Put that inspiring quote right here

Religion is such an interesting and emotional topic. In fact, religion used to play a major role in the lives of many, many people as reported in their newspaper obituaries.

This still happens, when people are religious leaders. But what happens when you are dealing with normal, everyday people?

Here is your assignment. Read the following story from the Chicago Sun-Times. Here is a glimpse of how it starts:

The rest of the world receded a little when pretty Patricia Assise watched cute Lou DeMuro play 16-inch softball at Kells Park on the West Side. It was the summer of ’47.

They were engaged by the following Valentine’s Day and married later that year. Their life together had few frills but many laughs. They would sing the 1950s hit “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” They listened to the soundtracks from “South Pacific” and “Mary Poppins” hundreds of times. The louder their kids sang along, the more the DeMuros smiled.

“It was a simple life, but it was rich,” said their daughter, Jan Griffin. “I remember Dad barbecuing and getting the biggest kick out of watching us play.” …

The DeMuros were a tag team when it came to raising their three kids: Jan, Lou and David. When Mr. DeMuro got home from work, he was a hands-on parent, so Patricia DeMuro could head to her night job. They roller-skated, bowled and played pinochle together and even used his-and-hers lawnmowers to mow their grass side-by-side, said their son Lou.

They did everything together.

So it was fitting that, at the end, they died together, succumbing within hours of each other from a multitude of ailments.

Read it all. Then pick out what you think is the most inspiring quotation or symbolic detail. Go head, please.

For this to work you need to stop reading this post for a second and read the story. Otherwise, go read something else. Deal?

OK, let’s proceed.

Here is the passage that grabbed me. I predict that I am not alone. I’ll include the material that frames the symbolic moment.

They had moved just last month to the San Diego area, to be near their daughter. But Mr. DeMuro — who had leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes — soon was in hospice care at their senior apartment. And Mrs. DeMuro — with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure — was soon on a ventilator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Their children knew it was only a matter of time. So, on June 28, they had an ambulance bring Mr. DeMuro to the hospital on a gurney to be with his wife. He greeted his bride of 62 years as he always had: “Hi, Babe.”

“They had them facing one another in their individual beds, and we put their hands on top of one another so they could hold hands,” their daughter said. “Mom was awake. She said, ‘Lou, I love you. I had a wonderful life. I’ll see you in another place.’ ”

The DeMuros spent a contented couple of hours near each other. Then, it was time for Lou DeMuro to go back to hospice.

“I had to tell Dad, ‘You aren’t going to see Mom again,” their daughter said.

At 1:20 p.m. that day, Mrs. DeMuro slipped away.

Mr. DeMuro grew restless and distraught. He was gone at 6:45 p.m.

It’s that simple, yet very romantic, exchange that starts with, “Hi, Babe.” That did it for me.

This is, of course, a reference to heaven. The story, to this point has told us all kinds of practical family details, right down to the lawnmowers and the couple’s love of Italian cooking. But something is missing, something that sets up that inspiring quotation that is the emotional heart of the story.

So what details are we given about the role of faith in this tight-knit family?

A celebration of their lives is being planned for later this year at Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery in Hillside.

Oh, there is more.

The DeMuros’ kids had an old-fashioned Chicago upbringing. They lived in a two-flat with relatives upstairs. The children went to school across the street at Our Lady Help of Christians. They’d come home for lunch.

That’s it. We are told that Sunday was the day for pot roast. Was that true during Great Lent, as well?

I think something is missing here. I think a crucial piece of the romance is missing, a piece that is linked to that lovely farewell quotation.

Art: Our Lady Help of Christians

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Linas

    The article assumes that the reader knows that all Italian-Americans in Chicago are Roman Catholic, especially when reference is made to the largest Catholic Cemetery in the area, as well as their home parish.

  • Thomas Peters

    How, exactly, do you conclude that something is missing here? The article mentions a celebration of life to be held at a (presumably) Catholic cemetery, and that the the DeMuro’s kids attended a (presumably) Catholic school. From that we can surmise that the DeMuro’s were most likely Catholic. I don’t see how you can go much beyond that.

    The article doesn’t say that the DeMuro’s were devout Catholics, or that the Church was an important part of their lives. It doesn’t say they attended services daily, weekly, or even monthly. You don’t have to be devout (or even Catholic) to attend most Catholic schools.

    Presumably the reporter talked to the children before writing this article. I would suspect that, if the children said that the Church was an important part of their lives, it would have gotten included here. The fact that it’s not would indicate that the Children didn’t say this, not that they did and that the reporter suppressed the information.

    Heck, the critical line in the story is that the couple will meet “in another place,” not that they will meet in “heaven.”

    So how do you conclude that “a crucial piece of the romance is missing?” I see no warrant for this, other than your assumption that, since a graveyard and a church is mentioned, religion must have been more important in their lives than the article lets on.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    Maybe you have a point, but you never can tell. I run into lapsed Catholics of all ages, even though they may expect (and receive) burial in a Catholic cemetery. “I’ll see you in another place” isn’t necessarily a Christian reference. In fact, the idea that the afterlife was a place for a big family reunion only gained popularity among American Christians after the Civil War, when it was popularized in a novel by a young woman whose fiance had been killed. The biblical vision of heaven is that it’s a place to praise God,and Jesus suggests that, after the Resurrection, marriage will be devalued (Matt. 22). Could be that these folks are very devout Catholics, or you could simply be looking at common cultural relics.

  • Julia

    “They had them facing one another in their individual beds, and we put their hands on top of one another so they could hold hands,” their daughter said. “Mom was awake. She said, ‘Lou, I love you. I had a wonderful life. I’ll see you in another place.’ ”

    My ex and family were from frist the near NW and then further out near the city limits. I can picture those light colored brick two flats all over the place.

    Religion was so woven into daily life that it isn’t even necessary to mention it. The Poles and Italians of that parat of Chicago eat, sleep and breathe Catholicism – or they used to. Religion can’t be separated out from all of what we read about this lovely couple.

    For the people the same age as this couple, “devout” meant taking part in extra devotions, being pious, having nightly family rosaries and maybe being excessively modest. Today “devout” evidently means following your faith’s requirements – back then that wasn’t “devout”, it was just the expected minimum.

    What a heart-warming story. Any specific mention of being “devout” or religious would be superfluous and get saccharine. You can tell these people lived their religion – no need to get into rosaries and religiosity.

    We are told that Sunday was the day for pot roast. Was that true during Great Lent, as well?

    Great Lent is Eastern Orthodox not Catholic. And there is nothing wrong with having pot roast on Sunday during Advent or Easter.

  • Dave

    The adult kids who brought their terminally ailing parents together for one last hand-hold, are all the display of religion I need in an obituary, whatever the denominational label (and I agree that the Catholic hints are pretty dispository).

  • dalea

    This story is so steeped in Chicagoese that it almost requires a translator. By mentioning Our Lady Help of Christians, local readers know just what religious practices the DeMuros followed. Each parish tends to have its own specific focus on religious observance, which locals will be familiar with.

    The celebration at the cemetery is another distinct Chicago practice. In Chicago, cemeteries are unionized. The grave diggers union, whatever it is called, digs graves on a rotating basis. Each cemetery has one day a week when interments take place. So, the coffin leaves the church and goes to a receiving chapel at the cemetery. When the day for burial comes, the coffin is then interred. It is standard practice for family members to be there on that day to make sure grandma is placed in her own grave. (The union members sometimes get sloppy.) I’ve supported a bereaved friend in doing this. In RC cemeteries, there frequently are penitents who accompany the coffin on its last journey. A forklift carries the coffin with a group walking alongside, praying the rosary. The system is last in first out which means at busy times of the year or during blizzards, burial may be delayed for months. The priest officiating uses a golf cart to get from grave to grave. This seems to be uniquely Chicago, and explains the cemetery event.

  • Julia

    In RC cemeteries, there frequently are penitents who accompany the coffin on its last journey.

    Penitents are people praying for their own souls as penance for their own sins.

    If these people are praying rosaries for the deceased’s soul, and not their own, they would just be called mourners.

    I guess my father-in-law’s death perfectly meshed with the union rotation system – there was no stop at a cemetery chapel and no forklift. He was laid to rest 30 years ago in an absolutely huge Catholic cemetery in NW Chicago next to his wife whose funeral 40 years ago didn’t have the chapel or forklift, either.

    Maybe it’s a more recent set-up?

  • Jerry

    You can tell these people lived their religion -

    That, to me, is all that is necessary in this story. I think nit-picking details about which Church they attended, how they felt about women priests and so forth would have totally been a mistake.

    They clearly lived a life of love and Love is their destination. That, in itself, is totally sufficient.

    I do have a side-comment. Today in our area, obituaries in the newspaper are “ads” places their by someone as a memorial. Having a reporter write an obit is as dead as the decedent unless, of course, the deceased is notable by the standards of the world.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Chicago and others:
    Here in the archdiocese of Boston the deceased is usually brought to the parish church for a funeral Mass (after a wake service the day before.) And then the family and other mourners motorcade to the cemetery for a short graveside service and immediate burial. This is true whether the cemetery is Catholic or city-owned or privately run. There are some variations. Sometimes the deceased is cremated a few days after the funeral Mass. Sometimes a cremated deceased is brought to the Church in an urn for the funeral Mass.
    The Chicago Way seems a bit bizarre, if accurately described here.

  • Julia

    There was a story in our Illinois newspaper not too long ago that uncovered a big scandal in failure to properly bury bodies, losing some and putting 2 in the same plot. Maybe some cemeteries are really badly run.

    http://www.pantagraph.com/news/state-and-regional/illinois/article_9373ee04-8bb7-11df-a926-001cc4c03286.html

  • liberty

    I am a lifelong Chicagoan and have never heard of the particularities as described by Dalea.

    In the last year I have been to Catholic Funerals and burials at both Resurrection and Queen of Heaven cemeteries. In both cases the burial followed the Mass directly as described by Deacon Bresnahan. In fact that has been the case at all the funerals I have attended in Chicago with burials in Catholic cemeteries.

    The closest I have heard was that my father was buried in the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery instead of a Catholic Cemetery and we had to wait until Monday for burial because they don’t open graves on the weekend (my father’s funeral was on a Saturday).

  • dalea

    My memory of this goes back to the 70′s and 80′s when I lived there. Being Chicago, there was always the opportunity to buy whatever you wanted: for a fee, the union would open a grave at any time. Or the funeral could be scheduled on a day when the union was at the cemetery. Holding chapels and delayed burials are common in places with long cold winters. Sometimes the ground would not be diggable until April or May.

    Thanks for the clarification Julia.

  • Julia

    Some friends of my Lower MidWest parents planned to be buried in their hometown of Deadwood, N. Dakota.

    As luck would have it, the husband died at the start of a very, very cold winter. He had to be put on ice until the ground in Deadwood could be broken come the following spring.

  • Julia

    Beg your pardon. That would be Deadwood, South Dakota.

  • Heather

    Thomas said:

    So how do you conclude that “a crucial piece of the romance is missing?” I see no warrant for this, other than your assumption that, since a graveyard and a church is mentioned, religion must have been more important in their lives than the article lets on.

    I think that your comment might be exactly the reason for this post.
    I would like to know where they attended church and a few, maybe necessarily brief details about their faith life. I bet their pastor, for example, would have provided a great quote. Doesn’t it seem that their faith was important to them? Shouldn’t that be mentioned? Even the quietly faithful deserve mention.

    Presumably the reporter talked to the children before writing this article. I would suspect that, if the children said that the Church was an important part of their lives, it would have gotten included here. The fact that it’s not would indicate that the Children didn’t say this, not that they did and that the reporter suppressed the information.

    Call me a paranoid fundamentalist catholic blog-reader, but I would argue that it might have been. If it wasn’t suppressed, then why weren’t the right questions asked?

    Maybe readers shouldn’t be expected to surmise and presume.

  • northcoast

    OK, the article might have at least mentioned where the DeMuros were married. It does note that the children attended parochial school, and, if I remember correctly, that was in an era when many parochial schools saw declining enrollments.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    In the Boston area I have not heard of (in modern times) any cemetery having to cancel a burial because of frozen ground. Powerful backhoes now dig graves effeciently at any time of the year. But all the older cemeteries around here– some going back to the mid 1600′s–have above ground holding vaults to keep bodies in until the ground thawed.
    Recently, a friend of mine died in mid-winter and his funeral was in northern Maine. Apparently up there the ground even resists powerful backhoes because we were told after the funeral Mass that he couldn’t be buried until spring because the ground was frozen.

  • http://faithandreason.usatoday.com Cathy Grossman

    What if the parents hadn’t been to church in decades, or never gave a hoot, past their children’s Catholic education (a way to avoid poor public schools as well)for their faith? If the reporter had asked, Were your parents religious? The kids may have said yes, but even then, what do you know unless you grill them. Many folks who never go to church, who even disagree with key points their church teaches, don’t follow the rituals of their church.
    Would you have expected the reporter to lard in to an obituary all the things they did NOT do?
    I think the obit was lovely — and just right for the Chicago community where it was set.

  • Bern

    The “Hi Babe” is what did it for me, too. And I don’t think there’s anything missing or being suppressed. The “religion” is not so much ignored as assumed in the details of which church, which cemetery. Otherwise it becomes a story about religion rather than a story about this couple and the simple beauty and poignancy of their life and death together–if they were Hindu, what difference would it make?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Personally, I think religion is just as much a part of life as Italian sausage.

    I see no evidence that the questions were asked. Period.

  • Dave

    Terry, stipulating your point in #20, there’s also no evidence that the press didn’t get religion in this case. They may have thought the information they received and passed along was dispository. They might be criticized for imprecision but not as readily for GR.

  • Julia

    For the paper’s readers, people very familiar with the NW side of Chicago, “the information they received and passed along was dispository” – Amen.

  • Julia

    Pressed “submit” too quickly.

    I think any prying into whether the old folks left the Catholic church or how often they went to Mass would be viewed as unnecessarily intrusive and disrespectful.


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