By Larry Peterson
I am the oldest of five, and my mom died when I was sixteen. My brothers were eleven, six, and two. My sister was thirteen. Grandma lived with us and decided that dad had killed her daughter. Mom, who had just turned forty, had died of leukemia; so grandma was wrong. But dad believed that we kids were better off with Grandma looking after us than him doing it. He was wrong too
Since there was no reasoning with her, dad became a constant patron of the local saloons. (We lived in the south Bronx, and there were plenty of “watering holes” for him to choose from). The truth of it was—he could not live with her as she berated him mercilessly every chance she had, including calling him a no-good murderer. Yup, in keeping away from her got to know a lot of people, and everyone loved him.
Two years after mom passed on, Grandma had a massive stroke. Some events are emblazoned into your memory forever as if they just happened and this was one of them. Dad was home, and he yelled to me, “Something’s wrong with your grandmother. She needs your help. I’m calling the priest.”
I heard the word “priest” and hurried into the kitchen. Grandma was standing with her head arched into her shoulder and her hands were clamped like vise-grips onto the cupboard door. I had to pry her fingers up one at a time, so I could drag her to her bed. My little brothers and sister were staring at this spectacle taking place. It was surely a surreal moment.
I managed to drag her convulsing and contorted body to her bed. Dad was home and called the rectory. She was squeezing my hands so tight I thought they might break. She was conscious and looking me in the eyes as I looked into hers. “Grandma, pray with me. Okay grandma, C’mon, pray with me.”
Together we prayed the “Our Father.” Barely able to speak, she made an Act of Contrition. She sort of relaxed a bit and her eyes closed. Father Quirk hurried in and gave her the Last Rites. She died soon after as I held her in my arms. The ambulance was too late.
Dad was like a lost pup. Monsignor Martin gave him some work at the church, and he drove a cab a few days a week. He was not living as much as he was existing. He drank too much and two years later he died of an acute attack of Pancreatitis. That was the moment we officially became orphans. I was old enough to work so things worked (pun intended) out—as best they could.
My brother Bobby passed away unexpectedly ten years ago, from a heart attack. He was 53. The baby of the family, Johnny, sad to say, took his own life when he was 55. He had alcohol and other drug issues during his life and any deep-seated issues he may have had were never resolved. He had just turned two when Mom died and (according to several medical health professionals) his suicide was the final result of the losses he suffered during his formative years.
My high-school sweetheart, Loretta, stuck by my side (I had three brothers I was taking care of), and her family was not too happy about her and I being together. In hindsight, I understand why. But her loyalty and love for me was unshakable and we tied the knot several years later. We were married thirty-five wonderful years.
In 1978, she was expecting our fourth child and was in her sixth month of pregnancy when the baby was still-born. We named her Theresa Mary, and she is buried with my parents. Loretta became ill in 1991, was sick for a long time, and passed away from melanoma in 2003.
Four years later I married again. Her name was Marty (Martha), and we were both members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In March of 2017, Marty passed away after fighting lymphoma and Alzheimer’s disease for six years. We had made it to our tenth anniversary.
So there you have it; our lives will all end in death. Many have reached out to God and embraced the faith He has gifted us. Many have rejected it. That is called a “choice.” For those who have embraced the God given gift of Faith they know that death is a NEW beginning. Having that gift to live with can help make living gratifying, no matter what the circumstances.
Copyright© Larry Peterson 2019