When my band performed at Clifton Opera House on July 13, 2019, I never gave much thought to the fact that it might be the last time my mom would see me perform in front of a live audience. She and my sister, Mary, attended numerous open mic events I hosted and performed at. Mom was so happy that I found an activity and a part-time occupation that brought me tremendous joy. She was equally comforted knowing I’d found a new core group of friends, people I could lean on and count on in the good and the not so good times of life; individuals who, like her, loved me unconditionally, no matter what.
As things turned out, my band’s show at Clifton Opera House ended in grand fashion. We received two standing ovations after performing the last three songs in our set list. It didn’t matter if Mom could hear us or not (her hearing really deteriorated late in her life); she could see the smile on my face and revel in the joy I was experiencing. That was sufficient for her in the same way that Christ’s love is sufficient for those who place their trust and faith in Him/Her. The love my Mom felt for me was the same love she felt in her heart for each of my five siblings and to all whose lives she touched. What a blessing she was to us!
I raise the grand finale-standing ovation metaphor because it fits my vision of what my mom’s departure from this world and her entrance into life eternal must have been like. Before I speak more on that, I invite you to continue reading and to get to know the woman my siblings and I knew as Mom and whom others knew or referred to as “Queen Rita.”
Rita Elizabeth Brun, my future mom was born at the height of the Great Depression on February 17, 1930. She was the last child born to Louis and Edith Brun and their only daughter. She was the only child of ten to be born in a hospital. When she and my grandma came home from St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, her father, Louis, the grandpa I’ve never met, posted a sign above the door on the front porch steps of their home that read, “Welcome home, Queen Rita!”
For the majority of people who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, the primary objective was survival. Six of my mom’s brothers served in World War II. One was later medically discharged, two were turned down for medical reasons. By the grace of God, the five who served their country during the war returned home. Eventually, all nine of my mom's brothers married and partook in the seed planting (pardon the pun) that gave birth to America's "baby boom" generation.
My future mom was an eighth grade graduate. She never took a high school or college course. Regardless, she was smart as a whip and sharp as a tack. Until she lost consciousness five days ago, Mom knew and no doubt could have recited the birth dates of all 48 of her Brun nieces and nephews if asked to do so. She took great pride in that because she loved babies. She loved being a mother (of six), a grandmother (to 17), and a great grandmother (to 18 and counting).
My future parents, Francis (Frank) Joseph Heider and Rita Elizabeth Brun met late in the spring of 1963. They were married nine months later on January 23, 1954. As their wedding day unfolded, Frank experienced sharp pains in his abdomen. After the ceremony, he was ushered to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Mom went to “their” wedding reception and cut “their” wedding cake alone. Not exactly the images couples envision for their wedding day. Not the best way to kick off a marriage.
Nevertheless, Rita was a survivor and a fighter. It goes without saying that her resilience, her compassion for others, her toughness, and her will to live were embedded in her during the most turbulent years the world has ever known. Her Roman Catholic faith bolstered and reinforced all of those qualities and strengthened her determination and resolve not simply to survive, but to thrive and prosper. In short, to live!!!
My mom had numerous run ins with death. When my future dad recovered from appendectomy surgery, he and Queen Rita got down to the business of raising a family. Mom bore six kids in seven years and miscarried a child. Her doctor warned my dad that they both needed to slow down. Mom needed more time to regain her strength and stamina from one birth to the next. But, good Roman Catholic couples do what good Roman Catholic couples did in those days: They were "fruitful and they multiplied."
Perhaps that contributed to Mom's breast cancer diagnosis in 1964. She defied the odds and survived radiation treatments that scorched cancerous tissues in and aligning her right breast. That breast and numerous lymph nodes were removed. A hysterectomy guaranteed she would never conceive or bare children again. The very essence of her womanhood was taken from her.
It's worth noting that a mother of six children down the street was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Why God spared my mom and not her is one of life's many mysteries. It was nothing short of a miracle that my siblings and I had our mom for 89 years, ten months, and eleven days. February 17, 2020 would have been her 90th birthday. We were blessed to have her as long as we did!
When my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1992, my mom dutifully fulfilled her wedding vows to my dad and served as his primary caregiver. On a couple occasions, I went to visit my parents and was shocked to see my mother's face covered in black and blue. On one such day, Dad got stuck in a corner in their living room and couldn't maneuver himself out of it. He called out to my mom. As she attempted to get him turned around their legs became entangled. Mom had no time to protect her face from the hard oak coffee tables she slammed into. Dad fell on top of her. She managed to get out form under him and climb to her feet. She helped dad into his lounge chair. But, the damage to her face was a real eye opener when I stopped in to visit. For me, not for my mom; her eyes and entire face was black and blue. She wasn't dead. Not by a long shot. But, she sure as heck looked like it.
Believe it or not, there were additional falls and ugly Parkinson's Disease war wounds. As always, Mom rebounded and continued serving my father until he died at age 78 in 2005.
Mom's closest brush with death occurred in March 2015, I was hosting an open mic at Applebees in Sugarcreek that evening when I received a text stating that mom had fallen in the carport driveway and smashed her head on the concrete. She was in the ER at Kettering Medical Center. The impression I got from the texts I received from my sister, Mary, was that Mom was in tough shape. Real tough shape.
I turned the open mic hosting reins over to a good friend and drove to Kettering Medical Center. I was shocked to see a baseball sized contusion bulging from the back of Mom's head. She was pale, lethargic, moaning loudly, and obviously in considerable discomfort. I took one look at her I thought to myself, “This is it. She’s not coming back from this!” She looked absolutely awful - worse than I had ever seen her before or since.
Much to our good fortune, once again, my Mom demonstrated to me and my five siblings that she had no plans to leave planet Earth anytime soon. Still, her ten day stay in the wasn't for the faint of heart.
I visited Mom in her hospital room a few days after her fall. She was nauseous, constipated, and suffering from extreme cramps. Somehow, she managed to stand up beside her bed. I moved toward her and wrapped my arms around her fragile body. She didn’t have the strength to wrap her arms around me. But, it was abundantly clear that she was in pain and desperate for help.
Like soldiers wounded in battle, my 85 year old mom cried out with every ounce of strength she could muster, “Mama, please make it stop! Please Mama, please, it hurts so bad! Please Mama. Please Mama. Make it stop!” She repeated those words over and over and, at different points, she substituted God and Jesus for Mama. Grandma Edith Brun, my mom's mother, died in October, 1973; it made no difference. Mom still cried out to her Mom. It was gut wrenching seeing her that way. How precious - a mother's love for her children. As long as my mind remains in tact, I will never forget that moment. Ever!
Which brings me back to the point of this writing:
When my mom’s spirit exited her physical body at 3:28 Wednesday morning, December 11, 2019, I imagined her receiving a standing ovation from all of the angels and saints in Heaven. Everyone who preceded her in death was there to greet her. And, the best image of all was that of Jesus standing before her, His arms outstretched, beckoning her toward “the mother of all warm embraces.” Mom and God reunited in Heaven forever and ever. The grandest of grand finales followed immediately by the newest, most awesome, new beginnings. WOW!
On Sunday, December 15, another grand finale of sorts will mark the passing of the last of Louis and Edith Brun’s offspring. Those who are willing and able to celebrate my mother’s life and memory will gather with our family at Westbrock Funeral Home on Wayne Avenue to share stories about my mom. I fully expect there will be much laughter and more than a few tears.
On Monday, in the Catholic tradition, many of those same individuals will celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as the death and resurrection of our mother to eternal life with Christ in Heaven.
This grand finale we are preparing to celebrate is more for those Mom leaves behind than for her. Yes, the words we speak, the prayers and petitions we offer, the bread of life we eat, the cup of salvation we drink, and the songs we sing are performed in remembrance of her. Tears and sadness are expected in such moments. But, the true focus of this service is a celebration of Mom’s life. "Let us rejoice and be glad!"
“Queen Rita, you made the rockin’ world go round!” We salute you! Prepare yourself, our grand finale tribute to you is coming!
With deepest love, reverence, and affection, Your devoted son, Chris
PS Mom, when you get a chance, please enjoy this video Ben made of my band's performance in Clifton. I'm sure your new ears work better than your old ones. Know that I experienced great joy singng and performing these songs with you in the audience. I'm sad you won't attend future performances in the flesh. I know, however, you will be with me and all those who loved you in Spirit!