The day I published the “part 1” of this title, about my Dad’s cousin Bernie Vinoski, is the day my Mom died.

One thing I hadn’t played up with Bernie is how his was a life of constant service. That trait has been reinforced in my reading lately. I mentioned in another previous blog entry about reading Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?, which stresses that virtue. I’ve also been reading all of WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle’s writings, most recently his dispatches from the North Africa campaign. Of his many stories from those early war days were some about the extremely demanding duties of the doctors and nurses in the forward hospital units, who worked like dogs and lived like paupers – and were the happiest they’d ever been.

Julia Teresa “Dooley” (Cosgrove) Vinoski’s life was one of constant service, too. As my brother John said in his eulogy, hers was the service of a stay-at-home mom of seven kids, a laudable undertaking in itself – but it was so much more, whether that meant scaring off nighttime prowlers with a rifle in backwoods West Virginia, or running the whole show for that huge family while my Dad fought forest fires out west every summer when we were little, or becoming a cafeteria cook at our Catholic high school once we kids were mostly self-sufficient. Two of my favorite old memories of Mom were of her serving us: hand-washing our basketball practice clothes every single weeknight during the high school season, and having nice hot chili ready for dinner when Dad and we kids would drag in from a long, cold day of wintertime firewood cutting.

You’d think that would be a life of drudgery, boredom and frustration. But like those overburdened doctors and nurses in Ernie Pyle’s dispatches, Mom was one of the happiest people anyone had ever met. At her funeral at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hurley, Wisconsin, Father Frank told of the Celtic spiritual legend of “thin places,” spots where Heaven and Earth are closer together than normal – in those myths, usually the barren, rocky mountaintops and seacoasts of Ireland. He spoke of his own experience of visiting Mom the past few months at the nursing home where she was trying to recover from recent injuries and surgeries, and of being amazed at how much joy she had despite her numerous health problems and our loss of my sister Michelle in August. He was convinced Mom was a personification of those thin places of her parents’ native land.

And I believe she still is. The day before her funeral, I awoke from a dream I don’t remember. But the last sound in that dream still echoed for a few moments even as I became fully conscious. It was the sound of my Mom laughing. (I don’t believe my Mom has any influence over the weather, but given her hatred of the harsh winters of her adopted hometown in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she must have gotten a big old chuckle over the multi-day blizzard that raged there the week of her funeral.)

My heart aches and I miss her terribly. But I know she’s okay (and free of the pain she’s suffered for a long, long time) and that I’ll see her again. In the meantime, as with our cousin Bernie, I have the challenge of living up to the example she set for me.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

PS – Dooley could do a whale of a Bennie Hill impression.