Before I honor my mother’s life, I want to thank my sister for the wonderful concern she showed Mom during these last years of her life, taking her to doctors’ appointments and making sure that she got the best care possible. Thank you, Jane; your expertise as a nurse has always helped me know that Mom was in your good hands. I also thank my loving wife, Lisa, who always supported me in trying to visit Mom and do what was best for her, especially coming up with my mother-in-law , Sharon, to be with Mom in her last hours. Mom loved Lisa and it was very comforting to me that they enjoyed each other’s company.
There are three things that stand out today for me as we celebrate my mom: her passion, her faith, and her love of a good time.
My mom, Margaret Mary Powell, known as Peggy, could be a force of nature. Whether it be pushing me out of the house to mow the lawn or getting my father to not give up on his dream of living in Florida, Mom could be relentless. Often times I was very thankful for her pushes. Her passion, her devotion, her will to power made things happen; it also would reveal what psychologists call “the shadow self;” that part of a personality we can learn from because it reveals the deepest pain of our struggles to become whole (holy) people. I have inherited much from my mother, including parts of her passion and her shadow.
My mom could have been a politician and quite a good one had she been from a different era. She was an extrovert; it’s rare that I ever saw her not be able to talk to someone. She was a nice contrast to my Dad’s introversion. This extroversion made her want to help me with my lack of confidence when I was younger; one of the things I’ll always remember Mom for is her pep talks, “You’re great, Johnny” and her hiding of Norman Vincent Peale articles (“the power of positive thinking”) for me where I would find them. She truly believed in my abilities when I would doubt. Thank you, mom, for the sacramental confidence you and Dad had in me; for that passion that drove you.
My mother’s religious faith is probably her greatest gift to me. Like my Uncle Bill and Aunt Peggy, it was paramount to Mom that her children have a relationship with God. When my mom believed in something, it was rare for her to express doubt. I have and continue to express doubt in a variety of things but my mom was “all in,” as they say. When you know such a person, you may wonder, “How can they be like that?” In fact, my father was a classic doubter in several things (religious faith not being one) and would question my mom. Her single mindedness can bring out admiration in me to this day, while at different times I would be frustrated by my mom’s inability to see shades of gray. My mother stood with Richard Nixon to the bitter end; my father had expressed that Nixon was a crook for at least a year before he finally resigned. Their two personalities, engaging in debate at the kitchen table, was formative for me. To be able to see two people who love each other but be devoted to opposing arguments can help a child start to realize the complexities of life; and their ultimate unity at the end of dinner in terms of their love was something I’ll always cherish.
My mother’s faith and passion was fueled by her parents, especially my Grandpa, and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the BVMs. An excellent writer, speaker, and actor, she had the lead as a senior in her school play at St. Mary’s High School in Chicago, playing Daddy Longlegs, as there were no boys and thus girls played all the parts. Her high school grades and activities earned Mom a year scholarship to Mundelein College, which she decided not to accept. It was a major regret in her life and she would bring it up at times. I think she never wanted me to give up or get what I wanted out of life, based on that experience. My mother read books to me when I was small and then helped me with my writing throughout my school years. I can remember her writing a letter in the mid 70s to then Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, expressing her dismay at his pro-choice views. I have often thought of this and other examples of her writing letters to the editor as her type of social action. She also typed up and laid out two issues of my short lived newspapers in 1976 called “The Screaming Eagle.” Her love of reading and writing showed how I could discover new worlds. She taught CCD classes in the 70s (always bringing cookies to wash the theology down), and read the Bible cover to cover several times. As a theology instructor who teaches about Jesus and social action, I honor you, Mom, for your passion and faith as expressed in reading, writing, and music. My mom’s inculcation of religious values inspired me to learn more and paradoxically, to ask questions about God she would never ask or think of… Thank you, Mom, for the Catholic faith you and Dad raised me with…
My mom loved to have a good time with my Dad and their friends and family members, especially my Grandpa and Grandma, Aunt Lois and Uncle Ed Levin, Aunt Dolly and Uncle Ed Martin as well as my Aunts Mary and Kay. I remember many a get together or bridge game in which they would drink and be merry. One of the reasons Mom encouraged me to learn how to play piano is that the piano player is always at the center of the party, she said. As she showed me, it didn’t take a lot of money to have a good time. My parents enjoyed the simple things: good food, good martinis and manhattans, and good cards. Sometimes they dispensed with the cards and went dancing at the Elks Club instead. My mother loved to have people over and my Dad enjoyed making drinks for them (aging those martinis in the freezer until they were like oil). They were loved for their hospitality. They had sacramental times in Chicago, Olney, and Winter Haven. Thank you, Mom, for letting your hair down in front of me, showing how good life can be with these simple pleasures.
My mom was proud of her daughter, the nurse, and her son, the theology teacher. Her greatest hope was that her grandchildren and great grandchildren would have a relationship of faith with God. That relationship was seen by me daily, every night right up to last year when she would get on her knees by her bed and say her prayers before retiring. When I interviewed Mom about her life four years ago, I asked her “What is the key to a good life and what would you say to your grandchildren and great children? “Love your neighbor,” Mom said and then added “Hang in there, be kind, and you’ll make it.”
May the saints, including my Dad and my brother-in-law Vern, celebrate her entry into heaven. My hope, Mom, is that we can emulate the best part of your passion, your faith, and your love of a sacramental good time. We love you, Mom and Dad!