Six years ago, my Mother died. Just two days before that, we had celebrated her 64th birthday. She had been on Hospice for a couple of weeks, and we knew her death was imminent. Even when you know your loved one is dying, it’s painful and difficult to be prepared for it on this side of heaven. Prayer, my family, friends, Hospice, and my parent’s Parish community were instrumental in preparing me as best I could be.
Do the best that you can was what my Mother often told me. As a perfectionist (recovering now), she was the positive voice in my life that would remind me it’s OK to make mistakes, and that when I did, not to beat myself up over them. And there I was, trying to do the best I could through one of the greatest trials in my life. The word that the Lord gave me to hold onto during this time was, “Do what love requires.”
I had never been present when someone took their last breath, and that was something I was trying not fear, along with the grief of losing Mom. With several of us taking turns staying next to her bedside 24-hrs, I didn’t know if I would be there or not. But, “Do what love requires.”
The night of her last earthly birthday, we had an impromptu prayer meeting around my mother’s bedside. We felt that was her birthday wish. Having grown up in a Catholic Charismatic Community and later attending the Franciscan University of Steubenville, prayer meetings were very familiar to me. With my husband, brother, and Dad, we read to her from her Bible – her most highlighted, favorite passages. We sang the old praise and worship songs that she loved from back in the day. It was beautiful, and as I reflect on it now, I think that somehow we were preparing my Mother’s soul for the throne room of God. I’m humbled greatly by that, and honored.
You see, there is something transformative about worship, and I hope that more people (especially in a world full of anguish) will come to understand and truly experience it. Worship is the gift that we can give back to God, from our heart to His. Anyone can be grateful and express praise when our hearts are full of it; but when we are in the valley, when we are fearful, anxious, sick, exhausted or whatever we are going through – it is then when worship is an act of the will. We must will to thank and praise God, and rise above our temporary feelings, into a humble posture amidst our sufferings.
In worshipping God at that time, and taking the focus off of myself and my fear and grief – I placed it all where it needed to be; and afterwards, I realized that those things had been diminished. What grew was peace, love, strength, and acceptance. Fear is not of God, but rather it is a powerful tool of the Devil. It’s rampant in our culture, and the media stokes it. And if we’re not afraid, we’re too busy or distracted. Or trying so hard to self-help ourselves out of whatever pain or problem we’re facing. Our lives are so full and busy, that it very easy to become self-centered, allowing our feelings and fears take primacy.
While self-reflection is important, if we become too focused inward, we can become overly critical and more readily judge others. What they’re doing, not doing, or should be doing. We’re so quick to want to change others, but how about ourselves? By changing ourselves through prayer, humility, and perseverance – we WILL change others.
This is one of the most important things that my Mother taught me, in her daily example, and even through her stumbling. She was a woman of prayer, and her faithfulness to her family and prayer — reading the scriptures, fasting, going to Mass, praying the Rosary — were the steadfast example that we needed. It was the foundation that her and my Dad laid that carried our family through good times, as well as times of great suffering.
Mom showed me to be faithful to whatever you are called to at that time in your life. For her, that included Cancer – twice. Be yourself, and allow others to be who they are; yet, call each other on to be good and give your best. And while she didn’t go to college and have advanced degrees, she wasn’t a high-powered CEO of a corporation or a movie star with a platform, she did make an impact by who she was, where she was, and how she lived.
That is the power of one. One life that touches others, shapes and molds them daily, by word and action. To do what love requires of you, right where God has placed you. It may not always be fun or feel fulfilling, and it may even feel like drudgery at times; but you have the power to choose joy or not. Mom’s joy was a magnet. It was what drew people to her and made them feel at ease, and drew them into relationship with her, and to experience God through her.
Mom loved many people, and many people loved her. By just being herself, she allowed others to be themselves, and feel loved and accepted. That’s the greatest gift you can give another, truly – as it’s what we all desire most deeply. We don’t have to understand each other, but we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Love is greater than tolerance. Mom showed us that love can remain, even when we don’t agree with each other, or the other’s life choices. She didn’t berate or belittle someone else for who they were or what they believed, yet she held respectfully to her own opinions and beliefs. More importantly, she lived them. If someone needed help, she was always wiling, as it wasn’t “to each his own” – but that we are the Body of Christ. And as such, if you needed correction, she would give that too. Out of love.
On this anniversary of her death, I am thankful for the strong and nurturing example of womanhood that she was. She did what love required in her family, in her community — with joy, and that is how she changed others.