Saturday, March 16, 2013

Betty Anne, my mother

A year ago today my mom passed away. The past year is a blur in many respects. I don't know if the impulse to pick up the phone, to tell her a story or share a recipe, will ever go away. It stings when I remember and put the receiver back down, but perhaps it will feel worse when that no longer happens.

My mom delighted in little things and that is what I now miss the most---I've spent so much of my life looking for things that would delighted her. How she would have particularly delighted in Nolan at this age, how wrong it is that he won't know that delight first hand.

Below is the post I wrote a few weeks after we returned home. Thank you for allowing me to share some of her with you.

Mom passed away peacefully at home on Thursday, March 16, 2012.

Sitting on the floor of a Holiday Inn bathroom somewhere in Nebraska at 2 o'clock in the morning, as the boys slept in the room next door, I put together a slideshow for Mom's wake. It was surreal, but also therapeutic to spend quiet time alone looking through photos of Mom throughout different stages of her life. Mom loved music and her taste was eclectic. I used three of her favorite singers, Louie Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World", Eddie Vedder "Just Breathe" and Andrea Bocelli singing "Time to Say Goodbye"---the lyrics of which were in my last post. Here is an edited, shorter version of the video, minus that last song. I've added captions with my future adult sons as their intended audience. I'm keenly aware my kids won't know who is who in old photos unless I label them while I'm around:

BettyO'Malley from Deirdre Keating on Vimeo.

My sister Maria gave the eulogy. I've always known Maria is a great writer, but I wish I could share her delivery with all of you---the way she captured my dad's voice saying "No more parties." Or the whimsy in Mom's voice saying "Let's go to the movies." My mom had nine children, so in many ways she was nine different mothers and I didn't know how anyone of us could share the mom we experienced and still include everyone. Miraculously, Maria encapsulated the parts of my mom that everyone who loved her knew well: her love of celebration, spontaneity, and children.  Here's one of my favorite parts:

She was keenly perceptive of beauty: where to find it and how to create it.  Her whole life brimmed with books, music, theatre, politics, cuisine, gardening, fashion, decorating, sports, and religion.  Her vast powers of conversation to recall a telling detail or relate an incident with humor allowed her to spread her enthusiasm to others.  Above all, she loved movies.  Many of her favorite memories of growing up were attending the weekend double feature in the 1950s.  Indeed, watching a movie with my mother was an education, because one did not passively watch but analyzed and interpreted and rewatched important scenes.  This past fall she was not feeling well and when I came to visit I expected her to be tired but toward evening she said, “Let’s go to the movies.”  She warned me, “Dad may not let us.”  When we got to the show to see The Help her whole being was energized:  “I’ll get the tickets, you get the popcorn.”

The last coherent conversation I had with Mom was on March 10th. We were planning to drive in that Tuesday, after hearing that Mom hadn't been eating and was sleeping so much. Thursday, the 8th, I got calls saying a miracle had occurred, once again. She was up, eating a hamburger, and on the phone that Saturday she joked about the doctor complimenting her dancer legs. She was happy to hear we were coming but she insisted, "I don't know what they've told you, but I'm not going anywhere."

In the end, I wasn't there to hold her hand, as I had hoped, but we had said goodbye many times in the past year. I am comforted knowing my sisters Maria and Elizabeth were with her as well as my brother Martin, and as always, our dad, who gave her what I'm convinced is one of the greatest gifts possible: a peaceful passing in her own home. I've always been grateful for my siblings, but never more so than during that difficult week when we laid our mother to rest together. 

We are still in a fog of grief here, feeling our way. We were prepared, and completely not. Our Uncle Pat passed away that same week, so the boys attended two funerals on our short trip. How grateful I felt to have tradition and ritual and familiar words and songs at a time when my brain was so muddled. I will be processing, I know, for a long time, for the rest of time. I have never known a world without her in it. But already I feel comfort from those last words--- I see her face in my children and in my own efforts to live and love well. And I am  comforted by the Myth of the Missing Moon in a new way, and I know she was right, she wasn't going anywhere---she is with us still.


  1. I am so sorry for your loss, Deirdre. It sounds like your mother was a lovely person. I'll hold your family in prayer.

  2. Nothing pulls on my heart strings like photos paired with music. Such a beautiful tribute to your mom and the family she and your dad created. I think I started crying at the photo of you pinning your mom with a flower on your wedding day and I didn't stop until the end. Thank you for sharing her with all of us. Blessings to you. Love, Angie

  3. Beautiful.

    Please know that your favorite Bacons are thinking of our favorite Keatings. We love you all and pray for you and your journey of healing, grieving, growing, and letting go and hanging on. We love you!!!

    Thanks for sharing this personal post. It was truly inspiring and a gorgeous glimpse into a piece of your heart.

  4. Thank you, Katherine, I so appreciate that.

    Angie, I love that you watched the video. Thanks. I'm so grateful you met my mom in Chicago, and even more, that we had time together with both our moms in Tucson. Thank you for helping me be a better daughter via our friendship.

    Thanks to all the Bacons---it feels odd to put this "out there" online, but it felt even odder to write here without acknowledging where we really are. We appreciate all the prayers and love.

  5. I didn't respond to this when I first read it because I just thought and thought and thought about it, not knowing what to say, exactly... but please know that you've been in my thoughts daily for weeks now. A dear friend of mine lost her mother almost five years ago and though it doesn't get any easier for her, she has done a beautiful job of keeping her mom's memory alive for her four kids (two of which never met her). I think that is the key to coping, at least for her. Anyway. My silence on this didn't mean to appear intentional. xo

  6. Elizabeth, I wouldn't know what to say either, but I so appreciate your effort to say something anyway. I wish Wyoming was around the corner instead of a state away and my boys could give your girls a run for their money:)
    I'm grateful that all my sons got to spend time with my mom; I can't quite let myself think about the possibility that Nolan might not remember her. There are so many stories I want to capture about her---it definitely gives memory-keeping a new intensity.

    1. Wouldn't that be fun...

      I do find it unfair how many MORE memories I have of my grandparents than Katherine does, as I am nearly 8 years older. But we've done a pretty good job in our family with storytelling about people too, so that helps a lot.


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