A Woman of Courage, A Woman of Peace

August 22, 2005

I had to get the news by e-mail. I was in Vermont on Friday, my fifth day in the region, the third day of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. I don’t have a phone in the apartment I rent, and my cell phone doesn’t work on the mountain. After the usual breakfast with my friends, I went over to the library before the morning lecture to check my e-mail. Among the messages was one from Ron labeled “My Mom.” I opened that first.

Ron’s mother, my beautiful, beloved mother-in-law, died in her sleep sometime before morning rounds on Friday at the nursing home where she had lived for two years. She’d turned 90 in April, and had been in a slow but steady decline for many months. Back in October she’d been certified for hospice care. This requires your physician to determine that you have six months left. The care, in the form of a visitor several times a week, usually at meal time, was designed to improve her cognitive functioning and social interaction in an effort to enhance the quality of those last months.

And it worked. Eva brightened some and remained oriented in time and place and person, or reasonably so. If you greeted her or made some remark to her she would respond appropriately, but she would not continue the conversation nor would she initiate one. She gained a little weight, a result of her visitor’s encouraging her to eat and engaging her in conversation about the food, about the restaurant her husband’s family operated for many years, about the memories of the rich and full life she had lived. At the six month mark, however, hospice care was withdrawn. It had worked so well that she no longer qualified. (This cycle is not uncommon for individuals who are not beset by a specific, progressive disease such as cancer.) In the four months that followed she did lose some of the ground that she’d gained, but not all of it. Her death was unexpected but not unanticipated. I called Ron as soon as I read the note. He was calm and in charge, as I knew he would be. Lynn was with him. He was adamant that she report to her field hockey training camp on Saturday and that I continue with the conference obligations and activities that I had through Saturday afternoon. The funeral was set for today.

I left on Saturday at about 4:00, reaching home about 1:00 a.m. Lynn came back from camp late yesterday afternoon. By this morning the other grandchildren had assembled, as well as a host of friends and extended family. We had visiting hours in the morning, the funeral Mass at 11:00 followed by interment, and then the traditional buffet at the Italian Club in her home town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, the site of so many family celebrations of the past.

Ron insisted that Lynn return to camp and I return to Vermont. There would be time to bind up the wounds and stitch up the loose ends later.

In 2000 my mother-in-law, widowed for two years and beginning to show the first signs of profound aging, moved to an assisted living facility. For her next birthday I put together a scrapbook of her life, the only such project that I’ve actually completed. At the time I said to myself, if not me, then who? If not now, don’t bother. I’m glad she had it for the short time she did, especially as she began to fade into herself, becoming more and more unreachable. It was something her new neighbors and caregivers could look at to learn something of the Eva they hadn’t been able to know. I have it back now. And I have one more page to add:

Eulogy Spoken for
Eva Petrucci DeAngelis
Margaret Yakimoff DeAngelis
August 22, 2005
Eva DeAngelis at 23Who can find a virtuous woman? asks Proverbs 31. Those of us who knew Eva Petrucci DeAngelis had certainly found one.

She was born in 1915, the oldest of four children of Italian immigrant parents. She graduated from high school, married young, worked in her husband’s family business, and later in the town’s family business, the office of the chocolate company. She kept her rosary in her purse beside her Tic-Tacs, both of which, I am told, she used daily. Like the woman described in Proverbs, she rose while it was yet night and provided food for her household. She opened her hand to the poor, she opened her mouth with wisdom, and she did not eat the bread of idleness. When we talk about what made America great in the first half of the twentieth century, it is people like Eva, and Tony, and Flash, and Ezenne, that we mean.

She was 67 years old when I met her. I married her son somewhat late in my life, and produced her fourth grandchild. My daughter, Lynn, was blood of her blood, but Eva treated me as if I were as well. When she was 75 she accompanied Lynn and my niece and me on a day at Hershey Park. After about five hours of rides and shows and park snack food, she announced that she needed to be getting home, because she and Tony were going out to dinner. As I prepared to gather up the girls so I could drive her, she stopped me. “Oh, I don’t want you to lose your parking space,” she said. “I can walk.” And she did, two miles. On my best day then I couldn’t have done that, and I don’t expect to be doing it when I‘m 75 either.

On another such day out and about together, after we’d dropped Eva off at home, Lynn turned to me in the car and said dreamily, “I just love Grandma.” Because I was fond of probing my five-year-old’s mind, I asked her, “Why do you love Grandma?” Lynn looked at me, perhaps for the first time but certainly not for the last, as if I were incredibly thick, and said, “Because she’s Grandma!”

And that’s why I loved her, too. She was a woman of courage, and a woman of peace. She had a habit of prayer in which she sought to know the will of God for her life and to carry it out with grace and good cheer. She was a great model to me of acceptance and forbearance. In the last decade of her life she buried her husband, her brother, two sisters, and a number of her friends. She moved from her own home to an assisted living facility and finally to a nursing home. In none of these losses did she complain.

In recent weeks she would say to visitors, “I’m glad you came by. I’m going home soon.” We took that as a sign of an increasing loss of orientation in time and space. Last Thursday she said to one of her dearest friends, “I’m glad you came by. You know, I’m going home tomorrow.” And so she did. And there is not a doubt in my mind that as she whispered in prayer, “When, oh Lord?” the answer came, “Now,” and her heart, forgiven, leapt into the Savior’s welcoming arms.

Eva has gone before us with the sign of faith and rests in the sleep of peace. Once, back in second grade or so, my friends and I learned that heaven consisted of one’s being able to “behold the beatific vision” for eternity. We asked Sister what this meant, and she said, well, you looked at God and he looked at you, all the time. That was a bit abstract for seven-year-olds. I understand it better now, but I still want to fall back on something more concrete. So I turn to the poet E.E. Cummings, himself a man of faith, who imagined what heaven would be like for his beloved parents. The poet writes:

If there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)
standing near

swaying over her. . .

This is my beloved . . .

(suddenly in sunlight
he will bow

& the whole garden will bow)


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