[Editor’s Note: After my last blog, a few people who had attended my mom’s funeral suggested that I also post the Eulogy that I delivered at her mass. Below are my brother and my thoughts as delivered at Mom’s funeral mass.]
My brother Jimmy and I wanted to walk down memory lane with you so we can really celebrate our mother’s life, and not be left in the sadness of her death. There are some overarching themes of Mom’s life that we want to be sure live on, something for you to remember that really represents who our mother was.
First of all, if you didn’t know this about our mom, she was one tough cookie. If this wasn’t her funeral mass, we would say she is a capatose – which is Italian for the hard head, but since this is her funeral, we are going to say she was one tough cookie. Many of you know, my mother was born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. She came into the world two months pre-mature, and back in 1925, the odds of her surviving as a pre-mature infant were pretty slim. But, not Antoinette. Two months premature, weighing 3+ pounds, she survived just fine. We see that theme over and over again in her 94 years. When my dad left home, he left my mom unemployed and penniless. My mother was devastated. She would say she had no idea how she would go on without him. Turns out, she went on just fine without him. She got herself a really strong support group, she got her high school diploma, she got a job, she took dance lessons, learned to swim, went on cruises, traveled abroad and enjoyed a life she had never imagined.
Last week, when my mother had a neurological event, formerly known as a stroke, it looked like she would never even last through the night. Having heard the news, my brother and I rushed to her side where her hospice nurse assured us that this was not a transient event. Since she weighed 75 pounds and had not been eating well for some time, she was not likely to last long. No denying she was in bad shape. She had orders for round the clock morphine to help manage any pain and to help her rest comfortably. She was non-responsive and was lying child-like in her bed. My brother and I looked it up. The prediction was that she could not go longer than four days in her current condition. Had it not been disrespectful, we would have laughed out loud, because we knew better. When her nurse left on Friday asking that we let her know of any changes over the weekend, we assured her that my mother would be right there waiting for her to return on Monday morning, which she was. Mere mortals could not go more than four days, but our mother? She was one tough cookie.
I don’t know anyone who valued family as much as our mother did. Our mom was one of eight, she and her family grew up in the same town as her five cousins, so she was always surrounded by family. The family all lived in the Trenton/Hamilton area, there was a constant parade of relatives in and out of each other’s homes. We got together for every holiday, for Sunday dinners, for engagements, for weddings, showers, births, graduations or for no real reason at all. Once my brother and I were grown and out of the house, my mother would spend almost every weekend with either my Aunt Rose or my Aunt Rita and their families would fight over who “got to have Aunt Anne that weekend.” If you ask my cousins, many of them would say that Aunt Anne was always there for them, or that Aunt Anne was their favorite aunt, or they would have an Aunt Anne story to tell. Over the years, my mother had various surgeries after which the doctors would recommend six weeks of physical rehab. My mother’s idea of physical rehab was to go stay at my Aunt Mary and Uncle Pete’s house and make the Physical Therapist come to her. I can recall her saying, “Why should I go stay at a rehab when I could just go stay with Pete and Mary and do the exercises there?” Being with family was better than any therapy she could get elsewhere.
Our mother was also very involved in raising her grandchildren. Every week, like clockwork, my mom showed up at my brother’s house on Sunday evenings. My mother watched my children two days a week, every week, so I could finish college. Once I was working, she drove my daughter to play hockey because I worked evenings. My daughter, Maureen and my nephew, Michael, have had an on-going battle for the title of Gran’s favorite for years. At any family gathering, the two of them would position themselves on either side of Mom, just in case one of the other grandchildren was going to try to get in on the action.
I want to tell you the last words my mother ever said to me, but first, let me give you some context. My Aunt Rita, one of my mother’s older sisters, was known for making really horrible coffee. She could make anything BUT coffee. Pasta dishes, sausage, and peppers, chicken, soups, I’m telling you, anything but coffee. There would be any number of us visiting and, at the end of dinner, my aunt would say, “Shall I put on coffee?” and people would jump up from the table to put on the coffee so my aunt wouldn’t actually make the coffee. There would be a chorus of “Let Aunt Anne make the coffee, she makes the best coffee.” Really, anything so that my aunt didn’t make the coffee, although it was true that my mother made the best coffee.
So, imagine this – we get the call that my mother has had a stroke. My brother and I show up and we hang with my mom for the rest of the day. My mom is trying to talk, but unable to form any words, looking to her left, reaching out, as though she sees someone we cannot see. I move to her bedside, slowly so as not to disturb her process, whatever it is. I take her hand and I begin to talk to her softly.
“Mom. Who do you see there? Do you see Aunt Kate? Is she making raviolis for you? Who do you see?
Do you see Uncle Pete? Is he calling for the Bella de Fratella?”
On and on I go, talking to her, encouraging her, in case she can see her people on the other side. I keep talking. My mother says nothing. She gestures, but she says nothing.
Finally, I say, “Mom, do you think that Aunt Rita is making coffee in heaven?”
She looks up at me and says, clear as day, “Nooooooo.” THOSE were the last words my mother ever spoke to me.
I asked my brother what the last words Mom said to him were and he said the day before she had the stroke, he came to visit her and he brought her coffee. She opened the top, took one sip and pronounced, “This coffee is weak.” These are Mom’s last words – not I love you, although we know she did, no last instructions, nothing like that. Just complaints about the coffee.
Finally, I want you to all know that, if you are here, my mother is praying for you. For as long as I could remember, my mother had a hotline to God. I had friends from all over who would call me and say, “Can you ask your mother to put my second cousin’s daughter on her prayer list?” When my brother and I went through our mother’s things, we found stacks of prayer request forms in her belongings. I want you to know, if you asked my mother to pray for a sick family member, my mother had people praying for that person, their family, their medical team, the family of their medical team, and so forth. Our mother believed in the power of prayer. Just for kicks, my brother and I estimated how many hours our mother spent in church or in prayer in just the last 40 years. Here’s the number – our mother spent 43, 646 hours and 50 minutes in prayer or church. That’s almost 1100 hours per year in church. This doesn’t include volunteer hours, it doesn’t include her driving people to doctor’s appointments and a whole host of other things that filled our mother’s life. So, I would say that if you are here in this church, you are someone who is loved by our mom, or by us, or by our family. And, to tell you the truth, even though our mom is no longer here on earth, I am pretty confident that she is going to continue to pray for you until she sees you again and then, she’ll put on the coffee.