Mother’s Day—Making Peace with my most UN-favorite Holiday

 Hug them and kiss them–Sometimes you don’t get a second chance. Trust me, I know.

Our Mom, Lillian      age 39;  1959        Passed in 1960

By Larry Peterson

Mother’s Day is here, and I will tell you immediately that it has never been my favorite holiday. Truth be known, it has been my most dreaded holiday. I know that is pathetic. So please bear with me as I share my journey to finally finding some inner peace with this beautiful holiday.

My mother died 59 years ago. She had just turned 40. (She had Leukemia, and if you had Leukemia 59 years ago, you were “toast.”)  For some reason, I have only a few faded memories of her. And, for me, that is an emptiness that has always exploded inside me during the Mother’s Day celebration.

We were kids when she died. There were five of us, and at fifteen, I was the oldest. My sister and brothers (the two youngest have now passed away) remembered details about her, such as the softness of her hair, her laugh, how she loved cherry vanilla ice-cream or pulling the shopping cart to the A&P. As for me, memories were almost all gone. Fortunately, I had the second-hand information my younger siblings shared.

Death visited us often when we were young. Grandma (she lived with us) died two years after Mom. Dad died two years after her. We were officially orphans (that became a novel, The Priest and The Peaches), and we hung together and survived and did okay. But ‘death” kept lurking, and over the years, my sister was widowed, my brother was widowed, and I was widowed—twice. The two youngest, Bobby and Johnny, also have passed. but it all began with Mom.

I always managed, fortified by my Catholic faith, to move through the grief process and learn to accept what happened. It was sort of like making peace with someone you wish you never met. But with my Mom, that process never completed itself until recently. (I never realized until years later how she was always teaching us a lesson as she lay there either holding her blue Rosary or having it next to her. It was like it was a part of her).

I finally came to understand why I have been “stuck in the mud” with my Mom’s sudden passing, albeit so long ago. I was selfish. I never thought about what must have been going through her mind as she lay dying at the age of 39. It was always about me and how MY Mom died. That was the reason for my decades’ old problem. Therein was the cause of my emptiness. It was never about her. I felt sorry for myself when she died and kept feeling sorry for myself, year after year after year.

I needed help, and finally, it came.  Out of the clear blue, my daughter, Mary, called me and, during the conversation, said, “Hey dad, do you realize I’m going to be 40 on my next birthday?”

Talk about being hit by lightning. My own daughter was going to be the same age as my own mother was when she was slowly being killed by an insidious, no holds barred, and merciless disease. I had never thought of my Mom as a 40-year-old woman with five kids. I thought of her as my Mom, who died on ME. How pathetic was that?

Mary, who also happens to look a lot like the grandma she never knew, had only asked me a simple question. She could not have known the power that was in it. She had no idea that at that moment, it removed the veil from my clouded “Mom world” and set me on my journey to discover the woman and person who was also my mother.

It had taken decades but I finally began to reflect and ponder about this woman I had called “mommy.”  Her name was Lillian, and she carried me in her womb. She fed me, bathed me, held me and hugged me, nursed my siblings and me through illnesses such as mumps, measles, and chickenpox (all of which I have no memory). This woman cleaned our house, washed and ironed our clothes, cooked, shopped, and even worked part-time. I cannot imagine how she must have felt as she prepared to leave her family knowing  death was getting  closer and closer.  How awful and terrifying that must have been for her?

How did she hold her not yet two-year-old son on her lap and look at him without going hysterical,? How did she handle thinking about her six-year old son, missing his front teeth, who she would never give a sweet hug to again?  She had a ten-year-old who was in fourth grade and always needed his Mom to help him with his homework. Would his dad help him? I never considered such a thing.

And of course, there was my sister, Mommie’s “little” girl. But she was 13 already, and she was growing up. She would need her Mom, to talk to about woman things.  How did she bare holding onto the knowledge that her children would soon be motherless? What did she say to our Dad, her husband, and lover, as they lay together in bed, in the dark of night waiting for the inevitable as their five kids slept?

The following part in italics pertains to my Dad. It fits into this short narrative

I have harbored one regret over the years, and it pertained to my Dad.  Four years after Mom passed, Dad had an acute attack of pancreatitis. He was in the hospital, and it was 11 P.M. I was standing by the door to his room looking in. He had IV lines and tubes coming out of him from who knows where. A big bottle of ‘gunk” was on the floor that these tubes were draining into. I thought I would be sick. He was looking at me, and I could see the fear in his face. Guess what I did? Nothing, yes, I did nothing.  I did not go over to him and hold his hand.  I never hugged him. I just said, “See ya tomorrow.”

I gave him a cursory wave, and then I left. He died three hours later. Yeah, I know, I was young and blah-[blah-blah. No matter—that is a REGRET. I left my own  Dad alone to die by himself. It has been 55 years, and the pain of my actions still has not subsided.

 It took a very long time but I have forgiven myself for being an insensitive kid. I am long past feeling sorry for “me.”  Those thoughts about my Mom have brought me to a better place. However, that refreshed mindset has unveiled a new regret. Now I have one for Dad and one for Mom. I guess I deserve them both. I earned them for sure.

Mom had been close to death several days before Christmas, 1960. But she made a miraculous recovery and came home. (See story here)  During the first part of February, she took ill again. I have this vivid memory of her lying in bed with Bobby, age six, and Johnny, who just had his second birthday, each nestled into the crook of her arms, one on the left and one on the right. Her best friend Adeline was standing there talking to her about something, and she was looking at me. I said, “Okay, I have to go to work.” (I worked for the local grocer delivering groceries) and I left. No hug, no kiss, I never even said good-bye.

When I got home, she was not there. She was back in the hospital. We were supposed to see her Saturday morning but she died before we got there. I will always regret that I never HUGGED or KISSED my Mom one last time that one damn day. Sometimes you don’t get a second chance. Trust me, I know.

On this Mother’s Day, I will also thank God for that phone call from Mary. I will then thank Him for my Mom. Then I will go home, and, fortified by a different mindset, will sit by myself and cry…just maybe not as much.

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


Family and Death—The common denominator that helps many move forward is FAITH.

Life after Death                                                                 slideshare.net

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


Does God send us “signs,” to let us know He has heard our prayers? You Decide.

–Looking into her eyes, he said, “There is Victory over Death.”

Jesus Hug                                                                            pinetrerest.com

By Larry Peterson

I recently attended a funeral Mass and during the few minutes before the Mass started, something extraordinary happened. I believe God sent a messenger to share with all those in attendance an affirmation of what we proclaim to believe; that there is Life after Death.  It all happened within a few moments, and it was entirely unexpected. How many people actually paid attention, I do not know.

The messenger’s name was Ann Marie. (interesting that Our Lady’s name is Mary and her mother’s name was Anne).  The usual protocol at a Catholic funeral Mass is that after the Mass ends, family and friends can get up and say a few words about the departed. At this Mass, Ann Marie went up to the ambo immediately before the Mass began. The funeral was for her dad, and she wanted to say a few words about him before the Mass started.

For those of us who have lost loved ones, incidents happen after their passing that some take as a “sign,” For example; a photo of the loved one suddenly falls from a shelf landing in front of us; a sudden smell of her perfume or his after-shave fills the room; a knock on the door and you find no one there. These incidents can sometimes give a person a message which they believe tells them, “all is well and not to worry.” The flip side is it can cause others to feel their loss even more while others may not pay any attention to them. Most times, “signs” are just coincidences.

But the most prominent ‘signs” seem to come from dreams.  The Bible has many stories of people having dreams. St. Joseph was visited three different times by the angel in his dreams. We know that it was a dream that saved the baby Messiah’s life. So, I believe, as do others, that we do receive “signs,” especially if we are experiencing significant personal loss. Often, these signs come to us in dreams. Maybe it is God’s way of helping us through our grief.

Ann Marie looked out over the now seated congregation and began to speak. Her demeanor was steady yet sad, and her voice was soft yet clear. She wanted to tell us about her dad.  She just spoke from her heart about a guy named Jerome Schreiber, who was called “Jerry” by everyone except  Ann Marie, who called him dad.

  • Jerry was born in 1926 in South Ozone Park, Queens in NYC. He worked for the Brooklyn Union Gas company and was a mechanic for them until he retired. Jerry was a devout Catholic, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and was the type of man that helped make America the greatest country in the world. He was all about God, Family, and Country.
  • First, Ann Marie spoke of his kindness, gentleness, humility, compassion, and love for all people. Then she paused and told everyone about “The Dream.”
  • Two days after Jerry passed, Ann Marie had a dream. It was clear and vivid with perfect sound. She was in bed and her dad was standing at the front door of their house looking in from the outside. The light outside was brilliant and he was standing in it, smiling at Ann Marie. Looking into her eyes, through his smile, he said, “There is Victory over Death.”

On this day, in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Pinellas Park, FL., Jerry Schreiber, a Catholic man who lived a life filled with the love of God, family, and neighbor, and had journeyed to his heavenly reward two days before, sent us all a message. It was a message we can love and embrace, a message that can reinforce and fortify our sometimes doubtful faith.

His daughter, Ann Marie, was gifted by a visit from her deceased dad who gave her the message. God’s grace told her to share it with us all. She did that and we, in turn, should share it with others. So let us  never forget Jerry’s message;  “There is Victory over Death.”

For those who believe no explanation is necessary—For those who do not, none is possible.” St. Thomas Aquinas

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


Family and Death—The common denominator that helps many move forward is FAITH.

Grief looks to faith

By Larry Peterson

I am the oldest of five, and my mom died when I was fifteen. My brothers were eleven, six, and two. My sister was twelve. 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