Irma Murat 1920-2011

This is part of a series of photos I took of my grandma in her home in Lakehurst, NJ. The pictures were taken with the Hasselbad camera she gave me

I have never written a personal entry on my blog (I even had to create a special “personal” section for this post). My grandma recently passed away though and her presence, generosity, and support significantly influenced my life and my photography career. I thought it was fitting that I write a post about her and her contributions to me as an individual as well as a photographer. The accompanying pictures are personal family snapshots, and shouldn’t necessarily reflect upon my professional work.

It’s hard to say who (or where) I would be without my Grandma. She has always been a provider for me. She would purchase me clothes every year for school, she bought me my first good tripod (which later resulted in a mass accumulation of tripods like you have never seen… yes, I know I have a problem), she randomly bought me a Hasselblad camera (creme de la creme of film cameras), gave me money to buy a two month daily bus ticket to NYC so that I could partake in an internship opportunity at the Polaroid 20×24 studio, and gave me money to buy a car when I graduated college. When my partner Peg and I first bought our house she immediately purchased a tree for us so that we would have something to remember her by. I tried to tell her she didn’t have to buy us the tree to remember her, that I would buy it, although she rather forcefully told me she was buying it (it was one of only two times that I remember her speaking forcefully to me.. the other was when I insinuated that her old model Chevy wasn’t a good car… she looked at me and said “oh I beg your pardon” but not in her typical jovial manner).

About 5 years ago my Grandma had a rather bad fall in her home in Lakehurst, NJ and after she was discharged from the hospital and rehabilitation center my Mom convinced her to move into an assisted living facility. She eventually ended up at Mountain Valley Manor which, conveniently for me, is less than a mile from my house. I am so grateful that she lived so close to me for the past couple of years. I would see her almost every week and genuinely enjoyed spending time, talking and laughing with her. We were always joking about something. I especially liked our ongoing knee-slapper where I would tell her if she found a fella she would like to marry in her assisted living facility I would offer her a 20% discount on wedding photography assuming the wedding was on a Tuesday. This would keep her laughing. She liked to say that she would love to sit in my photography studio and answer my telephone. I would then give her a mock interview where I pretended I was a potential client calling to find out more about wedding photography. The results were amazingly hysterical (and I am very happy I never hired her!). Those are just two examples of our antics, there are loads more. She always said seeing her family was the highlight of her week but it was also the highlight of mine. I’m not sure I ever told her that.

It is abundantly clear to me that I would not be the same person without having had her in my life. I would not have the same sense of humor, affinity for laughing, storytelling ability, or sense of family. I think every single time that I saw her we laughed about something. She was always exceedingly generous especially with supporting my photographic career, loved to laugh and joke about pretty much everything, loved to go on car rides, loved ice cream, loved going to the beach, told absolutely hilarious stories about her past, and was exceptionally proud and fond of her family.  Nearly every time I saw her she would say how proud she was of me.

Considering all of this she did not have the easiest life. She grew up during the great depression, her younger sister died of scarlet fever when she was very young, both of her daughters were born with significant health problems, my grandfather, a disabled World War II veteran, died 18 years before she did, followed by their daughter (my Aunt) a year later. If anyone could have been bitter about their life it would be her although she never, ever was. Not even a little bit.

I never want to forget her face, smile, sense of humor, laugh, or generosity. I will forever miss her and am indescribably happy that a part of her will live on in me.

Here is her official obituary, which is inevitably written better than what I wrote:

Irma (Pomper) Murat, long time resident of New Jersey, and resident of Mountain Valley Manor in Kingston, New York for the past three years, died at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, N.Y. on Thursday, 15 December.  She was 91.  Irma was born in Clifton, New Jersey, on 23 May 1920 to Austrian immigrant parents, Stephan and Mary (Toth) Pomper.  She was predeceased by her older sister Mary, who died at a very young age of scarlet fever; in 1993 by her husband, Harold Murat, a Purple Heart awarded veteran of World War II; and in 1994 by her eldest daughter, Joyce Piper, a world renown epidemiologist.  She is survived by her daughter Janet Demuth, a retired registered nurse.  Irma was extremely proud of her family, and is also survived by three grandchildren:  Cheryl Demuth (childcare provider and business owner) and her husband, Tim Weidemann; Franklin Demuth (computer programmer and yoga instructor); and Peter Demuth (photography and graphic design technician for SUNY New Paltz and award winning photographer) and his longtime partner, Peg Bauer.

In addition to raising two children, Irma worked in retail sales and also as a comptometer operator, a source of great pride for her.  She was very fond of telling stories about her youth; a particular favorite was the time she rode in a rumble seat in her teen years with one of her suitors.  Irma grew up on Knapp Avenue in Clifton, and during her childhood she spent many happy hours roller skating thoughout the neighborhood.  She also spoke of being sent, as a child, to the corner bar for a pitcher of beer for her father, in a time before alcohol age restrictions or open container laws.  At age 18, she got her first job in Manhattan, earning $18 per week.  She married Harold Murat on 1 December 1945 after he was discharged from hospital following World War II, and they raised their two daughters in Wyckoff, N.J., after moving there from East Paterson, N.J.  Irma also lived, briefly, in Forked River, N.J.  She lived in Lakehurst, N.J., for approximately sixteen years prior to moving to an assisted living facility in Catskill, N.Y.

A devout Catholic, Irma was a former member of Holy Trinity Church in Passaic, N.J. and St. Elizabeth’s in Wyckoff, as well as several other Catholic churches.  To her final hours, she continued to be deeply concerned with the welfare of others, especially those she loved.  She was kind and generous, always trying to help others in any way possible.  Irma will also be remembered for her terrific sense of humor, her remarkable tolerance for the juvenile antics of her grown grandchildren, and her surprising affinity for German drinking songs.  Often, in moments of great excitement or happiness, she would say, “I can’t stand it!” to the great amusement of anyone within earshot.

Entrusted to the care of Luke Keyser of A. Carr & Son Funeral Home, 65 Lucas Ave, Kingston, NY 12401.  A mass will take place on Monday, 19 December at 12:00 PM at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Wall Street, Kingston.

In her memory, the family requests that those who knew and loved Irma to continue to pass on her thoughtfulness and kindness to others.  If desired, contributions in her memory can be made to either the Muscular Dystrophy Association or any other organization that seems fitting.

This is the second photo of that series taken about two years after the first one

This was taken in 2003 at Island Beach State Park in NJ which was a favorite spot for Grandma to go. I remember how hard it was for her to walk on the sand to get here. I think that was probably the last time she walked on the sand. I absolutely love that she is wearing one of my Grandpa’s baseball caps and the look on Grandma’s face (Peg, on the other hand looks like she may beat me up haha love you Peg!).

 My brother Franklin and Grandma. Christmas 2005.

Franklin, Grandma, and Cheryl. Christmas 2005. There are lots of allergens in Mom’s house.

This was taken at a super sketchy restaurant that old people frequent that Peg and I took Grandma to soon after she moved to NY. A retired priest hand drew Grandma an amazingly detailed map of how to get there. Even Grandma was freaked out a bit. 7/24/06

Christmas photo booth portrait, 2006

Christmas photo booth portrait, 2006

Christmas photo booth portrait, 2006

At her favorite pizzeria in Catskill, NY. Man, that lady loved pizza. Diet coke, no ice. 4/22/07

In her room in Catskill, NY. Cheryl’s beautiful and colorful painting in the background. 4/22/07

Grandma rarely asked for anything. One time though she asked that I bring her to a wedding she was invited to outside of Wyckoff, NJ (which is where she and her husband raised my Mom and Aunt). An old friend’s granddaughter was getting married. It was a great time and it was touching to see Grandma talk with an old friend. I even put on a tie (those of you who know me well know that getting me into a tie is like giving a cat a bath)! Afterwards we drove to her old house and saw that the woods behind it had been cut down and McMansions went up. As always though it was great listening to stories about my Grandpa and his crazy rambunctious friends.

Mom and Grandma, Mother’s Day 2008.

Grandma wearing a scarf that my sister Cheryl made for her. Christmas Day 2008.

on a walk along the walkway in the Kingston Rondout 5/10/2009

one of the many good times at Mountain Valley Manor happy hour 2/12/10

one of the many good times at Mountain Valley Manor happy hour 2/19/10

one of the many good times at Mountain Valley Manor happy hour 3/26/10

Peg and I told Grandma that we were going to drive her down to Southern NJ on 4/24/10 to where Grandpa was buried. She had wanted to go there for awhile but never actually directly asked anyone to bring her there. This is also where she will be buried.

Peg and Grandma sitting on a bench near Grandpa’s grave. The way Grandma was dressed you would like it was 30 degrees. It was like 70. After sitting there for a little while I told Grandma I would drive her to the beach if she wanted to go. She immediately said “let’s go”. She was so excited.

We walked Grandma the entire length of the boardwalk (well we pushed her actually). It was a lot of fun and a couple of crazy people started talking to me about my camera. She loved the boardwalk. And people watching. 

After walking the entire length of the boardwalk Grandma wanted to sit outside and take in some more of the sights and smells of the ocean. I had Peg set up my lighting rig for this shot and the following shot. 

This is perhaps my favorite picture of Grandma ever. 

What we didn’t tell Grandma about the trip to Grandpa’s grave (and to the shore) was that our whole family was coming down also and we coordinated a big surprise meal at Grandma’s favorite steakhouse with all of her Southern Jersey friends! We pulled up to the restaurant, got Grandma inside, walked her to the table. When she saw her friends (or maybe my family haha) she just froze. She was so, so happy to see them. She was in absolute disbelief. I title this photo “Jersey Girls”.

Grandma’s 90th birthday celebration. 5/23/10

Cheryl, Grandma, and Cheryl’s husband Tim 5/23/10.

We would always have to drag Grandma outside on nice days during happy hour. She liked being outside and the feel of the sun but rarely went unless asked. I think this picture was taken right after I told Grandma (falsely) that my sister Cheryl (who was sitting right next to me) was picking up some boys and driving them down to NYC much later that night. She was afraid and would worry about of a lot of things probably because he watched a lot of Lifetime TV. Luckily she knew I was joking (I think). 5/28/10

Grandma really helped make it a true “happy hour”. 6/11/10

Flowers that my brother-in-law Tim surprised Grandma with. 9/17/10

She loved her pizza! 9/24/10

Grandma wanted to show us the garden outside. The residents of Mountain Valley Manor do an amazing job with their garden. 9/24/10

Neither of them like getting their picture taken much. 9/24/10

Grandma would always make delicious apple pies but when she moved into an assisted living facility I brought her over to my house and she taught me how to make it. The recipe needs 5 pounds of apples (as well as a special huge pie plate that was my great-grandmother’s)!!! She would taste mine and I would ask her what was I could improve upon. Generally she said nothing 🙂

Me and Grandma, 12/25/10

Grandma had arthritis so bad her fingers were bent. She never complained about pain in her hands though, only her feet. She would always say to make sure to buy good shoes. Her parents could not afford good shoes for her and she speculated that is why she had bad feet (certainly it had nothing to due with her running in high heels to make trains home when she worked in NYC).

Franklin came to happy hour lots too. 1/14/11.

Sometimes Peg and I brought Grandma over for dinner. We made hamburgers this night with corn on the cob. Peg is killing flies in the background. 6.21.11.

Grandma loved corn on the cob. Every time she had it she bragged about how she still had all of her own teeth! What a hoot! 6.21.11.

Grandma really loved and appreciated Peg. It’s one of the reason’s I love Peg so much. And Grandma.

On Thanksgiving this year Grandma was at a rehab facility. Mom ate with her and Peg and I brought her some of the apple pie that she taught Peg and I how to make. She ate it all up! 11/24/11

She loved apple pie! I hope we made it ok.

This is actually the first video I ever took on my Canon 5D Mark II. In the photography world it’s a DSLR that’s sort of renowned for its’ video capabilities. I was really just messing around with it. This is a little snippet of Grandma being silly. 11/24/11

Always checking her watch… she is in a rehab facility on Thanksgiving! Where did she have to be?

She was always concerned about others, especially her daughter and her grandkids. When she says “Gee Wiz” in this video, I just want to give her the biggest hug ever. Oh, and she didn’t like snakes. Or cats (except Tony).

I knew Grandma wasn’t doing well having had seen her the day before, so, on the last day she was alive, I left work early, went to the hospital, and held her hand. I talked to her, tried to distinguish what she was saying through her labored breathing, and filled out some Christmas cards. I showed her the card and was so happy to see that she smiled a bit when she saw me in a pink bunny suit (you need to see the card, you’d probably smile too). Although it was difficult seeing her in her state, I was happy that I was there. After about two hours of incoherent speaking she said clearly “milkshake” I asked her if she would like vanilla or chocolate and she asked for vanilla. I went to the Everready Diner which is right down the road and has amazing milkshakes. By the time I came back to the hospital, my mom arrived and we gave Grandma some of the shake. She immediately said “oh my god” which is typical for her to say when she tastes something yummy. She went through stages of sleep, delusional talk, and asking for more of the milkshake. She actually had quite a bit of it (well, ok, I had some too). Peg eventually came to the hospital as well and I remember that Grandma reached out to her and tried to greet her and that filled my heart with so much happiness. After some time I said goodbye and that I would see her tomorrow. My mom called me at 9:46 the next morning to tell me that she had died.

Incidentally, if you go to a diner and strike up a conversation with your waiter about the fact that you’re buying a “milkshake to go” for your Grandma who isn’t doing so well in the hospital, and if you go to that same diner the next day with your grieving family it may not be a great idea to tell the waiter, upon his inquiry into your Grandma, that the milkshake he made was the last meal your Grandma ever had. You may freak him out.

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  • PegI am so incredibly honored to have known Irma and spent time with her. My heart was always so full watching you two interact. She was a hell of a lady! I’m glad she forced us to get that tree in our yard 🙂

  • keithThis is a beautiful tribute to your Grandma Peter. It’s a reminder of how fleeting life is and how we must treasure our precious time with family. It’s great that you have so many photos to remember the little moments that you shared with Irma.

  • AndreaThis is a wonderful post, Peter. I am so touched and your Grandma was so lucky to have you, Peg and your family there for her. Thank you for sharing. The photographs on the boardwalk are especially gorgeous and moving.

  • Janet DemuthI cried and I cried and I cried some more. I am ever so grateful that living here in New York, near her grandchildren, that grandma really got to know and delight in the wonderful people that her grandchildren had become. Your very special bond with grandma, Peter, will continue to fill me with immense joy and sincere gratitude. You gave to her a gift that was better then all the treasures in all the world…you gave to her yourself and your very special love. I will remember your exceptional kindness and love for her always and when I look at you, I will see the very special qualities of grandma that will be reflected back to me in your eyes. I cannot think of a better tribute.

  • Alice BraibantiI came across your beautiful tribute to your grandmother Irma by chance this evening. I was a high school classmate of your aunt in the 1960s, and I remember how cheerful and caring Irma was. She was always busy and optimistic; she was devoted to her husband and girls. Your photographs and memories convey so much tenderness for her. I am glad Irma was blessed with a long life among such a loving family. My condolences to you, Janet, and the rest of the family.

  • June Boldridge KelleyDear Peter,
    My name is June. My grandmother, Elsie Murat Schilling, was your grandfather’s sister. Jacqueling was my mom. I have so many fond memories of your grandma. On the wall by my front door is a picture of the Murat family. Your grandfather was the youngest. It includes and seven children and our great grandparents. I also believe I have your grandparents wedding picture. I so remember visiting their house in Whiting and wondering as a kid about your grandpa’s leg and special shoe. I recently found the original clipping of his injury in Italy and how his rosary took the main bullet and saved his life. I have many pictures that my grandmother possessed. I actually have an 8mm film of your parents’ wedding! The last time I saw your grandmother was at a funeral for Flo Ashworth. The last Christmas card that I sent to her was returned, so I figured that she probable had passed. We live in central NJ if you ever want to take a road trip and see some of the family photos. It’s about 20 minutes north of where she lived.

  • George GrahamThank you for this wonderful tribute to Irma. I think of her often and it’s nice to experience her different expressions again.


What I love about wedding and portrait photography is that I am able to create portraits that hold immense personal meaning which will last longer than we will.


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