This past year had been very difficult for my mother, as both her body and mind were failing.
Congestive heart failure caused her legs to swell painfully, and the slightest exertion left her struggling for breath. She was lucid just enough of the time to know her mind was no better than her body.
“Let’s call Rose,” she’d say, and I’d have to tell her, “Mom, Aunt Rose died years ago.” She’d be pained at the news of her sister’s death and at the fact that her mind couldn’t hold on to even the most important of things.
My mother, Anne Iapalucci, the daughter of Italian immigrants, married my father, Frank Bonasia, in 1949. After a year living in Ozone Park near their families, they thought they had moved out into the country when they bought a small brick cape in Elmont for $12,500. They were married for 63 years and raised four children. While Dad worked, Mom was the primary caregiver. It was she we went to with our problems. It was she who hugged us. It was she who made the sign of the cross for us every time we left the house. It was she who gave verbal and physical expression of their love for us.
Recently retired, I had been visiting her in the rehab facility in Smithtown almost daily since December. As it happened, I was traveling when she died on March 12, the first weekend I had been away in months. When my sister called me late at night with the news, I immediately was thankful that I had had the time to spend with her that I did, but wished I had done more.
Upon my father’s death in 2012, I took it upon myself to deliver a eulogy. I was, after all, an English teacher, a believer in the power of words to say what needs to be said. After much hard work, I was satisfied with what I composed and delivered for him. But after my mother passed away right around Easter time, I struggled greatly with her eulogy. After a few days and many drafts, I was still disappointed with my efforts. Maybe it had to do with what a volunteer at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Rocky Point said when we were discussing arrangements for the funeral Mass.: “Fathers are very important, of course, but the passing of mothers is just so hard.” My sister began to cry and had to leave the room.
I wish I had been able to do a better job with her eulogy than I did. In the end, the best I could do was to admit the task was beyond me. I won’t burden anyone with the whole eulogy, but I’ll share this important part:
“I searched long and hard for examples to illustrate how deeply my mother loved us, how she taught us to love, and how profoundly she impacted our lives. But nothing I came up with was at all adequate. The best I could do to suggest how much she loved us has been to try to show how much we loved her, and that still isn’t nearly enough, and for that, Mom, I apologize from the very bottom of my heart. But I, who trust so much in words to say what needs to be said, just can’t find words worthy enough.”
Words had failed me, but this final image of my mother — one that will stay with me forever — did not.
Because the dress she had long ago selected to be buried in was now much too large for her diminished body, my sisters instead chose a different dress, a beautiful purple dress. It looked all the more stunning against her casket’s white linen interior.
Purple and white for a mother’s Easter-time funeral. For Christians, these are profound colors associated with suffering and royalty, with purity and virtue and grace, with death and life, with holiness.
That rich purple against the soft white linen expressed what I could not.
Reader Joseph Bonasia lives in Smithtown.