Mom long ago earned a Golden Ticket to heaven

The columnist’s mother passes away, and she is remembered for her charitable works

By George Valadie

Apologies are in order; I missed my last publication deadline. But it was kinda her fault in a way.

We were talking on the phone one day and she asked, “Hey George, I’ve got a question for you. Tell me the real story behind what I read in the news the other day about what happened at that school.”

“Mom, I don’t have a clue.”

“You’re lying, I know you know.”

“Seriously, sometimes I do know stuff but not this time.”

“I don’t believe a word you’re saying.”

“Well, that’s all I have for you. You’re just gonna have to believe me.”

“Okay, I guess, but I know you know. You always know.”

That’s my mom. She called me a liar and that’s the last thing we ever said to one another.

We laughed about it then; I still laugh about it now. It’s a good final memory for me to have. Us laughing and teasing. I can live with that. I just couldn’t make that week’s deadline.

Because when her aneurysm burst—the one none of us had a clue about—her own deadline got moved way up.

True, she was 87. Theoretically, that should be long enough, shouldn’t it? We certainly can’t complain about how long we had our mom. After all, my dad died at 37.

It’s just that we thought she’d live to be 100. She was healthy enough.

Or so we thought.

A sudden headache led to a sudden backache led to her calling her own ambulance. Unconscious shortly thereafter and described as “likely vegetative” if she survived, we opted to let her go. “This might take a couple of hours,” the doctor said.

We all understood the “this” to which she referred. Except a couple of hours became a couple of days … more proof that the rest of her body was as healthy as we had imagined.

We chose the typical funeral home visitation, but it wasn’t the typical funeral home experience. Six feet and masks and no hugging, we understood the many who preferred to text or e-mail or send their wishes via Facebook. It made good sense in this world that’s not making much sense at all.

She never really got the grasp of Facebook herself, though each of us tried to teach her. She had about 11 “friends” in the world of social media. Turns out she had hundreds more in the world of true friendship.

And they came out of nowhere.

If you get to be a certain age, I suppose everyone envisions his or her own funeral. I have; she had. She wanted Father Mike to sing a certain song at a certain time. We were grateful he could oblige.

But I doubt the rest of her vision resembled anything like what unfolded.

It was every bit as weird as the visitation. Family only, me and my family sitting here, my sisters and their families over there and over there and over there … spread out all through the Church she loved and had brought us to in our younger years.

We were close enough to see each other mourn, just not close enough to do anything about it.

As the cards, calls, and kind wishes came in, I came to see a side of my mom I’d failed to fully appreciate.

The woman’s job required long hours until she was 80. And though she made our breakfast, lunch, and dinner and ironed our school uniforms every single school day, she was never the homeroom mom. Never had an off day to drive on the field trip. Could never organize the classroom booth at the carnival.

So when she retired, she decided her free time was finally providing her a chance to pay back all those volunteer hours other moms had done for her children.

I mean who thinks that way? I’d have put my feet up.

Instead, she and both her feet jumped deep into the work of the Ladies of Charity and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, trying to serve the many in need. No homeroom parties exactly, but a lot of free sandwiches were handed out. No field trips either, but she made more than a few home visits. Feed a belly; pay a light bill.

And she finally got to help organize a festival to benefit the many whose needs were greater than hers.

When my sisters and I were gathered in her hospital room, the question got asked, “I wonder how many different people have shared a meal in mom’s house?”

If you were a friend of one of us, you were welcome to dine with all of us. She never once said, “… but we don’t have enough.” We’ve even laughed about the need for name tags at some of our holiday dinners. But the woman never flinched.

Through the years, each of us has taken a turn or two moving back in. But we’re hardly the only ones who have slept there. That home has been in the family for some 70 years; it will be odd to think of someone else living there now. But I’m sure she wouldn’t have it any other way. Hers was always an open door.

I have believed for some time now that my mom had long ago earned for herself one of those Golden Tickets that gains you an immediate pass through the gates of glory.

Like most everyone else in the world, we think our mom’s the greatest. People have been kind enough to say the same.

In fact, in those few days right after she left us, my grief evolved into more of a guilt trip, 72 hours of hearing about and realizing how much she really had done for others.

But more importantly, I realized how much I need to amp up my own game if I hope to see her again.

Eighty-seven and making us look bad.

Too late to say it to her face, I promised her I’d be a better person. I promised her I’d share more with those in need. I promised her I’d try to get there.

I don’t want her to call me a liar.

Dear God – We struggle to understand your idea of whose turn comes when. But if they get to be with you, no doubt they’re just fine with how things turned out. May we get to do the same. Amen.

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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