I Still Don’t Like It

My mom spent most of the last six months of her life living in my house before being taken to a hospice facility for three nights before she died in September 2011.  I’m thankful for that time and that she was with me and my family during the final months of her life.

Taking care of her was tough though, and she and I argued periodically, as we always had.  Sometimes we said things that hurt each other, and some things we just couldn’t agree on, particularly politics and religion.

The final such example came about 36 hours before we lost her, late at night with a steady downpour outside.  I sat by her bed in the hospice facility.  She had a curtain for privacy but essentially shared the room with five or six other patients.  Two of them died that night.

I asked Mom about her relationship with God and preached a little, as best I could.  She’d taken morpheein and slipped in and out of coherence.  It was unclear  how much she understood of what I was saying.

“You’re trying to trick me,” she said.

“Trick you into what?” I asked.

“Into saying I believe in God.”

But politics and God weren’t the only areas where we didn’t see eye-to-eye.  I remember being in a Wal-Mart in 2010, a few months after my dad died and a few months before we learned that Mom’s cancer had come back.  At the time, she still lived in her townhouse on Marlow Street.

The subject of my dad came up, and she called him an alcoholic.

“Don’t call him that again,” I said too loud into the phone.  “If you call him that again I’m not going to talk to you anymore.

“My dad is dead, and we’re alive, and there’s no reason to say bad things about him.”

A lot of things my mom said made me mad, but I really couldn’t handle it when she spoke ill of my dad after he’d died.

I wouldn’t like it if anyone said anything bad about Mom now either, but fortunately that hasn’t happened, at least not that I recall.

It still happens with my dad occasionally though, and I still don’t like it.  The most recent example came in a conversation with a Christian friend who I look up to and from whom I’ve learned a lot about God.  We were talking about my life, and I compared something I do to the way my dad did it.

“It sounds like your dad set the bar pretty low,” my friend said.  “And the question is are you going to try and live up to that bar or the higher bar that your Heavenly Father set?”

It didn’t bother me much at the time, but it began to as I walked away.  It still does.




Hell Roarin’ Gulch

A big reason for my recent visit to Butte, Montana was to learn about and honor my father’s family, but on my first full day there I saw something that immediately made me think of my mom.


I know this would have made her laugh.

Hell Roarin’ Gulch is a replica of an 1890’s Montana mining town and is part of the World Museum of Mining, one of Butte’s most interesting attractions.

My mom, Judy Coughlin – who we lost nearly six years ago – was a great reader.  An English major at George Washington University, Mom owned and read more books than anyone else I’ve ever known.  She read out loud to me and my sister Moira when we were kids, and I recall begging for “one more page” before bed of books like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and many many titles from The Hardy Boys series.

She was also a great advocate for the public libraries here in Loudoun County, Virginia and we visited the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg on a weekly basis.  Mom went on to serve on the Rust Library Advisory Board and later the Loudoun County Library Board of Trustees.

Judy Coughlin took libraries and the role they played in her community very seriously.  But she also had a great sense of humor, and I know she would have laughed if I could have shown her the picture of the Hell Roarin’ Gulch Library Society.


A Visit to My Grandfather

I never knew either of my grandfathers very well, but I was always fascinated by the Southwest Montana city where my dad’s dad, Cregg Coughlin, grew up.  Butte Montana was a mining boom town in its heyday and was settled by immigrants from many different countries but none more than the Irish.

For some reason, I always thought that my family had gone straight from Ireland to Butte, but on a recent visit to the the Butte Silverbow Public  Archives, I learned that my great grandfather William Coughlin actually came to Montana from Minnesota in 1910.

The friendly staff at the archives helped me find many interesting things about my family and the history of Butte.  Among them was my grandfather’s senior picture.  cregg coughlin






Nothing can bring back lost time with family and I wish I’d had a chance to get to know my father’s father better.  I left Butte, however, feeling just a little bit closer to Cregg Coughlin.

vigilante club


Safe and Wise Choices

Someone told me recently to make “safe and wise choices.”  That’s advice I know my parents would like me to follow and that I’m sure they wished I’d done better at in my youth.

Nobody makes the safest and wisest choices all the time, and, like their firstborn child, my mother and father made some mistakes in life.  Cancer killed them both, and it’s possible that some of the choices they made contributed to that; I’ll never know for sure.

I do know that for me to make safe and wise choices now will honor them, however.  I’m 46, and I hope to live beyond the age of 64 – the last birthday each of them saw.  But whether I live another 18 years or another 30 – or even if I don’t live beyond today – I hope to make choices that will honor their memory and will set an example for the choices my own kids make.

Going Home to Butte

our lady of the rockies
Our Lady of the Rockies; Butte, Montana

I decided earlier this year I was going to take a big trip.  Ireland came to mind first.  Then I briefly toyed with Iceland.  My focus later switched to Costa Rica, and I haven’t yet ruled out that trip.  I did decide earlier this week, however, that I’m going to Butte, Montana, and I booked a June trip for myself and my son Jake.

When I tell people I booked a Montana trip, the first question I usually get is if I’m going there to hunt; no, not in June.  Someone asked me if I was going to Glacier National Park; looks like Butte is more than a four-hour drive from there.  No, I’m not going to Montana for any of the typical reasons, and I don’t think Butte is one of the most popular tourist destinations.

I’m going because I want to see the place my grandfather came from.

Cregg Coughlin grew up in Butte and worked as a miner there before going to college and later law school.  He came to the Washington, DC area around the time of the Second World War.

I never knew him real well.  He died when I was a senior in high school, and my dad said it would be best if I didn’t come to the funeral; still not sure what was going on there.  But Cregg Coughlin was an interesting guy to say the least, and he’s not the only interesting person to ever come out of Butte.

Perhaps the best known Butte native of my youth was daredevil Evel Knievel.  More recently, Butte native and former Navy SEAL Rob O’Neill became famous when he revealed his participation in the military operation that brought down terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Butte was a mining town settled largely by Irish immigrants; I suppose my ancestors were among them.  It’s been called Ireland’s Fifth Province and “the city the Irish would have built if the English would said build a city of your own design and consider money to be no object.”

My grandfather often spoke of a Butte neighborhood called Dublin Gulch.

So that’s why I’m going to Butte.  We’ll do some fishing while we’re there and will definitely spend time in the mountains.  As much as anything else though, I’m going to see a little bit of where I came from.

Preliminary Notes on My Parents

Just as my dad preceded my mom by a year in death, so did he in birth 64 years earlier.  Some of what I write about them here may be vague; really just notes at this point.

David R. Coughlin was born March 26, 1946 in New York State, Jamestown I think, but I’ll follow up on that later.  My  mom was born Judy Ann Elliston on April 8, 1947; not sure where but I think it was here in the Washington, DC area.  I’m just now starting to realize that I have a lot of questions to ask, and I’m thankful that I have people to turn to for that.

Dad grew up primarily in Fairfax County, Virginia.  Mom was from Montgomery County, Maryland although she spent parts of her childhood overseas in the Phillipines and London, England.  Both went to college at George Washington University in DC, where they met when my mom was 19.

My parents were married for several years before I was born in 1971 at Sibley Hospital in the District.  A month earlier, they’d bought the home of my childhood in Aldie, Virginia.

Three years later my sister Moira was born, and nine years after that our parents separated and subsequently divorced.  My mother, sister and I  moved 12 miles north to Leesburg and Dad moved to a little house on the water in Maryland.

He remarried in 1989, but my mom  never  even dated as far as I know.   Dad’s wife Linda eventually became one of the most important people in my life, and she is a huge part of my story.  More on Linda and our relationship to come in a future post.

Time to wrap this up for the morning; more to come soon….