Theresa Laffey and Keith Kondrich

Recorded July 27, 2009 Archived July 27, 2009 37:58 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: DDB000541


Theresa Laffey (59) and her brother-in-law Keith Kondrich (47) remember Theresa’s mother Alice Laffey, who passed away from cancer two years ago. The two talk about Alice’s incredible strength, her warmth, her infections smile, and the lessons she taught her family, both in living and in dying.

Subject Log / Time Code

TL and KK talk about why they came in for a StoryCorps interview - to remember Alicey Laffey (TL’s mother), who taught the family “how to live and how to die.”
TL and KK talk about Alice’s faith, the way she always saw the good in people.
TL remembers Alice calling her family into the living room to tell them she had been diagnosed with cancer. Remembers how the family came together - everyone took care of her.
TL describes what her mother looked like - a petite woman, with an infectious smile. KK distinctly remembers Alice’s gentle hands and smiling eyes, even when the disease was at its worst, she still possessed those traits.
KK talks about TL’s brother, Tom, and his last visit with Alice Laffey. She said “I’ll miss you until I see you again.” Firm belief that death isn’t the end.


  • Theresa Laffey
  • Keith Kondrich

Recording Location

Akron-Summit County Public Library

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:05 My name is Theresa. Laffey. I'm 59 years old. Today's date is July 27th. 2009. I'm here at Akron and my partner today is Keith who is my brother-in-law?

00:21 My name is Keith. Kondrich. I'm 47 years old today is July 27th 2009 in Akron, Ohio. And as Teresa said I am Teresa's brother-in-law. I'm married to her youngest sister Helen.

00:39 And today we're going to talk about it's it's kind of interesting because today actually is the

00:45 2nd anniversary to the day of when we buried Teresa's mother my mother-in-law Alice laffey and it just happened to work out that way the schedule wise and we wanted to just share a little bit about her life the joy that she brought their family and more importantly the joy that she brought to everyone that touched her everyone that she touched so we're just going to chat a little bit today about Alice laffey or our mother and mother-in-law.

01:13 And to take it off we we've been talking as a family and Alice. My mother-in-law Teresa's mother's sister are in and it said it best. We thought when she said the Alice taught us how to live now. She's teaching us how to die.

01:32 So let's talk a little bit Teresa just about the first part of that statement Alice taught us how to live.

01:40 Tell me a little bit about her and her life. What kind of obstacles did did Mom have to overcome in her life? Mom and dad started a very very strong in their their faith in your belief in God and we are from that which you often hear referred to is that large Irish Catholic Family. I'm the second oldest of the 12 in our children. There were seven sisters in five brothers.

02:11 Mom is a woman of strength and I tried to tell my own daughter this and my nieces and nephews that we come from some powerful woman because mom had to overcome many obstacles when she was 45. My father died of a heart attack. He was 46 years old and at that point in time, they were only four of us who I graduated from high school. So she was left with eight in either elementary school or in high school and I was in college at the time breach was just starting Technical School. Regina was in nursing school, and Monica was employed. She wasn't interested in going on to school.

02:57 So she wasn't she was at a loss moms.

03:03 Work was her family. She didn't work outside of the house. She worked in in how could she but she and dad made do with what they had and it was pretty Lena times and she said at one point in time when she was talking to Tom and I we would get a bicycle. It wouldn't be a new one. But we we had that bicycle and we enjoyed that. I know it's Christmas time. We all had individual gift later on we learned it all of them weren't new but we didn't know that at the time but they made a very very special special For Eyes in in the love that was shown there.

03:45 Raising a children on her own on a pension from the the post office and and I guess maybe some social security. It was pretty tight for her. I can remember being in school and she came to me at that point in time. She was getting $18 a month from me and she told me I need that money to live on for expenses and she said I can't give it to you for something for college and I said I know I realized that I understood that but that's she was so concerned that was $18 and how she made that stretch and I an end was worried about me not having it.

04:28 So if they were for you outside of the home, but that point or at least kind of independent and then the 8th at home that Mom was raised in then she had another kind of obstacle, I guess with your brother my brother Matthew when he was 23 years old. He made a trip he decided that he was going to change.

04:52 It became a bit adventurous and he wanted to make some changes in his life. He didn't like the way it was going for him and he thought he needed to up and change and leave Pittsburgh and start anew and he went to California and during that time. He had a very good relationship with my mom. He wasn't out there. I think about 8 month 6 to 8 months when he was in a car accident where he had

05:19 Traumatic brain damage said she got a call Early in the Morning from a hospitals are the doctors told her that Matthew was brain-dead and that he they expected him to live about 48 hours. They didn't encourage her to come out and see him but she she's thought about it. And she said I have to be there and she accompanied by my brother breach went out to be with Matthew and I received a call. This is Mom's house. So I found a Gathering Place and when we all find out this was had happened all of us gathered there at this point in time Monica and I were the only two living outside of Pittsburgh. So we came in with our children and an aunt came up from the DC area and we were all there waiting to hear.

06:17 About Matthew and mom called and she told me on the phone. She said I told Matthew to take my hand or to take Daddy's Hand and he took Daddy's and that's how she broke the news of his death was so she buried a husband and not too long after that. She buried her son.

06:42 In in a. Of

06:46 8 years

06:48 She buried at 11 people that were important to her and there was a pretty reeling time her mother. She saw two brothers died of cancer. It was in in

07:03 Yet she didn't carry it around as a burden people have tragedies in our life everyday and put her responses tragedy to share this with some of the family. However, I had a friend in high school who lost a mother in a car accident a few years later the brother committed suicide and so similar in terms of losing a spouse losing a child and the family became so bitter into so just

07:39 Weary of the world if you would in and your mother from the the day I started dating her sister, you know, it was just nothing but joy filled and I'm sure there wasn't a day in there there was ever a day that she didn't miss your dad or your brother Matthew, but her response the life how she chose to deal with that tragedy was just just incredible.

08:00 So so here we have a woman that's just you know, her very simple means family's everything. What are some of the other lessons bit that you and your family learned about life from seeing your mom overcome. These these obstacles that you could have learned a lesson that life stinks. But but you didn't and mom was Faith driven. She she

08:29 And and Dad the two of them as they started their marriage and started his family and they had great faith that they would God would help to take care of us and after dad died mom continued with that face, and she she saw it. She and she said her job was to raise her family and she loved us all in and she wanted to do it as positively as possible. So she knew that she could not pull us down. The only way to go forward was to see the good there and what is expected of us in our talents and each other. It was very important to respect one another to love and respect one another and especially in the family unit today even it's amazing to me even know I've been a part of this family for

09:25 Over almost 17 years now and puts it just amazing to me. Just something as simple as a family vacation where we you know, you've got seventy some people down at the beach you got that, you know all the siblings and their sum of their in-laws and all the nieces and nephews and cousins and aunts and uncles and it's it's just a gathering of a family. That's just joyful. It's and it's just that again one of those simple but powerful testimonials to that Legacy that she left. I think you do as an outsider coming into the family not having known her, you know, as you did Growing Up just just always amazed me.

10:04 She always made our friends feel welcome, and she

10:11 Sometimes she took her mother that you roll outside the bounds of our family and Randy and Keith who are difference of regent Tom's and growing up. They they grew up without a mother and when they visit she often felt that she needed to give him some motherly advice it and she didn't hold back. She let them know different things that is some of the expectations and today is his date we do we still have at Gatherings. We see Randy and his family we see Keith and his family and how important that they are. They became family. So extended inn in many ways. And then again just the power of her presence in the power of her her. Joy for life all the brother-in-law.

11:11 So so so Mom was diagnosed with cancer.

11:17 And it was funny because it wasn't funny but was anything because two of her daughter's head going through cancer. She always said said to us, you know, I don't want to hear the word if if I'm ever sick and I have cancer. I don't want to want to hear the word cancer. I'll know from what they tell me and what medication and treatment but here she was a stalwart Bastian for two daughters that that went through cancer, but you don't want to hear that word cancer. But anyways, she's she's diagnosed with cancer and she brought all of you together in the living room. If you happen to be it was fortuitous that people are on town that did that point and she brought everybody into the living room you and your brothers and sisters and share the news with you. How did you react first of all?

12:04 Mom had never demanded that all of us come together. She never expected and never put that out there that I wanted to see all of you at a given time and we had come to those of us who lived outside of Pittsburgh and I've got to say those of us like which two of us and then time there's three of us that don't live in the Pittsburgh area, but we were there for function and

12:31 She called us together she ate and Eddie who lived with her and Regina. We're the only two prior to the Saturday that knew that she had had cancer and they were burdened with this new news in the reason I say burdened is because they knew it Wednesday and they were not allowed to share it. They were not allowed to discuss it. So for 3 days, they had to hold tight on this and they had to live with this knowledge without being able to be comforted or share with one another.

13:06 But Mom called that she she said you had to be there and when all of us were there.

13:12 Then she came downstairs to talk to us. I have to say my daughter Tessa was with me that day and she looked at me and she said mom what's this about and I said, I don't know. She said what's wrong with Grandma and I said, I don't know and she said do you want me to come with you? And I said yes test so she came with me as did some of the other granddaughters who read the the shower so we were gathered together at the table and the living room with Mom where she sat there and she looked at us all and she explained the situation. She said that she forgot the news on Wednesday that she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and it was so bad that she did not know how long she had.

14:02 And that's how we heard we all heard and we were all just dumbstruck we knew she had problems.

14:10 And she was going through different kinds of treatments, but she still was very much alive and spirit just that the while we're just at the beach and your mom was riding a bike again on the beach and then all of a sudden just like it wasn't like, you know, we had to advance notice. It was just it was kind of sudden for people to have two to realize that one of your sisters rose and describe the whole

14:41 Situation in what happened next as an evolution of rolls and everybody just kind of Incorporated mom's dying process into their daily routine. You know, it did it became just part of the daily routine to to be with Mom. And so what are some of your most powerful memories I guess about how our family evolved for came together during the dying process.

15:09 I think that's the most important reason why we're here today. Is this whole. Of time from March when she told us that when she died at the end of July?

15:24 There was an evolution but there was no doubt in any one of our minds that we weren't going to be there to take care of her.

15:31 It did not be feel like an obligation. It just was something that just happened. Mom was not afraid of dying. She was afraid of the disease. She was ready to go with her maker with God for eternal life.

15:51 But she was afraid of the disease and she was afraid of being alone with that.

15:56 So from the very beginning she wanted somebody with her cuz she didn't need it right at the start, but she wanted it and we were we were lucky enough to have re and who was in between jobs and he actually locations before she moved to Florida and Brie and said she'd stay there and that's when the air mattress became part of my bedroom decor and so so brand the who was the granddaughter was able to be there in the beginning and then we we did this Evolution we had to figure out how we were going to do this and that's when calendars and charts were made.

16:42 So the sisters and Aunt Han mom sister became involved with caring for Mom during this time and we had ships.

16:55 I lived in Ohio. So to get to Pittsburgh on Route 2 and 1/2 hour drive. So and I work full-time there for I could come on the weekends. So I signed up for weekend shift. We're at others in Pittsburgh signed up for the days of the week that they could be there and our ships included overnight.

17:19 I coming in on a Friday evening always came into a household full of people. It was my silly assumption that that's how it was all week long. But that's a game when I found out that people made it apart coming to Mom. Grandma's house is a part of their lifestyle now because come the weekend people gathered there. And as I come in people were cooking and this is a shift in the rules where moms daughters were taking care of her and the brothers and brother-in-law's we're taking care of their children the grandchildren the cooking and things like that that were needed running to the store. So so we sort of shifted in different things that were it we're done. It was such a natural shift to Inna. I mean, that's again no one in our culture today. We we try to insulate people from death and and there wasn't that there was

18:19 Family meeting there wasn't a a flowchart. There wasn't a big plan laid out of just people just

18:25 Assume those roles and not in a burdensome way. It was just like well, this is part of the evolution I guess in and it was amazing to me to that. They know no one felt cranky or output or something else to do tonight. It was just where this is our family. This is us to her Legacy of creating that family. We're even amidst something as sad as her dying.

18:56 The family was together playing Scrabble cooking food, you know just playing the piano whatever it might be and it was I think something very rare. Most people have the opportunity.

19:09 No, we don't most people don't in and as you said we just came we sort of came together when we knew we had to have a calendar. So people we filled in when we could be there. And if something would come up and you couldn't you didn't leave it on field you find somebody else that took care of it. We had a system there where we started out with baby monitor. So if we weren't in the room with Mom, then she could contact us with the baby monitor, but it wasn't always clear. You can always hear ride. You didn't know if she was sleeping noise Aleve or she was calling for us. So we went from the baby monitor one day when we couldn't reach when we didn't get to her in time. She became very frustrated and I'm afraid that isn't anybody here. So I think it was Brendan or Eddie that decided we have to do something to

20:09 Any took a doorbell. They ring the doorbell so that was on so she had her own call buttons.

20:17 And when she rang that call Button whoever was on the calendar that day would run the stairs and go to see what's up. Sometimes that was wrong by the people bending over the bed. We had many false alarms, but it was interesting to just I mean, you know, we had two of the the nephew's got married in that six month. And Mom couldn't be at the wedding but they they came to her, you know, it was just it was a natural thing to come to share the joy of the of the new marriages and you know, what one of my kids had that had a piano recital and and Mom couldn't be there. So they played the piano in her living room with the intercom too. So she could hear it upstairs and you know, and it was just again.

21:06 It didn't take on a Saturn Euro Squad. It just it was just a natural part of this again continuing light which I think you know would have been one of her big thing continue living. Yeah, there's there's some tragedy in life. There are some things are sad some things are you know might knock you down for a little bit but the power and the beauty of life for just such a gift than in I think that's that was conveyed in this whole process.

21:38 Keith I believe that you're right and to get back to the the two marriages and to the recitals and the different performances that the kids had the grandchildren did, and it was as with us as her children and Anne and children and law she just get the grandchildren.

22:00 Participated in a very big way in this they all made time for her again out of their schedules many of them working but date date they found time to be with her and she found the individual time for everyone. I also found a very uncanny that she knew when people were going to come and she didn't forget that she knew if know who was coming in on trip. When is he going to be here? She knew if Lily was doing something. She she she asked about that. She continued to be a part of it and

22:38 At one point in time one of her friends had died.

22:42 And the family didn't know whether or not to tell her about that because he didn't want Mom to feel any worse and then even Pam got sick and had to have surgery and we didn't know how to tell Mom about that and when somebody explain to her that

23:03 They were her friend died and Pam was sick and we didn't know how to approach her. She should always tell me that don't be afraid because what I can do is pray for them, and that's how she could participate in in in.

23:21 In her illness, she still could participate.

23:25 She was diagnosed with cancer and in February of 2007 and she passed away in July of that same year and going back to her original statement, which was Alice taught us how to live now. She's teaching us how to die.

23:42 What did she teach us? What did she teach our family during that 6-month. When she was dying?

23:49 She continued to teach us the importance of family in the importance of staying together. She did not want us to drift apart.

24:02 She she in in this whole time that you was dying. And what an inset there is that we continue to gather we got closer and closer with one another that was something that Monica said at one point that you know, she had been away living away from Pittsburgh for many many years similar to yourself and that, you know her coming in to visit and be with Mom was a way that she reconnected with her her brothers and sisters not that mean we certainly has been closed but physically know she was able to come and reconnect with the family. So even in Mom's dying process, she was giving life to those relationships and now she was strengthening those family relationships even in her death if she did that in that we and I like I like Monica lived way and we came in and because we weren't just there for a party.

25:02 An event we were spending time together the quality time with her siblings and we learned our strength we learned we learned different strengths in each other that we didn't know that they were there and we didn't have the opportunity to see it. We learned that and it became

25:25 If he can beautiful some of it was the inner strength that they had and this was not easy. I can't say that it all went without without some strife and without question myself. What is it?

25:39 We never buried mom. We never had an our mother dying before we never had this time together. None of us had experienced this before so we didn't have the answers. So we had to go along and we had to follow her example and hurt and imitates faced.

25:58 Her Inn in for her to continue to strengthen the family some of the things that she did some of it was like she said she gave back to us gifts. We had given her she knew what we had given even you know to know is she said no, I want you to have this you gave this cross to me before and it's important and I want to give it back. So it's a remembrance of the two of us and she did that with each one of us. I just talk into Tommy and Maria Carmen and in here Tommy came to see her they came to see her your cousin, My heart has a very young and and came to see her and she in turn returned a Celtic roster Tara Tom. It said I would like you to give this to Maria Carmen who was they were only married two years and she was born in Mexico. So she was experiencing a language barrier.

26:58 And Tom was experiencing a great loss because he often called Mom for advice and Direction. He didn't laugh and take it. He said that I was no it didn't always hear what I wanted to hear. But I knew I could call her and Maria Carmen said was ad for her brief time and experience with Mom where she had despite the language barrier at Muhammad really made her feel welcome even in her dying, you know, you always felt welcome in that home and end in. You know, I know everyone always said when we were we were all trying to figure out a way to cancel her and we want to make her feel comfortable and yet she pretty much flip the table and and she was consoling us and it was again you talk about the safe.

27:56 You can't do that. You can't be faced with your own dying and be able to cancel the people around you unless you have that faith. And I think anyone you know, all of us had a chance to sit sit with her alone at some point and I'll just sit at the bedside and in chat with her or maybe just hold her hand, but the her life and in her dying, I don't think there was any doubt in anybody's mind regardless of you know, they're their religious beliefs their politics their their faith tradition that there was no doubt in anybody's mind that this woman is it that there were there is an afterlife, you know, I mean, she believed that she can just believe it. She knew it, you know, and then she was able to impart that to everyone else and in a way that was just the again simple but powerful in it. It was her presence.

28:54 Can you describe a little bit of what did she look like?

29:00 Mom, she weighs about 5 to I believe at the time of her death She's a little woman. She she I guess when she was married she was like 98 lb very petite woman and but powerful at the same time. She had a wonderful smile and she was just a joy to be around but I always always think he's always think about your mom in terms of physical attributes was just her hands that they were gentle but but they always seem to let me know she worked hard, you know, she worked hard but but even again with it with the many obstacles she had and and and you know, scrubbing the floor and doing the housework and you know young kids today.

30:00 How did Grammy ever how did she just raise kids like one back to work, you know and just on a small pension and from your dad and help from some of the older kids and so she was a hard worker is no question. But her hands just always again there was strength in those hands, but they were so gentle and Lorna came to visit her during that time that Mom took his hand into hers.

30:32 And I was stroking the hand to console him and held his hand with hers. And he said then I looked into her eyes and what I remember best about her is her smiling eyes that she she she did do that a couple important things that is that remain that we're very important was with Tom being the priest when he could be there she often prayed with him and had communion with him and being that he is a Ministry done at Penn State. He can't be there all the time. So Helen being a Eucharistic minister.

31:12 Was able to be there on a daily basis.

31:16 Brendan took up that rolling. Helen couldn't do it. So we all knew the importance of the Catholic faith to Mom and and how to make sure that she continued to have a chi had a couple other priests and and Christian Brothers visit her during this time. So we all gathered but she brought it up. She brought the prayers were important and Anna was very big in that because they discussed prayers and I prayed them and soaring this whole amount of time there were different prayers that were very important for her to pray and she brought she got the part. She decided what prayer we go on her prayer card.

32:01 And it had to do with her children and raising the children.

32:06 And being without you not raising the children, but the children and how it would be very difficult. She looks forward to being with God, but it how difficult it was to leave the children behind.

32:19 I remember also might my oldest son saying he was.

32:24 13 at the time and

32:28 Remember him saying after the funeral, you know what that this wasn't as sad as I thought it would be and I thought she was out really it. We wasn't a good opening to talk about your mom's life. And he said yeah, I just thought she she was such the central part of the family now she's gone. And yeah, I'm sad but her spirit was still there, you know, and it just like it's still here today, you know weird cuz I think we got the schedule for this this particular date. Do you think our family is changed or is different now than before mom died.

33:08 I think there are differences. I think they might be settled. I think it's the differences. We realized how.

33:17 Important family are we always gathered we always gathered we enjoyed each other's company that has those Christmas grab bags and stuff her favorite time of the year because it was a gift exchange with all the adults and how and in those who didn't participate chose not to participate or even there because of the the activity and how much fun it was. I think we did grow. We see even more the importance of family staying together and salt solving our differences. We're not always going to agree, but we want to solve the differences.

33:56 I think that we again going back to where we learn the strength to one another and the importance of consoling mom canceled us. We have to consume each other during that time and we didn't necessarily plan how things were going down twerk odd. One day Brendan was in the room with Mom when her back was really hurting her and she's sitting on the bed and she saying it how bad is hurt and he sat down.

34:24 On the opposite side of the bed and he leaned into her.

34:29 Instant Lean on Me mom and she did and she was comforted. She did and read would come and say what you want me to rub your feet and she's a well-read if you want to and then every Thursday nice income I need to do that because she wanted it and they didn't say it.

34:53 How we all like them hug her and comfort her.

34:59 Have a great hugger.

35:01 That was some. Yeah, and that's a Perfect Analogy lean on Lean on Me. Mom lie on my back with Brendan and you know it and I think that you know

35:12 Death that's what this family does. They lean on each other and in that was in a again. It was a way for her to kind of show that or we've always leaned on each other, but it was just a

35:24 Tangible demonstration in a physical demonstration. You can always people are saying, you know, I'm here for you. I'm here for you, but physically present, you know that in terms of her leaning against Brendan or whatever. Anybody did what Regina Roseanne and Meg were very good with the medications and stuff and able to get that all out there Alice and I were better at organizing and getting things done in the in the home Monica was good at the needlepoint and she and she had a bad leg at the time which mom greatly respected.

36:02 However, I think we learned to respect what each other had and and then we met each other uses drinks into it and we could depend at each one would

36:17 Your brother Tom

36:21 Said on his last visit he wasn't sure when he get back. He didn't know it was going to be his last visit, but it turned out to be his last visit to to Mom and he

36:36 Soldier hand in the evening said goodbye. And then she looked at him and said

36:41 I'll miss you until I see you again.

36:45 And then she passed away a few days or a week later. But you know that that whole I'll see you again. The death is not the end death is not the end and again, you know, it's easy to get caught up in our day-to-day anxieties and frustrations, but day-to-day pressures from job and family in any kind of lose sight of what's really important and I just thought you know, that was a great way to end this discussion about your mom and that I'll see you again and I'll see you again and I think we all are confident that

37:25 I agree with you keys and then you took it one step further and you yourself a tribute to her.

37:34 Write a letter to the editor in the paper. So a few weeks after she died.

37:41 A letter came to it and it was entitled simple greatness.

37:48 And that's what you was.

37:51 When will see her again?