Christmas Without Mary

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This was our first Christmas without my mom.  Gregg and I flew to my younger brother Tim's family in Phoenix and we were joined by my brother Mike, his family and my father.  It was not the entire family, but there were nephews and nieces to ensure that things were lively.  But there were times when it was very noticeable that my mom was really gone.  It was the thing that was on everyone's mind even if we did not speak about it much.

I was sad on Christmas day, but I realized that the things my mother appreciated, the festivity, the kids running around, she would have greatly enjoyed.  I'm sure she would have been playing Guitar Hero with the boys and laughing right along with them.   That image of her laughing and having fun let me relax and enjoy the day. That's what my mother would have wanted. 

Tim said a prayer at dinner and got everyone choked up.  He was very close with my mom and I think he is still taking the loss quite hard.  There's a tension there that I have not seen before with him; he's usually the most easy going and social guy, but there were times on this trip when he seemed distant and preoccupied. 

It's freaky, because it just catches up with you once in a while.  There have been many times over the last six months where I've woken up and thought "I should call my mom to --" and then the realization hits me that my mother's not around any more.   But I still think of her often.  I hope that she's proud of what's going on in her children's lives and that we are all living up to the potential she saw for us.


Family

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After the funeral and the reception we had family over to the house.  I was still in a fog for an hour or two after the reception, but as guests came to the house the mood changed.  The kids were playing together in the pool, neighbors brought food, we drank beer, watched the Tour De France, caught up with cousins.  We heard stories about my mother, mostly of the "off the record" variety.  We reminisced about camping trips when we were young and road trips to Allentown and Kingston to visit family.  It was a really nice time.

As my brother Mike remarked the night before, my mother was always the bright light at a party. Her spirit was there and you could see my mother in her brother Ted's eyes and in her sister Carmel's smile. 

Sometime around 10:30 after everyone had left or gone to bed, I went for a run.  The heat and humidity had broken and there was a gentle rain.  I was relaxed and ran for nearly an hour as I've done countless times in the last six months.   But I felt better than I have in a long time.  I realized my mother would have really enjoyed the day.   And I guess she did. 


Funeral

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Today we had the funeral mass at the Church of the Annunciation that my parents belong to.  Many of my mother's golf friends and neighbors were there as well as my mother's sister Carmel and her son Bob, her brother Ted and his wife Joan, our cousins Kevin, Gary, Michelle and Colleen.  I'm sure my mother was pleased to be remembered by so many.  There were more than 200 people there.

My wife Gregg and Tim's wife Kelly did the readings from the Book of Wisdom and from Corinthians.  Father Bill did a nice homily about my mother and taking something from how she lived and incorporating it into our lives. 

Later there was a reception at my parents' golf club.  Gregg and Kelly had set up a nice table of photos of my mother and our families along with my parents wedding album from 1957.  Gregg had also ordered crystal Christmas ornaments of a golf bag with a shamrock on it from Galway Ireland to give to all the families so that they would have a way of remembering my mother. 

I got up to say a brief memorial.  I didn't think I would be able to do it extemporaniously, so I wrote it up yesterday.  Afterwards, many people got up and told stories about my mother, some light hearted, some serious, all of them touching.  Many people said that they had read the web site, which was nice.  I got to thank many people who had posted comments to my mother and I let them know that I had read them to my mother in the final days.

Here's what I said:

I'd like to thank everyone for coming, especially those who traveled far.  Also thanks to those who could not make it, but wrote, called, sent email or posted comments to the web site.  You all meant a lot to my mother.

Especially her grand kids: Austin and Cameron, Brianna and Faith, Ruby and Agnes, Lauren and Brendan who are here today.  She loved you guys and she appreciated that she didn't have to discipline you.

My mother was sometimes strict with us growing up, but I had great respect for the values she had.  I owe a debt of grattitude to both my parents for helping to make me who I am today.  She shaped all of us and she touched our lives.

The last six months, I got to see another side of my mother.  She knew she would not live the year, but she still had kindness, humor and strength.

She accepted what was happening.  But she went with a fight at the end to make sure that we finished saying the rosary before she died. 

Thank you to my father, my brothers, my sister and my wife for helping out in the final days.  They were tough times but they will make us stronger.  That's what my mother would have wanted. 

Please raise a toast to my mother.  Mom, I miss you.


Preparations

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There's still a few last minute preparations for the funeral and reception that we've been working on today.  We had a head start early in the week, but now time is running out and some things are still not finalized.  It will all come together, but it's the kind of last minute stress that puts you over the edge given the circumstances.  I was cursing in the car on the way to the funeral home today after 30 minutes in heavy traffic, but it was just the stress getting to me. 

The rest of the family has arrived now.  My brother Mike returned yesterday with his wife and two girls.  Karen's husband and her two girls came in yesterday.  And today My brother Shawn arrived today with his wife and two of his kids.  With Tim's two boys we now have a house full of kids and they are enjoying playing together by the pool.  When we were kids, visiting with our cousins was always tremendous fun.  It's nice to see that happening with the next generation.  But we don't get together as much as we should and that's a shame.  As my brother Mike put it "weddings and funerals."

My wife ordered some  plastic bracelets for the kids to remember my mother.  They are teal colored, to signify ovarian cancer, and they can add small buttons you can add representing different aspects of my mother's life, a golf ball, a shamrock, a maple leaf, a nurse's cross etc.  It was a nice project for the kids.


Flights from Heck

In_n_out

Unfortunately, our red eye flight last night to Chicago was canceled.  It was somewhat of a panic situation at the airport.  There were no other options to go east last night due to weather problems.  And no good options to get to Orlando even on Saturday.  The woman from United was quite helpful though and we managed to get a flight from Oakland 6:00 am connecting through Chicago and then to Tampa Bay.  Hey, at least it's in Florida.

We drove to Oakland, stopped at In-N-Out Burger and stayed in a sleezy motel.  Four hours sleep, two cups of coffee and we are ready to roll.

Update:
There was a further panic when we were changing planes in Chicago and Gregg realized that her checked bag was tagged to go out on a later flight to Tampa.  Luckily we were able to speak to an agent in Chicago and they got her bag on the right flight.  I guess the prayers from the nuns from St Clare's Retreat were starting to kick in!