Today I am getting ready to celebrate my 50th birthday with my dear family of almost 50 people! I am full of nostalgia and gratitude and remembering my Mom in a very special way as December 4th approaches.
I was number six of nine kids and I love being part of a large family. Mom said she always wanted at least ten kids but the Lord allowed her to get to nine by 43 years old. I am forever stunned by the mere fact that each of the children were born in a different month…from August through April! I am not sure another family of nine could repeat that. My mom of course did not plan it that way – it was God’s plan.
On each of our birthdays, she would always call in the morning and sing “Happy Birthday” on the phone. We just expected it and always treasured it although as an adult, you felt a little weird listening to your mom singing to you on the phone. She did not feel uncomfortable at all and you could feel the love and how very proud she was of you in her voice. I can hear her sing “Happy Birthday” in my heart always.
When Mom turned 60 years old, we gave her a very special gift – a Mother’s ring. It had 9 different birthstones for the 9 different months that each of us were born. My sister Susan said her April stone (the diamond) should go in the middle but in our family one child was not more special than another. We were all loved completely, uniquely and fully. The ring ended up having the nine stones in two rows which were placed in numerical order from the oldest to the youngest. It was beautiful and Mom was so overwhelmed with joy when she received it. She wrote us a thank you note and below are some of her treasured eternal words of wisdom:
“First of all I want to thank each of you for my beautiful Mother’s Ring. It is the most treasured gift I have ever received. Every time I look at it I think of each of you and the gift from God all of you truly are…..I have such peace in knowing that I was open to the life of each of you….I encourage you to stay close and love each other. Someday, Dad and I will be gone and we won’t be around to pull you all together. Each one of you have positive as well as negative sides. But you must always see the good in one another….Most of all you have been baptized in Christ Jesus when you were babies. The Catholic Church with all its flaws is our heritage. Draw closer to God and His Church. Remember when your twilight years come, it’s not so much how much money you have or leave behind, but how very much you have loved others. Leave a legacy of love for your children.”
God gave us all a Birthday Miracle when mom was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. We first heard the word cancer in August of 2007, the month of my brother Chris’ birthday. One by one we each celebrated our last birthday with Mom as she battled her disease that we all knew would take her life: Chris – August, Debbie – September, Billy – October, Mary Beth – November, Jeanette – December, Peter – January, Anna – February, Patrick – March, Susan – April.
Most pancreatic cancer patients go very quickly and sometimes within weeks or months of diagnosis. Mom’s cancer had spread greatly by the time it was diagnosed. The Lord allowed her to have one more birthday, one more song for each of her 9 kids. She made it through Susan’s Birthday in April of 2008 which left one more special day to celebrate in May – Mother’s Day. What a day I will forever remember! Mom looked beautiful that day, almost like she was healed and glowing with love. She was laughing, talking and full of energy. At the end of the day, we all waited in a long line to kneel at her feet and say good-bye to our precious Mother. I felt like we were in a grace bubble at her house that day and did not want it to end. The memories carry me.
The day after Mother’s Day, everything changed. Mom looked different…more sick, more distant, not herself. It was almost as if she worked out a deal with God to live through one more Birthday for each child and one last Mother’s Day and then she would surrender to the disease that was raging through her body. Mom died two weeks after Mother’s Day on May 26, 2008 with all of us gathered around her bed.
She had completed her earthly journey and mission to point us all toward heaven. She taught us how to live and now taught us how to die. The words of her thank you letter for her ring were read at her funeral Mass. They are etched in my heart and I thank the Lord for allowing my Mom to live for one more Birthday for me and my brothers and sisters.
Mom was buried with the Mother’s Ring she so cherished. It did not make sense to keep it for us but to forever let it be a part of her heart and soul and a symbol of her love. Today is a day to celebrate that love with my family. Thank you Mom for my life and your legacy of love – you forever live on in my heart!