Lillian Marie Gisondi
CHARLESTON - The service for Lillian Marie Gisondi will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Charleston, Illinois. Mom would have been 91 that day. She passed away Sunday evening after an unexpected series of physical ailments that included pneumonia, staph infection, stroke and a collapsing lung. Each day, a new ailment hit and each day she fought against it. Mom was a battler. After five days, sadly, there was just too much for her to overcome and she passed away peacefully with family by her side.
Mom was born Dec. 6, 1928 in West New York, New Jersey, the daughter of Leo and Lydia Ciurcovich. She married Joseph George Gisondi and adopted two children. Mom is survived by her son Joseph J. Gisondi of Charleston, Illinois, daughter Susan F. Tomko of Richmond, Texas, and daughter-in-law Betsy Gisondi; granddaughters Lisa Anderson of Richmond, and Kristen Gisondi and Sarah Gisondi, both from Charleston; great-grandchildren Nicholas, Nathan and Rylee; and sister, Leda Brophy, who resides in Lexington, Kentucky. Her other sister, Lea Packer, passed away several years ago. In addition, Mom is survived by numerous nephews and nieces – Ray Brophy, Michael Brophy, Patty Brophy, Bob Basso, Rick Basso and John Basso – as well as their spouses and numerous great-nieces and nephews whom she cherished as well. Mom was preceded in death by her parents, Leo and Lydia; her sister, Lea; and her husband Joseph.
Mom definitely never met a stranger and was devoted to her family, whom she adored. She is dearly beloved and sorely missed. Mom will always be in our hearts now and forever more.
As some of you know, both my sister Sue and I were adopted as infants, roughly three-plus years apart. She is the older one, as I often remind her. Neither of us have ever felt compelled to track down our biological past because we so loved our present: you don't need much more in life than supportive, loving parents. On top of that, we also inherited a caring extended family filled with aunts, uncles and cousins. And few people cherished family like my mom. So why, as my sister said the other day, dig into a past that might awaken things better left to slumber.
But last year, that's exactly what I did. At age 55, I decided that I was going to learn what I could about my biological story – mostly because I was curious, partly because I am a journalist and, in part, because my mother wanted to learn more about the woman who delivered me into the world and into her arms. Several years earlier, New Jersey passed laws that enabled adopted children to get an original birth certificate and Catholic Charities in the state became even busier in reporting what they knew and in tracking down details of what they only partially knew. I reached out to a woman at the agency in Jersey City who pulled original documents that had been sitting in an old building, wrote a two-page report and emailed it to me in mid-September.
That afternoon, I tracked down the woman who had given birth to me: Alice Eriksen, a woman, I later learned, who also really wanted to keep me. But that's not what single 20-year-old women did in early 1963, especially when her own mother would not support such a decision. It was nearly impossible for a 20-year-old woman to support herself and a child in Montclair, N.J., at the time. Therefore, she gave me away the day after delivering me in a Catholic Charities hospital in Jersey City, not far from her home. After holding me for a short time, I was whisked away by the nurses. Alice would see me the next day for the last time even though I was raised less than an hour from her during the next 15 years. We might have even crossed paths. Had we done so, and noticed the connection, my mother would have been the first person to give Alice a warm embrace.
I did not realize how much affection my mom had for Alice until I started my research. As a kid, Mom told me, she always had me say a prayer for Alice, even though we did not know her name at the time. In addition, Mom prayed for Alice each night. She remains forever grateful that Alice had delivered me into her life.
That said, Mom admitted a few weeks later: She felt an emotional tug when I revealed I had found Alice, who was now deceased. "I was a little jealous," she said. "I'm not going to lie." But Mom quickly said she felt guilty about that response, which, really, is one of my mom's most cherished qualities: her empathy for others.
While my mom never bore a baby, she was, paradoxically, born to be a mother. She always thought of her children first, no matter the personal consequences. She never wanted to be a burden; she only wanted to help. Even when her children neared 60 years of age, her children remained the center of her universe. Earlier this month, Mom kept asking Betsy how I felt when I had been sick for a few days. When Betsy had a small infection a few later, Mom was equally concerned for her second daughter. Last month when she heard that tornadoes had crashed through Texas, she was equally alarmed, worried that they had struck my sister, my niece or her great-grandchildren. There's nothing more reassuring in this world than the unconditional love of a mom.
And even at age 56, I never felt more proud than when she lavished praise on me, far more extravagantly than my accomplishments deserved. Afterward, she would often say that my skills flowed out of her – a purpose deflection told as a joke since we were not connected biologically. But I often tried to remind her that I am a reflection of her. No doubt.
I took two DNA tests when I started researching my past, and I also tracked genealogy back hundreds of years as well. But the ancestors who carried my chromosomes and genes to the USA from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere seem fictional to me. I feel far more connected to the grandparents who came here from Italy, Hungary and Fiume, the aunts, uncles, sister and cousins whose love I have felt directly. And, most especially, I remain tethered to the person who always made me feel as though I had a place in this world, no matter my past. After kids goaded me sometime around first grade for having been adopted, Mom reminded me: Those parents got stuck with those kids, but we chose you. Thank God for that.
In lieu of flowers, we ask that you instead contribute to either Catholic Charities in east central Illinois or Sarah Bush's Mobile Mammography Unit, which travels to area health departments, businesses and SBL’s extended campus locations to provide greater access to women throughout the region. Mom was a breast cancer survivor for more than 40 years, and Susan and I were both adopted through Catholic Charities.
Donations can be emailed to the following addresses
4217 DeWitt Avenue
Mattoon, IL 61838
Sarah Bush Lincoln
1000 Health Center Dr.
Mattoon, IL 61938
You can donate directly by going to SBLHC’s main donation page, selecting Mobile Mammography and inserting mom’s name. Here is the direct link.
To send flowers to Lillian's family, please visit our floral section.