Though for the past 38 years, the four of us were a family, my Mom and I actually go back a bit further. And I sometimes think of the five or six years that she was a single Mom, and it was just the two of us, living right here in South Wilkes-Barre. It was the mid -‘70s, and there was a popular song on the radio at the time called “You and Me Against The World,” and sometimes when it came on the radio when we were in the car, she would sing it to me. Many years later, when I got married, I surprised her with it as our mother/son dance at the reception. And for the past few days, one line from that song has kept going through my mind.
“And when one of us in gone, and one of us is left to carry on, then the memories will have to do, our memories alone will get us through. Think about the days of me and you, you and me against the world.”
Some friends told me this week that my Mom was still with me, and that I should watch for the signs, but I really didn't want to do that just yet. I haven't turned on the radio or TV all week, and I wasn't looking for some heart-shaped cloud in the sky. I told a good friend, just last night, that if my Mom could ever send me such a gesture, I wanted to be walloped right over the head.
This morning, I stopped at the store to pick up some photographs of my children that I'd had developed and that I thought I might place with my Mom before she was laid to rest, and as soon as I walked into the store, that song - "You and Me Against The World" - came on. It is not a song that you hear very often. It is not played very much. And I suppose the people in the store may have been wondering why I was walking up and down the aisle crying, saying "Oh, thank you, Mom. Thank you so much."
I thought all of you, who are also feeling great loss right now, might take some comfort in knowing that.
I have never forgotten those years with my Mom, and I never will, because she made what could have been difficult years great years. We had fun. And she was incredibly strong. Stronger than I can ever hope to be.
She was amazing.
My Mom married my Dad when I was nine. A year or so later, she had Susan, and for the past 39 years, we have been a family. And that’s how most of you here today know us, and that is how you’ve known her. And nothing mattered to her more than her family. She loved my Dad so much, and over the past few years, they really enjoyed retirement and travelling. He was just telling me the other night, with fondness, about some of their adventures, and I still have warm memories of being on family vacations, and looking down from the balcony of the condo, and seeing them going for one of their twilight strolls together on the beach. My mom loved the ocean. She could sit and just look at it for days. And my Dad always made sure she got there, often. Thank you, Dad.
Though Susan has lived in Philadelphia for 20 years, it’s really almost as if she never left. She visits home often. Very often. And she called my Mom and Dad pretty much every day. They had a special bond that can only be found between a mother and daughter, and my parents would also sometimes go and stay with her at her home in Philly for a few days. They also traveled together, visiting places such as Ireland and the tropics. They had fun. And if you noticed how perfect all of the arrangements for these services are, with everything so beautiful, that was simply Susan being her mother's daughter.
Mom loved her family. And we loved her. And if the three of us thought there wasn’t even any more room for love in her heart, we were wrong, because once the grandchildren started to arrive about eight years ago, Mom seemed to take love another level. First was my daughter, Mary Ann, who shares my Mom’s name, her mother’s name, and her grandmother’s name. I know my Mom was proud of that, but probably not nearly as proud as I am. Then came my son, A.J., and then came Susan's and Matt’s son, John. My Mom loved Matt like a son, and she loved her three grandchildren with all of her heart. To say she spoiled them would be an understatement, and I know both Susan and I will find it to be very strange, over the next few weeks, to not be getting calls from her, asking us if there is anything the kids need for school. I know she would have been stopping by my house with a few bags of new clothes, and tablets and pencils and crayons, or, more likely she would have just taken the kids shopping with her and let them pick out some things they wanted and needed. Her grandchildren, all three of them, never wanted for anything. And nothing seemed to make her happier than bringing them joy.
Everyone here today, and those that we saw last night, had a unique and special relationship with my Mom. Her sister Joan, is here, who is heartbroken over the loss of who she still considers to be her baby sister. Other family members and friends, some from right in the neighborhood, some who have traveled a great distance to be here today, are also feeling great loss. Her former co-workers from King’s College, with whom she remained close with even after retirement, are feeling great loss. There were many times over the years that I talked with my Mom and asked what she was up to, and she said she was having dinner that night with the ladies from King’s. We met them all last night. She loved you.
Even before she retired, my Mom was also always busy at home. She enjoyed working in her beautiful yard and she was always tweaking something at the house. It seemed rooms that didn’t really need to be painted might be painted, or wallpaper that didn’t necessarily need to be replaced would be replaced, but her taste was always impeccable. At Christmastime, cars driving down her street would stop and compliment her on her holiday decorating. Mom was always making things better. Mom liked things to look nice. And her home was immaculate. And today, when I have a guest at my home, or my sister has guests at her home, and we receive compliments on how the pictures are always hung perfectly and everything is in order, we both know - and we are proud to say - that we are simply a reflection of our mother.
My Mom would be happy - and I know she is happy - that this beautiful church is her last stop here on this Earth. When the school next door opened in the 50s, she was among the first students to attend it for eight years. She received her sacraments here, she sang in that beautiful choir, and she enjoyed the May Crowings in the schoolyard across the street. Three months ago, she was joyous here as her granddaughter received her First Holy Communion. And now, she would want us to be strong. And she would want us to be joyous. She would want us, after a heartbreaking few weeks, to get back to our jobs and our work and to do good things. She would want my Dad to go fishing and spend time with us and his friends. She would want all of us to enjoy our lives and our families. She never wanted us to worry. As recently as a few weeks ago, when she first began to have some setbacks with her health, and I would ask her how she was feeling, she would tell me not to worry, and that she was fine. Thinking back on it now, I think maybe she knew she was not fine, but she did not like to be fussed over and she always put her family first, and the thought of us worrying about her health was probably much more of a concern to her than her health.
In the end, my Mom simply showed us all the same strength that she showed me 40 years ago, when it was just her and me against the world. Back then, I didn’t have to worry about a thing. She made sure of that. And that’s what she still always wanted, for all of us.
About two weeks ago, I was with her at the hospital, and things were still looking OK. She was just starting to get some treatments, and she was sitting up in bed, and after a nice visit I was about to go home, and as I was leaving I told her that she was the strongest person I know. And she looked at me, and said, “Oh, I’m just doing what I have to do.”
And then she paused, and she looked right at me, and she said, “And you do what you have to do.”
It was one of the last conversations I ever had with her. And I have thought of it many times over the past two weeks.
We will all do what we have to do, Mom. We will be strong, like you, and we will always be here for each other, just as you were always here for us. We will still talk to you every single day, for the rest of our lives, until we see you again.
We will never forget you.
And we will never stop loving you.