2016 was already on track as one of the worst years ever. And just before it was about to end, it threw one final twist my way. I endured the loss of my mother a few days before Christmas. She was 91 years old but you would never have known it. She had a quick wit, she was sharp as a tack and there was no slowing her down.
A number of years ago, my mother, Effie Mullowney, was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm in her chest. Her doctor told her there was a procedure that could minimize the problem. The operation was risky for anyone, especially a patient at her age, but she was told there was a chance it would prolong her life.
“Prolong my life?” she said. “I’m 85 years old. My life has already been prolonged.”
She made peace with her diagnosis and decided to go about her life as usual. She matter-of-factly explained her condition to me and my brothers.
“I have a ticking time bomb inside me, but I can’t sit around and worry about it,” she told us. We were more troubled by my mother’s diagnosis than she was. We knew there was no way to force her to have surgery that might leave her incapacitated or worse. I believe some of her reasoning had to do with the death of my father in 2011. His passing left a void in her life that could never be filled.
Years passed and my mother lived a vibrant life. At age 91, she insisted on cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and doing laundry. There were programs that could help her with all of those things, but she chose to do everything on her own. She was stubborn and independent until the end.
When the aneurysm in her chest burst last week in the middle of the night, she was rushed to Mass General Hospital. Upon her arrival she was awake and alert. The doctors and nurses were ready to begin life-saving procedures but my mother refused treatment. She wanted to do things on her terms, her way. It was her life. It was her right.
On Sunday, she was visited by all of her children and grandchildren. She was coherent and she recognized all of us. She told each of us how much we meant to her. We knew she was very ill, but we didn’t know it would be our last time being with her. She went to sleep comfortably Sunday night and passed away peacefully with no pain.
My mother was known as “Bunny” to her friends and family since she was a child. She touched so many people’s lives for so many years. I spoke to one of her cousins who told me my mother always ended their weekly phone calls with a funny story just before hanging up, leaving her cousin with a smile every time.
“That was Bunny’s motto – always leave them laughing,” cousin Loretta told me.
Bunny lived a long life with enough legendary adventures to fill two or three lifetimes and then some. At her visitation services, everyone had an outrageously funny over-the-top story of something my mother said or did. I was touched by the many recollections from family and friends, each person’s story funnier than the next. It was heartwarming to hear, especially under the circumstances. My family was lucky to have Bunny healthy and happy for as long we did.
At the end of the funeral mass, my son, Max, read a touching eulogy to the saddened crowd. The laughter and applause in the church sounded so comforting in contrast to the somber situation. There were tears of course, but in the end it was the laughter and smiles that will be remembered. Bunny would have wanted it that way.
I want to extend a special thank you to my family, cousins and close friends who offered their love and support during this difficult time. I appreciate it more than I can say. Bunny will be greatly missed, but she will live on forever in the hearts of everyone who loved her.