My mother passed away last month. She was 90 years old. It has taken me this month to sort out my thoughts and feelings. She was not in good health, in fact, every day for her was pain. Her end of life was a series of sorties from her bed to the sofa, and then back to bed. It took all the effort she could muster to make the walk, and often stopped to rest on the way. Toward the end she prayed fervently to be allowed to die.
It was an ignominious end for a woman that had seen so much in her life and overcome obstacles that would have defeated most of us. She had been born into poverty, the last of eight children, to Irish Catholic dirt farmers. From the onset of her life she learned how to live off of what they could grow themselves. She was taught to enjoy the smallest of things, and to take pride in the work of her own hands. Each day was a struggle for her as a child. It was the time of the great depression. Just when things began to get better, World War II took four of her five brothers away to the fight. At the end of the war when they were finally returning home, her rock, her father passed away suddenly and her mother became totally bedridden.
Instead of being adversely affected by her upbringing she instead triumphed through it. From her older brothers and sisters she learned the value of education, all of them going on to successful lives in their occupations. She learned the value of work and money from her parents who taught her how to manage what she had. The lessons she learned were probably pretty tough ones, but it accomplished a much greater achievement than mere survival. She became a lifelong learner and she was one of the most honest people I have ever known. She once showed me a letter that she had received from J. Edgar Hoover asking her to come and work for the FBI back when she was still a teenager. Quite an accomplishment for a young woman in the mid-1940's, she was a smart cookie.
Throughout my childhood, and even now as a senior citizen she could offer me anecodotal snippets of her experiences that often-had direct bearing on the conversation that we were engaged in. She never told them to illustrate her strife, she told them because she was proud of them. She was proud of her life, and she was proud of her children whom she also trained to be lifelong learners and individuals of stature.
She was proud to be of Irish heritage. St. Patrick’s Day was as good as a holy day of obligation for her, and she expected her children to be in attendance for it. I watched her weep openly when we would come home and accompany her to mass. She was generous, and she was intuitive. She still did the Sunday Times crossword puzzles, she could still beat us all at Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. And even when she felt at her worse, she still expressed interest in whatever we children and grandchildren were involved in.
I too am proud to be of Irish descent, but the longer I ruminate on the passing of my mother the more I realize that her life, the strife, the struggle to rise above her station of birth, the yearning for knowledge, those are my heritage. it is a heritage that I am proud of. I will miss my mother tremendously, as I do at this very moment, but for her sake I am happy that she is finally no longer in pain and doomed to a poor quality of life. But I am forever grateful for what she taught me, by her example.