A Lesson on Love, Faith and Family

For me, my aunt epitomized what it meant to be intentional, authentic and faithful.

‘Votive Candles’
‘Votive Candles’ (photo: Shutterstock)

Danny stood up before the group. 

It had been just a little over a week since his mom, my aunt, had passed away from complications related to Alzheimer’s and cancer. As the second oldest of four boys, Danny and I, and our brothers, had shared countless experiences as young men in formation in her household. Born in New York City, and the oldest of seven children, Aunt Maureen had been, as Danny would later say, a “force of nature” her entire life. In the midst of her life as a married mother of four boys, she had also been an actress into her 50s in addition to being a teacher and holding more roles than any obituary could ever capture. For me, Aunt Maureen epitomized what it meant to be intentional, authentic and faithful.

Gathered together, among many other friends and family, were 15 of my aunts and uncles (including my grieving uncle Bill) and 25 cousins. For all of us, Maureen had her own impact, some of which occurred at “her red oak dining table … as formative as any platform in the life of our family,” where, as a little boy and a young man, I joined more than 70 friends and family for a Thanksgiving dinner that never failed to impart the importance of being together. 

Danny recounted how his mom “worked hard constantly. … She never stopped leading by example on this front, and thus her lessons brushed up against the topic of our work ethic. She framed our every weekend morning, and every summertime day, with a list of chores that needed to be accomplished before we could relax or watch TV.” 

As a young boy and visitor in their house, I knew Aunt Maureen meant business. As Danny noted, “Mom didn’t care who was watching when she was administering lessons or supporting her family ... or when she was personally bouncing up and down to stress test furniture before it was purchased.” But for Maureen, it was the “razor-sharp focus for the ones she loved … that morphed everything else into a meaningless backdrop if she thought it was an important moment.” 

Through it all, faith guided her life. “She attended Mass like clockwork,” said Danny. And her most important lessons “centered around matters of the heart. Our house growing up was a fortress of love, and if marriage is the highest expression of love, then it’s no surprise my mom had a lot to say on the topic of what it means to be a good spouse.”

“Mom spoke about love literally, like when she chided me intensely for repeating out loud that a good friend felt her one parent should divorce the other. She made it clear in no uncertain terms that I should keep their marriage out of my mouth, as I didn’t know even a little bit about the topic until I had a successful one of my own.”

As a consummate learner and teacher, Maureen had participated in a friend’s daughter’s doctoral study, with a line of her contribution that indicated, “I am happy with the body that has carried me to where I am. I am blessed with four sons that it has born for me. I like being athletic and strong. I like working hard during the day and sleeping well at night. I thank God to share this life with a person that completes me in every way. I want my mind to be always learning. My eyes are my soul’s window.”

Danny concluded, “She should know that we will miss her, that we loved her fiercely to the moon and back, and that we were always listening at the table. God bless our mom and may she rest in peace.”

Amen, Danny. Amen.