When my Father died 1n 1971 I don’t think anyone of us were prepared. Is anyone ever really prepared for the death of a beloved parent. Our five children were ages 9 to 3.5. They had been blest to have both sets of grandparents who loved them dearly. Now one grandparent was gone. I was so caught up in family needs and in wanting to be present to my Mother I’m not sure I ever adequately mourned Pop’s passing.
I loved my Father very much. He was a strong personality full of love and Irish humor. He and Mom were law school classmates – along with Mom’s twin, Aunt Marg and her husband Uncle Jim. Pop was the oldest of three brothers born to Irish immigrant parents. My Mother’s family was also Irish – but they had been in this country a long time. Her parents were both graduates of Cornell University and her father went on to practice law. As did my parents. When they graduated from law school my Mother was awarded the prize for being number one academically in the class. But my Father always said that he actually got the prize because he won her.
They married in 1930 in a double wedding with Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim. The twins were so identical in looks that as a child when I would look at their wedding picture hanging on the wall in our home I couldn’t tell which of the brides was my mother and I thought it would be dumb to ask. I was about six when I finally figured out that of course my mother would be standing next to my Father. The couples decided to honeymoon one week at the Jersey Shore and one week at Niagara Falls. Mom and Pop went first to the shore and then to Niagara Falls. They were royally treated at their Atlantic City hotel. The waitress assigned to them for their weeks stay made them feel their specialness as newlyweds. When they switched places with Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim, Mom painted a glowing picture of their hotel beach stay. But from the moment of their arrival at the hotel Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim had the opposite experience. Unfortunately the waitress who had been assigned to Mom and Pop was also assigned to Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim . She was particularly not nice to Aunt Marg. This went on for several meals. Finally Aunt Marg confronted the waitress who told her that it was wrong that the previous week she had been honeymooning with one man and now just a week later she was with a different man. Needless to say Aunt Marg and Uncle Jim were shocked and amused and quick to set the waitress straight, The rest of their time in Atlantic City was just as lovely as Mom and Pop’s.
The two couples started their married life sharing a house together in New Jersey. My brothers and I were both born during those years. It was very much the Depression time. Pop had taken a job teaching in New York City to provide them with a stable basic income – and since these jobs were good paying – for that financially troubled time – and with good benefits – there were many applicants for these teaching jobs. When New York City passed legislation requiring its employees to live in New York City it was time for both couples to move on. My parents bought a home in the Long Island part of New York City. And though the twins were separated it in no way impacted their closeness. Plus the fact that their husbands were good friends.
For about the next thirty years my parents lived in the house they bought at this time. Pop kept his teaching job and together practicing from home, they gradually built up a law practice in real estate and estate law. At a pretty young age my brothers and I learned to answer the phone ” McCloskey and McCloskey Attorneys and Counselors of Law”. We felt very important , very proud to be such phone answerers. By the time Bud had been in the seminary for several years, and Pete was finishing his college years and I was starting mine, my father was talking about retiring from teaching. He was a gifted teacher but it was a pretty heavy load to combine their now stable law practice with his full time teaching.
When my brother and I married and started our own families our parents could not have been more excited. They loved being grandparents and when they eventually made the decision to relocate to the Washington area it was a pretty easy decision for them because all their precious grandchildren would be close by.
We had a blessed year and a half before Pop’s heart attack. My mother was truly inspirational as she tried to carve out her new life without Pop. When she moved to Virginia she had the loving support of my brother and his wife as she strove to develop a new life. She loved her time with Pete and Louise but she did not want to be dependent solely on them. Her skills in the game of bridge and her love of the Bible provided her with a Bible study group and a bridge group which gave her much pleasure. When Mom’s twin and her husband retired to Northern Virginia and Mom moved into the condo next door to them, they developed a rhythm to their lives which they found very satisfying.
When Aunt Marg died in 1983 her passing was hard on Uncle Jim and in a different way perhaps just as hard on Mom to lose her identical twin. Mom was sustained by her deep faith and her motivation to live her life to the fullest – within her health capabilities. She continued to be focused on her children and her grandchildren. She maintained her interest in world affairs and she continued with her Bible studies and her bridge playing.
When Mom came for the visit that turned into her living with us for the final ten months of her life she appeared to be in such good health. That soon changed. Good health is a gift not to be taken for granted. She was unable to return to her condo. Those ten months were a very special time.
Initially Mom was able to climb the stairs in our home – with support – and occupy the bedroom that had been our oldest son’s. He was now graduated from college and working in New York City. I took Mom back to Northern Virginia for doctor appointments. When she no longer had the strength to climb stairs we rented a hospital bed and turned our dining room which had a door for privacy into a downstairs bedroom for her. At this time we hired a caring helper who came in at 7 at night and stayed till 7 the next day. With the help of a sliding screen we were able to turn the living room into the helper’s bedroom. I was in phone contact with Mom’s amazing Virginia doctor and one time he even came to our home to see her. This was an amazing supportive gift on his part. I needed reassurance that our care protocols were appropriate.
As I look back now on that time with Mom I am surprised that I never doubted that we would be able to care for her. Jerry was very supportive and the kids were now in their late teens and early twenties and when they were home they were awesome. So many good and touching and occasionally difficult memories.
One day I had given Mom a bed bath and was changing the sheets of her hospital bed. She was sitting supported on one side of the bed as I was fixing the other side. Suddenly I realized she was slipping but was too late to get to her as she gracefully slipped to the floor. She assured me she was fine but she couldn’t get back up and try as I might, I just could not lift her. I was able to get her to the sitting position and supported her with pillows. Then I sat down on the floor next to her and we plotted what to do next. And we both laughed at the quandary we were in. Jerry was at work, the children were either away or at school. I knew the neighbors would be at work. What to do? I did not want to call 911 and have a siren blaring ambulance come to our rescue. Mom really seemed to be fine and was vehement that in just sliding down she had not been injured. Finally I thought of our local volunteer fire department. I called them and explained the situation. They could not have been more understanding. One fire truck came immediately – without sirens – but with two compassionate volunteers who lifted Mom back into bed and then stayed a little bit reassuring the two of us that they were glad to help out.
For the first couple of months Mom – an avid reader – was eager for a good book but reading was getting more difficult as her macular degeneration progressed. We were able to order large print books and that worked well for a while. What was for me perhaps the most meaningful was her desire to organize her many photographs. We worked on that together and we today have an album where the first picture is from the 1860’s. Also Mom had memory boxes of papers and souvenirs. It was a treasure to slowly sort through them with her and to listen as she relived the memories they invoked. A particular treasure were letters from my father to my mother when she was on a trip abroad. He wrote her one for every day she was to be gone and gave them to her when she left. He made her promise to only open one a day. She kept her promise – staying up to after midnight to read the next day’s letter. She picked out one of those letters and said I could put it in the album we were working on – the rest with a precious smile she asked me to destroy.
These ten months of saying goodbye were not always easy but they were so worth it.