Chaplaining while grieving for my mom

The doctor called me at 10:30 California time and asked me if I was Elaine Lodico’s son and her durable power oa attorney.  I answered yes and I heard her say “I am sorry to have to tell you”… then knowing what she was about to say, I barely heard her tell me that she had just pronounced my mom. 

Shock! 

She was scheduled to go back to Flushing House that day (I resist the temptation to say something pious like “she went to her other home”).  I had been calling her for about the previous 20 minutes on her mobile and her land line thinking that maybe she was home already but at that time, she was breathing her last.  The doc went on to tell me that during the night, she developed a very rapid heart rate, was treated appropriately, went unconscious and died at 1:20 pm New York time. 

So it finally happened: my mother died. I was on the phone almost non stop till about 5 pm calling the mortuary,setting the date for the funeral which was fortunately prearranged, calling friends and family and pastor.

I flew back to New York Thursday, February 27with a heavy heart. Friday, I saw my mother in her coffin — wow!  There are no words for that experience.  I was touched that so many people from church came to the wake and 70 people came on Saturday for my mom’s funeral mainly her age peers (mom was 88 3/4) and some people in their 20s and 30s who knew mom when she was the parish secretary and they worked the night shift when they were in high school.  Mom told them what they needed to know and apparently, they liked her well enough to come to her funeral. I was very touched. 

Here is what I said at her funeral:

 

Of the things I saw my mother actually doing, modeling in her life, I will name now 2 of the qualities I want to imitate.   One was resilience or as she would say, “sticktoitiveness”.  

No matter what life threw at her, a difficult marriage, inability to have more children, divorce, need for a job, a childhood that was emotionally dreary and dutiful in many ways with a bright spot when she lived with her wealthy aunt and uncle in Minnesota, a son with a temperament different from hers that she had to learn to understand,  old age, sickness, dependence on others, no matter what, she was open to learning and she lived overall a gracious life.   She had a sense of humor especially during these past few years, long term friends, an avid desire to thank people  by buying chocolate for them (though often combined with a forgetfulness to bring the gift for the holiday she intended, nevertheless, there she did not give up because she knew there were always other  holidays coming.    Christmas gifts turn into valentines day gifts.  Birthday gifts.   And Easter is always coming too.  

Anybody want some chocolate or cookies?   Come help me and manny clean up.  

Another was thankfulness.   She knew how to thank people. And I will imitate her now:  manny, thank you for doing all and I mean all the things you did.  You are not allowed to say “Oh, I didn’t do anything”.  You did a lot that was hidden and simple that made the ease and safety of these last years possible.  Thank you so much.  Your looking after her enabled me to live in California and visit her 2 x a year and call her almost daily.  

Olga – you took good care of her and stood up to her stubbornness and self deception.  Last Friday when you saw her breathing heavily and asked her if she was feeling poorly you did not accept her “o I’m fine”.   “Don’t play games with me, Elaine”, you said.  And because of you , Manny got her to the doctor who got her to the hospital where she died without struggle on the day she was supposed to return to flushing house.  She did not die alone, possibly scared, without skilled professionals and medication to help her in her last hours.   Thank you for all of it.   

Her friends st Flushing House – Hilda, Tony, Philip & Susan, thanks for your friendship with her.   Thanks for the stories you shared with me about her.  

To all the staff at Flushing House,  I am grateful to you for every act of kindness, patience, promptness, saying the same thing over again, and good humor you offered my mom.  

And thank you, mom.    I can not count the ways you offered me support over my whole life even when I made  life choices than you could really get. You got me – maybe not on the first try but eventually – and I could not ask for more.  Thanks. 

To the community of St Michaels parish.  Thank you for many many years of support and friendship for my mom.   You are a living example of what church life is all about.  

May God grant us all many years, many fruitful years, and when those years are over, may we all one day rejoice together again when we leave this way of being with God and join my mother and all who have started another way of living with God past the gates of death.  

 

Now I get to feel grieving from the inside in a new way something that I can only experience now that my own mother has died. What will that be like? i will find out. I pray and hope that my own grief will allow me to empathize with my patients and families deeper. 

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