Have you ever been so close to someone that, at times, you seem to share the same thoughts? This is the kind of relationship I had with my mom. In the last week of her life, in January 2017, she was hospitalized - at 95 years old - with the RSV virus. As her lungs were filling up with fluid, unresponsive to antibiotics, she sensed she was approaching the end of her earthly life and was having trouble separating from us and all those she loved. We all tried to accompany her on her journey as best we could, with prayers of healing and comfort, praying the rosary, singing the Divine Mercy chaplet and church hymns, reading scripture and the daily mass readings and meditations from the Magnificat; we even sang all of her favorite Perry Como songs! She also received communion and anointing from her beloved priests and bishops. To say it was a blessed time for our family is an understatement! At one particular moment, I asked my mom if she wanted to sing anything else, knowing in my heart what her answer would be….and with every last ounce of energy she had, one word escaped - “Mama” - which was her favorite song, one that she sang over and over to remember her own mother. She and I sang it together, although she was so weak at this point that she could only join in on the MAMA lyric. It was an amazing moment for me, and - through God’s grace - I felt nothing but gratefulness, joy, and love for a woman who lived life well, and was trying to die well, just the way she lived, with courage and amazing love.
During my mom’s wake, we had an hour of remembrance from family members and friends.
Our friend Joe gave his perspective of his dear friend Filomena praying each day and asking God for His guidance, and added that her love for Jesus and the Blessed Mother kept her focused on what God wanted her to do. He also explained how he always wanted to be a part of her family, and how they prayed together, and God heard that prayer by allowing his son and Filomena’s grand-daughter to become husband and wife! Welcome to the family, Joe!!!
My cousin Maria focused on how her “Zia Miuccia” lived a life of love by the way she cared for each of her nieces and nephews in a personal way, and why she was a great influence on them (always guiding in truth and love). She described her aunt’s strong convictions, whether it was insisting on taking care of her own sister after surgery from breast cancer, until she was fully recovered, or teaching so many in the teen club how to make pie crusts from scratch and delicious apple pies which would sell for top dollar at our parish bazaar, year after year. As you know, Maria, she loved you as if you were her own daughter, and was so grateful to you and your family for the love and care of her sister during the final years of her earthly life.
My daughter Daniela’s remembrance was about how her grandmother did everything with great love, giving examples of how “Grandma’s Hands” never stopped moving; how her worn hands showed everything about her heart. She described the ways Grandma Fil constantly gave of herself to her family and friends, and faithfully served her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s no coincidence, that you, Daniela, will be using your hands as well, to heal as a nurse practitioner. Grandma was so grateful for and supportive of you!
My nephew Bobby shared 4 Key Life Lessons he learned from Grandma Fil: (1) Know who you are and have conviction. (2) Have a personal value set you live by; hers were love and service. (3) If you don’t use it, you lose it! (4) Leave a legacy. Bobby spoke of Grandma’s support of the TV mass ministry from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in DC for the past 30+ years, her love of God, of this great country, and of family, and of her persistent prayers for everyone in her life, by name, several times per day. He joked about her enjoyment of “Walker, Texas Ranger” and drew a conclusion about why she, of all people, was so supportive of his move to Texas!! He spoke of her health, through body, mind, and soul, by her habit of morning exercise, keeping her mind sharp by playing cards and reading, and feeding her soul through daily mass. Bobby, I marvel at the detail of your reflections about Grandma. She was so proud of you and the life you are building for your beautiful family.
My niece Paula spoke of The Eucharistic Life of Grandma Filomena, her legacy of love, prayer, and sacrifice, and how she taught Paula to be a cook, a wife, a mother, a friend, and an Italian! Paula described Grandma’s perseverance in prayer and suffering, with such challenges as being an immigrant in this country; through difficult childhood illnesses; as she waited for her fiancé while he fought in WWII, and mourned the loss of their best friend MIA; through losing her husband tragically and unexpectedly, and continued to raise her family on her own; outliving her siblings; and struggles as her body grew old. But, Paula pointed out, her courageous endurance reminds us that we are not called to understand it all either, only to TRUST. Paula, Grandma was so proud of your conviction in raising your sons to be Godly men. You were her “principessa”. I will always treasure our last moments with you, me, and Lisa, praying Grandma HOME.
Then it was my turn to give my reflection, and for the second time in my life, I was speechless! (The first was meeting John Paul II, in his private chapel at the Vatican, with my mother. I was so looking forward to this moment, had rehearsed (in Italian, of course) what I would say to him, until he took my hands while his gaze seemed to penetrate my very soul, and when I opened my mouth, to my surprise NOTHING came out. (My mother said, “what happened to you?!”) Those who know me well will find the humor in this. My father didn’t give me the nickname “talkin' Annie” for nothing!) So here I stood, in front of hundreds of family and friends, in this most incredible moment, with nothing to say, because it had all been said fully and perfectly in the previous reflections. So I put my notes away….and sang.