Thank you for joining Jenn and I--and our family--in celebrating our mother’s 81 years of living an abundant life.
She would have been so honored and humbled to see all of you here today.
I hope you will take a few moments to look at the prayer card. The words are a poem, written by Jenn and me, and features one of my mother’s finest paintings.
And we hope you’ve had a chance to watch the tv monitor in the adjacent room. Jenn and I picked out our favorites photos of mom, along with her artwork, some of her alone, many with family members, spanning her lifetime.
A little over four years ago, Jenn and I noticed mom slipping a little. We took her to neurologists and geriatric counselors but--as you can imagine--she fought us the whole time and it went nowhere. Then, almost two years ago, it became clear the situation had advanced much more than we had known.
The time since was difficult for our mother, particularly the last six months, as dementia took away all of the best of how you might have remembered her.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer our thanks to some of the people who helped mom, Jenn and me along the way.
- Dr. Stack and his wonderful staff, for taking care of mom’s health over these past decades.
- Anne Roche, who is no longer with us, but as landlord at Nob Hill was a guardian angel looking out for mom and who was the first to point that mom was having issues.
- Margot and Stacey at HomeWatch CareGivers, whose company we hired to provide the healthcare worker to live with and take care of mom 24/7 over the past nearly two years.
- Augustine, the final healthcare worker to live with mom. She is, simply, wonderful at her job. Professional and compassionate, she gave the most loving care to mom up until her last breath.
- Mark Whittaker, a high school classmate of mine and a funeral director in western New Jersey, who, a year ago, took the time to explain and make suggestions for how Jenn and I should go about making the preparations for today.
- My cousin Billy, who went through all of this two years ago with our beloved Aunt Mary, and who was a model for how to handle a mother’s decline and eventual passing.
- And, of course, all the family members and friends who offered their love and support to Jenn and me.
- Finally, I want to thank Jenn, a wonderful daughter to my mom. As you can imagine, this has been hard for the two of us. I know I’m tired. So tired. And sad. But I’m also so fortunate to have such a thoughtful, organized, and strong sister to go through this with.
Two weeks ago yesterday. I was just opening the door to our office when I got the phone call from Augustine that mom was gone. I drove out to Roseland. I went into her bedroom and touched my mom’s shoulder for the final time. Soon, a nurse arrived to make the final pronouncement, then left. Augustine packed up her belongings and left. I had about an hour before the funeral home would come to take mom’s body away where it was just me, alone, in the apartment, with mom in her bedroom.
It was so quiet. I wasn’t really sad initially. To be honest, I was unsure how I should be feel or what I should be doing, if anything at all. So I just sat there and stared around her apartment. All I saw was stuff. Paintings and prints on the walls; books and photos and newspaper clippings and tchotchkes; furniture; glasses and dishes. Stuff. And I wondered, is this it? Is this what defined my mom now that she was gone?
I was bothered by that thought. And would be for a while. But a few days later Jenn and I began the task of figuring out what to do with this stuff. A lot of it would be thrown away, some would be sold, and a few precious items we would keep.
What became clear to me is that, regardless of their intrinsic value, each item of stuff meant something--even things we would soon get rid of. Each had a memory--from the mundane to the notable--behind it. Each had a piece of my mom attached to it. The breakfront that mom and dad bought after they were married; the photo of Jenn and me as young kids in the house in Short Hills; the painting mom did after we came back from a trip to France; the funeral card for Livio--her boyfriend at the time, and who died in their horrific car crash in 1988. The stuff became memories, the memories reminded us of the story of my mom’s life.
This past Tuesday, Jenn and I found, in a locker buried in the storage room off her garage, among many photographs and 60-year old newspapers, mom’s wedding album. Oddly, it was the first time I had ever seen it. There was mom and dad, and the Riccardi’s and their friends, all the sisters, Uncle Tom, Grandma Clara and Grandpa Hockey, Aunt Angie and so many others. All so young and happy, beautiful and handsome.
It reminded me--and what mom and I had talked about in many conversations--that what endured over the course of her lifetime was her love for her friends; her aunts, uncles and cousins; her brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews, her mom and dad; and, of course, her brother Tommy, and her sisters Nancy, Pati, Veda, and Mary. She was so proud of all of you.
Mom was that wonderful combination of Robertozzi resiliency, with a just a touch of arrogance from being a Martino by marriage. It is undoubtedly what helped her overcome the injuries from her accident. And while her beauty was taken away, her elegance was not. And her desire to live life to the fullest was not.
I urge all of my cousins and friends who have hit or are approaching fifty, to consider this: Mom was a few months shy of 53 when she was in the accident in 1988. And yet--in what I call the second phase of her life--despite her injuries and the dozens of surgeries she would have over the years, she traveled to the Far East, Europe, Africa, and South America. She was a featured guest on a television show. She had a variety of jobs--some that she enjoyed very much, some that she didn’t. She went to shows, ate at fine restaurants, and joined different social groups. She dated often and had a handful of loving relationships with some wonderful men. She--in a word--lived.
And that’s how I will remember her. And that is what I will try to emulate for the second phase of my life. I hope you will too.
When done right, I can think of no more noble a calling than being a parent. For nearly fifty-two years, my mom did being a mother exceptionally well. And while, if I lived a dozen lifetimes I couldn’t possibly have repaid her for all that she did in raising, supporting, and loving Jenn and me, I thank God for the time we were able to spend together, even at the difficult end, and that my sister and I had the opportunity to help take care of her.
Again, thank you all for coming today. If you are so inclined I hope you will consider donating to the Barnabas Hospice program. It is an amazing organization, with many dedicated people. Barnabas Hospice provided, free of charge, a hospital bed, oxygen tanks and equipment, medicines, and volunteers to visit my mom. It was an invaluable addition to the care that she was getting from HomeWatch CareGivers.
Finally, and please indulge me for a moment, to all my friends and family, young and old, really of every age--Dementia is a cruel illness. When you lose your memories, when you lose your personality, you are no longer the person you had always been. I urge you to take care of your brain. Eat well, sleep well, exercise and work as long and as hard as you can, and most of all--live an abundant life.
From the bottom of our hearts, Jenn and I thank you.
Not flesh of my flesh,
Nor bone of my bone.
But still miraculously
For a single minute,
You didn't grow under my heart,
But in it.