“We do not grieve without first loving. We do not love without gaining more than we could ever lose”
We just completed the commemoration of a phenomenal life with our Mother’s burial on September 8, 2015.
The person we remember — our beloved Mother — was far more complex than she allowed us to know. Her most famous persona was the happy optimist — someone who took on whatever life sent her way with humor, incredible resourcefulness, grit, gratitude and joy. One of my cousins, with whom Mom corresponded over the years, said he remembered that she “lit up the room” when she entered. . .that she was the most sincerely joyful person he knew. Last time he visited we snuck a bottle of wine into her assisted living room, and we all had a party.
Two weeks ago, before and during Hospice, we worked hard to help her understand her situation and be in charge of whatever choices she had to make. She understood and she chose.
Typical for Mom, she looked this situation in the face and told us all not to be afraid – this was an adventure. The same lady struggled her way out of the comfort of the medicines that helped her sleep, breathe and not panic so that she could entertain her family and not miss anything.
Her last week was nothing less than a display of humor, courage, appreciation for everyone and everything, and the sheer joy that she was capable of. She took a selfie with a great-granddaughter, remembered the bracelet made by another, joked with grandkids and inlaws. When a daughter-in-law left to feed her dogs Tuesday, she told her to come back soon — prophetically.
She spent the day doing Facetime, phone calls, visits. Tuesday was the day to do it all, and she seemed to know, and many of our very large family were able to come Monday or Tuesday, some from considerable distance. She inspired that kind of love.
She wanted to be sure she talked to everyone, even though it quickly became difficult, requiring a great deal of energy and focus. The last huge smile and response was prompted by a grandson and his baby boy, who visited Tuesday night. Right after that one of her sweet granddaughters, who lost her precious 2 ½ son to cancer, talked to her for an hour, though she was no longer able to respond.She and Mom had talked many times before, and this was just a continuation of their shared loves.
My brother Dennis and I got to spend the last few hours of her consciousness with her, and comfort her through breathing difficulties – a very great privilege.The last voice she heard and responded to was Dennis, who had promised our Dad when he was dying 30 years ago that he would take care of Mom.
She had some tough times as a child. I only found out about some of them because I asked for details. Otherwise, she seldom mentioned anything sad.
She never saw her father after he left, when she was five. He moved to Los Angeles and died in 1961. Her grief was a quiet thing. She simply said it made her sad that he never showed an interest in his two children and their lives.
She had a brother who died before she was born – Jack – probably about 15 months old, and probably from Scarlet fever. I never knew about him until I asked her about his baby picture in an old album. There was little discussion of such things. She eventually surmised that her folks seemed to be disappointed that she was a girl. They were hoping for another boy, who didn’t come until several years later.
Her Mom, our Nonnie, regularly introduced her children by saying, “And this is Jeannie. She’s not too pretty, but she’s a really sweet girl.” I am still forgiving my her for that!
After Non divorced and brought Mom and Terry to Chicago, she was not allowed to stay at her Cousin Nell’s boarding house for gentlemen. (Non was too pretty, and it would have caused scandal.) So they were in the city alone, a divorced Mom and her two children, scrambling for places to stay, and Non, with only two years of high school, scrambled for a job, then for babysitters. Mom and Terry ended up staying during the week at an orphanage since daycare did not exist. Mom said it was really hard on Terry.
During the depression, after Non and Papa Tomaso were married,she remembered Pop putting newspaper in his shoes to cover the holes, and walking downtown Chicago to look for a job. Nothing panned out in time, they were evicted and homeless. She remembers leaving in the middle of the night. The family had to split up just to survive. Uncle Terry lived with Non and Pop, sharing a home with Pop’s brother, Joe, in a not-so-good area of Chicago. Mom lived with Papa’s family, Anthony and Rose Tomaso and their daughters. This is where she quickly caught on to the joys and mechanics of big family life, and learned to sew from Rose. She was a part of the family for many years. When Rose was dying, and the family was all in with her, even though they loved her dearly she perceived herself as less than a daughter.
Many of these tough things influenced later decisions.
She spoke always of the good memories — girlfriends who walked from Rogers Park to Evanston and pooled their change to buy cigarettes to practice smoking, sororities; boyfriends, and how she had standing dates with different boys on different nights of the week and weekend; and of course she talked about sewing and cooking. She said when she had been dating our Dad for a year he unceremoniously announced that they had never kissed, and she said they would have to do something about that.
Voila! Here we all are!
Her children and grandchildren remember that she had incredibly soft hands. This was a gift from God, to be sure, because those hands worked harder than most — upholstering, making drapes, suit coats and dresses, hundreds of loaves of bread and coffee cake, gardens, canning and freezing– the immeasurable chores of raising eleven children. She even butchered and dressed out a lamb, and then cooked part of it for a great dinner. But that’s another story.
Our Mother’s life was created as it unfolded – on the fly – as the perfect role models have never been available. So her spontaneous response to the needs around her was an expression of her truest self.
She wanted us to be able to take care of ourselves, for sure; but she wanted very much for us to be kind. Her heart was open, and she always saw the good. She was ready for the unexpected.
Each of our private celebrations of our Mother and friend will be influenced by our personal beliefs on life and death.
Death is a mystery, and I have heard from my dear siblings a variety of thoughts on it.
For some of us, death is the end of suffering, disappointment, disease, and the physical enjoyment and richness that has been our life. And for all who believe this, our spirit is something that remains in the memories of those we have touched to be further passed on – their legacy to us and ours to them.
And for some of us, our spirit is the living part of us that can never die, even though our bodies, with which we have changed this earth and many people, will finally rest.
I wish our brother, Phil, or little Braden, would sneak back and share some particulars!
But for Mom, there was life after death.
The immeasurable Love that brought us all into being has just got to be a sight to behold!
We hear about Judgment! What would it be for my Mom?
I hope for my sweet Mother what I would hope for any child facing a loving parent. And that is that what we call judgment is that moment when we see and understand what we might have done better.
And then that immense beauty, that indescribable love says, “Look at all the amazing things you have done with what I gave you. Now, my beautiful child, let me hold you because I love you so much!”
Her greatest adventure has started.