It’s three weeks today since my mother passed away, three weeks in which I’ve felt engulfed at times by a mix of emotions.
- Guilt for things I’d said, done, hadn’t done, had thought, hadn’t thought, had tried or hadn’t. Lots of guilt.
- Sadness, sometimes overwhelming, when I’d least expect it. A look, a touch, a word from a friend could trigger it. Or nothing at all could do the same. The ring of my cell phone hasn’t stopped unsettling me as each time it rings I think it’s mom.
- Joy pops by unexpectedly with memories of her smile, her goodness, her crazy sweetness, and her always ready laugh.
- And there too is a sense of Peace that for now is fleeting but I know will become calming with time.
The following is what I wrote for my mother’s funeral, not really to be read, but just to give an idea of her as a person. Our dear friend Blase Bonpane who officiated liked it so much that he read it in its entirety, and I wanted to share these memories of mom.
Lucille Helen Connor Oliver –
May 10, 1924 – September 25, 2011
- Parents – Willis Joseph and Helen Marie Murphy Connor
- Pre-Deceased Siblings: Bobby, Mary Weiler, Paul Connor, Willis Connor
- Survived by – Sister- Phyllis Connor Reardon; Sons – Ron Oliver and wife Mary; Jerry Oliver and wife Belinda; John Oliver; Ann Miller and her husband, Cole
- 8 grandchildren – RJ, Maria, Annie, Nancie, Katie, John Maxwell, Wayne, and Christie
Mom was a lifelong writer; I don’t remember a time when she didn’t spend at least part of her day either sitting at her big roll-top desk with a typewriter in front of her, or of late, sitting in her recliner, laptop computer perched atop shaky knees. She loved to write (probably why, as my brother Ronny reminds me, she was always correcting our grammar growing up!) and though she wrote a lot that was just fun, she did alot of serious writing too about the issues that were important to her. She was published in a wide variety of magazines and newspapers over the years.
She put herself through the University of Arizona writing advertising copy, and was crowned “Desert Queen” in her time at the school. She loved learning; wherever we
lived when I was growing up, she’d always find a local college and sign up for courses, and was especially interested in psychology.
By example, she’d show my three brothers and me how to sidewith the oppressed rather than the oppressor. We knew when to boycott grapes and how to look for the UFW label on our lettuce. We knew that it would be as stupid to judge someone by the color of his skin as it would be to judge him by the color of his eyes. By her life and example, we knew that the most satisfying work in life was that which helped
others, whether the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the disabled, the sad, the lost or the lonely. To do those things was, for her, as natural as breathing.
Throughout the years, she volunteered with more organizations and in more ways than I can ever begin to remember. But she was active with Bread for the World,
wrote PR for the Red Cross and other non-profits, and was always working in
some way with those who needed help. Of course, she would also promote No More Victims and Cole and my work with the Iraqi children. Even into her 80’s, she was volunteering with hospice, visiting shut-ins, and tutoring low-income schoolchildren.
Outraged and saddened by the death penalty, for almost 15 years she wrote to a young prisoner on death row with total compassion and entirely without judgment. They formed a close friendship through those years of correspondence, both caring for each other as real friends, until he was executed on July 1st, 2008. He wrote to her shortly before his execution, worried about how she would take it and assuring her that he’d be okay. A sustaining faith in God had taken root and blossomed on death row.
When you ask someone about mom, one of the first words they’ll use to describe her is “positive” – she always saw the bright side, was always smiling and a spark of laughter was never far away (Cole can do her laugh PERFECTLY!) But, she was
VERY aware of the world – writing letters to Congress, the newspapers, articles, etc, about our foreign and domestic policy, the dangers of capitalism and corporate control, and our government’s bi-partisan devotion to war. Though she was well aware of the bad in the world, she chose to stress its goodness and the possibility of better things, the possibility that we could live the values we preach. People will say that she always thought of the other person first, was much more interested in somebody else than in herself, and really cared when she asked how someone was doing. As my friend Selena recently wrote, “She was always giving – whether her time, her advice, or her support – she was the most positive person I’ve ever met.”
Though she had breast cancer twice before her final bout with bladder cancer, she never mentioned it. Over the years, I’d often accompany her to the doctor and on numerous occasions when she was asked if she’d ever had surgeries or cancers, she’d say, “Oh no, nothing serious!” and I’d have to remind her about the breast cancer to which she’d say offhandedly, “Oh, THAT!” Then they’d say “So it was relatively minor?” and I’d say, “She had a lumpectomy and a mastectomy” and they’d ask on which side and she’d invariably pat her chest to remind herself… eager to go onto more important topics…
Even with this recent cancer, most of the people she lived with in her assisted living didn’t even know she was sick. One man said to us on the day she died that he had no idea she was even sick, that he’d always complained about his aches and pains and she’d acted like they were so much more severe than anything she had. I was sitting in the hallway outside my mother’s door shortly after she passed on, getting ready to call one of my brothers, when one of the kitchen workers came out of the elevator with meal trays to deliver to residents. She looked at me and said, “So, how’s Ms. Lu?” and I said, “She’s gone”, and she replied, “Where?” and Cole coming out of mom’s room said, “No, she’s passed on” and the woman looking shocked and stricken said, with a faint hope in her voice, ”You mean she’s sleeping, right?” I said, “No, she’s dead” and she immediately started sobbing and turned away.
The woman who came to help her bathe during the week grew very close to my mother. They would talk and talk about Lavender’s life back home in Sierra Leone, how she’d come to the United States, how her kids were doing in school, what they planned for the future. The illness mom had is usually very painful. One day a new hospice nurse came to see mom after she’d experienced some serious break out pain. Her illness had dramatically worsened that week, and she had difficulty speaking. Lavender showed up at the same time, and when the nurse asked whether mom had any pain, Lavender piped up with “No, Lu never has any pain!” I had to gently correct Lavender and tell the nurse that “Yes, she has pain. She takes pain medications round the clock every day.” Lavender had seen my mother for six months, three times a week, and she’d never mentioned having any pain. She had been happy simply in learning about Lavender’s world and growing with her in friendship.
Mom was always interested in how the other person was doing. The wonderful people who cared for her in her last years at Bethany Towers could tell you this. She wound up knowing a lot about their lives because she was interested in them and truly loved them. She always knew when someone had an important
test coming up and she’d encourage them to work hard and have confidence in
themselves. She knew who had a sick child or whether the spouse liked his or
her job. She knew hobbies and interests, passions and concerns. She was as curious as she was compassionate; even up to the last couple of days when she could still speak, she’d worry that one caregiver would pass her nursing exam, that another would get over her cold, and that another’s husband would be able to find a job soon.
Her last weeks and months were brightened by phone calls and visits from those she loved, friends from far away, her nieces and nephews, her sister Phyl, my brothers and her grandchildren. She’d always garner her strength for these phone calls and I’d generally get an e-mail from a cousin or someone far away after a call saying, “Annie, are you sure your mom’s really sick?” On Friday, after not having been able to speak for at least 24 hours, her sister called and mom summoned up a weak “hi” for her – it was to be her last word but she couldn’t let her baby sister, who she’d so worried about being the last living sibling and alone, not hear her voice one last time.
When she could no longer talk, we still got a couple of smiles, and Cole said that those smiles for us in the midst of her suffering were the loveliest visions he’d ever seen.
She was a wonderful mother and she loved her children, my brother Ronny and his sweet wife Mary, my brother Jerry and his wife Belinda, my brother John, and Cole and me. She loved her grandchildren and was so proud of each of them. I don’t think any one of her children or grandchildren, her dear friends, her neices and nephews, sisters or brothers, ever doubted her love for us.
Years ago she’d had an episode on the operating table when she’d been gone for several minutes so she knew that the journey would be one of pure love and cherished the thought of that journey again. But she loved life with an energy and passion that few could imagine her feeling at 87 and in her condition; she wanted so much to stay and finish her latest book and just LIVE – she held out hope that this latest set-back was “just a cold” even until she could barely speak.
She told Cole and me one day that she wasn’t afraid to die; she’d miss us but she’d see us all again soon. She loved the blessing of life and I know that today she is enjoying her continuing journey and its even greater blessings.