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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Remembering My Mom

Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of my mother's death.  She died on Friday, January 7, 1994.  It was a First Friday.

During the Rite of Marriage, when a man and a woman give their consent to the priest, they agree to welcome children lovingly and rear them according to the laws of Christ and His Church.   Later on, when the first child finally comes, the same man and woman, now the parents, bring the infant to the Church and promise to serve as their daughter's first teachers in the Faith.

And, so it was with my parents.  My mother never worked until I left to go to the university.  She stayed at home caring for me and for the household while my dad worked.  Along with teaching me how to walk and talk, she also taught me how to pray and to love the Faith.  While I was probably a little rambunctious as a child during Mass, she made sure that I behaved.  There was one incident that I will never forget.  I was about five years old and had accompanied my parents to Christmas Mass.  After Communion, I walked over to the Nativity Scene and belted out "Silent Night," a carol that my mom and I would sing in front of our manger scene at home.  I guess I thought that I could also do this during Mass.  My mom told me that she wanted to hide under the pew.  I think that my maternal grandparents were in the same boat.  She was on her way to take me back to the pew when the priest stopped her and told her to let me finish singing. 

My parents made a huge sacrifice to send me to Catholic school for nine years, kindergarten through eighth.  It was not easy.  My parents had car and house payments to make.  But, with God's help, the house was paid for by the time I was in the second grade and the car notes were always current.

My mother would always augment the lessons I learned from the nuns in religion class.  In fact, she would sit down and go over the catechism with me.   Every night, though, she seemed to disappear, going into the living room.  We did not have a TV there so I often wondered what she did.  She would be in there for about a half an hour.  As I grew older, I realized what she was doing.  She would retreat to the living room to pray her rosary.  She told me that it was her time to be with God. 

Liturgically, my mom, my paternal grandmother and the nuns greatly helped in my formation.  My mom would ensure that we went to Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.  In fact, when I was in public high school, she would pull me out on Good Friday so that we could go to the Liturgy.  One year, we went to Austin to spend Triduum with my paternal grandmother.   She told my mom that we needed to go to the entire Triduum, starting with the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.  My father dropped us off at my grandma's parish and the three of us, grandma, mom and I went to Mass.  The experience really impacted me.  Since that time, I have tried not to miss Triduum in its entirety.

My mom was always concerned about my venturing out on my own after high school.  However, I promised her that I would not miss Mass (unless I was ill).  We would call each other every day.  Ma Bell certainly made a lot of money off of us.  Through boyfriend tribulations and betrayals, my mom was always there to pick up the pieces.  She told me that she would pray for me.  Whenever I went home, we spent a lot of time together, and that also including praying. 

I learned that my mom had gotten involved in liturgical ministry during my absence.  I was proud to see her up in the choir loft singing.  She had a great voice and really enjoyed singing.  Prior to her marrying my father, she was in the choir at her former parish. 

Things started to turn in late 1992 when the doctor noticed a severe abnormality in my mother's abdomen.  February 1993 confirmed our worst fears:  she was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer and was given between one and five years.  I went to daily Mass and engaged in every possible novena.  My mom and dad decided to drive up to Austin to visit me prior to her first round of treatment.  My newly ordained Paulist priest friend agreed to impart the Sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick on her.  He did so every time she came.  My mom told me that the sacrament brought peace to her.

December 1993 was bittersweet.  The oncologist told us that it could be her last one.  She had now lost a good deal of hair and because of her compromised immune system, had to assist at Mass from the sacristy (with our now-deceased pastor's kind permission).  I would proclaim the readings and then retreat to the sacristy to be with her.  When I left the afternoon of January 2nd, little did I know that it would be the last time I would see her alive.  Our last conversation took place on January 6th and it ended with an exchange of "I love you's" and a promise to have another chat the next day.

That conversation never came.   The morning of January 7th, my mom took a severe turn for the worst.  By the time I got to the hospital, driving like a maniac from Austin with my paternal grandma in tow, she was dead.  I had missed her by 10 minutes.  Not having the chance to tell her goodbye will always haunt me. 

It fell to me to plan the liturgy, both the Vigil for the Deceased and the Funeral Mass.  Providentially, my mom had already selected her casket, her plot and the funeral home. It was the first liturgy I had ever planned and I wanted to make sure that I got everything down pat.   I chose the readings and the music, with a lot of help from the liturgist from my Austin parish.  I believe that it was the first time that the responsorial psalm had ever been chanted in our local parish.  Our pastor had agreed to everything and even, though slightly grudgingly, agreed to incense.  I did not want eulogies during the Mass.  I told him that the Mass needed to be the Mass.  Any remarks would be made at the Vigil.  He agreed.

It was not an easy feat, but, somehow, we managed to get through the funeral.   Perhaps it was a blessing in a way.   I was so busy worrying about how things would go that I did not cry as much.  But, once it was over and I was back at home with my dad, the grief and the pain hit.

Even 17 years later, the grief and the pain remain.  But, so, too, do the memories and the lessons that I learned from my mother.  My mother was far from perfect.   But, even in her imperfections, she knew that God loved her and she loved Him in return.  She also loved the Church.  Her greatest joy was going to Mass and her greatest comfort was the Rosary.  In her life, she actually modeled Don Bosco's belief that the Eucharist (Mass) and the Blessed Mother (the Rosary) were the two pillars on which the barque of St. Peter is anchored.  

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