Shirley Ann Berger
(nee Strosina) Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the daughter of the late Edward Strosina and the late Lillian (nee Belinski) Strosina, Shirley was Born to Eternal Life on Saturday, October 9, 2021 at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin at age 82 years. She was the cherished wife of Fred Berger for 62 years. She was also the loving mother of Debbie (Dave) Frydach, Danny (Karen) Berger, Donna (Al) Mikulovsky, Deena (John) Camden, Deanna (Jeff) Merryfield and Derek (Gina) Berger. Shirley was the dear grandmother of Ryan, Samantha (Alan), Kyle (Monica), Danny (Annie), Cody (Anna), Alyssa, Zachary, Dylan, Ethan, Devin and Drew and great-grandmother of Lucas, Jackson, Olivia, Freddie, Margot, Mia and Claire. She is further survived by other relatives and friends.
Shirley was the possessor of a huge collection of purses. Truly, the most important part of her life revolved around her family; she was most happy when they were with her and she was unabashedly proud of them all.
Visitation will be held for Shirley on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, from 4:30pm until the time of Mass of Christian Burial at 6:30pm, all at St. Bernadette Catholic Church, 8200 West Denver Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53223. Additional visitation will take place on Wednesday, October 20, 2021, from 10:00am until time of final viewing at 11:30am all at Jelacic Funeral Home, 5639 West Hampton Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53218, followed by a procession to Holy Cross Cemetery for graveside Committal Prayers and interment.
"May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen."
The following is an e-mail written by Deanna to all family and friends:
I have some sad news that I need to share with all of you. My mom passed away over the weekend. As many of you know, I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I’m not known for holding back information when something is important to me. This is one of those times and while and I’m probably giving you way more information than you need, I feel a need to share because to know my mom is to know me.
My mom was 82 and my dad is 87. They still live in the house they built 62 years ago and you’d never know their age by looking at them. That said, the tables are starting to turn where they rely on their kids to help guide them and provide assistance. My dad called me two weeks ago yesterday extremely upset, unable to get words out, so he gave the phone to my mom and all I could get out of her is that they needed an ambulance. I of course panicked, drove over there as fast as I could, not having a clue to what I was walking into, and called an ambulance on the way. When I got there, my mom was having severe abdominal and back pain and was not doing well, but she had no idea what was going on. One minute she was fine, the next she wasn’t. The ambulance took her to the hospital and when they allowed me to go back into the ER room, the ER doctor said that there was significant blockage in her aorta, the vascular team was on their way down and that this was pretty severe. It turns out that she had a large blood clot in her main aorta that was blocking all blood flow to her intestines, which is a big problem. It looked like some of her intestines were already comprised and you can’t survive without blood flow to the intestines. They were ready to take her into surgery ASAP as every minute was crucial. The doctors explained the severity of the problem and the significance of the surgery very candidly, emphasizing that the outcome might not be good. Most people who have this problem don’t even make it to the hospital and many others don’t survive the surgery. Best case scenario they would remove the clot, restore blood flow, only have to remove a small portion of her intestines and have her come out with her abdomen still open so they could go back in to make sure everything was working a few days later. If too much of her intestines were already comprised, there wouldn’t be anything they could do. Not doing surgery wasn’t an option. My dad and one of my sisters were there and they let them come back into the room and we all prayed and talked with my mom, giving her strength. She told us that she was going to get through this because she wasn’t ready to go yet.
Going into this surgery, my mom was not without major health issues. She had atrial fibrillation, a weak heart valve, pulmonary hypertension in her lungs and has been on blood thinners for 25 years. Five years ago, she had a blood clot that blocked all blood flow to her legs (apparently blood clots are her thing J). They were not able to remove the blood clot, but were able to re-route a blood vessel from her heart, down along the side her body to her legs and restore full blood flow. She didn’t lose her legs and was able to walk again! The day we brought her home from that she started bleeding internally, so we rushed her back the next day and she still made a full recovery. About 12 years ago, a kidney stone lodged in her kidney, causing her to go septic. By the time she got to the doctor, she was very sick and had a 5% chance of making it through. Once again, she beat the odds and made a full recovery. Up until this happened two weeks ago, she was walking around, going to birthday parties, stopping by us at 9:30 at night because they were in the neighborhood and baking (one of her passions).
Back to the surgery two weeks ago. Because my mom is who she is, she comes out of the surgery better than the best case scenario! They were able to remove the blood clot, restore blood flow and NONE of her intestines were comprised. The doctor said he watched the blood flow for 45 minutes and it looked great, so there were able to close her up, which was not even an option going in. The hospital’s visitor policy was that she could only have two people visit and it was going to have to be the same two people her entire stay. My dad was obviously going to be one of them and then we had to make a decision of which of us kids (there are six of us total) would be the other. We decided on my sister Deena because her and I can pass for each other so then we’d actually be able to get three people in along the way. My sister and dad go see her on Monday afternoon and she was doing great! The breathing tube had come out in the morning, she was talking, aware of what was going on and even reminded them that she was in the middle of baking something when this happened and that only the crust should be baked, not the pudding layers! They leave the hospital around 4:30 and at 6:30 my oldest sister Debbie gets a call from the doctor that something was wrong and they were rushing her back into surgery. We all race to the hospital to simply sit in the waiting room while she’s in surgery (this is breaking all hospital rules and is a story for another time). She makes it out of surgery and the doctor tells us that she was bleeding internally, but they were able to stop it and this was actually the best problem to have at this point. They left her abdomen open so they could go back in on Wednesday and ensure there was no more bleeding. That means they had to keep the breathing tube in and keep her sedated. They do the surgery on Wednesday and everything looked good, so they closed her up. Fast forward a few days and she’s still not waking up. They lowered the sedation and pain meds, but nothing. She could nod her head in response to questions sometimes, but that was about it. Seeing your mom like this is extremely difficult and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. No change over the weekend so we asked to meet with the doctor on Monday. He said that he wanted to remove the breathing tube, even though it was risky because if she wasn’t able to breathe on her own, they’d have to put it back in and then likely a trach which could be permanent. Removing the breathing tube would help her fully wake up as she was becoming more alert, but wouldn’t open her eyes. He also told us that he still had hope and thought she could make a full recovery if there were no more setbacks, but that it would take months. Months in the hospital, then rehab and maybe one day back home, but that gave us renewed hope.
Between Tuesday and Thursday last week she was breathing on her own with little oxygen support, was awake a little more each day and able to get out a few words, although she was very confused and not yet able to have a conversation or any type of dialogue, but it was progress. It was a challenge for the doctors and nurses to balance the medications to keep her heart rate down (Atrial fibrillation causes it to be very high) and her blood pressure up. On Friday, my dad and I went to see her and she was much more alert, but still very confused and agitated. She really wanted to get up, however, she was not even remotely strong enough to do this, and was getting very frustrated with me every time I told her she had to stay where she was. While incredibly hard to watch, it gave me a glimmer of continued hope because it resembled some of who she is (stubborn!). At this point, the doctors were really worried about her developing an pneumonia because her cough wasn’t very strong, so my dad and I were also encouraging her to cough, which she didn’t necessarily like either. I can’t imagine how painful coughing is when you’ve had a breathing tube in your throat for a week and an incision down your entire abdomen, but she coughed.
My sister Debbie got a call from the hospital Saturday morning around 8am that my mom had taken a turn for the worse a few hours earlier. Her blood pressure dropped, heart rate went way up and she became lethargic. She was in Full Code status, which means they were doing everything they could to save her. We all rushed back to the hospital, even though only my sister (or I) and my dad could go in. We simply sat outside on the benches waiting because we needed to be close to her and there was nothing else we could do. We did this numerous times over the two weeks because otherwise we felt helpless and all just wanted to be near her so badly. Damn COVID. They did a CT scan and found that she had another hematoma (internal bleeding) that was pushing on her kidney and bladder causing multiple issues, and also that her spleen had been further comprised due to loss of blood flow and was now 2/3 dead (compared to 1/3 a week prior). This was causing an infection, which would likely lead to her becoming septic. Her liver was also comprised by weak blood flow, but her Billie Rubin counts were actually going up (which is good). They had started giving her blood to help, but it wasn’t looking good. This was SO much for her to overcome and a major setback. The day before I asked the doctor what his biggest concern was and he looked at me and said “Everything, she has so much going against her, but every day that she doesn’t take a step backwards is a good day.” On Saturday, it seemed that we were out of good days. My sister and dad would sit with my mom for a while and then come outside by us to take a break and get some fresh air. For anyone who hasn’t experienced the SICU (Surgical ICU), I hope you never have to. It is not an easy place to be in for long – everyone is in critical condition, there are no flowers or cards or windows and the stress level is high. Two hours feels like two days. At 4:15pm on Saturday the hospital called me and said that two of us needed to get in there right away. My sister and I ran up to her room (also breaking all the rules and ignoring security along the way) to find doctors and nurses working all around her trying to figure out what happened again as she was “stable” shortly before that. We tried to comfort her as her eyes were open and we could see she was in so much pain and so scared. She was trying to say something to us, but we couldn’t make it out. It was one of the worst moments of my life. The nurses called the rest of the family up and it was time to make a decision.
The ICU doctor that took care of my mom all week was simply amazing. He was kind, caring and honest. He told us we had three options: 1. He could do surgery on her to stop the bleeding and she’d probably make it through the surgery, but the breathing tube would never come out and she would likely end up on a ventilator and feeding tube in a nursing home the rest of her life, if she even made it out of the hospital which wasn’t likely; 2. No surgery, but keep her on medications (machine) indefinitely to see if she made any progress in the next couple days, but the breathing tube would probably have to go back in; 3. Keep her comfortable, get family there to say their goodbyes and then turn off the medications and wait. He didn’t think the wait would be long. My mom would not have wanted to live on a ventilator – there is no quality of life there and her and my dad had already said that they didn’t want to be kept alive by machines. So while the decision to choose option 3 was easy, the next few hours were not. The seven of us were in the room with her and we called spouses and some of the adjust grandkids to come. We were also able to get the chaplain to give her a final blessing. The hospital rules are very strict on # of people and we continued to be the family that broke those rules and had more people than were allowed. Ultimately, only three people could be in the room with her at a time and the other 7 (10 total people are allowed when the patient is in comfort care) had to be in a room and we could rotate in and out. Well, we all wanted to be with her when they turned the medication off, but that wasn’t going to be possible. My dad wanted my sister Deena and I (we are the ones that have been going to the hospital with him) in the room when it was time and then we’d continue to rotate after that for however long we needed to.
People say that the person will usually wait for something – someone to get there, no one to be in the room, a specific time, etc. My mom waited for the night nurse to get there who had been with her much of the week, including the entire night before as she held her hand, never leaving my mom’s side. This amazing nurse, Jayme, went and got the rest of my family who was is the waiting room and brought them into my mom’s room before she turned the machines off. She said that she’s the type to ask for forgiveness, not permission (I think we can all appreciate that)! So around my mom was my dad, my five siblings and I, three spouses and two grandkids. We were able to be with her as she took her last breath and went to heaven to be greeted by all of her family and so many friends. She went peacefully and we are so grateful she doesn’t have to endure any more pain and suffering. The last two weeks were hell for her.
Almost two months ago to the day, we were at my nephew Cody’s wedding. My parents were the last couple on the floor for the anniversary dance (they celebrated 62 years together in June) and later that night my mom was on the floor doing the “Worm” to the song Wipeout. This is a tradition in our family that we play the song at every wedding and during the chorus part of the song, we all lay on our backs and kick our feet in the air. My 82 year old mom was doing that on August 7th this year. She thought this might be the last family wedding she’d be at and was adamant that she was going to do the Worm one more time. Well, she did it and dammit, she was right – this was the last family wedding she’d ever physically be at. The picture on this site is from that day.
I know this was an incredibly long email and I thank you for taking the time to read it and honor my mom. I think her story speaks volumes as to how tough she was. She taught me everything and I would not be who I am today without her. She was the strongest, fiercest, most stubborn, empathetic and loving person I have ever known. She was simply amazing.
We have to take care of my dad now. They have lived in the same house for 62 years and my mom loved to collect things. My dad doesn’t want to stay there long term, so we have an overwhelming task of cleaning out the house over the next few months, but we know mom will be there to guide us. In fact, she already gave us a sign yesterday. She lost her glasses weeks ago, maybe even two months, and we could not find them anywhere. She thought she threw them in one of the bedrooms one day when she got mad (this was not surprising), so they tore that room apart to come up empty handed. On Saturday night, my dad said you know we’re going to find those glasses tomorrow. Sure shit. One of my sisters had a great idea of what to do with the over 100 (mostly new) purses my mom had (she loved her purses). Each of the girls in the family could pick out a purse and then we’d bring the rest to the funeral and invite anyone who wants one, to take one with them on their way out. It is a way to share a little piece of her with others and keep her all around us. When we were clearing off the couch in their front room to start piling the purses on there, my sister moved a bag and there were her damn glasses!! Immediately we felt it was her telling us that she liked the idea.
Thank you in advance for letting me lean on you,