Of Many Things

On Dec. 4, seven weeks shy of her 94th birthday, my mother, Marie, was called home to God. In a way, it was rather unexpected, the final “complication” following a fall down a flight of stairs 10 days earlier (nothing broken, miraculously), then a brief bout with chest congestion. I got word that she was being rushed to the hospital shortly after I arrived at work (I had been coming in only a few hours a day while she was laid up). And from that moment on, the Jesuits at America House have been my mainstay. Some made personal visitations to the funeral home, by car or subway and bus. (We had pre-planned the arrangements a couple of years ago—something I recommend to everyone.) Many others have said private Masses. The funeral Mass was concelebrated by 10 priests, eight of them Jesuits. “What a sendoff,” I heard people say.


And it was. Even more, it was a fitting testament to a special life. She was the third of six daughters born to Martin Barrett and Mary Hanrahan. Although my grandparents hailed from the same county in Ireland (Clare), they did not meet until after arriving on these shores just before the turn of the 20th century. Initially settling in Iowa (their newfound “farm country”), they moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and established roots there. The “old neighborhood” was populated primarily by Irish and Italian immigrants. On hot summer days everyone congregated at Colletti’s candy store for ice-cream or their famous Italian ices.

My mother, a chic dresser—I have tons of photos to prove it—worked as a supervisor with the telephone company. Night shifts, day shifts. And no matter: she walked to the bus and train. Even after she married and moved, we paid frequent visits to my grandmother who still lived in Brooklyn. The house no longer stands, and the neighborhood has a totally different makeup now. I read that a woman was recently killed on the block, accidentally run down by a police car in hot pursuit of a thief, while she was en route to my mother’s old parish church.

As it turned out, my mother was widowed in 1964 in her mid 50’s. With four children and a house, she knew what she had to do: return to work. And she did, about a year after clearing up my attorney father’s business affairs. What started out, though, as a temporary assignment through an agency turned into a mini-career at a company called Associated Merchandising Corporation on Broadway in midtown Manhattan. She shamed me by rising promptly at six each morning and leaving the house at seven. I often praised her for her discipline and dedication. More amazing, no other responsibilities—personal or domestic—were ever relegated to a back seat.

The Lord certainly blessed her with many, many good and healthy years. Her caregiving requirements escalated only in the last few years. As I write, I am still sorting through paperwork and trying to settle her affairs. One item was a chairlift, which I had installed in the spring of 2000. At the time, the company asked if I thought we would need it for three years (cheaper to buy). Well, I didn’t know if we would have it for three months! So I leased. After a while I decided to approach Medicare for payment. They said they do not cover such a “luxury.” Despite doctor’s orders (she was very frail), and although a weakened heart precluded her climbing stairs, they believed a chair is unnecessary. “Move to the first floor,” in effect. In hindsight, I must say, I would do it again—for my mother’s quality of life.

In addition to my own special memories, the support of family, friends and my Jesuit colleagues, I take comfort in the words of the many greetings “On the Loss of Your Mother.” The ones that speak of tenderness and wisdom, love and loyalty, the stories she told, the traditions she handed down, the lessons she taught, the things she stood for, that she was the first one to connect me with God: all these are the legacy that Marie Kossmann left me. As are the words on her Celtic memorial card: “Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you. I loved you so...’twas heaven here with you.”

Rest in peace, Mom.

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