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Wednesday, December 21, 2005


It has been a week since my mother died at home. The hospice nurse and I sat with her and held her hands as her spirit left, a moment that was harder for me than I had expected. I was so grateful that the nurse had just arrived; she ministered to both me and my mother with her gentle presence. It was especially good to have the nurse there afterwards, to talk about how much she liked my mother and to wait with me until the funeral director arrived. The funeral director is an old friend of our family’s, so she also talked about my mother’s strength and wit. From those first moments after she was gone, I started being able to see my mom though the eyes of her many friends, instead of through the loving but sometimes judgmental eyes of a daughter.

That realization makes me sad, but in general, I haven’t felt as sad as I suspect I will in January, when the rush of things to do subsides. Mom died just two days before school let out for winter break, so I had two days to plan the funeral, do the Christmas shopping, plan Megan’s birthday party, and start getting ready for the trip we will now take to Wisconsin for Christmas. I’ve been pretty task oriented up until this afternoon, which is the first time I’ve sat down to write, other than writing the eulogy I gave my mother after her burial mass. I’m not sure I’m ready to say much else about this week, so I think I will just post the eulogy and express my thanks to all of you who have been “holding us in the Light” or sending prayers or kind words our way. Thank you.

I wouldn’t have even tried to get up here today, except that a week ago my mother called me over to her bed and said, “So are you going to get up and give a speech at my funeral?”

She was very weak, and had a hard time talking, so I sat close and said very earnestly, “Sure mom, what do you want me to say?”

And she said, “Just say everything flattering. And then when it’s over, people can say, ‘Now, wasn’t that a bunch of baloney!”

And that’s one of the things I want you to know about my mother: she kept her sense of humor right up to the end. She made lots of jokes about death, which I think was very Irish of her. The Irish like to laugh at death, both in literature and at wakes, and my mother surprised a lot of people at the quirky things she would say about her own demise. For example, a few weeks ago when her hospice nurse asked her how she was, my mother said, “I’m hanging on like a loose tooth.”

Many people remarked about how openly she faced her death, and humor was part of that. When our friend Kelley had to put her dog Cagney to sleep last summer, Kelley was afraid to tell my mother because, as some of you know, my mom always dog sat for Cagney when Kelley was away, and mom really loved that dog. But I knew how my mom would react when she heard the news. She said, “Poor thing. I wish someone would get me a veterinarian.” Later she told people that Kelley’s dogs were waiting for her in heaven.

Along with her sense of humor, my mom also kept her wits amazingly intact during her illness. Although she managed to get me a lot more formal education that she ever had, she was always telling me about things that were going on in the world. In fact, that was how I knew she was really sick last winter: when she stopped watching the evening news. A few days later I knew the antibiotics were working when she said, “I hate that Dick Cheney!”

She certainly wasn’t one to shy away from controversy. Although she never missed mass when she was well, when she heard that the Vatican didn’t want Roman Catholics reading the Da Vinci Code, she said, “Hey, get me a copy of that book.”

In fact my hardest job last summer was keeping her stocked in good books because she went through them so quickly. But even after her eyes got too weak to read, she was still always thinking, planning, organizing.

For example, just a week before she died she had me read her entire address book to her so she could tell me who to call for her funeral. Let me tell you, this is an extremely considerate thing to do for your children because that book was full of auto mechanics and furniture repair men as well as friends, many of whom had left this life before her. By sorting out who was who for me, mom literally saved me hours on the phone.

But there was another gift that came from the phone book, as well. As I called through the list of people she had told me to star, I realized how many extraordinary friendships she had. I talked to people from St. Matthias parish whom she had known for decades. I talked to friends she had met through Irish solidarity work in the 1980s and people she knew from Ravenhill in the 60’s and 70’s. I talked to a friend she had met when they were both patients in Temple Hospital in the 50’s and heard about how they’d still meet for lunch decades later. I talked to a friend she met in the Signal Core during WWII and someone from West Catholic High School and cousins who remembered her from their youths. I hadn’t even realized that this was something I had learned from my mother: to hold onto good friendships.

Planning for today, I was very touched by how many of her friends and my friends wanted to be here today. One even left home at 3:45 am to get here. When I think about the friends of my generation as we face the second half of our own lives, I know that I’ll consider myself very lucky if I can hold onto my sense of humor, my interest in the world, and especially my friends as long as my mom did.

Thank you all for coming.


Blogger Christian said...

Hey Eileen, I just wanted to say that I am so sorry to hear the news of your mothers passing. I was catching up on blog reading just the other day (now that finals are over), and I happened to scan yours and think "Hmmm, I wonder how she's doing?" And then today I had the chance to sit down in the coffee shop for the first time in a long while and just relax and talk with friends and I thought of you again. So I'm sad to hear that your mom has passed on, and I hope that you are doing ok. Feel free to ping me when you have time for coffee in the coming weeks...

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

My condolences on your loss, Eileen. From your descriptions of your mother, I think I would have liked to have known her. Your eulogy was lovely -- thank you for sharing it.

Holding you and your family in the Light...

4:10 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Your eulogy was so lovely, and it sounds like you did just a wonderful job of capturing who your mother was and holding onto that throughout the entire process.

Thank you for sharing this, and you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

-- Amanda.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

What a lovely eulogy. As a virtual stranger, it seems strange to try to offer comfort, but I am holding you in the Light.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Libby said...

This is indeed a lovely eulogy, Eileen. I am sorry for your loss, but so glad you were able to be with your mother during these last days, and to express what that meant so beautifully. Thank you for sharing this with strangers like me; I feel lifted up by your words.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Holding you in the Light. What a touching tribute. Thank you for sharing it.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Ellie said...

I'm so sorry to read of your mom's death. Thank you for sharing your eulogy, it was beautiful. Your mom sounded like a wonderful and amazing woman. I'll be thinking of you and your family through Christmas and the coming tough weeks.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thank you all for your kind words. I hope you all have a blessed Christmas.

4:23 PM  
Blogger elise said...

I wish you peace.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I, too, am sending thoughts of comfort and peace your way. Your mom sounds like quite a woman and it sounds like it was a blessing for both of you to have her last weeks together.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Anjali said...

So sorry for your loss. Sending thoughts of comfort your way.

6:24 PM  
Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mother, Eileen. She sounds like a remarkable woman. I'm so sorry for your loss.

6:25 PM  
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9:29 PM  

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