Life Sentences: Losing Mom

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 Thanks for the memories, Mom—and for your inspirational example.

Our sainted Irish mother passed away last week, just as she wanted to. She fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It’s what her family had been praying for, a beautiful death.

She was quite clear in her wishes. She was at the end of her 93-year cycle of life, and wanted everyone to know—no life-lengthening efforts; she was ready to go. Don’t hold her back.

As if anyone could ever hold her back. I took her out one day before her diagnosis, trying to have some idea what to do when her time came. She had a written Do Not Resuscitate document and she wanted it attached to her toe if she went to the hospital.

Life Sentences: Hung Up Laughing 

Just kidding. But that was all she wanted. Did she want to be buried, or cremated?

“Surprise me.”

Any favorite readings or hymns?

“Whatever you pick. I won’t be there.”

And that was what she knew. She would be in heaven, reunited with our father and our brother Joe, her second husband, her parents and her sisters and brother.

“Everyone. I saw them all off. Now I’m going to go, too, and it will be up to you kids to plan my funeral.”

Yikes. But that was Mom. She was almost cheery when her doctor told her she had months to live. It was her body, and she knew it was shutting down. She hoped to just fall asleep one night and wake up in paradise. She did.

Now we are left with our memories of her love and generosity.

There was a time when I needed a cheerleading jumper, made from scratch, and I needed to get the pattern and material from another mom, and the first game was tomorrow. She stayed up all night putting that thing together, putting pin curls in her hair as she cut and sewed. By hand.

It was the greatest dress among all the machine-made dresses at the first game at Lanoka Harbor School.

For all of the times she pulled us from our procrastination disasters with her tailoring and typing skills, or rolled up her sleeves to fight with the nuns for her children, we could not have thanked her enough.

And, evidently we didn’t. One day my siblings and I were all sitting around grousing about our ungrateful young progeny. Usually Mom stayed quiet and just smiled when we complained, but this time was different.

“Don’t expect any gratitude,” she piped up. “Until you die. Then you’re the sainted Irish mother.”

What? Us? Ungrateful?

One time, I was very down about our son, Gregory, being diagnosed with autism and I needed to make sure he was in the “least restrictive environment” at preschool, as required by law. I expected help from his school and found they were not on my side.

I was walking in my yard, not knowing where to turn, when I had a memory of my mother, storming into our parochial school to give the nuns a talking to for saying her son was disruptive in class. She was facing them down alone, convinced she had Jesus as a mighty force at her side.

“When you complain about injustice to any authority, they don’t care if you cry, or threaten, or make a fuss. They want to know if you’re going to go away in defeat, or keep fighting and uncover their incompetence.”

That memory inspired me. For Greg, it was vital that he learn as much as possible in his early years, and he was not getting the help he needed at school. I worried about him night and day. So I called for a meeting at the school. I brought my husband, my friend who edited the local newspaper, the superintendent of special needs, my stepfather, and, of course, my mother.

At the meeting, we all were given a chance to speak. I said Greg was required by law to have a qualified one-on-one aide in the class. They said they did not have any of those, but they brought in the lady who worked in the copy room. She did not know about teaching kids with autism, and she did not want to learn. She’d been hired to work the copier.

At the end of the airing, it was quiet, and the special needs superintendent said into the silence:

“It sounds like we have incompetence in the classroom.”

There it was. Incompetence uncovered.

Goodnight, sweet sainted Mom. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


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