Cover photo for Madeleine Sabrina Sullivan's Obituary
Madeleine Sabrina Sullivan Profile Photo
1932 Madeleine 2023

Madeleine Sabrina Sullivan

December 15, 1932 — July 27, 2023

Mama journeyed to find her father, killed during WWII, and Beethoven, her musical muse, during the early morning of July 27, 2003. When I had previously asked her what to highlight in her obituary, she said, “Tell them I was German.” An interesting paradox, proud of her heritage, yet rarely returned there, and was, as a child and teenager, traumatized within its borders. Perennially proud of her eventual American citizenship, she came here in 1954, the wife of my routinely absent Air Force dad. Her narrative is a novelist's dream.

Mama was a survivor of WWII, her attention to the subsequent decades was to create havens, physical and psychological, that would keep her safe, keep her fed (she was always in competition with two hungry brothers for what little food they had), and keep her from harm’s way; also raising her children, my sister and I, in carefully constructed environments of outward facing success when the home fires were often, actually, smoldering.

We moved all over the U.S. and each time she created a cozy home, connected with neighbors (many of whom were lifelong “letter writing” friends), and provided for the family. Daddy was, while charismatic, not always there and wrestled with his own demons, finding his solace in addictive behaviors. They eventually divorced.

She crafted a productive life; perennially curious, observant, and opinionated. Mama managed dental practices, tended rose gardens and house plants, fine-tuned recipes, read voraciously, loved animals, collected records, and enjoyed folk music and rock ‘n roll (saw the Beatles in 1965!), all despite intermittent mental health issues and complicated, impactful family dynamics. Her ‘retirement” years included employment at the unforgettable Marshall Fields, Madeleine working with the often-challenging young brides-to-be and their mothers, in the Bridal Department. There was never a better partnership of expert and recipient; Mama was in her happy place.

Madeleine’s superpower was a double-edged sword. She had a sense of smell (her “nose”) that could detect sugar in tea, or if someone’s coat had been worn on their bus ride, three hours previously, next to a woman wearing Chanel (not a favorite). It made personal hygiene a challenge for her children and friends, while sealing her fate as the purveyor of the tastiest food and cleanest habitat in our universe.

Her aesthetic was cozy, textured, detailed, and sensual. There was no one on the planet that could craft a better pot of soup or wrap a more elegant gift. She was charming, yet critical; charismatic, yet often happiest alone. Her distinctive handwriting adorned voluminous amounts of masking tape and notecards, either noting a spice’s purchase date, so she would know when to toss it, or writing down a book title, movie, or song she hoped to consider. She sought perfection in all things and people, often the bane of her bohemian daughter; admitting in later years that perhaps one’s house (yard, kitchen, closets, relatives) didn’t have to be flawless.

Before my time she excelled in school, picked on her brothers, escaped from a wild boar, modeled, nannied, helped run a ski lodge, learned flawless English, was an accomplished pianist, (I never heard her play), and learned to bake, brilliantly, from her grandmother.

If wishes were horses… Mama would have been set up in a gingerbread house bakery, listening to Beethoven, selling her scones, and baking her coveted, gorgeously wrapped holiday cookies. It breaks my heart that she missed her calling, though honestly, she apparently wanted to be a dentist.

Chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and inconsistent care informed Mama’s last couple of years. Through it all she savored my home-grown bouquets, my friend, Patricia’s, on-site pedicures, ripe peaches, and stories about far flung connections to old friends, like Lupita, whose mother, Maria, had embodied a haven for mama in 1960s California. Her institutional walls were festooned with photos of beloved grandchildren, great grandchildren, and a handful of family residing across the ocean that separated her from Germany, but never really removed the German from her. Occasional visits from “the grands” lifted her spirits, eclipsing even the banana bread (with chocolate chips and fresh pecans!) she routinely requested.

Rest in peace, Mama. There will surely be enough tea, butter, excellent bread, pristine cookware, New Yorker magazines, European mountain views, Jeopardy reruns, classical music, floral landscapes, thought-provoking PBS programming, and the chatter of house wrens to soothe your layered soul.

Madeleine was preceded in death by her parents, Fritz and Elsa Hofmann; her brothers, Wolf (wife & confidante, Liese) and Paul Hofmann; her beloved Aunt Micaela; and her daughter, Siobhan Sullivan. She is survived by her daughter, Micaela Sullivan-Fowler (Peter); her grandchildren: Alexandra Ross (Andrew), Drake Fowler, Tess, Jonas, and Barrett Sullivan; and great grandchildren: William Rehbein, Harper and Hazel Ross, and Ingrid Madeleine Stensen (Fowler). Additionally, nephews, Gotz (Connie) and Matthias Hofmann; and especially Gotz’s children, Nike and Noah, always had a singular place in her heart.

In the future we will memorialize her at my garden, one of the places she’ll be able to hear the bees, their buzzing an affirmation she adored.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Madeleine Sabrina Sullivan, please visit our flower store.


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