Carole Harper was my mother, so it’s only fitting that I write the details of her life as it comes to an end. But her life was lived long before I was born, and she contributed far more to this world than just bringing me into it. There are things about my mother that I don’t know, and there are facts and memories that I’m sure I have jumbled or have morphed into something of my own. I know more about her life once my own began, so I’m hoping friends will fill in the gaps, correct the misinformation, and share things that I would have never known.
For those of you who know me, the hope is you’ll be able to hear me in the text below. For those of you who don’t, know that I’m probably more like my mother than I have ever admitted before, so I share her wit, her snark, and I never shy away from a laugh.
Thank you for the love and support.
Carole Anne Prusinski was born on Friday, January 26, 1951. She was the daughter of Mitchell and Elmira (Myra) and the sister of James (Jim), growing up in Garfield Heights on East 111th Street. She attended Saint Therese School where her success allowed her to skip the fourth grade. She took piano lessons as a kid and called her grandmother Busha. Her father died on Valentine’s Day when she was 17 years old. That was the first day she smoked a cigarette in front of her mother.
She went to Marymount High School before graduating from Garfield Heights High School in 1968. While briefly attending Ohio State University, she had the chance to go to Woodstock, but went to Panama City instead (what!?).
She got married, the first time, and would then be known as Carole Lackey. She lived in Texas and Massachusetts. And then she got divorced, the first time.(We’re gonna wink along the way here, folks – Carole didn’t hide the husband count!)
She started a job at Ford Motor Credit Company in 1972. She got married again – this time to be known as Carole Graham. She got divorced again.
On October 20, 1978 she married Phillip Harper and from then on would be known as Carole Harper. They honeymooned in Aruba – or maybe it was just a vacation, but it was a trip she would talk about for the rest of her life. They lived at Reserve Square and then built a house on Shadywood Lane in Twinsburg. She planted the Christmas tree in the front yard, and then moved on to artificial Christmas trees after learning she was allergic to pine.
Her wedding ring was an emerald, which would also be the birthstone of her only daughter. On May 4, 1981 Lauren Vanessa Harper was born, and Carole Harper became a mother. She was scared to be a mother; scared of what the future would look like. She said so in a letter she wrote to Lauren when she was seven weeks old (which was just discovered): “You’ve been teaching me so many new feelings. I hope I can show you as much as you’re teaching me.”
Carole and Phil divorced in 1985. She never married again (they don’t say the fourth time’s the charm, do they?!). She lived her life on her own terms. She had many friends and an infectious laugh. She made the best pasta salad, and once someone found a Barbie shoe in it (sorry, Mom). She never left the house without her face on, and her fingernails were always painted. She had a heck of a green thumb and loved springtime best. She broke both of her ankles, each one on two separate occasions, and liked to tell people, “Well, I’ll never skydive again.”
On June 6, 1995 her life changed forever. Her sobriety date. For the next 26 years, 10 months and 23 days, she would work the program and keep coming back. She immersed herself in the AA community in Cleveland, and she loved sharing the gift with others. She made lifelong friends whom she could call on no matter where life took her.
In 2000, after 28 years of working at Ford Motor Credit Company, Carole’s job was transferred to Greenville, South Carolina. She packed up her life and headed south. She built a house, and that green thumb of hers meant she was able to actually grow beautiful flowers in the dense red clay soil of South Carolina.
After retiring from Ford Motor Credit Company, she worked at World Market for several years. It seemed like she worked there just to shop there! Friends and family were often on the receiving end of World Market gifts, which were always beautifully wrapped, and if there was a card, watch out for the confetti!
On April 17, 2010 Carole gained a son-in-law, Adam Barger, and the nudging to make her a grandmother began. She made a promise to Lauren and Adam that she’d quit smoking when a baby was on the way, so she did just that in early 2015. Margot Lucille Barger was born on July 11, 2015, and Carole became a grandma. Being Grammy was Carole’s greatest joy. She loved her Margot-Lu and constantly showered her with flamingo trinkets, a nod to her first grandbaby being born in Miami.
Carole became a grandma for the second time when Campbell Jane Barger was born in Cleveland on December 7, 2017. Grammy liked to call her Cami (much to her parents’ eye rolls). After Campbell was born, Carole decided it was time to head back to Cleveland. Her family was there. Her AA community was there. It was time to come home.
In 2018 Carole left Greenville, South Caroline and moved with her cat, Mandu, to Macedonia, Ohio. She bought a cute condo and made her final home only 20 minutes away from her granddaughters – it sure beat a flight or a nine-hour drive! Proximity to family was great, but the move back also gave Carole the opportunity to reinvest in the AA community that had helped her get sober. As an “old-timer,” she came back to life, being surrounded by her people. She was happy to be close for family birthday parties and get-togethers, but it was the everyday meetings and moments with her “girls” that kept her shining.
In 2019, much to Carole’s surprise, and to everyone else’s, she became a grandma for the third time. Phillip Alton Barger was born on November 19, 2019, and Grammy’s world was complete. She got to meet Phillip the day he was born, and she was right where she needed to be. She was Grandma. She loved hugs. She loved to spoil GoGo, Cami, and Bubba. She had an enormous blue sack that came out on every holiday filled to the brim with presents, just to watch their little eyes light up. She always brought special treats, and the kids knew right where to look in her purse to find them.
In the fall of 2021, in an attempt to pass down the aforementioned green thumb, and in the hopes of a bright and colorful spring, Carole supervised as Lauren planted nearly 400 daffodil and tulip bulbs. Later that year, Carole was diagnosed with lung cancer. While this came as a total shock to her friends and family, she took the diagnosis like the tough lady that she always was, and went swiftly into dedicating herself to treatment. She enrolled in a clinical trial via University Hospital where she completed chemo and radiation and had recently begun monthly immunotherapy injections. She was kicking cancer’s ass. Her most recent scans had shown such a favorable response to treatment that all were optimistic. No one expected that she would leave us when she did.
On Thursday, April 28, 2022 Carole suffered a massive stroke that took her almost immediately. She was transported via EMS to Marymount Hospital and then transferred to Cleveland Clinic Main Campus. Lauren got a phone call at 9:38pm that night informing her of the news and the instructions to get there quickly.
Carole took her last breath shortly after 4am Friday, April 29, 2022. Lauren and Adam were by her side. Her heart stopped beating shortly after. They told her how proud of her they were. They told her how much they loved her. They told her she was the best Grammy ever. They told her that her nails looked fantastic. They told her the tulips were beautiful. They hugged her and didn’t want to let go. It has been amazing to see the love for Carole, and the family hopes her legacy and the stories will continue.
Those who may wish to make contributions in her name may do so to Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland District Office,1557 St. Clair Avenue NE, Cleveland, OH 44114.
FRIENDS MAY CALL AT BROWN-FORWARD, 17022 CHAGRIN BLVD., SHAKER HTS., OH 44120 FRIDAY, MAY 6TH FROM 4PM UNTIL 7PM. For additional information, directions, and an opportunity to sign the guest book, please log online to www.brown-forward.com
Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland District Office
1557 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland OH 44114