Sometimes, it seems as if our loved ones pick the time of their passing so that it will be even more indelibly stamped on us, leaving their temporary earthly home on birthdays, anniversaries, on or near the same date of another loved one's passing, and of course on holidays both religious and secular: Christmas, Easter, New Year's Eve, July 4th, and the one we mark today, Mother's Day.
For those of us who are "left behind," it often means that our hearts will linger in sadness for many years on a day that was once one of happiness and celebration. Indeed, even if the day of a loved one's passing is not any special day, it is sadly circled on the calendar in our minds as a designated day of heartache.
Of course, our Loving Father's Will is that His Children be with Him in the joy of heaven, and, once the unique and special mission we have been sent here for is completed, He will call us home without a second's delay. It is not His Will to be without those who are His Own. His Will be done.
And yet, I have often wondered whether Our Father, for a loving purpose that eludes us, picks a special time to call His Beloved home as a lesson in love for us. Perhaps we need to remember this special person, and need the reminders.
A few days ago, I learned of the passing of a dear friend's mother -- a woman who, when I left my home in South Buffalo, N.Y., years ago to attend college in New York -- became my "adopted" mother. I remember so many Christmases, Thanksgivings, and Easter Sundays spent with her and her wonderful family, providing a home-away-from home to a sometimes confused and lonely young man. I used to marvel at the amount of food that her single Manhattan-size oven could produce for her large family -- which included four sons and an extended family that seemed more populous than her native Galway.
Now, thousands of miles away in my missionary work, a holiday with her name on it beckons, and "Mom" is no longer in my life, nor can I make this holiday as special for her as she made so many special for me.
Or maybe I can. Perhaps, by telling you about this very special mother in my life -- not so ironically named Mary -- many of us can find the peace that only comes with God's Love in our relationships with our own mothers, whether they are on earth or in heaven, whether we are close with them or estranged from them, whether we think we don't understand them or they don't understand us, even whether we feel real love for them or not. Mary's story is of course unique in its details, but in every real way, it is simply the story of a mother -- a woman specially chosen by God to share in His Great Power of Creation.
Since her son, my dear friend, is an accomplished writer, even his email telling me of her passing is a work of grace and literature that I would not presume to rewrite. And perhaps, since God does not deal in chance and coincidence, his writing was meant to come to me, and now, to you:
She was sick for a long time, but she lived much longer than she was sick. In between raising four sons and sending them to law, journalism, and engineering schools, she managed to earn a graduate degree in public-health nursing. She put herself through night school on the strength of her earnings as a private duty nurse for rich people who were sick, or thought they were.
Then, for 20 years or so, she was the head triage nurse in the medical walk-in department at Bellevue Hospital's emergency room -- the first person seen by tens of thousands of people who were sick or in trouble.
She was born on a farm in County Galway. She lived most of her life in Manhattan. She hardly every left there except to go to work or school or something that her kids were involved in. She hated the subway, and always took the bus or cabs.
She opened the chapel at Bellevue every morning. She prayed the prayers in a battered little black book with the pages falling out. She lied about her age all the time, not because she looked old, but because she was afraid that some bureaucrat would decide that it was time for her to retire, and not let her go to Bellevue for the early Mass and the waiting room full of people who wanted someone to look at what hurt.
One morning in 1996, when she was 73, there were 18 inches of snow on the ground by 5 in the morning. Nothing was moving, except the hated subways. She rode the No. 6 line to 23rd Street accompanied by a bodyguard, her husband. Then she trudged up and down drifts from Park Avenue to First Avenue to get to Bellevue. Now it can be told: She was 86 in January.
Like the Mother of Our Lord whose name she was given, "my Mary" was a very special mother. But she was also, simply, a mother. Her own were her own, and guided only by her love and faith, she cared for them them and nurtured them, harangued them and taught them, punished them and forgave them, argued with them and reasoned with them, hurt them and was hurt by them, and in all ways tried to mold them as she saw her motherly duty, but lived to accept them and understand them no matter the paths they took. All the while, she was half of one great soul, which she shared with her beloved husband of 56 years, a Kerryman who has been the same gentle man of quiet dignity as long as I have known him -- a man with an Irish smile that could light a city.
Too soon it seems, this singleminded powerhouse in the loving service of God, family, and the sick was struck by sudden and longstanding debilitating illness. Instead of caring for her children and husband, they had to care for her. Instead of healing the sick of body, soul and heart at the hospital, she became the one in need of help and care. The expert nurse whose sharp mind knew every vial of medicine often did not know where she was or who was with her. As I confess I have often done in my human weakness, I often lashed out at God for what seemed such un-Godly injustice. "WHAT IS YOUR POINT?" I would ask, or sometimes shout, at Him."WHAT 'HEAVENLY' PURPOSE DOES THIS SUFFERING SERVE?"
Our Loving Father has no ego as we do, and His changless and unchangeable Love for us is not affected even when we blame Him or curse Him for what we see as the suffering of those we love. This is because God knows of no such thing as suffering. He knows it is not real. His perfect Vision sees only the Mary He created perfect from His Love, and knows that nothing He created perfect can ever suffer any loss, any sickness, and through the Sacrifice of His Own Son Jesus, any death. We mortals are deeply mistaken about what is real, and the real purpose of things. And in our error, which His Holy Spirit works ceaselessly to correct through the kinds of lessons Mary taught in health and sickness, we must learn that we are the authors of fear, hate, decay and death. We see these things. God does not. He is Love and Life.
If a stone is thrown into a still pond, the rings of water spread in every direction until we are no longer even able to see them, or know what they have touched, or even when or if they end. And so it is with the lessons God and His Own Blessed Mother teach through our mothers. They touch us, bump us, move us, and flow through us.
And as their lives never end, neither does their love. Remember this, always, and you will begin to see as God sees.