She had a story-book happy ending, literally dying with that smile on her face after she had greeted the last of her grandchildren who arrived from London just an hour before. My extended family can sometimes seem like the joke about Irish Alzheimer's: forgetting everything but the grudges. But around my mother's deathbed all the family feuds just melted away, hopefully for good.
My sister read excerpts at her funeral from a four-page, single-spaced typewritten letter my mother wrote to my father in June of 1966, recounting her activities that Sunday. Dad was away that summer on some special mission for the National Security Agency. She mainly wrote about their then twelve children, and ended her exhaustive and exhausting account near midnight by writing, "As for me, I am numb with fatigue, but aware that this will pass and is indeed a small price to pay for so many blessings."
On my flight back from Rome last month, I read a wonderful book on Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps, written by his son Mark. The book is entitled "A Good Man." And indeed, Sargent Shriver was both a good and a great man. I thought of Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." And what I thought was that a good woman is not so hard to find.
For my mother was such a good woman, and she was always there for me and the rest of my numerous family. Now that she is no longer physically with us, and even though I'm not married, there are still plenty of good women in my life, most notably my sisters and sisters-in-law. (All my five brothers had the good sense to marry someone like my mother.) And I am confident that my mother is now in heaven, where I can talk to her without the interruptions attendant upon using a cellphone. As she asked, please pray for Eleanor June Hughes Duncan. Prayer works, has worked, wonders.
Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.
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