Thursday, December 13, 2012

Repost: Mother Mo Chroì

My mother is at the point of death. This is a re-post of a little essay I wrote about her exactly two years ago today.
As some of my readers may know, my mother is very ill with a chronic degenerative disease from which, barring miracles, she will not recover.  One of the reasons I've been so busy this fall is that I've been traveling to see her every few weeks, which has meant mostly standing by helplessly as her condition deteriorates further, and more resources are scrambled for and determined to be out of reach.

My mother is one of the people I admire most in the world, though, until I became an adult, we had a stormy relationship.  She was a lonely girl, neglected by her own mother, who had essentially left her children for her one true love, the Communist Party.  At the age of fourteen, my mother became a Christian; in just a few short years, she also became a teen mother.  She left high school (her principal wept when she told him the news; a gifted student, she was going to be valedictorian) and worked in a factory for several years, later attending night classes and winning a full fellowship to graduate school, where she met my father.  She was a petite, dark-haired beauty who, even as a single mother, had many suitors.  She loved music, and I suspect it is from her side of the family -- musicians for generations, though she herself is not one -- that the musicality of my own generation is derived.  In her factory days, she would buy herself season tickets to the Philharmonic every year -- the cheapest seats available, which were in the top balcony, and which made the experience a mixture of transcendence and penance for her, since she was dreadfully afraid of heights, and the walk up to the top of the house, staggering in high heels and clutching the banister, was always a series of terrors.  She attended the concerts each year alone, since her friends preferred rock.

Later, in a sense, my mother left us too.  When I was a small child, she was hospitalized more than once for severe depression.  I remember my feelings of shock and betrayal when, as a five-year-old, I overheard her telling a friend that her psychiatrist had instructed her not to tell her children about the circumstances relating to her extreme grief.  Even if we found her crying, she said, she was not to tell us why, though she could pick us up and hold us.  As a small child, I was horrified by the implications of this deliberate withholding, although, nonetheless, I now know that there are some things that parents should never tell their children.

My mother taught me to read when I was three, because, she said, I was ready.  As a result, I was writing little books, perfectly punctuated and copiously illustrated, by the age of five.  Every day after school she had a project for us:  making paper, or soap, or butter; trying our hands at the arts of batik or stained glass.  Neighborhood children would come over to make our arts and crafts with us.  She was endlessly creative.  She was also a gourmet cook, which forced my siblings and me to become good cooks ourselves (one of us became a professional cook, and another semi-professional), or risk a lifetime of disappointment at our own tables.  She baked her own bread and made her own pasta, and every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas she made what my father called the Platonic idea of a pumpkin pie.  She ran a food co-op out of her tiny kitchen.

I am not exaggerating when I note that this wonderful mother also made some chilling choices, which harmed and will continue to affect her family for generations to come.  A deeply flawed woman, she made them out of fear and desperation, out of a lack of trust in God, in her children, and in herself.  She was and is, in this respect, what Nietzsche called "human, all too human."

It is one of the great sorrows of my present life to know that she is dying, though no one knows the hour or the day.

This is for her.  You'll have to turn it up.


Wandering Heart said...

I am so sorry. :( Praying.

Darwin said...

You'll be in my prayers.

Reading this, with Christmas coming on, somehow brought back the Christmas six years ago when my father was in his last days. Likewise a long expected end, yet the foreknowledge doesn't seem to make it any easier.

God bless.

mrsdarwin said...

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

My prayers are with you and your mother during this trying time.

Thom, OFS said...

Prayers for her, and for you, as she transitions from this life to the next.

Thom, OFS said...


entropy said...

Praying for you and her.

Otepoti said...

We all prayed for you and the family at evening prayer tonight.

Rodak said...

This is wonderful,Julia. My thoughts and prayers continue today.

Anne-Marie said...

Prayers for your mother and you, Pentimento.

JMB said...

Praying for you and your mother.

Sally Thomas said...

I'm coming to this late, and offer you my prayers. I remember this beautiful piece from before and am glad you reposted it.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her.

Clare Krishan said...

Praying in PA - for Gaudete week may not seem a good time, and yet... Advent's half-way mark has a poignant ring

perhaps the quirky 70s accompaniment may vivify the vigil, provide a respite from lingering anxieties or torments the evil one may be sending your way

Clare Krishan said...

for the fan of Maryhomegirl, read up on the Old Testament types of gutsy spiritual motherhood for some needed encouragement:
"What did the words “Blessed are you among women” really mean? For the Catholic reader, this expression immediately recalls the beloved prayer, the “Hail Mary.” For Elizabeth and Mary, however, these words were strikingly similar to certain appellations in the Old Testament.

The first time a statement like this appeared in the Bible was centuries earlier in the Book of Judges. The story is told of a heroine named Jael who stands out as one of the most valiant women in Old Testament history (cf. Judg. 4-5). Though a humble woman without any known expertise in the art of war, she single-handedly brought low the chief enemy of God’s people. She crept stealthily to the Canaanite commander’s bedside, and drove a tent peg through his skull.

For this reason Deborah hailed her with the exalted words: “Most blessed of women be Jael…of tent-dwelling women most blessed” (Judg. 5:24). This is the first biblical echo that whispers – if not shouts - behind the words of Elizabeth in Luke 1:42.

The Book of Judith furnishes us with a second. Like Jael, Judith stands out in the Old Testament as a woman of unforgettable courage. She too lived during turbulent times in Israel’s history, when the ambitions of foreign empires posed a constant threat to God’s people. After careful planning, Judith wasted no time in seizing the moment when she took General Holofernes’ own sword and cut off his head! Quickly she slipped out of his tent with the ghastly trophy of the commander’s head tucked in a bag and returned to her beleagued city of Berthulia.

All rejoiced that the Lord wrought such an astonishing victory for Israel through the humble maiden Judith. The episode reached a climax when the city magistrate Uzziah came to her exclaiming: “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God, above all women on earth” (Judg, 13:18). In the end, Judith’s performance proved to be a turning point in Israel’s history – like Jael, she was a “blessed” vessel chosen by God to crush the stronghold of the enemy.

With this background now in the forefront of our minds, it is nearly impossible to imagine that Elizabeth could have spoken such words as “Blessed are you among women” without triggering a flood of biblical associations. Indeed the Spirit Himself - the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures - must have chosen such words for this very purpose. We can now see Mary standing in a long tradition of valiant biblical women whom God selected to carry forward His saving plan. Jael and Judith played such pivotal roles in the Old Testament as types that they prefigured the mission of the Messiah’s mother.

The common denominator linking together the experiences of Jael and Judith is the violent downfall of God’s adversaries. Both women were chosen to strike down the enemy forces with a lethal blow to the head. The question that immediately presents itself to us is obvious: What possible connections could such brutal details have with the quiet life of Mary? In what specific way was she really like these biblical heroines?