A Grateful Remembrance
This year was filled with many rivers to cross for my family and me. My mother crossed her final river a couple of weeks ago. We were deeply saddened to see her go, but she was in tremendous physical pain her last few days, and as my Aunt Gloria said so simply and eloquently to me earlier this week, “that’s what makes us let ‘em go.”
My mother was a young child during the Great Depression. Her family could not afford to have a portrait shot taken of her, as they did of her two older siblings. In fact, there are no pictures at all of her as a child. There was, however, a drawing of a little brown skinned angel in the house, so whenever she would ask her mother where her picture was, my grandmother, Mama Dear, would tell her “Look at that angel, that’s you.”
And my mother was an angel to so many throughout her life. Several generations of children, of all ages, and whether they were related to her or not, called her Nanny. My Uncle Reiss has said, she took on the role of being his angel as an adolescent and young woman. When she married, she took on the job of loving and caring for us, her children, as a mother. She took on caring for Mama Dear, and her sister, Adele, through long illnesses and the end of their lives. When my Aunt Adele’s youngest child, Illona, was born only 10 days after my youngest brother, Eric, she took on caring for her, carting them around like twins. When we were grown, she finally took the opportunity to begin the task of caring excellently for herself. And when my Aunt Adele’s children had children of their own, she became their de facto grandmother.
She taught me to read at a very early age, and instilled a love of words in me that remains to this day. It was her life’s calling. Not only did she teach countless other children to read throughout her career as an early childhood teacher, she continued her mission as a volunteer, taking books into schools in underprivileged areas with Reading is Fundamental, well into her retirement. She was still reading books that I, or others, brought to her in the last three months whenever she could manage.
It didn’t stop with early childhood reading. She believed in education. She was ever grateful for the opportunity to receive a college education (she was the recipient of a music scholarship to Xavier University), and worked tirelessly on behalf of Xavier, her and my father’s alma mater. By the way, in gratitude to Xavier for providing her with her education, she made a decision to now give back with the establishment of the Phenella Perez Educational Scholarship Fund.
My mother and I have very different personalities, and different ways of dealing with things. There were times I could become very frustrated because of that, but the older I got, the wiser my mother became to me. One of the greatest lessons she quietly taught me in her later life, was that just because someone else did something wrong, didn’t mean I shouldn’t do the right thing. It’s a lesson I’m still working on.
I was still learning from her until the end. She had a final lesson to teach us in her last few months. As she grew ill, it became our loving task to care for her. She faced her last days with tremendous courage and serenity. Although she was willing to do whatever her doctors recommended to save her life, and although she worked diligently with the physical and occupational therapists (they grew to love her, too) to restore her physical life, she accepted from the beginning that it may be her time, and she was ready to go. She gently encouraged us, her children and brothers, as the time grew nearer, to let go, as well.
I am grateful for all the lessons.
We will miss her tremendously, but we take comfort in knowing there were at least as many who love her, both those we knew, and those we learned of only through the stories she told us, waiting to greet her on the other side.