Sunday, March 14, 2010
You have to take the bitter with the sweet. I get that. But sometimes, the bitter IS the sweet. A loss so great that results in a reunion so sweet...this is the story of Edith Marta Donatelli Mandish, and her passing from this life into the next.
I married into a family so vibrant, so intense and so LOUD. The Mandish clan was, from the beginning, part of the attraction. My Slav Father-in-law, Mike...a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for saying things so bluntly that it sometimes took my breath away and othertimes so funny that he made me laugh for days. My Italian Mother-in-law, Edith, whose existence was centered around her family, and who in later years, referred to me as her "Angel" (My husband doesn't always concur) was my biggest supporter. Their family included my husband Mike, his brothers Dan and Gene and their sister Christine.
Family gatherings were always intense...conversation was fast and furious, people talking over each other about politics, religion, news, books and our varied lives. Laughter abounded and voices escalated. One time when our daughter was about 12, she invited her friend Heather to come along for a gathering. We had our traditional dinner with everyone gathered around the table, talking long after the meal was over. When we went home, her friend asked, "Are they always mad at each other?" To which Amanda replied, "They weren't mad, they always talk at the same time in loud voices!"
Through the years, Edith was always an encourager. She often told me that she prayed for us...for Mike and I to be reconciled (we did), for Mike to quit smoking after decades, (he did) for our girls to get good educations (check) and for them all to find good husbands. (two down, one still pending, but we believe!) She had a rich and faithful prayer life. She never gave up. She spend many hours praying for anyone who needed prayer and many of us were the recipients of her faithful endurance on our behalf.
She grew up without a mother, due to the untimely death of her own when she was very young. As a result, she never knew the tender warmth of a mother's embrace, the encouraging words a mother can speak and she faced unusual harshness as a young child. Her father was a good man, but gruff and unsentimental toward his young children. His expectations were high and there was no time for foolishness. Her days were long and hard. She and her sister Norma were expected to cook and clean and iron from a very young age while also going to school. Before she was ten, she had to prepare her grandmother's body for viewing following her death. This was not a fairy tale childhood.
Even so, she raised four children, was the loyal wife of one man and lived a life of extraordinary faith in Jesus Christ. She attended a Baptist church when she was small, but, ultimately was baptised a Catholic and raised her children in that faith.
In her later years, she experienced a healing, which she kept secret for years, uncertain that anyone would believe her. She had cancer and the physicians she saw didn't hold out great hope for her recovery. But, they didn' t know about her prayer life. They also apparently weren't familiar with the Great Physician she had entrusted herself to. Years later she told me that she was up one night praying ...all night she prayed and suddenly she felt a heat come into her body from the top of her head down through her toes. At the same time, she heard the words, "Your body is healed", a healing that was confirmed when she returned to her earthly doctors. That was decades ago. She was given "bonus time".
In June 2007, her beloved Mike died. She missed him terribly. At one point she considered stopping her medications so that she could be with him again. Thankfully, a friend talked her out of that. Her last couple of years, though, every future event was couched with, "If I'm still here." When her most recent great grand-child, Ruby was on the way, she said she hoped to live to see her. She did and in fact enjoyed many visits with the blue eyed beauty she loved so much.
In January of last year, nearly all of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered for a surprise 90th birthday party at our home. Letters and cards came from loved ones near and far, and she reveled in the love that we poured out on her.
January this year, the party was smaller...the local family members gathered again around her table and she blew out candles on the cake I had made her. She was a blessed woman and contentment was hers. She appreciated every opportunity to be with us...to see the fruit of a life well lived and the results of the prayers she had long prayed.
Ironically, she died much the same as her beloved Mike did. A hip fracture, followed by a surgery and then a recovery that didn't come to fruition. But, the difference, the very sweet difference, was that we were given the precious gift of time. To the end, she was cognizant of what was happening...fully aware of those around her bedside and ultimately ready to let go and meet her Maker.
Blessed time. Time to read to her from the Word of God. Time to sing songs around her bedside. Time to talk about her wishes. She spoke to each one gathered around her bed, expressing her thoughts. Time to say good bye...time to talk about the reunion ahead of her, with her Mike, with her own Mother, with her brothers and sisters and with my own dear Dad. The day before she passed, all four of her children were with her all day...five of her grandchildren and one great grandchild was there. She told us she wanted "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "Amazing Grace" sung at her service by her granddaughter Lynne, and she was able to hear Lynne rehearse them for her at her bedside. She was ready and it was on her terms. It was the hardest and sweetest of times.
That night, her youngest son, Gene, chose to stay the night in her room. We all went home and slept, only to awaken to the news that she had crossed over from this life to the gates of Heaven, early that morning. The journey through the valley of the shadow of death, had come to a conclusion. Destination reached.
We planned services. We walked through them. We carried out her wishes. We sang songs, prayed prayers and spoke of what she meant to each of us. We spent countless hours as a family, recounting the gifts she had given us. Gifts of faith and love and acceptance and selflessness. In her apartment we found boxes of cards and letters she'd saved for more than half a century, from all of us. She had no jewels...no possessions of great worldly value. She often said that her children were her diamonds. In the end, it was imminently clear that her family was her treasure. That's where her heart was.
And so, her legacy is a life well lived. A life of faith. A life of endurance. A life of service. We have much to live up to, but, a deep well of example to draw from. It is very hard to imagine that she is no longer with us...that we can no longer enjoy her stories and her company. It is hard to say good-bye. But, she lived for the reward that now is hers and her reward is great. How could we begrudge her that? Still...