Homage To A Pennsylvania Coal Miner’s Daughter, My Mother

Posted in John's Musings by john
Anne Cancalosi, my mother, passed away four years ago today at the ripe old age of 96, in the company of myself, (her son), her daughter and her closest niece, (her surrogate daughter). She was a coal miner’s daughter from a large family raised in the rural hill country of central Pennsylvania. Her mother was a multi-lingual, no-nonsense Ukrainian immigrant who lived to nearly 102 and made the best poppy seed rolls on the planet. My mother was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. She had many friends and extended family mambers, most of whom she long out-lived. These are the normal types of things to say about someone after their passing, but she was beyond normal in many ways. When I arrived at her hospital bedside four years ago, having traveled from out of state, I could see that she was at death’s door.  I will never forget the way that her face lit up when she saw me. Before I could say much, she asked me if I had eaten yet, like a true mother. She retained her sharp mind until the end. During her final days, some unforgettable words came from her as she sunk in and out of consciousness. Her humor shone through on many occasions. She joked about getting her hair done and traveling to Hawaii. One of my favorite moments came when I innocently asked a rather attractive nurse to step outside to discuss my mom’s care. As I got up to leave the room she told me, as clear as a bell, that I better be careful or she would tell Irene, (my wife). She later told me the dire consequences that would have awaited her husband of 62 years had his attentions wandered to another woman. She had been a heavy smoker for 80 plus years and lamented that she was leaving four packs of cigarettes behind, which I triumphantly threw in the trash immediately upon my return from the hospital, the end of a decades long battle to get her to quit, which I finally won! Although she had difficulty speaking, we had some amazingly frank discussions. She expressed her concerns about her grandson and only half-jokingly asked if I loved her or her pocketbook. Although it wasn’t always easy to understand her, she told me in half intelligible words that I could be a pain in the ass sometimes followed shortly after with a clear-toned message of how good it was to see me. When I told her how much I appreciated all that she had done for me, she told me that it wasn’t all good… she did have a bit of a mean streak. She never became delusional or incoherent in any way. That is what makes one of the final discussions that we had all the more chilling. As I held her hand, she asked if I had seen “mom”. When I asked whose mom, she said her mom, who has been dead for years. Then her face lit up again, “she’s been asking so many questions about you!” I could have dismissed this as the effect of the drugs that she was receiving or that she was finally losing it. Yet I never saw a hint of delusional thinking before or after this and my best, hair-raising guess is that she had already had a glimpse of the “other side”. She was aware that she was dying, more than welcomed it, and let her wishes be known. Mercifully, after her struggles to break free of this Earthly realm, she finally succeeded. Just as a butterfly struggles to break free of its chrysalis, I am convinced that her spirit is flying, like that newly emerged butterfly, somewhere in this universe.