My mother had been diagnosed with a fatal illness over three years before. Lou Gehrig’s disease. We never really know in advance how we’re going to respond when someone we adore is dying, especially the first time we experience the death of someone very close. I think I was in something like shock, watching her slowly and steadily lose control of various body parts, skills, functions.
I remember reading about spontaneous remissions and reassuring myself that these happen — even though they don’t happen with ALS. I prayed incessantly and wanted everyone I knew or had ever known my mother praying for her too. I frequently reminded God that my mother lived as saintly a life as any saint I’d ever read about, so she certainly should be a candidate for a miracle.
My mother continued her daily rosary, novenas, listening to Mass through an audio hook up from our parish (she’d been a daily Mass-goer for years), receiving the tiny piece of the Eucharist that she could swallow brought to her once a week. She never complained, no matter how exasperating the dramatic change that had rendered her totally dependent on others.
“God’s been very good to me,” she said. “He’s not going to forget about me now.”
God Was Good to Both of Them
With my own faith pretty weak, hers was a faith I wanted. I wanted her assurance that God is loving and merciful, rather than the random, inconsistent, nothing-makes-sense view of God I had.
When the disease affected her breathing, I brought Mom to the hospital. I said I thought it was time to call a priest and she whispered that she didn’t want to wake him up . . . could we wait a few hours and call him then? My mother wanted to delay her last rites so the priest could sleep in. That made me cry.
She wanted my father and me to pray the rosary with her and wanted a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hung up. The doctors told me she probably wouldn’t last the night, but she did, and the next day too.
Late that afternoon she passed to Our Lord. I remember thinking, “Wow, right this second, she’s meeting God, right now!” I knelt. I didn’t think to myself, “I’ll kneel, I should kneel now.” I just found myself on my knees. It was a holy, sacred moment, like the birth of a child.
I was miserable, in a hospital room with wires, beepers, and my beloved mother’s body, but she was now with Jesus Christ.