Read at her funeral Mass on June 3, 2006:
The thing everyone used to notice about my Mom was her smile. She had the most beautiful one I’ve ever known, and it has been embedded in my mind no doubt since I was a baby and she looked down on me. Over the years her smile did not dim even though she was experiencing increasingly greater pain from rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most horrific and debilitating diseases there is. Now, as I write about her, that smile burns through the fog of sadness and the haze of tears and reminds me how much she loved me and everyone in her family.
Mom’s beginnings were modest. She was born in 1930 and grew up during the Depression. She and her sisters lived with their mother and father in a cold water flat in Glendale, Queens. While her father was a firefighter and had a steady job, they still lived sparely but managed to get by on what little they had and lots of love. She went to PS 91 in Glendale and then on to Richmond Hill High School. At the age of 18 she went into Manhattan and entered the working world, taking a job with the Equitable Insurance Company where she worked with an IBM machine that filled an entire room with what was ostensibly the first operational kind of business computer.
Mom and her sisters, Margie and Ruth, were so very close that they were like triplets of different ages. Sharing everything sisters share and loving each other so irrevocably and completely, their bond remained throughout life and has never been broken, not even now that both my Mom and Aunt Margie (who died Feb. 6, 2006) are passed on. Their kind of love is that unconditional and eternal type that poets write about and regular folks hope to attain someday. Mom loved her family and friends so earnestly and unendingly that absolutely nothing could shake its tenacity or endurance. I know that even if Mom didn’t like something we did it meant nothing compared to how much she loved us. The power of that love overcame any kind of adversity, thus letting us know we mattered more than everything and anything else.
After Mom married my father she quit working and happily set up her household. They were very much in love and remained that way for almost 48 years (their anniversary being the 24th of this month). Mom kept a sparkling clean house, cooked wonderful meals, and soon gave birth to me and then only fourteen months later to my sister. Despite our being so close in age, she handled all the complexities of our infancy and kept doing everything else. During our Catholic school days, I recall that she always had crisply pressed uniforms, spotless white shirts, and shiny shoes at the ready for us. She was there when we came home from school, beaming that megawatt smile as she gave us a snack and then helped us with homework.
I can especially remember struggling in the early grades, and Mom helped me with constant patience until I understood math, English, and eventually everything else; I don’t know what I would have done without her quiet and graceful intelligence. Mom had a special bond with my sister Joan, whom she helped with homework, too, and also taught her invaluable lessons about style and grace. Mom was an extremely beautiful woman, always dressed in the latest fashions, wore high heels, and applied her makeup perfectly. As a little girl, Joan liked to dress up in my Mom’s clothes. Now that she is a woman, my sister has inherited all my mother’s best qualities, especially the same kind of ability to love and capacity for generosity beyond imagination.
Mom had such a zest for life and found ways to express it in big shows put on by our school’s St. Anne’s Society. Mom appeared in musicals like Showboat and belted out a song like she was on Broadway. I remember sitting in the audience listening to her singing “Old Man River” and feeling so proud that my Mom could do something so cool. She joined the Ladies’ Auxiliary at the VFW 123 in Ridgewood where she rose to the office of President two times. There she and her friends did a good deal of charitable work and managed to have many good times too, including the weekly coffee klatch in our home that became a ritual for about twenty years.
Mom loved giving big parties at home and also hosted Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve gatherings for our family every year. In those times before she got sick, Mom had so much energy and enthusiasm for all that she did. Even after she was hit with arthritis, Mom continued to do many of these things for years until she could no longer manage. My father did so much for her; he took care of her and us children while still managing his own business. As Joan and I got older, we did more and more, too, as did our cousins Margaret and Ruthie. No one in the family ever thought twice about helping Mom, and her legacy is that we all loved and cherished her so much that we’d do anything to help her.
Our friends were always welcome in the house and they knew it. My mother would make us snacks and we’d hang out watching TV, playing pool, or listening to records. Mom’s love for us extended to our friends and then eventually to when in-laws came into the family. Mom always opened that umbrella of love for them; and Susan, Ozzie, Mike, and Tom were never considered anything but part of the family, and they reciprocated by also helping out whenever they could. When we had our daughter Lauren, Mom was thrilled to become a grandma, and she cherished that role and doted on Lauren and marveled at everything she did. Mom also loved Margaret and Ruthie’s children like her own grandchildren, and nothing made Mom happier than being with Lauren, Michael, and Thomas.
There is much more I could write about Mom, but none of it would be enough to capture her amazing zest for life and immense capacity to love. She was struck with rheumatoid arthritis at thirty-nine years old and suffered with it until the day she died. Increasingly crippled and disabled by the disease, Mom never let that stop her from loving us or giving us that smile when we needed it. We all know how much pain she endured, but we also are buoyed by the spirit of her love and faith in us despite the odds against her. She was there for us whenever we needed to talk, to get a hug, or to just be together. Whenever we had a problem, Joan and I knew Mom would listen and give us the best advice. Now we feel a great void with her gone, but I know she can still be there for us if we shut our eyes and remember that she is with us always.
I will miss many things about Mom, including her funny sayings, which I recall now fondly and with a grin. They included “Stop looking six ways for Sunday,” “I am no bluenose,” “You’re an accident looking for a place to happen,” “You’re like a bull in a china shop,” and many others. But my favorite one is “Every knock is a boost.” I always remembered Mom saying that when I faced tough times. Life certainly gave her more than her share of knocks, but she fought back with that philosophy that boosted her spirit and kept her going and taught me that the best thing to do was never give up.
Mom, I love you and miss you but your smile is burned into my heart and soul. Dad, Joan and Ozzie, Susan, Lauren and I, your sister Ruth and Uncle Frank, Margaret, Ruthie, Mike, Tom, Thomas, and Michael and all the rest of your family and friends are all so fortunate to have had you in their lives and your impact on us and strength of your love will never be forgotten.