I want you to know about someone I knew a long time ago, a woman named Nora Lee who was a person I visited with Holy Communion frequently back when I was new at being a priest. Nora had horrible physical problems. She was afflicted with severe Parkinson’s and equally terrible arthritis. She shook all the time. Even when she sat with a board across her lap, her elbows on the board, and her chin in her hand, I saw the tremors. With her poor circulation, she often had swollen legs and feet, which left her chair-bound. She was almost completely homebound except for doctor visits.
When I met her, Nora was a widow in her 80s whose only child, a son, had died a few years before. He suffered a sudden, unexpected heart attack and left his wife and four children. A heart attack or any sort of sudden death is devastating when it happens to a young man, maybe more to his children than anyone else. Nora told me little things about their relationships with their father. It made me think about how special it is to be a parent.
But the story isn’t about Nora’s son. It’s about her. As time went on, Nora spoke more of her daughter. It was curious to me because I knew she had only one child. I let it go for a long time, maybe three visits. She had such obvious affection for this daughter, whoever she was, and I wasn’t about to break her illusions.
In time, I decided to ease my curiosity. I asked Nora about her daughter. She told me very simply that she was talking about her daughter-in-law, whose own mother had recently died. Nora thought she needed one. The fact that her own son had died made this relationship that much more important. Nora’s daughter-in-law didn’t mind. In fact, she welcomed the extra closeness.
Nora often mentioned her family in her prayers. One month, there was extra urgency in her voice. Her daughter had been diagnosed with a cancer that would probably be terminal in a short time, no more than six months. The woman was 44 years old and would leave four children orphaned. Over those months, Nora had some problems of her own and was even in the hospital for a few days here and there. She tried hard to keep her attitude positive.
One Holy Thursday, Nora told me that she had been to her daughter’s funeral that Monday. It was her first time out of the house for anything except a medical issue in over a year. She told me about her grandchildren in greater detail than ever before. At the time, the oldest was 22. She was in medical school at the University of Chicago, but she took off a year to care for her mother. The second girl was 21 and engaged to a very wonderful young man. The third girl was 18 and just about to finish high school and was headed to college. Nora was so proud of her only grandson. He was ten and on the 5th grade basketball team at his school. She was so amazed at the life he brought to her life. Her grandchildren were her daily miracles.
As we prayed that day, Nora said something I always remember, something that makes me sure God exists every time I think of it. She spoke of those children. First, their father died in a way too sudden even for farewells. Then, their mother died in a way too painful to think about. Children don’t deserve to be orphans. Nora said, “I guess I have to be their mother now.”
She was already 83 and couldn’t leave her house. They actually were her caretakers, shopping for her, cooking and cleaning, taking her to her doctor’s appointments. Nora didn’t care. She saw children without a mother and knew it was up to her to fill the gap. She loved them like a mother for the rest of her life, which was less than a year from that time.
I finally met the grandchildren at her wake. We spent a long time talking. They were as beautiful and gracious as she said. I told them what Nora told me. They never knew the words, but they felt the reality. Nora never trumpeted her love. She just did it. They weren’t surprised, and they weren’t even overly impressed. It was just another story about their grandmother turned mother.
The point of the story is very simple. A mother’s love transcends everything thrown in its path. It defeats pain, suffering, age, infirmity, legality, and even death. Especially death. That is God’s promise and His way of loving. Nora’s four grandchildren were blessed to have her. They have the example of their own mother and their replacement mother. They have the example of a simple, courageous woman to show them how to love. I hope all four of them have learned to love as well as Nora loved them. I pray I learn to love so well.
Happy Mother’s Day!
God bless you!
Fr. Phil Cyscon