Being asked to summarize my Mom’s life within the confines of a few paragraphs is comparable to being shown the seven wonders of the world in one day, and then being asked to choose a single letter of the alphabet to describe your experience. It was almost daunting as to where do I even begin, but then the words of my wise mother came ringing back to me. I’ll attempt to share a little bit of her life through the life lesson she always taught. “Tommy,” she’d say, “always remember that these should be your priorities and in this order:”
PUT GOD FIRST-
My mom always, always honored God. I don’t think he ever had the pleasure of meeting her, but St. Francis of Assisi could have been describing my mom when he said, “Evangelize always. Use words when necessary.” That is how my mom lived her life. She loved God and it showed in everything she did. Church was at least weekly and prayer was at least daily. I remember even as a young kid her always pulling over to pray whenever she heard a siren. Or her just singing to God while cooking breakfast. In my entire life, I don’t remember hearing her ever say a bad word (unless you count the old Slovakian term she would rattle off when she was frustrated. When asked, “Mom, what does that mean anyway?” she would only smile). She was honest to a fault. Okay, not really to a fault, but there were times when I wish she was less honest like when I would come home from college to be greeted by my mom with, “Wow, you really got fat!” Ummm… thanks Mom, I guess. “No really, look how chubby your face is.” Of course as she got older and her mind started slipping a little, she even did a worse job of hiding her feelings as she would walk right up to a scantily clad woman and just shake her head. But most importantly, every day she would just remind us to trust God in everything. We were never rich in worldly possessions, but my Mom would always give whatever she had to anyone in need. I remember sometimes on a hot Summer day, poor strangers would show up to go swimming at our house. It would seem half of them wouldn’t even speak English, and we would ask, “Mom, how do you know them? How did you even communicate with them to invite them over to go swimming?” And my Mom’s simple answer was, “It is so hot outside, wouldn’t you want to come over to cool off in swimming pool on a day like this?” Please excuse the paraphrase, but it reminds me of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 25:37-40, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink, or hot and invite you to cool off in our swimming pool? The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Being one of eight kids, we would often be asked if our mom even knew our names. Of course she did and when we did something stupid it sounded like, “LauraMichaelPaulPatrickTimmyStephenTommyChristopher whoever the heck you are, stop it!” Really Mom, Laura? I still don’t know how she managed to attend every one of our sports games. There would be four separate little league games in four different locations but all at the same time, and our Mom would somehow make all of them. I was always the sick kid and I still remember having to leave Pinocchio for what turned out to be my first asthma attack. You would think I would have all the memories of being rushed to the emergency room, etc. but what I am still amazed at is with seven siblings, how did I get so lucky to just have a night with me and my mom? She was never one to brag, but she could talk about her kids for hours. In fact, the only thing that possibly gave her more joy than her kids was her grandkids. She knew that Every child (both born and unborn) was a precious gift from God.
Another question we’d get was, “8 kids, was your Dad a doctor or a lawyer?” The implication was how in the heck could your Dad provide for EIGHT kids??? The answer was that he didn’t, my Mom did. She worked her butt off to put food on the table for her family. There was a time when besides all of her own kids, she babysat a bunch of other kids all day. She would then make dinner and try to get a couple of hours of sleep before she would drive down to the not so good part of Santa Ana at 2am where she would unload bundles of newspaper from a truck (about the size of a UPS truck). She would then come home and try to get an hour of sleep, before making us breakfast and getting ready to babysit again. She never complained, she just provided out of love for her family.
AND THEN FUN I don’t know how else to say it, but our Mom was a lot of fun. I have so many fond memories of camping at San Onofre where she would go boogey boarding, trips to Mexico, playing cards, watching movies, swimming, gardening, telling jokes, our holiday meals, our German Shepard that would just sit at the feet of my Mom, and too many other things to mention. In the rare times that she got to relax, she would occasionally enjoy a glass of wine or a fancy beer (aka Milwaukee’s Best or the occasional Schlitz). She loved her sisters and brothers and her many friends (like Susan Liberto and others from church who became like family).
Theresa Marie Stafford was the most amazing woman I knew and I was so blessed to have her as my mother and teacher in this life. We love you Madre!