When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~ Kahlil Gibran, from"The Prophet"

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Listening Carefully

My mother gave birth to me just two months shy of her 47th birthday. My brothers were 12, 15 and 17 at the time, so I'm definitely the caboose at the tail end of the Woods train. Concerned something might go wrong due to her age, people often asked my mom if she was afraid she'd have an unhealthy baby, and in response she had assured them if the Lord chose to bless her with a child, then she was not going to worry; certain everything would be fine. And so here I am, as my friend sarcastically refers to me, the product of an old egg!

Since I was born a good number of years after my brothers I was, in essence, an only child, and my mom and I developed a close relationship. The fact that I was her only daughter most likely added to the bond we developed through the years. She was a wise and gentle soul, whose guidance was spoken in soft tones, and who never felt the need to carry the big stick to emphasize an issue. When she said her peace, her sense of conviction spoke volumes. However, in this world typically loaded with hustle and bustle, it was sometimes necessary to really stop and listen in order to hear her words over the cacophony of daily living. It was worth the effort. Everyone loved Bunny.

Catholic faith ran deep in my mom, and she held a special fondness for the Blessed Mother. Her mornings included the ritual of praying the rosary, insisting it started her day on the right note. The routine gave her a sense of assurance; the feeling that Mary was listening and within earshot if needed.

After living a plentiful 92 years, the Lord decided it was her time, and having celebrated 54 years of marriage, she was ready and willing to join my dad who had left this world ten years prior. Holding her hand and waiting with her was my first experience in the room with death. Her eyes spoke to me when her voice no longer could, and the sense of complete faith and readiness on her part helped me understand that her journey would be one of peace. Little did I know the importance of my witness of that passage at the time. She held her ever-present rosary in her other hand, and after she died those beads took residence with me.

The rosary had never really been a method of prayer for me. I typically leaned toward the ritualistic prayers dutifully repeated during mass, and outside of church my tendency ran toward more casual conversations with God when I had matters of greater concern, often held while walking in the great outdoors where I felt His presence the most. I still do. But during the frantic search for the cause of Erin's bizarre symptoms in the fall of 2006 and the resulting shocking diagnosis that catapulted us into the unknown cancer world, I yearned for my mother's presence so badly that I began to pray on those blessed beads. I hoped the Virgin Mary, who had lost her own Son, would understand my distraught plea to save my child. On a more elemental level, I used them as an avenue to my mom. I wanted to talk to her, to hear her soft voice of reason amidst the insanity, to listen to her advice when everything was so overwhelmingly frightening. The beads gave me a tangible symbol of her presence. In a sense they were worry beads, giving me something on which to finger a small portion of my anxiety away, and they accompanied me nearly everywhere, often shoved into the front pocket of my jeans. More often than not, I prayed directly to my mom, asking for intercession on my behalf in case Mary was busy listening to requests for good weather for an outing or a winning lottery ticket.

Throughout the three years Erin was sick, I heard answers that some might deem coincidental events. I respectfully disagree. She was there. I had to learn to really listen and - here's the trick - be open to the possibility that the answers I desperately wanted were not necessarily the ones I would always receive. A humbling task!

Erin was not cured. She relapsed - quickly, and when that happened one of my initial reactions was anger, and I directed it toward the easiest target - my mom. Things are always the mom's fault! It's part of the wonderful complexity of a mother-daughter relationshiLike I had done as an angry teenager, I slammed the door in her face, pushing her out of my room for a time. I know I was initially in shock, incredulous because we'd done everything right and still the cancer had returned and I was looking for someone to take the hit. I had been begging her to save Erin, and she hadn't! Well, it didn't take long for me to find that closing that door left me very much alone, and realizing my mistake, I came crawling back with my pathetic tail between my legs.
When we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the delicate breeze, and so to come to know the presence of Love.

-Henri Nouwen
Catholic priest & author

Through deep introspection, I came to fully understand my mom still absolutely LOVED Erin to bits, just as she had when she was on this earth. And she loved me too. She had no control over the cure or lack thereof. That was beyond her realm, for heaven's sake.

As I watched Erin face into the ever-mounting obstacles before her with the attitude that was so intrinsically my mother's way of life, I FINALLY understood that an important piece of her grandmother, in that very trait I didn't always have the wherewithal to possess at the time, resided within her ~ the Graceful Acceptance of the path handed to her.

And when faced with often-agonizing decisions concerning Erin's care, an uncanny, instinctive knowledge and sense of proper course ALWAYS eventually came over me that I attribute to Bunny's wisdom having flowed into me during her passage from this world as I'd held her hand deep into the night that April in 2004.

Studies show that mothers can recognize their own baby's cries within hours of giving birth, and likewise, babies respond to their own mother's voices nearly immediately as well. Yes, I believe this is true, as my own synergistic relationship spans the generations.

As Mother's Day approaches, I listen carefully, and I hear them both.


  1. Mary~
    What a beautiful tribute to Mothers. How wonderful to know that your Mom's presence is still a guiding light and example for you.

  2. You have such a talent with words and I truly enjoy seeing your photos that I've never seen before. Thank you for sharing your stories about two very important people in my life as well. Tears are streaming down my face, but the stories made me smile.


  3. Mary, Mary, Mary......again, such intimate love and so beautifully expressed! May the peace of Christ envelope you on this aching Mother's Day.

  4. Mary: Again, all I can say is Wow!


  5. Thank you, Mary. I see what you meant in your comment to me.

    What a blessing you have in your mother, her faith and your faith. I suppose that she and Erin are together now, and what comfort they must have in one another! I am sorry that they are not with you in person, but I think they are "with you" in other ways, and thank God for that. The rosary is a truly miraculous and mysterious thing.

    Your comment did encourage me. You helped me to see that it's not about me, it's just a stage of life. I need to face into it gently and take good care of myself as I allow what is, to be.
    Thank you for your kindness and friendship. I will be thinking of you as Erin's birthday approaches.

  6. Mrs. Potts,

    This is honestly one of the most powerful things that I have ever read. I've read it every day since you posted it. I read it to my own mother through tears and we both agree that you should write a book! You have such a talent! But wow - WOW this post is amazing!

    Chrissy Schurla

  7. Oh Chrissy, thank you so much.
    I was blessed to have such a wonderful mother.
    I appreciate all the supportive comments you've been writing and I can't wait to see you tomorrow.

    Mrs Potts

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  9. Mary,

    First of all Happy Mothers Day !!!! As I read your beautiful words. I felt most delighted to have remembered your mother like it was yesterday. I remember giving her the beautiful statue of Mother Mary @ one of Saint Cletus auctions.. Just to have learned what Mother Mary has meant in to her in her Life... Made me feel ever so special to be a part of giving. You are one of the strongest most courageous people I have ever met. May your beauty continue to shine from your soul. They both shine right through you!!!! <3
    Did you ever wonder why she named you Mary ? xoxoxox