Friday, October 18, 2013

Fr. Perrone on the death of his mother, and a few more thoughts

Grace Perrone listening to her son speak during a Lenten Friday meal at Assumption Grotto

The bulletin for October 18th is online.  Father Perrone discusses the passing of his mother.

At the passing of his own mother some years back, my good friend Charles Fantazzi said that he had begun a new period of his life: the time of life without a mother. The death of one’s mother is an event unlike others. It delineates a time before and after, everything being reckoned in reference to it. 
Perhaps the circumstances of my mother’s unexpected death have already circulated. Of all the ways and times possible, it was the very best. Consider that she had what was determined to have been a massive stroke in church, during the funeral Mass of her brother, my Uncle Frank, celebrated by her son, surrounded by all her family and relatives, with a minimum of pain (though she whispered to my sister that it was the “worst headache I’ve ever had”), after having been anointed by Fr. Ludwig, on the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila (Mom was a Third Order Carmelite whose patron is Saint Teresa), with speedy medical attention thanks to Phyllis Baussano and Ray Long’s paramedic skills. Her death took place later that day (Tuesday) in the hospital with all her family and most of her relatives surrounding her, and after the entire rite for the dying from the old Roman Ritual had been said. Given that all must die in satisfaction of the debt of original sin, could there have been a better way to leave this earthly “exile” than that? Mom had already fallen in unconsciousness before being taken away by EMS. 
I don’t really want to write about Mom here because I will need to speak about her in my funeral oration on Saturday and don’t want to anticipate now what I intend to say then. Another reason is that I do not want to weigh heavily my personal loss upon my parishioners who have already been so expressive of their affections for her–and for me. Yet I can hardly write about anything else since nothing else preoccupies my mind. 
Her name was Grace and she preferred to be called by that name, though parishioners, out of deference to me, often referred to her as “Mrs. Perrone,” which caused one curious little child to ask her, “Are you Father Perrone’s wife?” Grace is, of course, a lovely name by its very definition, and a kind parishioner remarked that she was appropriately named. My Dad thought so, of course, and composed lyrics and melody of a song about her that captured this, expressing his own deep affection for her. I hope you don’t mind me quoting it here. 
Grace, my lovely, / You’re enchanting, / Precious as a jewel so fine. / Every day I pray / The Lord will let me stay / With you until the end of time. / Grace, my lovely, / Words have failed me. / Since you made / My dream come true, / How can I express / All my happiness? / Grace, my lovely, / I love you. 
For a long time Mom had been a daily Mass goer, until she could no longer drive due to macular degeneration. Then she would watch weekday Mass on TV, coming to church whenever she could get a ride–usually about three times during the week, when she would cook at the rectory. At ninety-two years of age she was still spry and mentally sharp. I wanted her to stay active in this way which I thought good for her (as well as for me).
Her outstanding quality, the one I most admired, if I may say so, was her ordinariness. 
That may seem a rather thin tribute but is not really so. Mom did not like being fussed over, even by me. Ordinariness, as I said in an occasional sermon, is the nearest equivalent I know of forhumility. Too often that word conjures up the dread picture of a vaunted obsequiousness, a mere caricature of the real thing. Mom did [not] put on airs nor act as though anyone owed her special recognition, though I know she was proud to be the mother of her children. It is that estimation of ‘non-special’ status that made her so approachable and—may I add—likeable (certainly much more so than her sometime redoubtable priest-son). 
I must now toughen-up a bit to remind you of an important point of parish business. Our annual Benefit Dinner with raffle and auction takes place today after the noon Mass. Mom would certainly have been there, taking her place among other parishioners (no head table seating for her!), wanting in any way to support the parish, which means, in effect, yourselves. 
Fr. Perrone

Fr. Perrone's column sparked even more memories for me.

Anyone who knew her can attest to what he says about "non-special" approach to life.  Grace was dignified yet simple.   She also showed the strength of a woman who lived a life filled with responsibilities and duties.  Certain days were for cooking at the rectory and there was a day set aside for her laundry; First Saturday's were for Carmelite meetings at Grotto, and so on.  Though she had every right to not have any schedule at all, she seemed to be oblivious to her advanced age.  The first time I tried to assist her into my car from her drive way, she made very clear she didn't need any help (and she was right).  The only time she made an exception is when it was really slippery, but even that was only at my firm insistence.  I told her if she was going down, we were going down together and that's all there was to it.

Grace loved being a mother, grandmother, and great great-mother.  On our rides into Grotto she beamed when speaking about an upcoming baby shower, a visit with long-time friends,  a trip to Traverse City to surprise her daughter for her birthday, going to hear the Detroit Symphony with Fr. Perrone, or the great family gathering with all the generations. Those were the things that could interrupt the schedule at a moment's notice.

When Grace was aware that I was not well on a given occasion, I would get a phone call out of blue, asking me how I was doing.  "I'm just checking up on you," she would say.  Even though I insisted that being just 3 miles from me, it was no inconvenience at all to pick her up, she had to express her gratitude.   It came in the form of dinner at Scallopini's, or a package of Rinaldi sausage (she knew I liked Italian, with fennel).  Not long ago, she brought me back a cute red cup with white polka-dots on it, and a ceramic spoon built into a holder in the handle, with, "Traverse City" written on it.  I took it to work the next day.

Did I mention she was a Tiger's fan?  I didn't always follow the Tiger's games, but sometimes when I picked her up she would just start talking about the ballgame!

As tragic as it was for her to suffer a massive stroke in the middle of her brother's funeral Mass, I'm just glad it did not happen to her when she was home alone.  Like many in advanced age, she would sometimes talk about  her days coming to an end.  My own mother did that for the last 25 years of her life! It was only about 6 weeks ago when she mentioned it again, and, referencing an expression of my mothers I said, "Grace, you're here until God pulls your time-card and until then, you have work to do."  I can still picture her hearty laugh at that quip.

Rest in peace, Grace.

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