T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruellest month” but September and October have been pretty darn harsh for my college friends. We’re in our 50s, which means our parents are in their 70s and 80s, which means The Grim Reaper has been making a lot of house calls.
First to leave us over the past month was Alice, the mother of my friend Vinnie. Because I work in communications (and have always been good about keeping track of email addresses), I’m usually the one that gets the call (or text or email) and is saddled with the very un-fun task of letting the rest of our gang know about the “celestial discharge” as my wife and her nurse friends call it.
Two days after the celebration of life for Alice, my friend Robin sent word that her father Gil (a.k.a. “Gil The Thrill”) had passed away. When I sent out the note about Gil, my friend John emailed back to let me know that his mother Marilyn had gone to a better place. When I sent out word about Marilyn, I got an email and text back that our friend Jeff’s father had died rather suddenly. I’m starting to fear that my email notes are like those old chain letters, but in reverse. “If you DO pass this along, bad things will happen.”
I don’t want to be a complete Debbie Downer about it. All of these parents led full lives and raised great children. But I know firsthand that losing a parent is brutal.
My favorite author is Ray Bradbury. My favorite short story of his, The Leave-Taking, is about death… but it’s as far removed from morbid as can be. If you’ve lost a beloved parent or grandparent, please take five minutes to read it. And remember what Ray says: “No person ever died that had a family.”
My friend Vinnie’s brother John wrote a wonderful tribute to their mother, and shared it at her celebration of life gathering. He’s given me permission to post it below. But first, the backstory: Alice and her husband had seven kids, six rowdy boys and then a baby girl. When their youngest was still an infant, her husband left her… and she was left with the gargantuan task of raising seven children all by herself. The fact that all seven have been successful is great, but the fact that they are wonderful human beings is even more important.
Our Renaissance Mother
Mom marched to the beat of several drummers—each uniquely her own. Referred to as “The Duchess” in the Farrell family household back in Philly, she was not only captain of her field hockey and basketball teams in high school, but also homecoming queen. She drew high honors in her academic endeavors at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and at Trinity College. She walked down the fashion runway as a model back in the day, and was an artist who picked out the perfect shade of yellow for our family’s front door on Stratford Road. A Jill-of-all trades; she turned an old cast iron claw foot tub into a flower garden, cooked homemade meals for people in need, and started a sharing library for her neighborhood at her last home in Severna Park. Mom was somehow always transforming herself, never being ashamed or too proud to do so. She inspired us all to do the same.
We all could sit here for weeks on end and tell stories about this lady. But I guess that is why Mom wanted this party–so we could share those stories and maybe create some new ones. There is nothing more honorable than having your wisdom passed down in a story, and Mom (or “Grandma,” or “Aunt,” or “Sister,” or “Friend,” or just “Alice”) had thousands of them.
Mom once told me she was born too early, and if she had come of age in this day and time she would have been a doctor, or president of a company or even of these United States. While those titles could have been impressive, I am so grateful and honored to call her Mom. She often sacrificed her own dreams and goals for her 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. Mom was our first caregiver, our first friend, our first teacher who helped shape and form all our strong foundations. Teaching us that there is no substitute for higher education, independence and a good upbringing, she passed down her wisdom, her values, her manners, her strength, her dedication, and her determination using tough love (and the occasional bar of soap in the mouth) helping prepare us all for what existed outside our front doors. And by “all,” I mean every one of us gathered today since Mom was a true believer that “it takes a village to raise a person.” The tough part, she once told me, was knowing when to let go and let us all live our own lives.
The whole family meant everything to Mom and she did everything in her power to keep it together. The glue at times grew thin and dry, but Mom made sure it never broke. When I was young, she took night classes to acquire a second college degree in accounting to help keep the powdered milk on the table and the heat set at 52 degrees. Even in the end Mom was thinking and giving of herself to her world family. She was always ready to send a small check to support various charities, and she asked that the final one be written to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She recently told me an interesting story about why she had wished her body to be donated to Johns Hopkins University Medical School. Mom told me that her father had applied and was accepted to Johns Hopkins many years ago, but his family could not afford to send him there. Her grandfather (his father) was a coal miner. Her father eventually graduated from Temple University and became a doctor. But Mom wanted to make sure her father got to Johns Hopkins one way or another.
Mom was always a task-oriented person — one who did not find fulfillment at the end of the day unless a project was completed or new one was underway. Well Mom… you have done your job and you have done it well. Sit back and relax. We will take it from here and we will pass along your wisdom and unconditional love so the next generations can build upon it. Something you and the world will be proud of.
We will love you and miss you forever. May God bless you and keep you.