A Mother’s Day Reflection

May 14, 2018

I didn’t want today to get away without wishing you and yours a Happy Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day observances have long been bittersweet for me because in late summer of 1997, I suffered an ectopic pregnancy and lost my itty bitty baby – and, as it turns out, my only chance at motherhood. Then, in 2015, Mom passed away from Alzheimer’s. So, Mother’s Day that year was kind of a double whammy for me. What made it bearable, however, was the thought that Mom was getting to spend her first Mother’s Day with her granddaughter.

Today I was really missing Mom. This was my fourth Mother’s Day without her… and it was the most difficult one so far. I woke up missing her… and then all morning I was beset by little things that triggered memories.

Memories are strange things. They crop up at odd moments – and for the most unusual reasons.

When a butterfly crossed our path this afternoon, it reminded me of the time Mom and I were heading home after going out to dinner one Thursday night (because Dad worked late on Thursdays and we decided we didn’t want whatever it was that was in the fridge). We noticed a hot-air balloon with a great big butterfly on it flying low overhead… so we decided to follow it. It eventually landed on the golf course. And oddly enough, it had been Mom’s idea to chase it.

Songs are big memory triggers.

My local Kroger occasionally plays Vaughn Monroe’s “Ballerina”; Mom and I both loved that song. And I always thought he had the most magnificent voice! Go on, give it a listen and judge for yourself.

Or I’ll hear one of the songs she would call and ask me to play when she’d listen to me on the air at work (like “Life in a Northern Town” from the Dream Academy; Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”; “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra; “Lotta Love” from Nicolette Larson… or even “Penny Lane” by the Beatles). Those are the songs that generally bring a smile.

Then there are the songs attached to  memories of Mom that make me laugh out loud. One morning in 1974, over breakfast, Steve Miller’s “The Joker” came on the radio. At the part where he sings, “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker,” my sister Áve and I, being of tender age and having no frame of reference for that particular term, asked, “Mom? What’s a midnight toker?” Not surprisingly, she had no earthly idea. And we had no clue until years later how truly hilarious it was that we’d asked her that!

Another time, in the mid ’80s, Áve and I were listening to WFCS, the radio station at nearby Central Connecticut State University. “Never Say Never” from Romeo Void was blaring from the little radio on the kitchen counter. Mom happened to wander in just when the chorus came on and we were singing along, “I might like you better if we slept together…” She made her infamous “Mom lips” (a dead giveaway of her utter displeasure) and muttered, “Oh, that’s just nice!” and left the room. I won’t even tell you what she said when she heard the Rolling Stones’ “She’s So Cold.”

But music isn’t the only memory trigger.

Mom was big into words. She was a terrific writer – and a fun storyteller. And she used to write some of the best letters I’ve ever received. She used to write me letters all the time while I was away at college.

This morning, on our way to church, something triggered a memory about those letters. She’d write two or three times a week, usually during her lunch break, typed on the clunky old electric typewriter at her desk in her office at the City of New Britain’s City Improvement Commission. When she and Dad came back from a 25th-anniversary trip to Italy, she wrote extensively about that. But mostly, she’d tell me what was going on at home or at work, or she’d regale me with the latest antics of Rehab – a cranky old stray she and her coworkers adopted. He wasn’t the nicest cat (a far cry from our dear Scruffy at home), and he had a penchant for sleeping in open file cabinets and getting black fur all over the files, but Rehab did manage to keep most of the rodents at bay in that drafty old City Hall building.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but those letters were as much for her benefit as mine. I was the last of her brood to leave the nest and she was probably really missing having someone there when she got home after work… not that she missed the loud music and the phone being tied up all the time. But it gave her a connection to her youngest kid. And it was nice to open up my mailbox in the student-center mailroom to find a small envelope with my name and address neatly typed and the New Britain postmark and return address.

Yep, memories surely are tricky things. Some are wonderful; others not so much. They sneak up on you at the most unexpected times and, if you’re not careful, will burn a hole in your heart. If you’re lucky, though, they’ll warm a small cozy place in there and leave you with a smile.

What are some of your favorite Mom memories? And what triggers those memories?

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Reflections on Two Years Since Mom’s Death

April 25, 2017

Tomorrow will be two years since Mom died. She’d languished in the nasty clutches of Alzheimer’s disease for a little more than eleven years and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit her eventual passing was as much a relief as it was wrenching.

Through the ensuing weeks, I was fortunate to have many family members, friends and, yes, even clients, around to support me. My husband and I relocated from Connecticut to Tennessee a year and a half earlier, so I wasn’t even nearby when she passed away… and it took us two days of driving to get back there. Along the way, I kept in touch with family and friends via email and text. I also found myself borne up on the prayers and support of dozens of Facebook friends. Aside from a few moments that stand out in my memory, much of our time there is a blur.

At the wake, we saw streams of people – many of whose faces I recognized but whose names I don’t recall. It was a steady flow of friends, neighbors, coworkers, clients, Dad’s coworkers, a state Senator, the daughter of one of my brother’s colleagues (from a job twenty years earlier), my husband’s former business partner, his office manager, our former pastor, our favorite waiter from our favorite Chinese restaurant (yes, really!)… UNICO members, my parents’ longtime friends and even their longtime friends’ grown children.

Afterward, Cousin Maria invited everyone back to her house, where she’d amassed a feast that could have fed 50 people. Socializing was the last thing I wanted to do, but I went because it afforded me a way to reconnect with family after being so long away. What a blessing that was! It was a little like being in a beehive – a constant buzz of activity – surrounded by people who’d known and loved me my entire life. And there’s something oddly comforting about being amid people who all have the same nose. Then there was the food. Oh, the food! Pasta, meatballs, chicken… every manner of Italian food, on platters piled teeteringly high with assorted deliciousness. Did I mention that Maria must have, in a former lifetime, been an Army cook?

If you asked Maria why she did that, she’d probably say, “We’re Italian. We feed people.” But it was more than that – what she did was a tremendous ministry to our family. She reached out and took a tangible step to help when we were immobilized by grief.

If you’re on the periphery of a loved one’s grieving process, there are concrete ways to help. There’s always a plethora of hugs and the obligatory “I’m so sorry” murmurings. And everyone says, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Trouble is,  grieving folks are so numb at this point, they can barely think of what they might need, let alone conceive of articulating it – or reaching out to ask someone to help.

Fortunately, Jodi Whitsitt (a recently widowed mother of three) has provided a baker’s dozen of specific, real-world ways to help a grief-stricken loved one.

What are some of the ways you reach out to the newly bereaved in your life? Please share in the Comments section below.


A Remembrance… and a Revelation of Sorts

September 11, 2011

I still remember precisely where I was when it happened – the morning our world changed forever. I was standing at a table, over by a window in Father Maco Hall (the old cafeteria of the former St. Ann Middle School in New Britain, Connecticut), with several other members of the parish’s Stewardship Committee. We were cutting out brightly colored felt hands and bold lettering for our new banner, destined to hang in the back of the church. It would read, “We are the body of Christ… many hands, one heart.”

As on so many mornings before, we had gathered to work on one project or another after daily Mass; we were all also members of the parish’s Good Shepherd Funeral Choir. All the others were retirees; I was the only 30-something in the bunch, but despite the age difference, these women had become my spiritual sisters and we truly enjoyed one another’s company. That day, we had assembled to work on the banner before the first of two funerals at which we would sing that morning.

Spirits ran high that bright September Tuesday. It was a perfect, glorious day and we were filled with enthusiasm for the project on which we were companionably working. We teased and joked as we worked, enjoying both the creative endeavor and the camaraderie we shared.

“Who’s got the scissors?” one would ask. “Oh, that would be me; I’m hogging them,” another would reply. “Who drew these letters, anyway?” someone else piped up. “That would be Sister Ellen,” a fourth replied, adding, “She did them freehand.” “Wow, she’s really talented…” the chatter continued.

And then it happened.

Mary, one of the women from the parish office, hurried up the five slate-grey stairs to report that a small plane – most likely a single-engine Cessna – had struck one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

I can still see the faces of my friends – Lois, Ann and “Buddy Grace” – as we stared at Mary and then each other. We murmured nearly silent prayers for the safety of those on board the aircraft and those in the building where the little plane had struck… and then we resumed our work – a bit less gaily now, our spirits tempered by the sobering news of what must surely have been a terrible accident.

But then it happened again.

Mary rushed back to the steps – and this time she didn’t even climb the steps to deliver the news. “Another plane just hit the other tower!”

No accident. We dropped our scissors and ran. Down the stairs and across the hard slate floor to the office. Someone rolled in a television set perched atop one of those high, wheeled A/V carts left over from the St. Ann Middle School days (back when I was a 7th grader there) and tuned it to one of the local news channels. It didn’t matter which one; they were all covering the story.

We stood, rooted to the worn carpeting, eyes locked on the awfulness unfolding in ghastly color, as the solemn voice of the anchor – doing his best not to sound frantic – related what he knew.

Just before 9:30, we trooped numbly out of the office and made our way across the street, taking our place in the choir area and prepared to sing hopeful hymns of resurrection, while our hearts were struck with horror at what we’d seen unfolding on the 22-inch screen moments before.

After the funeral, we returned – like lemmings headed seaward – to the office. Sandy and Mary’s stricken faces told us something unspeakably wrong had occurred in our absence. A third plane had struck – its target was the Pentagon. And yet another had gone down, this one somewhere in Pennsylvania. But the news got worse still: Both towers had fallen. We watched in silent shock as footage of the alternately burning and then crumbling towers filled the television screen, again and again. And now the bottom of the television screen was alive with a news crawl, providing snippets of updated news, augmenting the terrible reports the anchor was delivering. Vast, almost incomprehensible, numbers of possible victims: fifty thousand people routinely populated those two buildings on a daily basis. How many had gotten out alive? How many thousands more were perishing within?

Too soon (and yet, in a way, not soon enough) it was time to go back to the church for the 11:00 funeral. I don’t remember whose funeral it was; nor do I recall a thing the priest said… all I can remember was a terrible feeling of cold emptiness. But then, partway through the Mass, as we sang, I felt a warm rush flow through me and a pure, perfect sense of calm settled over me. I don’t know how I knew, but I realized at that second, it was the Holy Spirit offering consolation and peace. It was the greatest source of comfort I felt that day or in the days that followed.

Driving home that afternoon – it was about 1 when I finally left the parish center – it felt strange to be on the road on such a perfectly beautiful day and suddenly feel unsafe. I can’t have been the only one worrying whether a car or truck near me on the highway, in another act of terrorism, might abruptly explode. Here I was, surrounded by cars, and yet I felt so vastly and inexplicably alone.

When I got home, I remember gazing up into the clear blueness of an otherwise perfect Tuesday afternoon and neither seeing nor hearing a single jet. We live almost directly along an air route from New York to Bradley International; it seemed there was always a plane overhead. Until that day. Nothing. Nothing but eerily freakish silence.

That night, needing to reconnect spiritually and mourn the loss of thousands of my countrymen, I rejoined my parish family for a citywide prayer service. Christians and Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus gathered for the 7 p.m. prayer and remembrance event. St. Ann Church was packed so closely, people stood along both side aisles or crammed in the back of the church and surged out into the vestibule. The pastor even opened up the old organ loft to accommodate the overflow. And again, in the midst of that sense of emptiness and loss that enveloped me during the service, I felt that whoosh of peace – that reassurance from the Almighty – that He had everything under control. Right there was where I was meant to be just then – amid fellow Americans of faith, turning to God in a time of unspeakable horror, seeking oneness and peace.

My wish for you this September 11th is that you find that oneness – and that all the world may come to understand that same comfort, consolation and peace – the peace that found me all those years ago.