Today is the Eighth Anniversary of my mother’s passing from this life into eternal life. It is always a bittersweet day and a time to remember her gift in my life and in the life of the world. I thought I would share with you today a little something that I wrote a few weeks after my mother death eight years ago. It is a little reflection honoring Mom and her life… and so I share it with you again.
These past few weeks have been filled with great emotion. For those of you who don't know, my mother past way on October 30, 2011 after 94 plus years of life. At first glance one might say, "Hey, 94 plus years, a nice long life, you cannot ask for anything more than that!" You would be right. My mother had a very good life. There are many wonderful stories and memories about her life from early on as a child growing up in Pittsburgh to her wonderful ministry at St. Edna Parish in Arlington Heights, IL and finally to these last years when she struggled with dementia yet add to all our lives through her struggles. She lived life to the fullest, she was a wonderful mother and a gifted woman of faith. She had her own struggles, her own faults and failings but amid them she touched the lives of many people throughout her life!
As I said above Mom struggle with dementia the last 7 or 8 years and on October 30th there was part of me that was glad she had finally found peace. There was no more confusion, no more struggle to remember. Yet, I feel guilty about this feeling. I feel selfish. It was difficult to go and see her sometimes knowing she might not know me or not be able to talk about things that were happening in her life or in the family because she could not remember. Knowing she would often tell the same story or ask the same question repeatedly. It was hard to know that when we would take her out for her birthday she would not remember the celebration, the next day, the next hour or even five minutes later. Yes, it was hard for me and I find it hard to feel good about my feelings of wanting her to be at peace.
Also in the days and now weeks after her passing my memories often center on the times that I was not the best son that I could have been. Times as a child when I made life rather difficult for her. Times when I thought about myself and not about what Mom needed, wanted or deserved. Times when I just was not present to her in her struggles and difficulties. Times when I put myself before Mom, Times when I let her, my dad and my family down because again life was about me!
In the days leading up to Mom's passing as we were sitting around as a family my sister-in-law asked the question, "What is your favorite memory or story about Mom?" I could not come up with one. I could not think of a funny story or a special moment. Mom was Mom. I would like to think that I feel every moment with her was special, a favorite, but I know that is a cop out. My mother was a serious woman, who had a determination and purpose to her life. She wasn't a comedian or jokester. She didn't have humorous sayings or funny mannerisms. She was a woman of faith, substance and of great love in her own way.
Perhaps being part of the "Greatest Generation" as Tom Brokaw put it defines the purpose and determination of my mother's life. She was born at the end of WWI and grew up in the decade of the Roaring 20's top off by the Great Depression. Her young adult life was colored by the stresses and struggles of WWII and then the prosperity of the 50's only to be challenged by the revolutions of the 60's. She saw many wars or conflicts, assassinations, the growing influence of television and the explosion of technology. Her life was filled with one era of change after another but through it all Mom stood firm always eager to learn, wanting always to grow and certainly knowing the value of life and the need to work hard.
Mom was a woman who stepped beyond the usual image of the women of her time. Yes, she was a home maker, a stay at home mom, who never wore pants until the last years of her life. She was always in a dress whether cleaning the house or entertaining guests and every moment in between. Mom was always dressed properly and with dignity, respectful of people, places and situations she found herself in.
Yet, I think of my mother was a woman ahead of her time, a woman who brought respect and dignity to the place of women in the world and in the Church. Now she did not burn her bra or protest for women's right. She was not a "women's libber" or a card-carrying member of NOW. But she was a woman who challenged just what and who women are. She was educated when education for women was not seen as a value. She went to college as a science major when few if any women were science majors. Throughout her life she sought to learn, understand and be a part of the world and her faith all while taking care of a home and family just like many other women. She was a true maker of the home!
Mom saw her faith as the most valuable part of her life and when she lost Dad it took on a new dimension. With time now on her hands she made ministry within her local parish a priority. It was her way of giving back. It was her way helping others and herself see the grace of God at work in life each day. Often in my early ministry as a priest I would talk about the fact that I thought my mother did more ministry than I did! Mom was never the voice of protest in the Church. She didn't voice an opinion about whether the Church should have woman priest or that women should have a more active voice in the Church, she just went about and lived her faith. Ministering to the sick, the dying and families grieving the loss of a loved one. She read faithfully at daily mass, she was always ready to help where ever needed. Her morning walk to and from daily mass was the beginning of her day, it was what started her day much like a first cup of coffee. Once she even got up on Mother's Day and gave a short reflection at mass about being a mother and a woman of faith!
I still have feelings of guilt, of selfishness and I suppose I will always have them. I was not always there for my mother and thank God, I had a family who was. My brother and his family took wonderful care of my mother and my sister and her family while not always able to be there were very important in my mother's life. I cannot go back and undue any of those moments that come to mind often when I was not the best son that I could have been. I guest these thoughts and feelings will be with me always. But I will always remember what Mom taught me and the love she gave me unconditionally. I will remember her dignity, her determination, her purpose in living life. I will remember her faith and how she made the grace of God present to me and many others throughout her life.
I have one consultation amid my feelings of guilt and selfishness and that is that I was gifted, honored, privileged and graced to be able to celebrate her funeral mass, to preach the homily and to lay her to rest. For me as a son and a priest that was the greatest gift I could give to her. I might not be able to call to mind a favorite story about Mom, but I will always be able to remember a great woman of faith whom I will always call Mom!
Thanks Mom, for a Wonderful Life!
Fr. Paul R. Fagan, C.P. "Preacher on the Run"
Just a few thoughts to help you on your journey through life...let me know from time to time what you think...