Long enough for it to have sunk in to some degree. Not nearly long enough to understand the full impact of what life will look like moving forward.
I've gone back and forth about whether to publish her eulogy here. I've decided to do it. There was nobody quite like Mom, and her life continues to touch others to this day. So, for just a glimpse at what my mother did for the world while she was in it... here you are:
It’s usually difficult to describe someone using only one word, so difficult that most wouldn’t even try. But Mom? She was the epitome of that word: preparing. In the very active sense, in an ongoing manner, and in every area of her life.
Mom lived her life preparing for things ahead. So much so, that many may have described her as a catastrophizer, envisioning all the most unlikely and tragic outcomes to any scenario – but this was only in an effort to prepare for and avoid any problems before they became problems.
Growing up the oldest of 4 children, Mom knew they never had a lot materially, yet she always reminisced fondly on what a happy childhood and family she had. At her core, she knew what was most important, and had a deep appreciation for the meaning and beauty that could be found in the simplest pleasures. She brought that core value to her family as an adult, preparing us to understand and embrace the meaning of family above material things.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows our family, that Mom often became the brunt of our jokes. She always took it in stride, feigning offense, but laughing along with us in the end. She was an easy target, and she knew it. And all of those stories and jokes we had about her revolved around her life mission to be prepared, for her family, for her loved ones, for God… her purpose was ultimately about preparing those she loved for the important things in this life, and the next. Whether it was driving us 3 hours early to a standardized test, making lists for school supplies in April, (making lists for EVERYTHING, actually), orchestrating her 7-Fish Dinner for Christmas Eve while cleaning up on Christmas Day (yes, 364 days in advance), writing instructions to remind us what to pack, and what to do if we were going somewhere without her (these instructions became incredibly detailed for Dad), putting all of OUR appointments on HER calendar, even when we were adults, to ensure we never forgot anything important, or stocking her pantry as if preparing for the apocalypse, Mom’s priority was to make things comfortable, easy, and perfectly beautiful, for us.
One classic story that will live on as long as her daughters do, is the Thanksgiving she hesitantly agreed to attend at my home. Mom was the Ultimate Hostess, so having her attend a major holiday somewhere she couldn’t prepare for every detail and ensure perfection (as her holidays always were) was difficult for her! She finally agreed, along with the offer to bring just about every side dish and dessert… but then she heard that Jennifer planned to bring the pumpkin pie.
This of course worried Mom, the planner. If Jennifer brought the pumpkin pie, a staple for Thanksgiving, she couldn’t prepare for the outcomes. Jennifer was planning to visit Laura in the city that morning for the parade, then give Laura a ride to my house for dinner. Mom used this information to her advantage…
“Jennifer, why don’t I just make the pumpkin pie. You’re going to New York that morning… where do you plan on putting it while you’re at the parade??”
“Mom, it’s fine, it’ll keep in the car. I can put it on the passenger’s seat.”
“But, you have to drive Laura! What if she sits on it??!!”
As you can imagine, we never let her live that one down. It’s one of many, many classic quotes from my Mom that will go down in history for the P___ family, but it’s also a perfect example of my Mom’s heart. More than anything, she wished to make things, especially the important things, as perfect as possible for those she loved. For my first hosted Thanksgiving, she wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing any key side dishes or desserts, and that the holiday was a success. For Dad, she brought the weird stuff only he will eat, like pearl onions, so that his Thanksgiving was as traditional as always, despite the change in venue. For Christine, she left a fridge stocked with fish at home just in case, honoring the known fact Christine hates Thanksgiving dinner and loathes turkey. For Jennifer and Mackenzie’s trip to the city, she didn’t want it spoiled because they forgot the pie, had to drive back to get it, and miss part of the parade as a result. And for Laura… well, she didn’t want her to ruin her nice holiday outfit by sitting in a pie!!
That was Mom. Preparing ahead for every detail, for others. Her life was in service to her family and loved ones. Her vocation was as a wife and mother, and she took to it like a force to be reckoned with. Her wants and needs were very simply to prepare a home, and a good, holy life, for her husband and children.
Of course it sounds simple, but in practice, there was never a moment’s rest. Every meal home cooked, well-balanced (“I need a vegetable!” was a common meal prep utterance), and served with intention (“Have more, come on, I made it special for you!”); a home that was so organized, she had a specific “ribbon drawer” for gift wrapping; a house so tidy and clean, you could quite literally eat off the floor, unless she had just waxed them, in which case, you’d better stay far away or you’d be sorry; landscaping and gardening that looked like it was straight out of a magazine.
But amidst these household preparations was also a passionate dedication to her children’s school and extra-curricular life, and a great sentimentality for family history, childhood memories, and life experiences; this made for incredibly touching and artistic scrapbooks, slideshows, and gift-giving, as when it came to Mom, every single detail was thought out and given a uniquely personal touch for the intended recipient.
While dealing with her diagnosis and treatments earlier this year, her dear friend Valerie helped to organize meal drop-offs for the family. Mom spent roughly two weeks researching and looking online for the perfect thank you gift. “I can’t believe she’s doing all of this – do you know she had a huge tree fall on her garage during the storm?? She’s dealing with so much, already…” she told us. “Mom. You have CANCER. I think she’s more than happy to do this for you!” But that was Mom. Always focused on the other.
Preparing her home, and preparing all of the details that surrounded it was a daily, sometimes hourly task that kept Mom living a purposeful life. The life she loved – serving her family, friends- and God.
I read an article that likened our Mother Church to Italian mothers. And it resonates all too well, in Mom’s case. Part of it read:
“No matter how terribly behaved her children are, Italian mammas always welcome them back home. She can only stay mad at them for so long. She might hit you with an umbrella first, or yell at you while gesticulating madly, but sooner or later, somewhere in the drama, she will let you know one way or another that you are loved and forgiven—probably by feeding you.
Like earthly mothers, the Church offers great mercy to her prodigal children: first through confession and penance to mend what is broken and then through an invitation to join the family for a meal once again.”
Essentially, this is precisely what Mom was all about. Her preparations weren’t merely Earthly ones. Her focus, her priority, was on putting Christ at the center of her home and family life. She lived out the Sacrament of Marriage, with Dad, more beautifully, more steadfastly, and more lovingly than most people have ever had the privilege to witness. Her role as wife superseded even her role as mother, which she understood to be rightly ordered as their marriage was the foundation of our family. Weekly mass attendance was obviously a given, but she also saw to it that she frequented the confessional, and stressed to us all the importance of this beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation with God. Her rosary beads were always at the ready, and prayed daily, while her scapular hung close by her bed. Her devotion to the Divine Mercy, and its saving graces, was a source of strength to her in some of her darkest moments. Her child-like love of Our Lady started in her youth, and grew stronger as she discerned the religious life as a teenager.
I think our family can all say we are glad she received the calling to be a wife and mother, instead.
And that is exactly how she lived it – as a calling. Putting her family’s needs first, preparing a road for them all to heaven. Trying, as hard as she could, to shelter us from any suffering that may come our way, but teaching us that no suffering is ever in vain.
In fact, Mom taught us all a lot, everyone who knew her, both through word and deed. Never a hypocrite, she practiced exactly what she preached, and in her life lessons, she was still preparing us for things ahead. She prepared us even for her death, and dying. She knew her heavenly Father was calling her home long before the rest of us were willing to accept it, and she began preparing both the personal and the spiritual effects. “You know, it’s not going to be 6 months of me like this,” she told me months ago. “I’m going to decline, and it’s going to be hard to watch…” Of course, it was. But even in her dying, she was imparting a beautiful lesson to those around her. Both her spirit and her body were strong, as the yearning for heaven was undeniable, but her body still fought on. Her nurses remarked on how strong she was, to the very end.
All preparations are now complete. Welcome Home, Mom.