Gianficaro: COVID-19 took my mom, but her legacy lives on – The Sunday Dispatch

April 20th, 2020 5:45 am

Editors note: Phil Gianficaro is a native of Pittston as was his mom, Josephine Gianficaro, who died Wednesday, April 8, of COVID-19. She was 88.


Our moms lifetime of generosity, not her death due to COVID-19 last week, will endure as her legacy.

She was where we could not be. A stranger with compassion in her heart and wings on her back. A palliative care nurse doing for my mom in her final hours that which COVID-19 forbade us from doing.

The nurse sat at Moms bedside in the dark and quiet of the quarantine hospital room as the stroke of midnight and her final moments approached. Head to toe in protective garb, she gently wound rosary beads in Moms fingers, stroked her cheek, held her hand, offered prayers. Administering Gods providence. A stranger doing for Mom what the virus wouldnt allow us to do: comfort her at the end.

The nurses name is Mary.


Coronavirus took my mother from us last week. Hers was the cruelest of goodbyes. Isolated. Unconscious. Alone, except for a nurse dispensing endless helpings of love we could not. Saying thank you from the bottom of our hearts comes up woefully short.

A week earlier, cancer was losing its battle against my mom. After three months and four cycles of chemotherapy, tumors caused by diffuse, large B-cell lymphoma were shrinking. Mom, at 88, was punching like a champ, whipping cancers tail. Only two chemotherapy cycles remained before she could begin thinking about returning to her kitchen to bake and deliver cakes and cookies for family and friends. While everyone thanked her, her gift was in the giving. A lesson for us all.

Cancer, fighting out of its weight class, looked at the scorecard with swollen eyes from unsteady knees about to surrender. Trailed late in the fight. Reinforcements were summoned. Enter coronavirus. A week later, Moms fight was over.

Sometimes there just arent enough punches.

While our hearts are breaking, anger toward the Lord does not rule my heart. When the end came, I closed my eyes and said a prayer, thanking God not only for blessing us with a wonderful mother for 60 years, but also for calling her home before more intense pain and suffering took hold.

While we wait for a shuttered world to reopen, to return to some degree of normal, our grief continues. Moms funeral arrangements, as are those of so many loved ones across the nation, are on hold. So, too, is what we as a family need most: a gathering to hug and cry and laugh and reminisce and celebrate the most loving, caring and magnificent person I ever knew. So we wait.

Mom was an umbrella when it rained, a scarf to blunt the chill, a smile to chase the sadness. A well of humanity that never ran dry. She checked all of Jesus boxes: Caring. Generous. Friendly. Faithful. Nurturing. Selfless. Loving. In the alphabet of concern, Mom was letter Z. Back of the line. Her choice. The less fortunate needed love and attention and comfort more. You go ahead, shed say. I can wait. Ill make do.

Whats Mrs. G. baking today? our friends would ask when my younger brother and I were kids. They loved sitting around Moms kitchen table, eagerly waiting for the oven door to open. Your kitchen always smells so good, Mrs. G., they would say. Pies. Cakes. Cookies. Comforting aromas from the oven, my friends assumed. They were wrong. What made them feel so good came not from her stove, but from her heart.

The stories are endless. Leaving a Thermos of coffee and a bag of baked goods on the front porch for trash collectors every week during the harsh winter months. Baking a Thanksgiving dinner for a poor neighbor family whose husband and father had lost his job a few weeks earlier. Several years ago, she phoned a surgeon decades after his medical magic ensured her sons a better life, to thank him again. The docs wife called back the next day. Hes beaming! she told Mom. You made his day! The well never ran dry.

As I turn an ear to heaven, I can hear the conversation:

St. Peter!

Yes, Jesus.

Your pants are getting a little tight around the waist, dont you think?

Yeah, Lord, um, Josie has been up here with us for a few days now. The cheesecakes. The Italian cookies. The cannolis. The rigatoni and meatballs in homemade sauce. The stuffed peppers. I cant resist. It all just smells so good.

Any cheesecake left?

Um, dont think so, Lord.

Then a sweet voice from heavens kitchen to Jesus ears:

How big a slice do you want? I have more.

With Mom, there was always more.

Phil Gianficaro

Columnist Phil Gianficaro can be reached at 215-345-3078,, and @philgianficaro on Twitter.

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Gianficaro: COVID-19 took my mom, but her legacy lives on - The Sunday Dispatch

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