Many people approached me this week, saying that they missed my “report” over the weekend of January 14-15. Although each Mass was slightly different, here is the gist of what I said, with more detail added in:
The events of the last six months seemed to go by fast and I was unable at times to keep everyone up to date on what was happening in my life and the life of the parish, so I want to share with you what has happened and how it came to be.
About two and a half years ago, my mother, who was 85 at the time, was diagnosed with a “sticky” valve in her aorta. This was the same diagnosis her mother received in her mid-80’s and what Granny eventually died from. The doctor said that it would not cause my mother much discomfort and she would be able to live her life well, except that every now and then, she would have chest pains or shortness of breath that would not last more than a half day. Upon hearing this news, I notified Archbishop Gregory, and he told me to keep him updated and that if there was anything I needed, to just ask.
Sure enough, Mom had a great two years. She went out to lunch with my Dad just about every day, and she went to the casinos every week, as usual. Occasionally, she would have a “bad day” but they were few and far between.
On July 5, 2016, which happened to be my parents’ 64th wedding anniversary, Mom went into the hospital with breathing difficulties and discomfort in her chest. The doctor said this was the heart valve, and that it was very stiff, so she had less than 6 months, “but more like 2 months.” I spoke to my parents about taking some time off and spending it in Memphis with them. Mom was more worried about my Dad than herself, so we agreed that I wouldn’t go home until after she died. Being an optimist, I didn’t start making plans right away, hoping that we had more time with Mom.
After the short hospital stay, Mom returned to good health, and yes, went back to the casinos every week. I had already scheduled a vacation in mid-August, and while I was at home, she started having a great deal of discomfort and couldn’t really walk more than a few feet without getting worn out. She wasn’t eating or sleeping well, and we had to help her move from the bed to the chair, etc. When my vacation was over, I returned here, hoping that this downturn was temporary. It wasn’t. Mom died that Wednesday, August 31.
I notified Bishop Talley that she had died and the funeral was scheduled for Labor Day, and he graciously took the Masses at St. Mary Magdalene so that I could return to my family for the weekend. I came back to the parish on Tuesday, and started thinking about planning my extended time off. I talked to Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Talley about possibly getting a retired priest to sub in for my time off, but Bishop Talley was named coadjutor of the diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana, at the same time, so his focus rightly shifted to his own responsibilities to that diocese, and our parish wound up with several different priests filling in over the weeks I was gone.
It may have seemed that I “disappeared” because we cleared all the hurdles for me to leave just days before I was scheduled to go, on October 3. I am sorry I was not able to prepare the parish better for my departure. My leave was from October 3 to January 12, so I had about three months to spend in Memphis with Dad and the rest of the family. The first day or so, I grilled my Dad: do you still golf? No, I gave that up. Do you want to travel anywhere? No. Is there anything in particular you want to do while I’m here? No. So we spent our days with him reading a paperback in his chair, and I playing games on my iPad across the room. The biggest discussion we had most days started with, “Where do you want to go for lunch?” I realized his life wasn’t that different than before Mom died, because they would usually sit in the home office with their backs to each other, doing their own thing, but being together nonetheless.
This started out uncomfortable for me, because I am one of those people who want to “fix it.” But it seemed that there was nothing to fix. I expressed this a few times when we were out to a meal with his friends or his generation of the Crone family, saying, “I’m not sure if I’m helping by being here or not.” And he would immediately reply, “This is helping a lot!” I learned a lot about what we call “Ministry of Presence” in this time. You don’t have to say the perfect thing, you don’t have to do the perfect thing, but just being there and available is what’s important. There were a few times that Dad opened up to me about what he’s feeling, sometimes prompted by me and sometimes spontaneously, so I know that he’s going to be alright.
One of those times happened when we were driving down Summer Avenue (US 70) to my sisters’ house. Summer Ave has a lot of hills between Memphis and Arlington. Dad told me a story I had never heard before. “When your Mom was a teenager, Uncle Everett drove her on Summer a lot, and your Mom thought it was a lot like a roller coaster! She would beg Uncle Everett to ‘Go faster! Go faster!’” This was a story I had never heard before and I could see Dad remembering Mom as that joyous girl before he knew her, and the beautiful woman that he knew for more than 64 years. If I had not taken this time to be with my family, I may never have heard this simple, but wonderful story.
A special thank you to Archbishop Gregory for allowing me to take this time to spend with Dad and the rest of the family, thank you to all the priests that filled in while I was gone, and I especially thank you, my parish family for your patience and love and support.
Fr. Terry Crone