The Other I

September 9, 2007

Mom’s funeral

Filed under: Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 2:35 pm

On May 19, 1959, our postulant mistress, Sister Edmund Damien, called me into her office.  When I arrived she said “I guess you know why you’re here.”  “No,” I said honestly.  She told me my mother had died that morning, and that, accompanied by an older Maryknoll novice, I had permission to go home for the funeral.  I didn’t cry.  I don’t remember feeling anything.

That evening I was in my cell – the curtained area around our bed and locker each of us called our own in the large dormintory – packing the few things I would need.  Kathy Rossworn, a fellow postulant, came to say how hard it must be for me and how sorry she was.  I remember her expression of kindness as she sort of half laughed and half cried and asked if there was anything she could do –  “polish your shoes or something?”  I’m sure it is not so, but it is my only memory of anyone suggesting to me that my loss might have been profound. 

I took a plane to Ohio with Sister Bernice Marie, whose maturity my superior trusted.  I was expected to wear my postulant outfit during the entire visit, and was not permitted to take my younger and brothers swimming because that would have meant putting on a swim suit.  After all, it was clear by the mere presence of my Maryknoll chaperone that I now belonged to Maryknoll, not to my family.  And there was the recent mandate from my mother herself.  I had a vocation to be a nun, not to care for her children.  I remember sitting on their beds before they went to sleep talking to my younger sisters who wanted to know what would happen if Dad died too.  And saying to Dorothy, the youngest as we stood in the church “be brave.”  She was seven.  Cathy was ten, the twins two years older, Bernadette fourteen.  They were so vulnerable and courageous.

Hundreds of people, of course, came to the wake and to the funeral.  Many people wept openly, but I thought I was grown up enough not to need a mother anymore.  I was aware that I desperately wanted to be there for my younger brothers and sisters, and found leaving home this time far harder than it was when I left for Maryknoll the first time.   But I returned to Maryknoll thinking I had been responsible and mature.  

It would be years before I finally faced the devastation caused by my mother’s death and sobbed without restraint. 

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