My mom was a lovely lady. She was a diligent, no-nonsense type of woman. Mom gave my two siblings and I life, and for this I am eternally grateful. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood, about a mile from the Detroit City line. There in a 963 square foot cookie-cutter house on a lovely tree-lined street, I spent my youth. Like others of my generation, life revolved around faith, family and school. Mom and Dad worked hard to maintain a stable home environment in the midst of the cultural turmoil of the 70’s. While Dad may have been the king of the castle, Mom was undoubtedly the power behind the throne. She was a strong-willed lady who ran her modest home like Margaret Thatcher ran her country (In fact, the Iron Lady probably could have learned a thing or two from my Mom.)
Mom and Dad both worked full-time to make ends meet, yet, my kaleidoscope of memories are full of warm family moments. I see Mom bent over her sewing machine, stitching my ballet costumes, or Sunday dresses, while Dad rested in a chair listening to the Irish Rovers on cassette tape. There are memories of pleasant summer days, with Mom on her hands and knees, pruning her roses, while Dad flipped burgers and corn-on-the cob on the Hibachi grill. In the winter, Dad would flood and freeze the back yard, and all five of us would don our skates under the star-lit city sky. During warmer weather, Mom and Dad would take turns playing tennis with us in the street, hitting a ball back and forth, careful not to ding the neighbors’ cars.
Sundays were my favorite. We would all attend Holy Mass together at St. Agatha, the church attached to the parish school which I attended during the week. We would sit near the front, and I would love to hear Mom and Dad sing those beautiful hymns as we worshipped God together as a family. I loved sitting next to Mom on Mother’s Day. Each year, Dad would get Mom a fragrant corsage. She looked so pretty with its blossom reflecting the joy in her face. Later, even though money was tight, all five of us would go out for breakfast. Often on Sunday’s we’d enjoy a family drive in the country during which we’d pray a family rosary or again sing beautiful hymns.
Life was good- God blessed our family abundantly. There were stresses to be sure. The economy was precarious, neither Mom nor Dad were ever confident their employment was stable. As my brother headed to a state college in the 70’s the stress seemed to compound. While my Dad was the epitome of meek gentleness, my Mom had fiery temper to match her strawberry blond hair. She was a formidable lady, with an iron will. I’ll let you guess from which side of the gene-pool my tenacious streak and “calm” demeanor emanate. For Mom and I, my years of maturity resembled something like rocks spinning in a tumbler with coarse sand. We certainly grated on each other’s nerves, but the process polished both of us.
The legacy my Mom bequeathed is a rich one indeed; she has instilled gifts beyond measure. Though between the two of them Mom and Dad only took a handful of college courses, they had an abiding love of classical learning. Mom loved literature and history, and she devoured books with a voracious appetite.
Each year as we would travel to Arkansas to visit my paternal grandfather, Mom and Dad would make sure we stopped at every historical marker possible. They shared the view that history was meant to be lived and touched to be brought into the present. As we would wind from Michigan to Illinois, through the Blue Mountains to Arkansas and back, we experienced history. We explored Mammoth Cave, walked the Appalachian Trail, toured President Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, and vividly gained an appreciation for truth and beauty though the eyes of our wise parents. (They would have loved what we do with homeschooling, as they are the inspiration for so much of it.) Besides passing on an enduring love of literature and learning, Mom and Dad bequeathed an even greater treasure: their faith.
My parents shared an abiding love of God. Their steadfast faith animated who they were and yielded substance to the lives they led. In that kaleidoscope of fond memories are pictures of my Mom with rosary in hand, kneeling beside her bed in prayer each night, scenes of her standing with me in line outside the confessional at a nearby monastery church, and the sound of her sweet voice echoing “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. . . “
As the years passed, Alzheimer’s jumbled the kaleidoscope of my Mom’s own personal memories. The light in her eyes faded, and she no longer recognized those who held her dear. Cancer and disease made it impossible for Dad to care for Mom safely at home, and thus her last years were passed at a nearby nursing home. Dad would spend hours with Mom, daily bringing her favorite treat: a Culver’s milkshake. The kids and I would visit several times a week and would keep her company in the lovely garden gazebo near her room. My sister Dawn would often bring her family to visit Mom as well. We came to regard many of the wonderful staff as dear friends. Mom’s room was decorated with framed family photos, silk plants, garden knickknacks, festive window-clings. Her new home became our home away from home.
About three years before Mom died, I was visiting her alone. I was pregnant with my third child, and it was a difficult and dangerous pregnancy. We had been diagnosed with complete placenta previa. The placenta’s position not only prevented my daughter’s natural exit, but it also lay right along the line where the C-section to deliver her would occur. To be safe, the kids and I would have to move closer to the hospital for the last months of pregnancy. I would not be able to make the half-hour drive north to visit my Mom for quite a while. Mom had not spoken for over a year at this point. Her contractured body lay in a reclining chair, and her eyes gazed at some spot fixed near the window, as I began to speak to her. I took her hand in mine as I began to relay the situation. I explained: “Mom, I’m having trouble with the baby. I’m going to miss visiting you, but for few months I’m going to have to move to be close to the hospital. Dad will still come every day, but I can’t be here for a while. It’s going to be o.k. I’ll be back, but not for a little bit. I love you Mom.” As I spoke,. Mom began to cry. I was startled; I hadn’t seen any emotion from her in years. I thought I was upsetting her. So I gave her a hug and a kiss, blessed her with holy water, and said, “Mom, I am so sorry I upset you. I’ll go now so you can rest.” I will never forget her response. As I walked to the door- this lovely lady who had not recognized nor spoken to me for years, turned her head, and with every ounce of strength called me by name and said: “I love you too.” With tears streaming I hugged her, and held her, as we both cried.
Those were the last words Mom ever spoke to me, for she would die about two and half years later. After my daughter’s safe delivery, we returned to our schedule of frequent visits. While in the nursing home, Mom held each of my then four children in their Baptismal gowns. There were many, many Culver’s shakes, and walks in the garden. I knew that even if she did not physically respond, the sight and sound of children laughing and warmth of their caress were balm to her aching heart. As it is rooted in the Love of God, a mother’s love is truly eternal. Beginning with the gift of life, my Mom had given me so much. I sought to return her love in the abundance that it had freely been given to me. Mom remained a part of each family celebration each Christmas, Easter, birthday, anniversary, etc. was spent in joy by her side. Each day is a gift, and a mother’s love is a treasure.
On this Mother’s Day, I pray that now that she is on the other side of eternity and that her joy is complete. I pray that in the love and mercy of God that Mom is truly rewarded for the years of devotion and self-sacrifice. I pray that I can be the kind of mother she was to me. I pray that Mom stands beside Mary, the Queen of Heaven, to whom she was so deeply devoted, in adoration of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that wrapped in His tender embrace, she prays for her loving family, so that one day, we may together enjoy the eternity of Paradise.
May Our Dear Lord, and His beloved Mother bless you and yours with the abundance He has blessed us. Happy Mother’s Day 2012.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
M. A. JMJ