In a photo from 1990, Cubby LaHood poses with children with disabilities that she cared for at her family’s home, St. Joseph’s House.
In a photo from 1990, Cubby LaHood poses with children with disabilities that she cared for at her family’s home, St. Joseph’s House.

As she was dying from stage 4 ovarian cancer, Cubby LaHood planned the details of her Funeral Mass.

And when her Mass of Christian Burial began on Sept. 25 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Silver Spring, Cubby’s immediate family walked behind her casket – Dan, her husband of 33 years, and their three living children: Joe, who is 31 and teaches at The Heights School in Potomac; Mary Frances, who is 22 and teaches at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington; and Johnny, who is 17 and attends St. John’s College High School in Washington.

Then immediately following the LaHood family were members of Cubby LaHood’s extended family from St. Joseph’s House, a home providing before and after school care to children with multiple and severe disabilities, which she and Dan operated out of their own family home for the past three decades. The mourners from St. Joseph’s House included young men and women using walkers and wheelchairs, accompanied by their parents, some 60 strong extended family members who had become part of Cubby’s family over the years.

Annalise “Cubby” LaHood died at her Silver Spring home on Sept. 21, just six days shy of her 59th birthday. A Washington native, she gained the nickname of “Cubby” as a child, after one of the Mickey Mouse Club’s mouseketeers. Later she studied social work, and after the birth of her son Joe, she opened up a day care center in her home, and began caring for children with disabilities.

In 1988, her life and her work changed, when she received a prenatal diagnosis that her baby would be born with severe disabilities. While friends and her Protestant minister encouraged her to abort the child, she and Dan were counseled by a priest to keep and love their baby. When Francis LaHood was born, he lived for only a few minutes, but Dan and Cubby were able to have him baptized, and they held him and loved him.

“It taught me unconditional love,” said Cubby in a later interview. Dan LaHood said the experience awakened the gift of faith in them both. Cubby became Catholic, and the couple eventually became lay Missionaries of Charity, living the vows followed by Mother Teresa’s sisters, of poverty, chastity, obedience and loving service to the poorest of the poor. In the LaHoods’ case, that service took on the form of offering loving care to children with disabilities, and supporting their families. The LaHoods renamed their special needs center as St. Joseph’s House.

Interviewed after her mother’s death, Mary Frances LaHood remembered the prayer that her mom taught her as a child, Mother Teresa’s five-fingered prayer, “You did it for me” – reflecting that their acts of love were done out of love for Jesus.

Reflecting on their conversion, Dan LaHood said, “We found out later that in that darkness and emptiness (after Francis’s death), God filled us. Like St. Teresa of Avila said, ‘Don’t think, just love.’ She (Cubby) always loved… She always said yes.”

Dan LaHood said that for Cubby, saying yes meant offering respite care even on weekends, so families could get a rest. Saying yes sometimes meant holding and loving a screaming child through the night.

“Her spirituality was based on a confidence that love in any circumstance will win out,” he said. “She knew there’d always be a good outcome if you were faithful, if you said ‘yes.’ She was quite a gal!”

Cubby LaHood expanded her witness of love for families to become a counselor for a support group for mothers and fathers who lost children to miscarriages, sudden infant death or stillbirths. She also cofounded the Isaiah’s Promise outreach for families facing a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis, with the goal of encouraging them to bring their babies to term, and sharing her own love story of Francis and the gift of his life. As a special needs catechist at St. John the Evangelist Parish, she also taught children with disabilities and helped prepare them to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Penance, First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

In a written tribute, Margaret Kolm, the coordinator of ministry for persons with disabilities in the Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Special Needs Ministries, said that Cubby LaHood “helped many families around the area find a way back to wholeness, and sometimes even holiness, through her conviction that with love – God’s love – all things are possible…”

At the wake service for Cubby LaHood, one of the speakers was Cecelia Cooley, whose daughter Caitlin was cared for at St. Joseph’s House until her death in 2001.

“When I met Cubby, I was young, just 30, afraid, isolated, angry at God, and in deep denial,” she said. “St. Joseph’s House was the lifeboat, the community that gave us hope, taught us that each life is indeed a gift and that we could weather any storm.”

Summarizing the work of St. Joseph’s House, Cooley said, “50 weeks a year, Cubby and Dan opened their hearts and home to the many St. Joseph’s families seeking comfort, help and respite. School days, snow days, sick days, holidays, birthdays and weekends. Wheelchairs, walkers, feeding tubes, seizures, medications, tantrums. Parties, outings, bowling, swimming, crafts, movies, musicals and fundraisers. Trips to the doctor’s office and hospitals to visit the sick. This was all in a day’s work.”

Cubby LaHood, she said, “helped turn my tragedy into a celebration of life.”

Among those offering a eulogy at Cubby LaHood’s Funeral Mass was her daughter Mary Frances, who said her mom hated it when people talked about her saintliness, and wanted everyone to know that she smoked and drank beer, and besides, “saints have to be dead!”

“We decided that if she is to be a saint in the Catholic Church in a few centuries, she should be the patron saint of persons with disabilities, poor prenatal diagnoses, light beer, Merit (cigarettes) and slot machines,” Mary Frances LaHood joked.

In an earlier interview, she said the lessons that she learned from her mom and dad, growing up in St. Joseph’s House and helping there, taught her about the dignity of human life, and about faith and love – lessons she would always carry with her, in her heart. Now she is serving as acting director of St. Joseph’s House, continuing the work of her mother, her best friend, who taught her to be an advocate for and a friend with people whom the world often forgets.

Cubby LaHood was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, near the babies’ section, where her son and inspiration Francis was buried, and near the burial site of several Isaiah’s Promise babies whose families she supported, including the child whose birth was the last one she attended.

As she had requested, the children from St. Joseph’s House were each given flowers to place on her casket, which they did, one by one. Gina Baldini, a 17-year-old with Down syndrome who had graduated from St. John the Evangelist School and attends St. Joseph’s House, had just two days earlier fulfilled one of Cubby’s wishes, by bounding up toward Pope Francis and hugging him outside the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington.

Mary Frances LaHood said that when it was time for Gina to drop her baby’s breath flowers on the casket, she walked up, knocked on the casket and asked “Cubby, are you in there?” Then she added, “We love you!”

And by all accounts, the feeling was mutual.