As I begin another school year as a teacher, I reflect on the summer of 2016, when I made memories going to the beach at the Jersey Shore with family and friends. But the real gift and the memories I will always hold in the deep recesses of my heart are from 2015.
My mother was a remarkable woman. She was a fighter and hard worker and never complained about being tired or not feeling well.
That summer I spent a month with my mother, Angela Falciani, in Ocean City and Avalon, New Jersey. She was eighty-six years old and had Parkinson’s disease, which had been diagnosed when she was eighty. She was never on medication before that and had no other health conditions. My mother was a remarkable woman. She was a fighter and hard worker and never complained about being tired or not feeling well. By 2015, the Parkinson’s had progressed and she needed full-time care. I spent a great deal of time with her. It was a gift for which I will always be grateful.
The summer we spent together, we went to the beach every day and she flirted with the lifeguards as they helped her in her wheelchair. She went in the water. We took rides to a nearby park. The highlight of her day was sitting by the pool and seeing her many boyfriends. She only had one honey, my father. They were married for sixty-one years, and he took excellent care of her.
We would then go out for ice cream, her favorite thing in the world. She also loved Manco pizza. She would be clapping to the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett at 8:30 p.m. on the boardwalk. She always tried to walk with a walker instead of staying in the wheelchair. We even took rides to the SuperFresh grocery store in the wheelchair, a two-mile round-trip. That was always an adventure, stopping for cookies and a water break. She said to me, “This is a little crazy.”
As the summer wore on, she became more tired but still never complained. We returned from the beach in the middle of August before my school year began. My mother had a pretty good September. However, in early October she began to have trouble swallowing. After a swallow test the doctors recommended a feeding tube. Our family opted against that choice. We continued to feed her with pureed food and hoped for the best.
On October 17, 2015, my mother developed a fever and a cough that would not go away. We took her to the hospital and they told us she had aspiration pneumonia. For the next two days we tried to get her to eat and explored all of her options. On Friday of that week around two o’clock, after the doctor left, my father said, “I think it is time.” He scooted his chair next to the hospital bed and held my mother’s hand and asked her, “Honey, are you ready to go see the angels?” Three times she said, “Yes.” I asked her, “Mom, are you tired?” She responded, “Yes.” At that point we decided as a family to place her in comfort care.
I told her that all her work was done and we were all going to be okay. I also assured her that I would take care of her honey.
She was given last rites and for the next eight days she was constantly surrounded by our family. My mother is the oldest of nine and my father is one of ten. My brother Mike was away. I asked her several time during those eight days, “Where is Mike?” She waited for him. Two days before she died he called and said he was home. My brother John picked him up from the train station and took him to the hospital.
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I had said during those eight days that she was going to die on either November 1 or 2, which are All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The morning of November 2 at 4:15, my brother John called and said he was at the hospital. The nurses had called him and told him she was going to die soon. I went and sat with her, showing her pictures and talking to her. I told her that all her work was done and we were all going to be okay. I also assured her that I would take care of her honey. My brother dozed off and my mother’s breathing became more rapid. I yelled to John and startled him. He held her hand and minutes later she passed away. It was peaceful and she didn't suffer.
The doctor entered and pronounced her dead. My brother told the doctor she lived a great life and always did it her way. I am sure she is running heaven and telling Saint Peter what to do.
Shortly after my mother passed away, a friend asked me what were the greatest lessons my mother taught me. My mother taught me:
how to give
how to work hard
how not to feel sorry for myself
how to always think of someone else first
She was one of a kind. She was the vice principal for twenty-five years at Saint Joseph’s School in Swedesboro. She worked for free. She also ran my brother’s liquor store for thirty years until she was eighty and got sick. She helped raise five kids, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She taught herself the liquor business by reading wine magazines and attending wine tastings. In addition she was a gourmet cook, gardener, and never wore pants.
One of her former students said she not only taught him reading and math but she taught him about life. Another student said she made me and my brothers better people.
I will never forget that summer of 2015 or all the wonderful memories she gave our family. One of my cousins refers to her as “the amazing lady.”
At the funeral, my cousin Anthony gave the eulogy. He said that she got a first-class seat 1A to heaven.
Joann Falciani is a teacher at Willistown Country Day.