Mom at 85

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

April 25, 2005


            My mother just turned 85. She always referred to Pope John Paul II as a “younger man.”

Mom is still going, though not so strong as before. She is a little forgetful and hard of hearing.

            On Christmas Eve she had some kind of stroke at the end of midnight mass, but she did not leave mass early.  It put her in the hospital for a few days. A week or so later she had an abscess in her colon removed. That surgery kept her in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Then she got the flu, which dehydrated her. When you are old, the medical crises come thick and fast.

For a while there we though she wasn’t going to make it. She never flinched. She is not afraid of death.

            One night I went up to anoint her at St. Vincent’s Hospital, in New York. Mom was very weak, but improving. I said to her, “This anointing is to pray for you to get better.” She replied, “One of these days, I’m not going to get better.”

            One night after she got back to her little apartment in Baltimore, we were able to get her up in a chair. We put on some of my father’s old jazz records, which she loved. We made her a chocolate milk shake, which she loved. Four of her eight children were sitting around attending to her every need, which she loved.

            Apropos of nothing in particular, Mom looked up and said, “Isn’t this a wonderful evening! There won’t be many more evenings like this!”

            We were all reduced to silence and a few tears.

            Our family situation with an aging parent is a common one. The parents of the baby boom generation are now calling in their IOUs from their children. Those hard working members of the “greatest generation,” like my mother, are now passing away. They did everything for the children in the 1950s and 60s. Now they are dependent on their children.

            My mother, like so many woman of that era, has always been self-reliant. By any standard she is a remarkable lady. Her “firsts” are emblematic of a whole generation of Catholic women.

            Mom was in the first generation of her family to go to college. She was the first woman in the family to serve in the army in World War II. She was a sergeant in the signal corps. She helped organize USO shows.

She got two Masters Degrees. The second master's was in drama at Catholic University, where she met my father. They were both G.I. Bill students.

            After marriage in the late 40s, they started a family. Like so many Catholic couples of those days, they actually wanted a large brood of children. They had eight children in 15 years.

            When we were older, Mom went back to work. Dad was sick and she had to support the family. After he died, she carried on alone. Never complaining.

            After so much hard work and self reliance, it is hard to see Mom weak and frail. We are all conflicted on what to do. Should she live with one of us? Should she get a home health aide? Should she go to Little Sisters of the Poor (a great place)? She wants to stay in her apartment.

            Like thousands of boomers, we are filled with anxiety over this terrible decision. It seems strange to have to decide for the one who has always made the decisions.

            Through it all, Mom is unafraid. She told us she can go by herself  on the plane to Chicago for the baptism of her first great-grandchild. We won’t let her of course, but she does not see why.

            The other night I asked her, “Are you afraid of dying?” She said, “No. Should I be?”

            I said, “No Mom. Not you. If any one has nothing to fear, it is you.”

            “Good,” she said, matter-of-factly.