Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Seeing Jackie Reflected in Her Family

It's been four years since we said our last goodbye to Jacqueline Welch Fitzgerald, my mother. Indulge me for a moment as I dig out the notes I made for my mom's eulogy at her funeral mass. Delivering this was so important to me...connecting the dots from my mother to each of her nine children and sharing all that love with everyone who attended the celebration of her life. I promise its not morose...in fact, there are chuckles throughout.

I still reach for my phone to call her every day to share the silliest things...I doubt that will ever go away. Its incredible to have roots like this. Thank you, mom! Miss you every day...

I’ve been told for years how much I look like my Mom, Jackie. Like all daughters I cringe a bit at the reminder, but give me a chance and I’ll point out all of Mom’s most positive physical attributes. I’ll spare you the entire list today – but suffice to say that in my eyes Jackie was gorgeous!

As my family has supported my Mom on her Journey these last couple of months I have become more aware of just how much each of Jackie’s children resembles her in some way. You see, Jackie spent her life investing herself into a legacy that isn’t carved in granite or painted on the side of a building, rather one that lives and breathes and shares itself with so many. The living organism that is the Fitzgerald Family as a collective whole resembles its creators and today I’d like to point out the shadows of Jackie in each.

In John, the eldest, we witness the leadership skills that allowed Jackie to somehow coerce a group of nine independent-minded children and one hard-working husband to fall in line and carry out her wishes – no matter how much we whined. John, by chance and by nature, is a leader and no matter the size of the burden he will always step up to the plate immediately to shoulder it. He learned from our Mom that it isn’t the width of the shoulders, rather the pillar of strength on which those shoulders rest that allows a person to accept responsibility and carry it with honor.

Through Patrick we often glimpse diplomacy in action. Jackie wasn’t the first mother to live out the “Speak softly and carry a big stick” mantra – and Pat has certainly been schooled by the best. Trust me, it is an art to convince so many members of one family that it is big fun to spend countless hours running (and getting nowhere I might add, they just went around and around!) in the hot sun and freezing cold. Somehow he turned that into not just an activity but a passion that was shared with all of the Fitzgerald boys and even some of the girls. We have often asked Pat to negotiate the tough stuff and make everything work out for everyone. As we all know, none of those requests were easy, but all were accepted and carried out with the utmost of kindness and concern for everyone involved. Just like his Mom. True diplomats.

Number Three in our Family is Marian – Mom’s first daughter. The one she dreamed of right up until she was placed in her arms after birth. I remember Mom talking about that Moment and how she had already acknowledged to her doctor that she had two sons at home and she was sure this would be a boy too, rather than the daughter she longed for. Through Marian we can witness again the ultimate dedication of a Christian woman doing everything in her power to raise her children with faith. Jackie was committed to her children and seeing them flourish and to her faith and seeing it lived out in those children. It is an amazing testament to her love that we all survived countless Sunday masses when the giggles took over and we just couldn’t stop – although Jackie could usually halt the giggles with one snap of her fingers down the pew. She always knew who the offender was – even when it involved our Dad (who was a famous instigator of the giggles at mass). I’ve seen Marian make the same sideways glance down the pew and watched in amusement as more than one of her children straightened up and faced front. And, usually I started giggling at the sight because of the memories it invoked!

My brother, Mark, shared with Mom the ability to conceive of a vision for a goal and then fight for it no matter what the barriers. Mom taught him well to firmly believe his vision was the best possible and to put in motion whatever needed moving to achieve the goal. Most often Mom and Mark had congruent visions – over the last decade they’ve shared almost daily meals and conversations to reinforce this bond. But, wow, were these two were fun to watch when they chose different sides of something! I will never forget watching the two of them build a closet at the cottage many years ago. I can’t remember the specifics about their engineering discrepancy, but Mom was sure that her plan was the right one – and so was Mark. There is no lack of self-esteem anywhere in our family and I think it is apparent that little Jackie taught Mark to believe in his convictions and support them with passion. Even when the thing you believe in is as simple as the plan for a closet at your summer cottage!

Through Greg – the middle child – we see the humor that Mom always swore she didn’t have. After all, how can you not have a sense of humor when you are juggling nine kids and countless other responsibilities? Mom always contended that from birth Greg could light up a room just by entering it. And, as the 5th child, he learned early that in order to be noticed he needed to add a little flourish to his presence in every situation. Mom often told us that she had to learn to be funny in order to fit into Dad’s Irish family. I am sure that my parents bantered back and forth till their last days together about Mom’s English sense of humor vs. his Irish one. It still makes me laugh to think about that conversation – and how funny it really was. Mom was never the one to tell a joke outright, but she sure did light up a room when she walked in – just like her middle child.

Through Steve we witnessed Mom’s unending patience – something they shared from the earliest days. In both of them we have witnessed a serene sort of calm that must only come from within. In many cases that served them both well – for instance in those months and years that Mom would bandage and protect Steve’s hand after he burned it as a very young boy. All of us witnessed the epitome of patience when eating dinner with Steve – I think he was patiently waiting for each individual green bean to digest before chewing the next. There really is no other reason for the inordinate amount of time he spent at the dinner table each night. And, in true Jackie fashion, she allowed him his space and cleared the rest of the table around him. Never pushing or cajoling (after all, the rest of us did enough of that for her!). I believe that Steven was patiently waiting for Mom to join him on his Heavenly Journey these past two years and was there by her side giving her the space she needed to finish up matters here before she joined him this week.

Everyone who knew my Mom knows that she may have been a practical lady, but that she had a truly creative spirit. No one saw this more or shared it more fully than Colleen. Both of them seem to live their daily lives in such a matter of fact way, Colleen is an Engineer for gracious sakes. But, their spirits have always been nourished and challenged by their ability to think outside the creative confines of daily life and express their spirit in so many ways. My Mom is a poet and an author. She has painted in oil and watercolor . . . and always dreamt of the next opportunity to stir her soul with something not yet tried. In Colleen she had a confidant for those dreams. I know that they had several projects in various phases of completion that today remain unfinished – but our Mom never liked to leave something undone. I believe in the tenacity of the creative spirit and know that Colleen will find every way possible to continue to flourish creatively – not for Mom, but because of her.

In Number 9 – the youngest of the clan, Marcia, we witness the thing that always seemed to be the most obvious attribute of our Mother – intelligence. Now, Mom and Dad were always proud that they raised nine intelligent, educated kids. And, sure, we’ve all got the capacity to operate on someone’s brain, but Marcia actually does it! So, before the rest of my siblings think I’m saying that Marcia is the smartest, no, but she sure does make a good effort at it! She and Mom shared a love of learning – they challenged each other with the things they read and the ideas that were inspired. Jackie always respected Marcia’s intelligence (long before college and careers) and rightfully so, Marcia always respected Mom’s. That is the key to true intelligence, recognizing it in others and respecting their gifts. Jackie instilled a love of learning in all of her children and through Marcia we can see that her years of cultivation were meaningful in every way.

My mother had spunk! She was a faith-filled woman. And, she never wavered in her commitment to her family; from her own dear sisters and her little brother, to her parents and father-in-law, and my dad’s siblings and their children – who have always been so very dear to her. And especially her nine children as that family expanded to include in-laws and precious grandchildren that she adored.

Jackie knew how to reach out to people and comfort as well as prod. She recognized when it was time to hold back her own opinion in favor of letting someone make their own mistakes. But she was always there with a shoulder to cry on and an encouraging word about giving it one more try.

I am truly amazed today at what a forward-thinking woman my mother was. She was a goal-oriented lady who never stopped seeking knowledge about things that interested her. I love to imagine that petite, little lady when she graduated from Concord High School at the top of her class and proudly marched off with a scholarship to be the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college. She never thought much about the women’s lib movement – she’d been a working Mom with goals of her own for years. She set the bar high for her daughters and her sons. I don’t remember chores in our home ever being divided by gender – the important thing was that someone washed the dishes and mowed the lawn, not whether it was a boy or a girl. Those lessons have served me well in my career and life.

The world is less bright today without Jacqueline Marie Welch Fitzgerald. But it is a better place overall because she has been here and shared so much of herself with those she loved. Jackie lost her dear husband of 50 years two falls ago. The two of them were best friends and constant companions – as well as phenomenal dance partners! I can hear the band warming up now in anticipation of those two cutting a rug. That’s exactly how I want to imagine her today. Dancing with her love . . . and singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” I’m sure hers are . . . they always were.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Personal Peek at the Year in Review

Nothing prolific to spout...no karmic revelation to report...just a simple look back at a year full of joy and challenges. Keep on swimming, people.

Here are my highlights in photos:

March -- Aunt Elaine and Uncle Ron celebrated 50 years of marriage, a great excuse for my mother's siblings to pose for my camera. Nice to see everyone together sharing in a joyous celebration!

April -- Spring Break trip to Las Vegas for the Penn Family with a side trip to the Grand Canyon. We were a bit skeptical about Vegas for a family trip, but had a blast and will definitely be back!

April -- Connor's first Little League game of the season with his dad as coach. So much fun to watch!

April -- A weekend with my girls in Pentwater was a wonderful way to reconnect and reminisce. Did Michele and I really meet in 5th grade and break up in 7th, yet somehow we've shared all of the most important moments of our lives together? Will Lynn and I ever experience another moment like our first road trip to Ann Arbor (cue music from St. Elmo's Fire) when the world seemed to stop as we pulled into town? Will Laura and I ever get our fantasy wish of leaving the day-to-day behind and becoming full-time country club wives (I can hear the laughter ringing all around me!)? Was it luck or destiny that when I broke my foot in college, I had a sorority sister like Jen willing to carry me on her back during goofy rush events (leave no sister behind!)?

May -- Connor's class picnic...what a great bunch of kids he shared Kindergarten with at Holy Spirit.

June -- Here I am with friend, Dorothy Ramos, toasting the third annual Ladies Tee Party Charity Golf Scramble to benefit the Sleeping Angels Endowment (established by my friends Katherine and Mike Schoenborn). I love organizing this incredible golf outing every year and 2010 was no exception! We raised an additional $14,000 for the Endowment and treated 135 lady golfers to a fantastic day on the links. See you this year on Friday, June 17, 2011!

June -- Nephew Kyle was called up to report to Afghanistan with the National Guard, so he and Mandy moved their wedding up by four months. It may not have been the wedding she was planning, but I sure hope it was still the wedding of her dreams! Congratulations to Kyle and Mandy!

June -- Our annual Fitzgerald Family Golf Outing always results in lots of good natured taunting, and one team earns the right to be called "Scramble Champs" for another year. This year it was Rick, Colleen, Neal, and Ryleigh -- a formidable squad to be sure!

July -- Sparklers on the beach while watching the fireworks? Heck yeah!

July -- Summertime in Michigan on the Lake...perfect! We were fortunate to share many wonderful sun-filled days at our favorite place just south of Pentwater. What a dream for a 6-year-old boy!

August -- Our wonderful neighbors transformed their backyard into a field of dreams for local kids and hosted a Wiffleball Tournament. Connor was lucky enough to be asked to join some of the boys for the day as their bat boy (the tournie is set for kids ages 8-11, so he couldn't play). What a ridiculously fun day he had -- and his team took home the trophy to boot! Incredible memories for him...and every adult who had the joy of witnessing this.

August -- Gulp! My baby is a First Grader...how did that happen?

September -- Sadly, we said goodbye to Rick's dad, Richard D. Cook. He was a gruff man who loved deeply and was infinitely proud of his children...all of them. This photo was taken a few years ago, but it is still one of my favorites of Dick with his son and grandson.

September -- Just one more memory of Dick Cook, with his pipe on his favorite stretch of beach along the Gulf in Florida. This is how I like to remember him, happy and relaxed without a worry in the world. Rest in Peace.

September -- What a lovely wedding for niece Emily and her husband Todd! Congratulations! Big love and smiles were all around...

September -- ...especially from their littlest wedding attendants, who had a blast all day...and somehow behaved themselves through the ceremony at the waterfall. Whew!

September -- Connor's flag football team was sooooo excited to play under the Friday Night Lights during halftime of a 2010 state champion West Catholic High School game.

October -- Ohhhh, ArtPrize!

October -- The family that plays dress-up together stays together...or at least has a blast on Halloween! Nephew Mark II joined us to spook the neighborhood kids and pass out shots to the adults. Bahhhaaahhhaa!

December -- Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 9 foot tree with a star on top!

 December -- We rang in the New Year at the wedding of my cousin, Tricia, to her love Tandem. We'd just said goodbye to Tricia's father, Charles Clark Sr., at the end of October. So, this was the perfect way to start 2011 fresh...and filled with joy! Congratulations to the newlyweds. And, Rest in Peace Uncle Chuck.

Thanks for indulging me...and for reading my blog. Feel free to follow and post comments. Every writer needs their readers!

Cheers to 2011!