Location: Palm Beach County, Florida, United States

Recently have been told I look like Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island. I hadn't heard that in years, but that is a good place to start as to what I look like, although she had a better bod. I have three boys and have been married for 13 years. Born of a Navy family, in Hawaii, one Mom, one Dad, one sister and one brother. The eldest of three children. BS in Applied Mathematics. Consider Pensacola my home town although I moved every 2-3 years of my life growing up. Currently work in the aerospace industry in an engineering position while being a Mom. Of Celtic heritage and very proud of it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Our Hearts Still Ache

It was 5 years ago today. Funny how they both fit on the same day of the week too. Wednesday, 5 January. It was the Day of the Epiphany, 2000. It was probably around 9AM. I was home from work, by a stroke of luck it was my day off. I received the oddest phone call from my father in law. He was on his way to the hospital, something bad had happened to my mother in law. I got off the phone and started what has become now very common place for me; I started the phone and information chain, calling my husband, my brother in law, sister in laws, relaying data. (I have found now with his family I have become the information and communication hub.) The two sons rushed to the hospital while I found someone who could watch my two eldest.

She had had a massive stroke. While in Church. On the Day of the Epiphany. While standing on the altar. Leading the Rosary.

Father still talks to me about it. He says to me in this thick Irish brogue, “It was the oddest thing. I was praying. I heard her, she was saying the rosary, we were following, and her voice trailed off…”

In my mind, that is when she died. They did find some vital signs; her blood pressure was sky high. One of the church women took her rosary so it wouldn’t get lost during transport and handed it to Pop.

I never got a chance to hear her voice again. None of us did. The last words she uttered were those of a Hail Mary. Just like that, she was gone. Sure, there was great medical analysis and intervention contemplated. The brunt of all the decisions fell to my husband, the most versed in the medical community. We made many phone calls, calling the closest to us we knew in the profession to make sure she got the best care. Pop was incoherent and unable to make any decisions. My s-i-l and I are just that… in laws. My brother in law, he could add thoughts, but he was incapable of rendering the biggest decisions and looked to his eldest brother.

By the time I got there, Son#3 in tow, they had her stabilized and hooked up to life support so they could evaluate the extent of the stroke damage and whether there was any life sustaining measures that could/should be taken. Son#3 was with me as he was only 6 months old and he and I were essentially attached to each other by a fluid umbilical cord since he was still nursing exclusively.

For some reason, later in the afternoon, I found myself alone with her. Someone had taken my baby from me, probably to love on him and provide themselves with some sense of comfort. Babies are good for that. I stood in the room, holding her cold hand, looking at her face, realizing she had that ‘feel’ I have written of… the ‘feel’ of clay. I kept poking at her skin, trying to see if there was any elasticity to it, any life, but it felt like my grandmother’s hand from the year before, when I touched her in her casket. I looked at the nurse and said, “I don’t understand. Is she dead?” She looked at me, sad, yet somewhat bewildered and said, “What you are seeing are the final stages.”

That’s not what had been told to me by the family. The family was completely jacked up on hopes of surgeries to alleviate pressure to her brain and medical miracles. This is NOT what I had been told!

I said to her, ‘You need to tell me exactly what I am seeing. All the monitors, their readings, why, how long this will take, what state she is in, can she hear me, can she feel me, I want to know it all and I want you to be brutally honest.’

And she was. And the horror sunk in that my husband and his family… it was not that they did not want to hear, but perhaps they were incapable of hearing. Perhaps the doctors were trying to be too comforting and over sugar coated things. To this day, I do not know. All I do know is there were 4 people in the waiting room, hoping and praying that she was going to pull through and then there was me, knowing she would not.

Finally my husband came in, he is the source of strength and sanity in his family, and I knew I needed to tell him. So I did. I was not emotional, I just quietly laid it out and told him all the nurse had told me. He needed to know this information; he had decisions to make.

He stayed all night with her. He never left her side. His one sister had been vacationing with her family in Orlando and they made it back that day. He has a sister that lives in California and she made it in at 1AM and as she walked in the door, calling to her Mom, that is when Ma’s heartbeat starting to become erratic and if she had been alive before, it was hearing the voice of the arrival of her last child that signaled the end of her Earthly existence.

From there is a blur as all of you know who have lost loved ones or parents. You go through the motions, the planning of the funeral, the grieving, the rituals. My husband while sitting vigil with her alone for the rest of the evening while his siblings, their spouses, and Pop left, sitting upright in a hard chair refusing to leave his mother’s bedside, contracted a hospital strain of the flu that on a good day would have knocked him out. He went through the rituals sick as a dog, writing her Eulogy from his bed, sick and feverish. I typed out her Eulogy for him to read in 20 bold font, in case he choked up, he could still see the words.

He did an amazing job. The funeral was beautiful and Father sang a song for her in Latin, one he says is reserved for Mother’s of priests. It was lovely.

Strangers come to me often and say, “Are you any relation to Mrs. L, she was the most lovely lady. I was so sad to hear of her passing.” They still say that to me today, five years later and it brings me great comfort to know people remember her.

And when people ask me about her, I always say, “She died in church, on the day of the Epiphany, on the altar, leading the rosary” and then I grin and say, “but you know, the odds are exponentially higher of dying in church when you attend EVERY day.” But what are the odds… of dying in church… on the day of the Epiphany… while standing on the altar, while leading the rosary?


Blogger Christina said...


You do her great honor with the love in your words that are also so clearly in your heart.

I mourn with you her loss.

God Bless.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

Is it wrong for me to say that this is a beautiful story?

Thank you for sharing this.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Harvey said...

... something in my eye...

10:00 AM  

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