago, Connie called me just to chat. She knew I had graduated from UOP, as did her son David Jr., and daughter Melanie.
During the course of that conversation, she told me about her diaries. I'd never heard of anyone who had kept one for so long, so I went to visit the Browns to do the column. After it appeared in March 2006, a number of readers called or e-mailed, wanting to get in touch with Connie. They, too, kept diaries -- though none for so long.
Every so often, she or David Sr. would call just to check in, to tell me how David Jr. was doing as the executive director of the YMCA in Santa Rosa. They spoke lovingly and proudly of their other children, as well. Peter is a lawyer in Las Vegas. Carrie lives in Redondo Beach, where she is a physical education expert for developmentally challenged children.
Then, in March, David Sr. called to tell me that Connie had cancer, would have surgery and then would begin chemotherapy. I didn't hear from them again until this week, when he called to tell me Connie was near death. Even so, David Sr. kept notes for her in the event she staged a miraculous comeback or doctors at least were able to buy her more time. He knew she'd want to catch up with her diary writings.
Monday, a doctor friend pulled David Sr. aside at Memorial and asked if Connie's physician had told him to summon the family to the hospital.
"No," David Sr. replied. "He held me tight and whispered in my ear and said, 'Call the children.' "
Life ebbed away at 8 a.m. Tuesday, with Connie's husband and her children at her side.
They read the letter she wrote to them Oct. 23, the same day she made her final diary entry. She told them she didn't want to be cremated. She told them she wanted to be buried in a family plot in Denver and that there was plenty of room for more -- an invitation to join her there someday.
And then, the diary itself.
Her last writings began, "I got to bed a little late last night, for I was going through photographs about part of my life before we got married."
She wrote about the blanket she'd knitted for a friend's great-granddaughter who was born a few days later, while Connie was in the hospital.
She wrote about talking with a longtime friend named Thelma, who had been Connie's classmate in Denver in the 1930s. They were friends back when Connie made her first diary entry.
And finally, she wrote about the true wealth in her life.
"I am a very rich woman," she penned, later explaining to David Sr. that she meant, "rich with family and friends -- not in gold."
Every diary has its last entry. Connie Brown's summarized her life as no one else possibly could.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.
The family will hold a memorial reception for Connie Brown from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Nov. 24 at the DoubleTree Hotel.