Irja Orvokki Nivala died on Dec. 22 after a sudden illness. She was 79.

She was born on Jan. 3, 1942 in Toholampi, Finland to Rauha and Karle Toivola. She met and married her husband Silvo in Finland and they emigrated to the United States. After her husband’s death in 1978, she raised her five children as a single mother, a testament to her “sisu,” the Finnish sense of will.

Irja was loved dearly and will be missed by all those she left behind. Family and friends remember her infectious humor, energy, artistic talent, and her delicious cooking, which she generously shared. Her powerful faith in God was her foundation. One of her favorite verses was Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Her family will miss her arms as a refuge, wrapping them in her love.

She is survived by her children Risto, Elisa, Helena, Lea, Anna and their spouses, 12 grandchildren and their spouses, and her six great-grandchildren. While Irja never called the Island her home, she will be missed by her family members who do: her son, Risto and his wife Lisa, her grandchildren Luke, Karinne, Benjamin and his wife Emma, and her great-grandchildren Chloe and Thea.

A memorial gathering was held on Dec. 29 at the Brandon Funeral Home in Fitchburg.