The Gift of Grace

Author’s note: While what follows appears in my column, under my byline, I didn’t write it. It was written by my older sister, Lynn. Lynn would tell you she’s not a writer. She’d be wrong. This is the eulogy she delivered at our mother’s funeral on January 26th. I would not have been able to summon such eloquence and poignancy. Given some of the more challenging aspects of our upbringing, I would not have been able to summon such humility and grace. Regular readers of my ravings know I live a life full of blessings. Lynn is chief among them. You’re about to know why.

Good Morning

Thank you everyone for being here. My brothers and I appreciate your support as we say goodbye to our mother – and share a short time this morning to highlight her long lifetime. She had quite a run.

Mother was born into a Meriden that was a humming little slice of classic hometown America. It seems like a time long, long ago, and a place far away. America was on the cusp of the Depression, but I don’t really remember her talking about hard times or need. Instead, she often reminisced about her active, happy early years. Many of her childhood friends remained her life friends — played as kids together then raised their kids together. She had the good fortune to be part of the large extended families of both her parents. And what a gift it was (for generations of us) to have grown up amid the one-in-a-million Nelson clan. It’s Fourth of July somewhere … [that’s a reference to picnics the Nelson clan had on the Fourth of July for decades].

An only child, she lost her father too soon, but her doting mother was always a part of our lives, always there for us — and we all adored her. Grandma Nelson was the best. Mom missed her dearly, speaking about her mother and her childhood home in random ruminations until her own last days.

Mother didn’t work outside the home until I was a teen. And while seemingly not really career driven, she put high value on her varied experiences. At the top of the list were her many years managing the office for Mike Conroy’s surgical practice. She was pretty proud of her contributions and accomplishments.

Mom also took great pride in making a home for her family and was unabashedly proud of keeping it eat-off-the-floor clean. That was not necessarily a gene passed on to me.

She would have been the first to tell you about enjoying a “good drink”. Last year while hospitalized for repair and treatment for a no-kidding fall injury [three displace rib fractures], an ICU nurse asked her if she wanted something to drink. Out of her critical-care delirium, Mom shot back, “I’ll have a gin and tonic”. She did pass along that gene.

A couple of quirks — we all have them.

But here’s her real story …

Along with whatever other roles, for almost all of her nearly 95 years, my mother most identified as the ‘Jan’ in the ‘Ned and Jan’. From that Sadie Hawkins Dance to his last moment, she was all about my father. Married and parents at nineteen, they both worked selflessly and tirelessly for the years it took to provide for the four of us and launch us to find our own ways in the world. Then, the two of them were able to focus on planning their own later years together. They were thrilled to build the house in Old Lyme where they spent many years with friends and family. Then, after 15 years of real retirement time beaching and golfing in their happy place, Myrtle Beach, they came back to Connecticut.

In his last few years, Dad was already helping Mother compensate for early signs. When he left us not too long after their return, Mother was then navigating unfamiliar waters without her compass. And her grief was compounded by the daunting awareness and denial of her own cognitive decline.

Over time, such a journey evolves into a different, personal story for each affected individual. We know our own story as we lived it. Others have theirs.

Today, ours is not the grief of shock. We have all along the continuum of Mom’s changes tried to make sense of our own losses in our own ways.

The steady progression has brought us here — here to the church where my brothers and I were raised in the Faith and Mother was Confirmed to join us, and here again, today for Mass celebrated with the hope she found the promised eternal happiness and peace.

I know she found Dad.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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    • Thank you, Charlotte. I love what you’ve expressed here. The passing of my dad nine years ago brought me closer to my next younger brother, Keith, than I’d been in decades. The passing of Mom brought me back to the closeness I had with my sister when we were younger. The younger of my two brothers is a special-needs guy, for whom I’m honored to be Guardian.

      Blessings come in all shapes, sizes, and manifestations.

  1. Its do hard to loose a parent both of mine have passed as well as my two eldest brothers. While mom didn’t have dementia she seemed to have a personality change and became bitter is her later years. Gone was the soft spoken woman I knew her as. I know they are all in Heaven now and free of pain and strife. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Eva Marie, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’re alone, that our sufferings are singular. They are no such thing. We all share the human condition. The least we can do is share our stories. I’m grateful to you for sharing yours.

  2. Mark – my deepest condolences. Your sister wrote a lovely reflection, and honored your mother’s life with full resilience and inspiration. I am fortunate to still have both my mother and father, although they are showing signs of decline in various ways. I will get to visit my mother in New Hampshire in February for a whopping five days… it’s never enough. She’s not well enough to travel to Florida, so I never know when it will be my last trip home. I try to enjoy every ounce of her warmth and special humility that only comes with someone born in New England. Anyway, this isn’t about me… You’re a good family man, a patriot, and a friend. In many ways, reconnecting with you has brought me full circle home to BC-360. That fact is not lost my friend – you helped me to see the light… You take care and take your time, we all love you brother. 🙏

    • Thank you, Aaron. We are most certainly spiritual kin. Make the most of your time with your mother next month. I know you will. And keep shining your light. Those of us who love you, depend on it to get us through the darkness.

    • Thank you, Victor. I firmly believe our most fervent hope is that we make a difference with our lives. Lynn, six years my senior, has been making a difference in my life for many years. Knowing you as I’m coming to, I don’t doubt your life continues to make a difference in the lives of many others. Please know I’m one of them.