Two Champions

The alarm sounded at dawn in our hotel room. Her Irish dance shoes were freshly polished and placed neatly by the door alongside the stunning new Irish costume which sparkled brightly in the morning light. The day began like every other Oireachtas weekend (Regional Irish Dance championship) only this time it was different.

As we approached the cavernous venue, the chaos of dancers, coaches and parents filled the air. As she prepared to line up, I hugged her tight reciting a familiar prayer that has become our tradition “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  She looked back at me with a smile and then was gone.

Watching her walk through the huge ballroom toward backstage in her beautiful dance dress brought tears to my eyes. All I could think about was Mom, who had been a permanent fixture at all dance competitions over the past 15 years. Mom and Dad encouraged my girls Irish dancing and supported it on every level. They rejoiced in their successes and lifted them up when they were disappointed. Through it all, they loved the life lessons that the girls gained through participation in this challenging sport.

My girls have learned how to win and lose gracefully. There is only one 1st place winner in Irish dance and not everyone gets a prize. This reality has caused the girls to work extremely hard to reach their goals & dreams. For Emma – these dreams have included dancing on the world stage and for the past 9 years she has worked so hard that she has qualified as a world soloist each year. Mom was always so proud of Emma’s perseverance and work ethic – something that she had in common with her.

Sadly, she was not able to see Emma world qualify this year and her presence was deeply missed. I kept looking at the seat next to me in the ballroom expecting to see her – expecting to feel her warmth and love. Mom would always carry a big purse to these events which contained treats of all shapes and sizes – she brought joy to every situation, even dance competitions. Thankfully, my sweet Grace filled the role this year.  She showed up from Fairfield University with her dear friend and brought Nona’s joy and love with her. It was a gift to see Nona’s love carried out in the life of her granddaughter.

It was also a gift to see Nona’s love carried out in Emma’s dance. We all felt the loss of Mom and yet Emma overcame her sadness and danced with joy. Tucked deep inside the fold of Emma’s dance dress was a Miraculous medal – Nona’s medal – the one that she wore the moment God called her home. It was fitting for Emma to carry this treasure with her on stage as it symbolized everything Nona stood for – Joy, Love, Family, and Tradition.

On Sunday, our attention turned from the Miraculous medal in Emma’s dance dress to the Marian medal being presented to my incredible Dad. First presented in 1968, the annual award recognizes members of diocesan parishes for their dedicated service to the Church.  Recipients are nominated for the award by their pastor and Dad was receiving the award for his service to Christ the King Parish in Mashpee on Sunday afternoon.

My siblings and I were overjoyed to witness our wonderful Dad being presented with this beautiful honor, especially at this sad time for all of us. As we gathered in the crowded Cathedral with our children, Mom’s presence was palpable – we knew she was with us in spirit. The moment Dad’s name was called, we held our breath and thanked God for this humble man who seeks nothing more than to love and serve his family and those in need. He truly is an example for his children, grandchildren and all those lucky enough to know him.  Mom would have been beaming with pride at her beloved Joey, but I am sure she was from heaven!

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As we gathered after the service for dinner, laughs were shared amidst tears. We all missed the woman who should have been sitting beside us but despite our feelings, we carried on as she would have wished. We carried on in love, in joy and in service as my brother promised we would in his eulogy. “We will continue to do great things in her name.” For Emma, she will dance with joy for Nona at the World Championships in Dublin. For Dad, he will lead the Christmas toy drive, needy fund and every other charity he is involved in – serving in his beloved Joanie’s name. For the rest of us, we will continue to live in love, joy and service as she did. As Mom taught us, there is simply no other way.

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