This time of year always brings back memories from my childhood—a few good ones, but mostly painful ones. I didn’t have the childhood I had always wanted, not because Santa didn’t bring the gifts I had hoped for or any other trivial childhood disappointment. For me, it was suffering loneliness, abandonment, hunger, neglect, and abuse. Holidays reminded me of all the things I didn’t have—a stable family, consistency, opportunities to be a child, and family dinners hosted with joy. Strangely, there was love amidst the sorrow. Now that I know God better, I can understand how there could still be love. Remembering the love inspires me to continue to love—even through painful times. Love.
There is a long backstory, but today I focus on my mother’s mental health. She struggled with depression. I understand more now, but to a child it made no sense. She would hit rock bottom and attempt suicide. There was always someone there to save her—a stranger, a friend, a family member. Someone would find her and seek medical attention for her. I truly believe most people who consider suicide don’t really want to die. They want the world around them to die. She didn’t die, and after several years of turmoil, she eventually found a life she could live.
At forty-two, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it for five years. I was in a special place in my life where I could help her. I was young and didn’t have a full house like I do now. I spent the days with her and became her medical surrogate. I was with her through it all. I believe that the poison to kill the cancer was what really ended up killing her. The weakness and throwing up that followed every session became a normal part of life. You learn a lot about yourself in those cold, sterile hours at the hospital. We learned never to let anything go unsaid. It was a golden time in our relationship. One day, after discussing life and death, my mother said, “When I wanted to die I couldn’t, and now, when I want to live, I can’t.”
I knew what she meant, and it was powerful. We never really talked about her dark days. Those times were simply brushed off and not really addressed. I can still hear her make that proclamation, and it inspires me to live no matter how hard life can become. Live.
She held on through Mother’s Day. She wanted to have one last celebration with her children. I knew she was suffering greatly, but she wouldn’t say it. By the evening, she said it was time to go to the hospital. We packed and went like so many times before. I frantically called every church near the hospital to find a priest to administer last rites on a Sunday night. I left messages on half a dozen voicemails. The next morning, a priest from St. Edward’s arrived. Mom was still somewhat awake. We all prayed for a holy death, and mom received the anointing of the sick with reconciliation. Praise be to God!
Days later, I was overwhelmed by a sense of the need for prayer. It was heartfelt and as genuine as could be. I begged God to please not require any restitution for her on my account—to please not let her suffer a moment in purgatory because she failed her children. Her love was enough, and I asked God to forgive her everything that could possibly be held against her. Deep within my soul I meant that every single ounce be forgiven—completely and totally gone. In that moment this Bible verse became manifest for me: “Above all things be fervent in your love among yourselves; for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4:8). Forgive.
She suffered for six days. On the morning of the seventh day, God gave her rest. Again, there was always someone there to save her.
After her death I realized that a gift had been given. From my mother and from our Lord, I received deep within me how to walk through my days. I love. I live. I forgive.