Iris as a little girl.
Lent leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday were very important and sacred times to our mother. To give up her earthly body on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, was a testament to her faith and her belief of the forgiveness of sins through penitence and prayer. For our mother, there could be no holier time than this to ascend to be with her Father and those she loves.
As a child, I remember my sister Anne and I going to the church on Friday evenings and helping my mother change the flowers. She loved flowers and looked upon her duty of keeping the altar and church filled with beauty as a sacred trust.
Anne and I would rather have been out playing but mom insisted we attend to the needs of the church first, especially during Easter season.
Solemnly we’d kneel with her in front of the altar, pray a rosary and then, help remove the deadened flowers from each bouquet. My job was to place each dead flower on a sheet of paper, wrap them up carefully so that no stray leaves or petals fell out and carry them to the waste bin in the church offices. Older and bigger than me, Anne was allowed to carry the water-filled vases to the sink and empty them.
Then again, Anne’s being allowed to carry the glass vases may have had nothing to do with age and size and everything to do with the fact my mother knew she could trust Anne to take her job seriously. Me. Well… She probably feared I’d try to dance with the vase in my hands or even sprinkle the water on the floor of the sacristy like a priest sprinkling holy water on a penitent’s forehead.
I liked to play in the make-believe. My mother never quit praying that one day I’d learn to keep my feet on the ground.
She often felt I was too irreverent, too wild by nature, too free-spirited and strong-willed. I can still hear her cautioning me to ‘be careful’. To take heed. To watch my words, my steps, and even my dreams.
She wasn’t big on dreaming. Life was meant to be lived in the service of God. It was serious business, too weighty for dreams to take flight. Life, for my mother, was about living by God’s will. Walking humble. Staying true to her faith and being His servant here on earth.
She was ‘pure of heart’. She held no hypocrisy. No guile. No hidden motives. She dedicated her life to God and through extension, to her family and community.
She imbued the spirit of the Church she loved so much. She wore its traditions and rituals, its liturgy and songs like a beautiful velvet robe of grace and sacred service.
She told me once that most of the gold and silver jewellery she carried with her from India when she left to build a life with my father at the end of WWII was sold off in the early days of their marriage. Times were tough in those days and she had to do what needed to be done to take care of her family.
There was no regret in her voice for the loss of her jewels. Family always came first.
What never left her possession, however, was the rosary and wooden crucifix her father gave her as a child, and the statue of her beloved Saint Teresa of Avila. They had travelled the seas and continents with her, always finding a place at her bedside no matter where in the world she was.
Like Saint Teresa, my mother prayed for peace. Of heart. In her family. In the world.
She prayed for her Church. For her family and everyone she knew.
My mother prayed. Always.
It is one of the things I admire most about her and hold in awe.
No matter the challenges, no matter her losses, her sorrow, my mother never gave up her faith.
She also never gave up praying I would learn to keep my feet on the ground.
It’s something I never had to learn how to do, keep my feet on the ground. I am blessed. My life has been grounded in the constancy and faithfulness of my mother’s prayers.
This morning I sit at my desk, tears flow and my heart breaks open, filled with the beautiful gift of my mother’s prayers. I know, deep within my being, my mother is looking down on me now, clicking her rosary beads in an endless circle of love, whispering her words of benediction and praying I keep dancing and laughing, living and loving with all my heart.
My mother is praying I have faith. In Love. In God. In her prayers.
She is praying I live my life in kindness, grace and Love.
It’s what she prays for all of us because she believes, like St Teresa of Avila, all things are possible.