Thirty four years ago this week, my Mother lost her battle with cancer. She was 43 when she died; she left behind a 48 year old husband, and two daughters. My sister was three weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday, and I was twelve. That was the summer I lost my child-like trust in God, yet it was also the summer I met Stephanie, the person who was instrumental in bringing me back into the practice of my faith.
The year was 1977, and I had been selected along with three of my classmates to attend a summer school enrichment course we referred to as “Government School”. This was a course offered to rising 7th graders who showed promise in history and civics. It was an honor to be invited to this program, and my Mother was very proud of me. For four weeks we studied state government structure, and at the end of program, we were scheduled for a trip to our state capitol, Sacramento.
During this time, my Mother was hospitalized. Her cancer had returned and had quickly spread throughout her body. I was unaware of this at the time. What I was aware of is how adamant she was in her desire for me to make that trip to Sacramento. She insisted upon it. I was on that trip when she died.
I remember getting off the bus and seeing the look on my father’s face and instantly realizing she was gone. When I arrived home, my dress clothes were neatly laid out on my bed, thanks to my Aunt Joan. There was time only to clean up and attend her Rosary.
My mother had been very active in parish, so it was decided that her Rosary would be held in the church to accommodate the crowd. The viewing was open casket. She was wearing a pink floral chiffon dress she had made herself. On her head was a wig. On her lips was her favorite shade of lipstick, “Cherries in the Snow” by L’Oreal. I can still remember how that lipstick smells.
When people sing about “holes in their heart”, I can honestly say I have experienced that feeling when I saw my Mother. I cried, of course, I cried, but more than that, I remember the heavy physical pain in my chest. The pain was unbearable.
At times like this one, many people grow closer to God. Through their despair, they find the comfort and peace in their personal relationship with Jesus. However, my 12 year old image of God did not understand how God, the loving Father, could allow my Mother to suffer and die. I experienced a crisis of my trust and faith in God which lasted many years.
It was until I came back to the Church as an adult that I realized my image of God was one dimensional. My single image of God did not allow “bad things to happen”. I now realize as a Christian, I must examine the Holy Scriptures. The Bible does not guarantee “bad things” will never happen, but it does guarantee God will be with me when they do if I believe and place my trust in Him. As a Catholic, I also realize I must consider the lives of holy people and see how they responded to darkness in their lives. Just yesterday, I read a passage written by Catherine of Siena, I would like to share with you.
You may say to me, “What can I do when I experience such darkness and blindness of spirit that there doesn’t seem to be a thread of light by which I can hang on to hope?” …Answer the devil’s discouragement by saying, “If divine grace were not in me, I would have no good will but would be following your tricks and my own evil thoughts. But I trust in our Lord, Jesus Christ, who will keep me safe right up to the end of my life.
Now this is how I want to you to act. Why?
Because this is how people act who are in love with God.