Eulogy for Alice Marie Conlon Choma

St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington, NC, February 3, 2018

My sister Alice and I grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, New York in the 60’s. I share these words with you today so you can understand Alice’s beginnings and how she became the beloved woman, sister, mother, and friend to all, despite an arduous and difficult path. Alice’s very beginning of life was wrought with challenges when my mother became so mentally ill that her newborn’s life was in danger. I was thrilled to meet my brand new red headed sister, but, she was taken away to live with our aunt in Long Island for the first year of her life and we have remained eternally grateful to Aunt Agnes for saving Alice.

 

As struggling survivors in a sea of mental illness we shared an impenetrable bond all of our lives. In many ways, I was her protector but in all ways we offered each other whatever was needed for survival. We understood. We knew the secrets, the damage, and held onto the love of our father and grandmother. As years passed, we also came to find humor in the not-so-funny times that as we aged became hilarious to us. So Alice and I would lie in her bed sometimes just roaring laughing at the crazy memories we had. We also held hands in that bed and wept.

 

Alice became a nurse, which was the perfect field for her where she could offer her compassionate care to all she met. She went onto meet Roman whom she married and had a wonderful life on Long Island with her precious daughters Katie and Maddie. She would bring the girls out to visit us and our kids would play at the beach all day. It was an idyllic time in all ways despite our mother’s relentless rages.

 

When Roman died ten years ago it was a shock to Alice and their daughters. In Alice’s typical fashion, she promised me on a Friday that she felt she should stay put in their Wake Forest home for year or so until the dust had settled but on Monday she called me to say she’d just bought a home in Wilmington and was moving! I dreaded the two-hour distance between us.

 

However, it was likely one of the best decisions Alice would ever make. Her daughters were also in Wilmington at this point and Alice began creating a life for herself in which she thrived. She began dating and making friends and suffice to say that ten years later she has more devoted and loving friends than I could have ever imagined. Alice’s love for her two strong daughters is nearly indescribable and it breaks all limits of pride, hope, and adoration.

 

Alice was diagnosed the day after Christmas 2012. When she called I vowed to be with her every step of the way, but the last five years of Alice’s journey are truly inspirational. She never faltered but forged on from one treatment to another, the next plan, and always with her eye on where the next fun time with her friends and family might be. The beach called her whenever there was a ray of sun and this was truly her happy place toes in the sand, a good book and a friend or daughter.

 

Alice loved lying out on the couch on her back patio under the covers where we were never lost for words and continued to try and solve the mysteries of our past and all current dilemmas. Her patio was bliss and her yard was beautiful. The red cardinal that visited her in these last few months seemed to be on a mission and she relished in his visits. I am so grateful we got to spend Christmas Eve together.

 

But mostly Alice loved to dance more than anything and even when she was wheelchair bound for a time, she managed to go to Bluewater with her friends to “dance.” She even went on a cruise THIS past November, with her dear friend and had a great time. And always her airbnb business thrived, as Katie and I would marvel, “How can a woman dragging an IV pole meet her guests at the door and get 5 star ratings?” They all loved staying with Alice and her beloved dogs and Alice was proud of her life as an entrepreneur as well.

 

Katie took good care of Alice as she lived nearby and their love and laughter was endless. They always “got” each other. Alice’s independence was key and typically NONE of us was allowed to drive since she had to be at the wheel. In the hospital three weeks ago, the hardest news for Alice was “no more driving” and “no more living alone.” Maddie arrived from NYC and moved in with Alice and me and cared for her mother with the most devoted, tender loving care I have yet to witness, including sleeping with Alice, and following all Hospice directives.

 

It may seem odd to you to hear us say, we were shocked when Alice became so ill on Thursday morning and was gone by evening but we are. Supposedly she had a month or so left on the meter and wanted to visit funeral homes, choose urns, etc with us. We did do some of that and even then we had laughs over all of it. The directors would ask “who is this for?” because Alice looked so good. Her time ended abruptly and we have that empty feeling that will likely remain with us.

 

I don’t know what I will do without being able to call my sister every morning on my way to the office and every evening on my way home. I don’t know who will care as much about my sons as their dad and I do. I don’t know who I will argue with, plot with, cry or laugh hysterically with. I do know that it took me a long time to realize that all this time, my baby sister has had it more together than I do, with her positive, loving attitude that accepts all in every way and puts kindness and tolerance ahead of all judgments. Quoting from the song “I Want You to Stay,” “Funny you’re the broken one but I’m the only one who needed saving, ‘cause when you never see the light, it’s hard to know which one of us is caving.”

 

I have truly borne witness to Christ’s love through my sister. I am here as needed or desired for Katie and Maddie as our hearts break. As for her friends – you were her life’s blood in every possible way. YOU gave her the life she’d craved and dreamed of and I am deeply sorry for you to lose her.

 

When I leaned over to kiss my sister as she lay dying in Hospice Care Center I will share with you what I said to her. “Alice, I have loved you from the moment I first laid eyes on you, my baby sister and I have never stopped loving you for every moment you have been on earth, nor will I stop loving you until I join you on the other side and all begins anew. God bless you and keep you my dearest sister.”

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Daring Greatly

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We thought she had at least a month left.

She seemed in good spirits with energy on most days.

So we ate and we went out,

Had visitors and snuggled with the dog.

We talked and we shed some tears

Along with a whole lot of laughing.

Her daughter would curl up

Next to her in bed each night.

The cannula in place

And the loud oxygen machine was on.

Both were settled and comfy.

First mom would begin to read

But when her eyes got fuzzy from

Morphine, Atavan and the lull of the O2

The daughter would take over reading

Not missing a line.

But mom’s eyes would open

Because she didn’t want to miss a word

It was a sight to see

And was really so lovely

To watch mother and daughter

Read the likes of Brene Brown’s

“Daring Greatly” on library loan.

With a synopsis that says

“How the courage to be vulnerable

Transforms the way we

Live, Love, Parent and Lead.”

So even when close to the end,

Learning vulnerability is essential

And in discussing these concepts

Mother and daughter could

Work out some kinks in their past

And make sure that their love

Was clear and understood

Despite the book being overdue.

For the few times I peered in

And was struck by this scene

I believe it may stay with me forever.

What a gift this daughter gave

To herself and to her mother,

Who has now left this vulnerable earth.

I hope someone gives that to me

Before I leave all behind.

Because Daring Greatly is no easy feat.

Alice Gone

Alice and me IMG_5599

 

I am here

You are gone.

But it is your home

Not mine.

Your photos.

Your sayings everywhere,

Your family,

Your beloved friends,

Your chair

Your kitchen,

Your cheesecake,

And whipped cream.

Your sneakers at the door

And your robe waiting for you

After your shower

With the shower chair

To keep you steady.

Your bills are on your desk

Your satin jacket is hung

On the hook by the door

Waiting to take you outside

Your scarves are hung,

The dog leashes

Are in the drawer.

The cheese filled pretzels

That you came to crave

Are in the already opened bag

Waiting to be finished.

Your husband’s ashes

Are on the table.

And your flowers

Were sent to you

Not to me

And they need more water.

I am an interloper

Poking through YOUR stuff

And organizing

And trashing

And donating

And packing away

Feeling so embarrassed

For what feels like prying.

I do not want you to feel

Judged

Or ashamed

Or defensive

About the possessions

You’ve accumulated.

We all have them.

They drown us all.

I do not belong here

With your daughters

And your dog

YOU do.

This is your home,

Your life

And your heart and soul

Fill this place.

You’ve left forever

Some 48 hours ago

And my skin

Is begging to be peeled off

As my heart is ripped open

Not knowing how I will

Navigate the rest of my life

Without you, my dearest sister.

The keeper and the sharer

Of all the secrets we have ever known.

I warned you

That I would not do this well

And it is so much worse than

I could have ever imagined.

I will come and rescue you

I am convinced

That you are somewhere

And you are cold.

So I will come with blankets

And carry you home with me

So we can talk and laugh

Some more

And solve all the things

We never did get to.

Please my sister,

Please my darling,

Please come back to me

It is enough now

I want to lay back down with you

And hold your hand

As you hold mine

So we know

We can both be okay

With each other

The two chairs we sat in

Are still there

But they’re empty,

We were taking in some sun

While we knitted

And crocheted like old ladies

With you wearing both

Your sunglasses

And your reading glasses,

While your daughters

Laughed at us

And we laughed too!

 

But it is not funny anymore.

Can you come back now?

Please.

 

 

 

JUST LOVE

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JUST LOVE

And in the end,

All there really is

Is love.

Nothing less

Nothing more

Nothing after

And nothing before.

 

We sisters are only two

There were none before us

And none after.

Together we fought

Tooth and nail

Through the abuse

And the confusion

For utter survival.

It was never easy

Getting through

The years of our life

In putrid dysfunction

That rendered us nearly

The same as the situation.

 

But having each other

Is always, always, always

What got us through.

We clung to the hearts

That beat in our chests

To remind us we were okay

And to tell each other

We were more than our misery.

 

I couldn’t be sadder today

It would not be possible

Having spent the day,

In a hospital with my sister.

My only.

My dearest.

My red-headed.

My ever so kind.

My caring and wise.

My friend to all,

Forever sister.

Yes, THAT one

Was given bad news

On top of more bad news

Over and over

All day long

Heaped on

Like wet cement.

The cancer

Oh the fuckin’ cancer

The bane of our existence

That goddamned cancer

Is winning despite it all!

The alternative and the not,

The prayers and the hopes,

The denial that trumped all!

It spread like hell anyway.

A breast wasn’t enough

It took over her bones

And every single bone

Including one replaced by titanium

Yet still not satisfactory,

To fill this beast.

So now it moved into

Her epicenter

The place that rules

And runs her mind

And her being.

The leech wants it all

So it moved on smearing

The entire lining of her brain

Yes the sonuvabitch

Is determined to kill her.

And if you think gun control

Would cut down loss of lives

This satanic monster

Leaves the guns in the dust.

 

She left no stone unturned

The juices

The Coffee enemas

The vitamins

The heat

The crystals

The teas

The needles

The massages

The organics

The beliefs

Even downright

Fresh red blood.

Her sweet, sweet heart

That makes everyone

Who knows her,

Love her.

The caring so deeply

For her daughters

And being a listening ear

For her only sister, me!

 

You see, we two

Know things that no one else does

We share the secrets of over 60 years,

Yes we do.

There will never be any way

I can share it with you,

Because frankly

“you had to be there”

and you weren’t,

but we were!

 

Tonight, still laying

In the hospital bed

She says she is crying

From kindness

And that she can

Really feel her heart

Filling up with love.

There is no limit

On what all this love

Wants to do for her

To give her the most cherished

Days of all.

 

Go ahead now

You scourge

Of the last two centuries

Cut away a good half of me

And steal my beloved sister

Who just wanted

To walk her daughters

Down the aisle

But ran out of time.

See how well I stand up

Without a whole half missing

And my heart that is already

Broken in a million pieces

Gets ground up even more.

Ashes to ashes

Dust to dust.

 

She says she isn’t

Ready or able to leave us

But hey dammit

I am not ready

And frankly unable

To leave her.

Pinhole of Light Dressed in a Diaper

Babyimage1

It was a dark time for them all,

And with the passing of a dimly lit Christmas

The January chill seemed to settle into one’s bones.

They missed him and weren’t sure

How to piece together a life without him.

But a stirring began within her

And though she was never sure

If it was time,

The swirling life inside her

Had a plan for this moment

And it mattered not

Who was ready

Who was not

Who was sad

Who was glad.

He was stirring

 

So the two elder mothers

And the swollen young daughter

Drove in the cold, dark night

To meet with the women

Who could help.

They formed a circle

As if in the “Red Tent.”

And held the laboring young woman

Through a long

And painful night

Filled with fears,

Insecurities and always

The relentless “missing” and yearning,

Of him.

 

Her body opened

But then it closed

As if to say

“I think I am ready

But I am not sure.”

And the little one inside

Felt much the same way.

There was groaning and thrashing

Through the dark hours

Of the night,

As her body took over

Knowing what to do

Even without her input.

 

But still the women

Held her and rocked her

And whispered to remind her

Of the incredible strength she owned.

But he, whom she adored

Was only granted

An occasional quarter hour phone call

That was monitored and recorded,

Yet loaded with desperate desire

to bear witness

to what he referred to

as the most important moment

in his life.

He was not allowed to be there,

And the recording said,

“Sixty seconds left”

before disconnecting.

But the women present,

Made it their mission

To secure her strength

And power

Carrying her through

With their patience

And sustenance.

 

And when her body and her soul

Could no longer remain in the limbo

Of three steps forward

And two steps back,

Or of coming out

And shyly returning back in,

The storm came in with a vengeance.

And it was time, more than time

To push with all her might

And all her love and fierceness

That had been buried so deeply.

She rode those waves like a beast

With the finesse of a west coast

Surfer who rises with the tide

Some smooth as glass

But others like a wild tsunami

 

And the women.

All the women

Built that circle around her

With her own mother

Supporting her entire daughter

Physically and emotionally,

Watching her pain and struggle

Yet unyielding in her loving support,

As I watched in awe,

Never having known what it might be like

To see one’s daughter bearing a child

As a mother once did herself.

I’ve never had a daughter, only sons.

The midwives said,

“Try this, try that”

And she so politely

Acquiesced where the best of us

Might well not have.

But she remained gracious

And ever grateful

Even expressing her thanks

When she could barely breathe.

 

And at the peak of the storm

When it became desperate and urgent

To birth this child

Through the glory of God.

With the invisible feminine hand

Of a Holy Spirit

Whom I call upon and revere,

In an unspeakably

Harsh world of reality.

An innocent, perfect

Child is born,

Bringing refreshment,

Joy of new life

Created in love

And a hope needed

More than ever before.

 

The darkness and the loss

May remain for now

But the pinhole of light

Has expanded and there

Is joy to be had,

And brightness to behold.

This mother’s son

Has been born,

A new human on earth.

And she too will now learn

The unquenchable, unfathomable

Language of the unconditional

Love of a mother

For her son

On this day

And all the days to come.

 

 

 

Are You There God? It’s me, Ann

So many praying for me

For us, for all of us

And I believe they really are.

None are just offering lip service

They’re no lying Prez saying,

“You’re in our thoughts and prayers”

Nope, it’s the real deal.

They really ARE praying

With all intention needed.

I can feel their prayers sometimes.

And they rock my heart.

But how is it then

When I reach up

Out of this deep

Dark, wretched hole,

Stretching as high as I can

Searching, begging,

Pleading, screaming,

Offering my heart

And my soul

Until my arms

Give up

My hands still

Come back empty

I can’t find God

For the life of me.

 

November 2017

In the open fields

Of the abandoned state mental hospital

I went for my first outing.

I didn’t want to enter the outer world

Because I am so afraid

And so cold even inside.

It feels slightly safer in here.

But I took the dog out there

And heard the leaves crunching under foot

I didn’t really look down at them, just listened.

And then, I found

The biggest, widest, oldest

Most gnarled, huge old oak tree.

I rubbed its rough messy trunk,

Pressing hard enough

To feel pain in my hand

Wanting to bleed out the agony.

And then I laid my head

Against the roughest part

And wept and wept

Uncontrollably,

Knowing that so many

Broken hearts and fractured minds

Had come to weep before me.

With their ghosts still wandering

On these grounds where they were kept,

Sedated and restricted

Within their tortured souls.

I pressed my face into the bark

Sobbing from deep in my gut,

Sensing this tree

Had heard worse

And lived on anyway

And then I looked up,

So very high up

And begged and wailed

Hoping someone would

Hear me pleading for help

For me, for my son, for us all.