Already There — Part 1


By Anthony Kovatch, MD

Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia


Musical Accompaniment:  “Already There” by Accordionist and Grandson Tony Kovatch, Jr.: 

“I wrote this melody in the town of St. Clement-des-Baleines in France, wanting nothing more than to capture the feeling of being in a beautiful place.”


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Not a tear was shed on the surface when my mother-in-law Mary Irene Lyons took her dying breath in the mid-afternoon of that Monday when the chill rains fell from the gloomy skies of November. During her two weeks of unrelenting physical decline, all twelve of her children had caressed her boney-but-soft hands and kissed the radiant white skin of her forehead and cheeks as her voice became more and more feeble and her efforts to smile in response to kisses and words of encouragement fully extinguished. They say the last faculty to expire is the hearing, so we talked to “Mum” in spite of eyes closed shut and agonal breaths. 

I have heard it said that when an old person passes away it is like a great library, with its trove of treasures, has been burned to the ground. My father-in-law Jack had preceded her in death by 15 years. It was with this sense of impending loss that my attempts at “deathbed humor” awoke. “You falsified your obituary, Mum — you lazy woman,” I argued in a serious tone. “You did not have 12 children — you had 12 and a half!” Almost immediately, a smile appeared on her previously stone-like face; she knew who the “half” had been.

I was first introduced to Mum in the entrance line to the Phipps Conservatory when I was courting her oldest daughter (also Mary) — my future wife. It was a winter-like day in March and I was so “bothered, bewitched, and bewildered” by love that I forgot to wear a coat suitable for a rather frigid afternoon. Mum insisted on putting her own coat over my shoulders and laughed at everything I said like I was the source of all instinctive humor in the world. By the end of the afternoon, I became aware of a magnetism of maternal affection that I had not experienced since the lapse of my own mother (“Mommy”) into progressive dementia when I was nine years old. In spite of being blessed with life-saving temporary parent surrogates over the previous 20 years and my understanding that biological mothers are, in essence, irreplaceable, the transition from “Mommy” to “Mum” was seamless.

When Mary and I were married in May (a mini-ceremony after the 12 o’clock mass) I learned that Mum had pulled some strings with the governance at the church to bypass the weekly announcements in the parish bulletin (the “bands”) which gave the public an opportunity to vet our union — we had “no time for sergeants”! Mum orchestrated the reception in her backyard — we had no time for catered affairs or for wedding planners! — where we were surrounded by the sight and smell of lilacs. We just wanted a marriage like Mum and Dad.  Shortly after, my high school graduation picture was hung on the wall in the living room with the other 12 rogues. In-laws were universally held in high esteem, and, regarding all the relatives of the in-laws, it was “consider yourself one of us.”

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife

     Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; 

Along the cool sequester’d vale of life 

     They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.  


— Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by English poet Thomas Gray.


When it became time to decide where to settle down, there was no doubt that we could not leave Pittsburgh — Mum had her magnets in place. She was like a third parent, helping us raise our 4 children and the host of other grandchildren as well. She would often “babysit” for our infants the entire night when we were sleep-deprived. On weekends, Mum was the host of “Saturday Night Live” as our kids threw us out of the house so that they could have “real fun with grandma”* — except for one date when we had to leave the restaurant early because she shattered her wrist playing basketball in the driveway with my daughter. She thought the whole episode was a howl and could not stop laughing. She was no stranger to physical abuse; the grandchildren (especially accordionist Tony) mauled her with affection whenever she entered our home.


You can read about what Mary and I did during those times of “real fun with grandma” here.


Besides playing basketball with her grandchildren (she was a standout in high school), Mum took the time to “model” the first running shirt worn by child “Twelve and a Half” in her later years!


To be continued…