As unbelievable as it sounds, I have lived nearly a quarter of my life without my mother. Today marks the 9th anniversary of her death.
Grief is a labyrinth with strange contours. I miss my mother and think about her nearly every day, although I don’t think about her as often as I used to. I think about her when my children do something spectacular or stupid, knowing that she would find great pleasure in both. I think of her when something notable happens for me personally. If she were alive, I know she would celebrate with me in a manner that is unique to motherhood.
Mementos of her life and legacy are nearby. Her paddle (she was an elementary school principal) hangs in my office, a tangible sign of tough love. Her nameplate sits on my desk at home and the accolades of her heroism that were given after a shooting at her school are framed in the hallway.
I miss her but I don’t feel absent from her. One of my favorite pictures of us together is from 1994. It was taken at my high school as I was about to leave with my teammates for football camp in the mountains. I didn’t want to go, not because of the two-a-day practices or lodging with five other boys in a tiny room, but because I would be absent from my mama. I was homesick before I left home. If you look at the picture, you can see muscles around my mouth tensed to hold back the quivering of the lips. I was anxious about her absence.
When St Augustine’s mother, Monica, was near death she told her sons, “Bury your mother here.” They were quiet and struggled too, in the face of impending absence, to keep their lip stiff. Augustine’s brother assured Monica that they would take her back to her home country and bury here. This angered Monica. Augustine writes, “She looked in my direction and said, ‘See what he says’, and soon said to both of us ‘Bury my body anywhere you like. Let no anxiety about that disturb you. I have only one request to make of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you may be.’”
Remembering this request from Monica, I remember my mother at the altar of the Lord, where his Sacramental Presence fills her physical absence. I pray, as Augustine did for his mother, that she has been received by Christ’s mercy and will go from strength to strength in the service of perfect freedom. If she is in Him and I am in Him then, through his love and grace, we are not absent from one another. Rather we are closer now than we were when she was alive. Therefore we do not grieve as those without hope…
While it would be fun for my mother to see my daughter win the Athlete of the Year award or hear about my adventures in London or see the boys grow like weeds, I am not sad. Her gaze is toward something more glorious. She is not absent. How could I be sad about that?
St Augustine wrote: “I dedicate my heart, voice, and writings, that all who read this book may remember at your altar Monica you servant and Patrick her late husband, through whose physical bond you brought me into this life without my knowing how. May they remember with devout affection my parents in this transient light, my kith and kin under you, our Father, in our mother the Catholic Church, and my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem.”
Me too. Please remember, of your charity, Eleanor. A sweet soul and loving mother and friend. Who was, is, and shall be, very much present.