One year ago, our oldest son moved out of state. Walking in our home from saying goodbye, the phone was ringing. Calls before 9 AM on a weekend do harken with urgency. My mother was in an ambulance. Almost to the minute this is posted, my mother passed from this life to the next.
Iris, Valerian and Aeonium 'Kiwi' tame the sidewalk heat
Today, our younger son Kenny and his bride treated Gerry and I to brunch at Maggiano's Little Italy in South Coast Plaza. Part of a chain and generously sized, maybe it was Sinatra's voice- the place radiated with a charm as if it were a family establishment where Mama and Papa might be in the kitchen. The service was excellent. The food scrumptious and the ambiance delightful. The restaurant was scrupulously clean. The offerings might not be quite as succulent compared to what a skilled homecook serves guests. For me- I didn't spend 4 days in the kitchen- 2 cooking and 2 cleaning. This tradeoff is more than fair. We will be back...
On the ride home, I thought of what I might pen to honor my mother now that her lovely voice is in another realm...
In 2006 I wrote my first obituary. As a writer, there is no more hallowed endeavor than the words we lay open upon a person's death. Below is the text saved from my mom's memorial. They speak of her and the world as she knew it.
Ethel Maria Sepulveda Lent
December 5, 1922 to May 8, 2010
It was my mother’s specific wish that there be no sad good-byes on this day. She wanted to be the honored beloved guest in this garden which she was, is, and always be so much of.
Please join us commemorating and celebrating her life. Beginning with a little background to know how the Ethel Maria Sepulveda Lent became the woman who was not just my mother, but my closest friend, mentor and advisor.
Born not longer after her only brother, Eugenio, on Dec 5 1922 in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico to teacher Antonio Sepulveda and his young wife, Monserrate Rivera. Tragedy came quickly to the family when Monserrate died in childbirth when my mother was only two. Antonio never recovered enough from the loss of his wife and infant to raise his older two children as a single father.
One of mom’s earliest memories was of her aunt with 10 children not being willing to make it a dozen under one roof. They dressed my mother up and took her to the orphanage: there was no room. So the care of two little children was left to a spinster Aunt.
On scholarship, for high school- mom attended the exclusive Blanche Kellogg Institute, associated with the female equivalent to the male Ivy League colleges- Mt. Holyoake. The virtues of Christian values and temperance were in addition to the public school curriculum were taught in English. .
1943. Mom received her bachelor’s degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Puerto Rico. Now know as the Inter Americana University, the Christian founded institution was dedicated to being a cultural bridge between North and Latin America. From the web page, this school is “devoted to preparing students in all branches of humanistic endeavor; social and scientific.”
Mom was offered a scholarship to continue her education to be a physical therapist; however the same opportunity was not offered her brother. Her family would not let her accept.
Mom got a job in a bank. She had a desk and was paid less than what a carton of cigarettes costs today for her weekly salary.
WWII broke out. Sept 6, 1944- Mom flew to Jacksonville, Florida to enlist in the United States Navy. She became an occupational therapist at Bethesda, MD.
That is where she met my dad, the late George Daniel Lent. He was a serviceman who landed in the hospital with a broken arm after being jumped by an ethnic gang. His doctor thought they were a cute couple; he kept my dad in the hospital a little longer. When they were both discharged, George brought Ethel to California to meet his family. He wanted to be a lawyer. They married Oct 6, 1948.
Nine months and two weeks later my beautiful sister, Gina, was born. Next: Candace, who was stillborn. Then me. Last, my genius baby sister, Marina. Dad never finished college.
Early in their marriage, Mom worked in a lab. But they preferred she be home raising the girls. Giving us guidance. Filling spare moments with volunteer work. She didn’t drive and we were generally not allowed babysitters, so we frequently were brought along to PTA meetings and food banks. Gina and I worked shifts at Whittier Hospital as Candystripers under mom’s direction.
As we girls came closer to college age, mom went back to college. She said too much had changed in Chemistry. She earned her MA in Spanish and her teaching credential from CSULB. In this order: she bought a car, learned to drive and returned to the workforce as a high school teacher, a job which she retired from with a pension that COLA drove up to just over $500 month when she passed away 31 years later.
My father died in 1993. She never remarried.
Instead, she focused all her love on her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her garden, until health separated her from it.
My mother’s health was never what we refer to as “good”. It is a miracle of God’s love that we got to enjoy her company for as long as we did. At 4:15 in the afternoon, when her soul took flight, it was with Gina, Kenny and I at her side, praying for her safe passage to heaven.
As much as the family regularly argued politics, mom was pretty mum about religion, But in her waning months, we got to discuss matters of faith. If she had not told me that she considered herself a Christian, these last few weeks would have been far more difficult. However, the faith that she is now, at long last, getting to know her own mother and child she never knew is a comfort. That her earthly body is no longer bound to a wheel chair and tied to routines of pills and shots- for her I am happy.