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Those of us coming from out of town were embarrassed to admit we’d packed funeral clothes. Things had sounded quite dire over the phone. But here was my mother-in-law laying in a hospital bed, drawn and frail looking, ten concerned family members surrounding her, and she was holding court as usual. She was flat on her back, and the left half of her body lay limp and unresponsive, and her words were slurred and her words were slowed, yet everyone present craned in to hear what she had to say.

Eighty-five year old ‘Mama the Great’, as she liked to be called once her great-grandchildren were born, would not dream of letting a massive stroke Saturday morning take her down without a fight. Even in her barely understandable sloppy whisper she quipped that maybe the scheduled August 5 family picnic might best be held bedside. And when her eldest daughter brought in her beau of a year, Mama the Great was being her usual silly self when she implied that Fred need not have come, reminding him to his face, “You’re not in the will!”.

She is the matriarch of a large Irish Catholic family that rushed to her side as soon as the news was out that she’d ‘fallen and couldn’t get up’. She is one of the beloved leaders of a hugely successful senior center in her former neighborhood in the city of Buffalo, New York. Just a month ago a crowd there watched her celebrate her birthday with the arrival of a faux policeman who claimed she’d double parked, and then for her entertainment, took off most of his clothes. The nurses who looked after her that first day in the ICU asked us quite seriously, if the stories of strippers their new charge had been mumbling about on admission, could possibly be true.

My mother-in-law is a handful of lady because she almost always says what she thinks. And loudly. So even after having been reduced physically to a barely moving body in a bed she managed to say and do things that had her grown children and their families rolling their eyes as they also filled with tears of joy, because Mama the Great was happily delighting us still with her silly banter and intrepid spirit.