Thursday, January 28, 2010

Viola Lennon's Eulogy

Viola Lennon’s Eulogy by her daughter Maureen

The last years of my mother’s life were difficult for her because her health started to fail. She was often house bound because of it. For the last few years, we had a schedule where we brought her meals and checked on her daily. My sister, Gina and I referred to our respective days with our Mom as “Driving Miss Daisy”.

We would talk about how we were taking care of our Mom. But now, when I look back at it, she was the one taking care of us. We would bring our meals for her and then start to do a few things around her condo. She would make us stop doing the house work and sit on the couch with her. WHO WERE WE TO ARGUE? Before you knew it, you were sitting there, in the middle of the day, with your feet up on the table, reading the paper, watching CNN, drinking tea and eating chocolate. That was my mother, never in a hurry to do anything. Think about that one. She had 10 kids and she was never in a hurry to do anything.

My Mother had a deep and abiding faith. During this time, she would often wonder out loud what God wanted her to learn from her poor health and old age. I do not presume to know what God wanted my Mom to learn from it, but I can tell you what I learned from it. I got to know my Mother.

This is what I learned. She grew up in the Loyola area, the oldest of three kids. Her grandparents lived with her family in an apartment. Oddly enough, it was her blind grandfather who taught her to read. Reading was one of the great joys of her life up until the very end. She passed that love of reading on to all of us.

She attended St. Ignatius grammar school and St. Scholastica High school.

She adored her father. Unfortunately, he died when she was only 14 and his death changed the course of her life. She had dreamed of going to college in New York City but once he died that was no longer possible. She graduated from Mundelein College. Thereafter, she worked in New York City, with the YCW, the Young Christian Workers, which is where she met her life long friend Edwina Froelich. It was Edwina that brought Mom into the group that would then become Le Leche League

Le Leche League

What a group this is. When I think if LLL it makes me think of a famous quote by Margaret Meed who said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world….. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

What I have learned these past few days is what a vital role my Mother played in LLL. She was Chairman of the Board for five years, an active part of the Capital Funding Campaign and its Alumnae Association.

Up until her fall on Sept 15, she would sit in her condo and work on draft after draft of the latest edition of the Womanly Art…. She was really hoping to get back to it. She devastated when she realized that she would never get back to it.

The Sunday following her death, I read an article on a blog by Desiree O’Clair which stated in part “I think it was easier for me to enjoy my babies because of the woman of the League. I belonged to a subculture of society that gave me strength and love… I had been given a sacred opportunity to nurture and protect my babies. In this subculture my work was honored and my happiness was shared. The women of this subculture gave freely of their lives. We loved each other’s children. The examples set by the founding mothers were like a good old-fashioned bowl of chicken soup- simple, nourishing, healing. We were a tribe.”

Through LLL, she met the best friends anyone could ask for. One time while she was in ICU she called Betty Ann Countryman, her dear, dear friend They chatted for a long time about LLL and its issues. When she got off the phone she said, and I quote, “I hope God is not relying on me to fix LLL’s problems in my current condition”. Then she paused and said, “I don’t even look good”. That was my Mom, I put down vain until the very end but then someone suggested better term at her wake last night when they said she was regal.

She made us carry her compact and lipstick from the hospital the to rehab, back to the hospital, then back to rehab, back to the hospital and then to the condo.

I found a letter from Helene Scheff to my mother dated 1981 in which she wrote- “I cannot tell you how much I have learned at your hand. I cannot tell you the profound influence you have had on our family, all of whom keep a special place in their hearts for you. You deserve all the respect and love we have to give. May you live a long, fruitful life and may we work together for much of that time, for the things we hold dear”.

Helene and my Mom remained the dearest of friends to the very end.

My Mom had many moments during hospice where we were convinced that she was not going to make it. One such time happened about two weeks prior to her actual death where she slept for about 3 days, without food or water. Then she awoke that Monday morning asking for bacon. Shortly thereafter, we received a card, from her dear friend Leslie Hawkenson, one of the countless she wrote my Mom, which said, “bacon and chocolate, it doesn’t get any better than that”.

LLL and good Nutrition have always gone hand in hand. Good nutrition was so important to my Mom her entire life. We were just talking the other day about how if you helped my Mom push one of the two heaping shopping carts at the grocery store you could get a treat, which for us meant something with white sugar in it, often times it was sugared cereal. We would hide it in our bedrooms so no one else could get it. A funny thing happened these past 130 days, NUTRITION WENT OUT THE WINDOW AND FANNIE MAY CAME IN THE FRONT DOOR. I cannot begin to describe to you how much chocolate she ate or should I say we ate.

The emails I have received these last few days practically crashed my computer. I am going to have to talk to someone in my IT department. But they have reminded me that she was known for her sense of humor and sense of adventure. She was someone who would show up at the airport without a drivers license, without a ticket and somehow get on a plane. I received an email a LLL member last night which described an incident in Wash DC in which my Mom was traveling with a group of people from Japan. I got the impression that they didn’t speak English. She lead the way for the group to get into a cab and told the driver where they needed to go, at which point the driver said, “HEY FOLKS, THIS IS NOT A CAB, JUST A YELLOW CAR!”.

What really surprises me about that story is that she didn’t talk the guy into taking them to their destination. Nothing ever rattled her and somehow it always worked out.


My mother’s hospice experience will be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Why? You say. Because every person who played a role in it brought their very best to the experience.

First and foremost, our Mother, she never ONCE complained.

- All of her friends came for visits.

- People sent cards and emails from all over the world: From South Africa to Argentina.

-All of my brothers and sisters who cared for her these 130 days:

Elizabeth- You kept her in the light.
Mark- You kept the condo clean.
Mimi-You gave us Hospice Olive.
Becca- you were her spiritual connection.
Matt- You kept us laughing.
Cathy- I will get to you later.
Marty-You made sure we had all the shifts covered.
Gina- You got her home.

It is a beautiful thing to see people at their very best.

Thank you

Lastly, on behalf of my Mother and my family I want to thank a few people. We would like to thank the Doctors and Nurses at Glenbrook Northshore Hospital and Glenbrook Northshore Hospice who guided us every step of the way. Their care and compassion was exceptional.

I would like to thank our immediate families for their support and understanding during this time. We all dropped out of our families so that we could care for our mother. This meant that we missed games, events, parties, meals and so much more. We thank you .

Lastly, we would like to thank the one person who really made it all possible, our sister Cathy. When this started, and we brought her home, the Doctors told us it was only going to be a matter of days. Our sister Cathy, said she wanted to take the lead on her medical situation. I, for one, was against the idea. I wanted to hire someone because I thought it was too much of a responsibility. Cathy was adamant that she could run the show and that she did. She took vacation time, sick time and then she took time under the Family Medical Leave Act.

I know she thinks that she peeked in 6th grade when she was nominated most valuable cheerleader… but as my brother Marty said to her, “this was truly your finest hour”. She showed all of us how to take care for our Mother with respect and dignity. She gave us the courage to do it. Because of Cathy we were able to give our Mother her last wish, which was to die at home.

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