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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:06:23 15:28:08

PHOTO BY TERI LYON Mary ann Kalaha, seated center, surrounded by her adoring family.

My beautiful mother passed away two weeks ago.

For her devoted daughters, my two sisters and I – and her six grandchildren and great-granddaughter, “Mom-Mom’s angels” – as well as her adoring twin brother whom she idolized and his family that was her own, these have been the hardest two weeks of our lives.

Two weeks of emptiness, two weeks of heartache after saying good-bye to Mary ann Kalaha, the woman who was our world.

We affectionately called Mom “Dear Heart.” That title was fitting, because Mom was indeed the heart of our family.

The center.

The pulse.

The person who kept us going, kept us living and kept us connected to each other.

In his outstanding eulogy at my mother’s funeral, my cousin, Andrew Dubill, perfectly summed up his aunt and godmother as the “embodiment of overwhelming love.”

“Her love began with her family, whom she simply adored,” Andrew said. “There was no other word for it. She adored her family. And as her family grew, her love for them grew endlessly.”

Andrew called to mind the Christmas Eves that Mom worked tirelessly to turn into magic for us and the many greeting cards she gave us through the years, each with its own personal message. And how she cared for her own mother, my grandmother, when her health was failing.

Throughout our Mom and Mom-Mom’s long and precious life, every one of us felt she was there for us. Every one of us knew we could count on her. Her door – and her arms – were always open.

Mom always let us know how much she loved us. Andrew spoke the truth when he said, “I would bet that there is not a soul on this earth who has said, ‘I love you’ as many times as Mary ann.”

Even from her hospital bed – as she knew she was closer to joining my father, her Chas, in heaven – Mom took each of us by the hand and told us individually how much she loved us.

“I love you,” Mom said over and over and over again for days, sometimes just mouthing the words with her lips when it was too difficult for her to speak.

Then she said something else. Taking her finger and drawing a little heart on her chest, she said, “Stay with me … you’ll stay with me … in my heart … forever.”

She said it over and over again.

To every one of us.

Even in her last moments, Mom didn’t think of herself. She wanted to comfort us.

She wanted to take care of her family.

Andrew said it best:

“This is how Mary ann found joy – setting aside her own life, for the lives, the well-being and the happiness of others. ... This is how Mary ann taught us to live our own lives. And, in the difficult days ahead without her, this is how we are called to honor her memory.

“But let us also remember that Mary ann’s overwhelming love for us is not in the past tense. It is and always will be present, especially if we follow her example and seek to create and extend our own overwhelming love to the world she now watches over.”

My daughter says I have my mother’s hands, that whenever she holds my hand she feels her grandmother’s.

She is right.

Whenever I clasp my hands in prayer, I feel Mom’s hands, too. The soft, gentle hands of great strength and much love.

I am comforted, because I am reminded that Mom is part of me. She is part of all who are missing our “Dear Heart” now.

She is still here. She will be here.

Always.

Teri Lyon is a mom, grandmom and freelance writer who lives in Glenburn Township with her cat.