Sermon: Pastor O’Neil’s Mother

Caroline M. O’Neil
Keohane Funeral Home
October 19, 2015

Pastoral Meditation

I was hoping this day would never come.  But it has.

My mother Caroline was a remarkable woman, and she was the one who helped me find faith in the Lord.  Recently she told me of the time as a young mother she told the priest in the confession booth that I was so naughty as a toddler, that she was afraid to take me to church, for fear that I would disrupt the church service.  The priest told her to bring me anyway and as you all know, it was a good fit.

When I was about 5 or 6 years of age, my mother was the one who read to me the stories from the Bible–especially of how Joseph was sold into slavery, the ten plagues of Egypt and when Israel crossed the Red Sea.  And when she read and explained the stories, she made it all come alive.

My mother often displayed keen insight into the Bible; long after I had become an ordained minister, she would ask challenging questions which showed the breadth and depth of her knowledge.  One of her spiritual highlights was the time she went to Israel and was able to see where history was made.

On a more humorous note, she once told me that she would not take communion on this one particular Sunday, because the priest had a cold and had coughed all over the hosts.  That was Caroline the nurse.

Which leads me to the next point.  As we all know, my mother’s profession was nursing and to be effective, one needs to be compassionate and show empathy to patients.  And from what I could see, my mother was blessed with those qualities.

When she was pinned at Boston City Hospital in 1951 as a young 21 year old Registered Nurse, Caroline Deluca, along with the other newly installed nurses, recited the Florence Nightingale Oath.  That was something that we talked about at Hancock Park.   Here is that pledge:

I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.

My mother lived that oath when she was on duty at the Carney, but she also lived those ideals at home.  Clearly we were the beneficiaries of her medical knowledge.

When I was a senior in high school, I had become interested in the medical field as a career.  She arranged it so that I could volunteer at the Carney Emergency Room at the same time that that she worked, which was Saturday.  I don’t believe this would have happened today, but in 1971-1972, I was made a volunteer orderly and was allowed to see and do some amazing things.  And it was here that I got to watch my mother’s professionalism in the work environment.

As a 17-18 year old, I saw a lot of death that year in the Carney ER.  I also saw the care and empathy my mother showed to the families. What I learned from watching her has helped me in the ministry.

My mother also invested herself in the lives of her co-workers and often brought in her fabulous desserts–which of course they loved.  She did the same with her Bridge Group and the staff at the Kennedy Center.

My mother was compassionate.  I do remember when my aunt Helen or someone else was sick, she sent them flowers.  She was always one to send sympathy cards or make donations in memory of certain loved ones.

There is a lot about Caroline that we will miss.  She was always present for every holiday and family gathering.  Everyone who knew her would agree that she was the consummate cook who made everyone feel welcome.  I believe our gatherings will never be the same.

My mother and father were pretty good in the advice department.  Actually they made a pretty good team.  When I would come over on a Sunday night, there were some occasions when I would run a situation by them just to get their perspective–and they were usually right.  Then there were the times my mother would find me in what she called the “perfect room” and gave me additional advice when I didn’t ask for it–and she was usually right.

I could say that she always had everyone’s interest at hand and was sensitive to how they felt.  That is what made her so special.

In the end of August of this year, my wife Janet’s brother in law passed away.  18 years ago, he suffered a heart attack and two strokes and as a result suffered some brain damage which left him wheel chair bound and blind.  Yet, just before he breathed his last, he opened his eyes (although he was blind) scanned the ceiling from left to right and his mouth was opened in awe.  My mother did the same thing, three days before she had passed.  At the time I was alone with her at Hancock Park and it was quiet.  It was about 8:30 in the evening, when my mother woke up and began to stare at the ceiling.  She looked from side to side and tried to speak, but it was inaudible.  She attempted to raise her hands.  Then she would close her eyes again.  A few moments would pass, and the same thing would happen again.  This sequence happened at least 7 times.  Janet came by and saw it; I texted Susan to come by, and she saw it.

Ecclesiastes 3:2 from the Bible does provide hope that nothing happens without God’s knowledge.  Verse 2 tells us “A time to be born and a time to die” and on October 12, 2015, Caroline M. O’Neil died was ushered into the presence of God.

Several weeks ago, my mother said to me, how do we know what happens after death, since no one has ever come back to tell us about it?  I told her that there was one person who came back; he was the one who said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you and where I am, there you may be also.”  In the last 30 days of her life, my mother made peace with her maker and made preparation for the next world.

In the Bible, we are given glimpses of information of what life is like on the other side.  Let me share some personal thoughts.  When a person gets close to the day when they will leave this life, there seems to be a strong indication that heavenly beings or angels will reveal themselves and give them a glimpse of what they are about to enter into and be reassured.  I am reminded of the Negro Spiritual which says “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming to take me home.”  And when my mother took her last breath, she was escorted through time and space to the heavenly realm.

1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul the Apostle under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.”  So this day, we commit Caroline’s eternal soul into the hands of our Heavenly Father.

Funeral Services are a way to say goodbye and grieve for the deceased and for ourselves.  It is also an opportunity to look inward.  If it has been a while since you have been on speaking terms with your Heavenly Father, why don’t you open up your heart to him.

Let me close with this poem:

She wished no one a last farewell.  Nor even said goodbye.  She was gone before we knew it and only God knows why.  They say that time heals all sorrow.  And helps us to forget.  But time so far has only proven how much we’ve missed her.  Yet God gave us strength to face it.  And courage to bear the blow, but what it meant to love and lose her, no one will ever know.