Erica Mather Welter, 1898-2003
Erica Mather Welter found the Religious Society of Friends in the last quarter of her inspiring life and was a beloved and articulate member of Midcoast Monthly Meeting for thirty years. Her remarkable clarity of thinking and living was melded with an astounding memory until the last day of her life at 105 years of age.
To the children of the Meeting, Erica was ‘bigger than life.’ She came to the children’s space on each First Day for many years with presence and presents. Firm small handshakes for everyone—“Can I see your eyes?”—magic notepaper boxes of dragonfly wings or maple seeds passed around. “All things in nature are beautiful, and each one is different, just like you children!” Erica recited to the children week after week. Her detailed stories of an English childhood and the adventurous Atlantic crossing on a ship filled with immigrants at the age of five or six became real each Christmas as she led children and adults alike through the proper rituals of the specially ordered Christmas “poppers.”
Erica often expressed her deep joy for being a part of Meeting, “her extended family,” where independent searching was encouraged. She asked many of us to examine our own concepts of God. “Don’t tell me— work it out for yourself!” she instructed us. She held the philosophy of self-reliance and the morality of kindness. She frequently quoted Emerson and left us her principal rule of life: “Enjoy being alive and help others to enjoy their lives.” Erica valued thinking and urged everyone she knew to form opinions from their own observations and reflections.
By the time that Erica came to Midcoast Meeting she had already lived a long and thoughtful life. After serving in both world wars as a physical therapist, she spent many years as a teacher. Erica and her husband, Amthor, moved to Maine in 1960 and spent ten happy years traveling to many countries together before his death. Her “forty-year dream,” the creation of the Thompson Ice House Museum in South Bristol, was dedicated to him.
Erica had other dreams as well and was very concerned about issues of peace and social justice. When she was no longer able to write clearly on her own she continued to dictate well-informed letters to the president and to the newspapers. Taking pride in her three centuries, she purposely signed them all: “Erica Welter, 104 years old.” On her 105th birthday, she was congratulated by telephone by former Senator George Mitchell, whom she greatly admired.
Erica did not want to celebrate her 105th birthday. She deplored the end of her independence and wrote in a letter published in the Maine Times in November, 2001: “at my age, life is not worth living, I am terminally ill, I am ready to die, but the state law forbids any doctor to help me die.” She reflected deeply about her life and believed she could exercise her freedom at the end as she had her life long. The freedom to choose to die, she insisted, should not be abrogated by society.
Erica’s open and frank acknowledgement of the dying experience was unique. She reflected deeply and fully disclosed the process, her mental and emotional states, as well as the physical discomforts, to her friends. This was her final gift of love to friends and caretakers.
Erica at last received her wish and died at her Damariscotta home. She lives on in the hearts of many of us. The unfolding of a small patchwork quilt that the children had made for her on her 90th birthday opened many memories to the young adults who attended her memorial service. As her father often quoted to Erica: “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die” (Thomas Campbell, 1777-1844).
Accepted by Midcoast Monthly Meeting on April 16, 2004
See also Erica's memoir (pdf file)