There she is. Mom.
This picture was taken back in 1996, during one of my visits to her and Dad’s home in Sarasota, Florida. I have another picture of her from two years later that means a lot more to me. But I’m reluctant to share it because it contains our entire wedding party, and I try not to post pictures of people without their permission.
Anyhow, the story I want to tell has to do with my wedding to Katie in 1998 and the role Mom played in making it special—as well as the role she continues to play, even though she has long passed on.
A Special Wedding Gift.
Two months prior to our wedding, Mom was pretty sick. The leukemia she had lived with for years was beginning its final march on her system. We weren’t sure she would make it to the wedding. We even began looking into moving the wedding to Sarasota so she could be with us.
But she rallied. She showed up glowing with the kind of smile only a mother could have, beaming with pride. If you didn’t know, you could never tell she was sick. I got to dance with her at the reception. She got to wave us off on our honeymoon. I got to surprise her a week later because Katie and I were secretly honeymooning in Longboat Key—just so we could be with her on Mother’s Day.
A Final Blessing.
She held on through the summer and fall. But after Thanksgiving, she took a turn for the worse and was hospitalized. She was not getting any better, and on Christmas Day, we were told to come say good-bye.
We flew down to Florida the next day and went straight to the hospital. Just about everyone else in our family was there keeping vigil, joking and telling stories, while she lay there quietly.
About an hour later, Mom’s breath started coming infrequently and in gasps. The nurse came in and told us it wouldn’t be long. We all gathered around her bed, instinctively drawing closer to each other. Then my sister raised Mom’s hand and placed it on Katie’s belly, where Michael, our first child and Mom’s first grandchild, was still taking shape.
And that’s how she passed—surrounded by the family she had dedicated her life to, passing on her blessing to the next generation.
From that moment on, Mom has never left my side. So it shouldn’t surprise me that two things happened at Mass today, Mother’s Day, that show she’s still with me.
No More Anxiety.
First, today was the first day in nearly a year that our older daughter was able to stay through the entire liturgy. As I’ve recounted here and here, our girl struggles with anxiety, and the onset of epilepsy last spring managed to ratchet up the fear and worry even higher. We had been gradually working her up to staying longer every month: the first reading, the Gospel, the homily—and that’s as far as we had gotten.
But this morning, and without any fuss, she agreed to stay through the whole Mass, as a Mother’s Day gift for Katie. And she did. After Mass, she told me, “I wasn’t anxious at all.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Even less could I believe what I was seeing: my baby girl’s peaceful, contented face and a twinkle in her eye that reminded me of Mom. I got lumpy throated.
“Rotten, Rambunctious Kids!”
The second thing had to do with our fourth kid (11 years old). He can have a hard time with unexpected noises and disruptions to his routine. Because it was Mother’s Day, there were more young families than usual at Mass—all with restless little kids. Not five minutes into the liturgy, our boy was in quite a state. The crying babies and active toddlers were driving him crazy. “They need to be quiet,” he whispered loudly to me, his fists clenched and his jaw set. “Don’t their parents know how to control them? They need to take them out of Mass.” At one point, he even turned to the family behind him and glared at the offending child and his mother.
I tried to talk him down, but it wasn’t working. I was afraid that he might have a meltdown right there in the middle of Mass. So I took him to the back of the church. We talked for a few minutes. I reminded him of how rambunctious he was at that age. “It doesn’t matter,” he snapped back. “That was a long time ago. I’m not like that now, am I?” Clearly, logic wasn’t going to work, so I went to Plan B. I rubbed his back, massaged his shoulders, and did some deep breathing with him. Slowly, he regained his equilibrium. So when it came time for Communion, he was calm enough to join the rest of the family.
So how was this a “Blessing from Mom” event? Well, that alone time with my boy had a special, almost holy air about it. I wasn’t frustrated, impatient, or angry with him. Not that I usually am, mind you. But neither did I feel the sense of pity or sadness or anxiety that I’m much more prone to.
Instead, I was content, peaceful, even happy, to spend this intimate moment with my son. It felt like a holy moment, and I felt privileged to be able to help him. It felt as if Christ was right there with me. It even felt as if I was ministering to Christ by ministering to my boy. I was genuinely happy—so much so that I had to be careful not to smile lest my son misinterpret it as my laughing at him.
One Proud Mother.
All this, on Mother’s Day, convinced me that Mom was looking down from heaven and smiling. I imagined her seeing all the good and bad, all the challenges and triumphs, that we have, and feeling nothing but pride in her son. I don’t always get it right. I often miss the mark, in fact. But that doesn’t matter. Because nothing overcomes a mother’s love.