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Giving Things Up - What My Mother's Death Taught Me about Lent

Mom Lent Lessons from Mom




The Story
     When my mother retired after 29 years of teaching in the public schools, she started doing more of the things she enjoyed. One of those things was watching soap operas in the afternoon. At that time there were three Soaps on ABC - All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. Mom would watch her shows and then later that day she would call me and we would talk about what was happening in these dramas. I had a lot of little kids at the time so I liked to take a break when I could and catch a few of these soaps myself!

It was fun to talk about these things with her. We would discuss the latest villains and hope that our favorite heroines would find love. A baby had been switched or swiped in one of our shows (I can't remember which) and we were anxiously looking forward to the truth to come out and for the baby to be back in its rightful home!  I looked forward to our discussions and sharing this with mom.

My mother started to decline after her 80th birthday. She still read and played the piano and watched her soaps, but she became more tired and started experiencing pain. Eventually, we discovered that she had ovarian cancer.

After extensive cancer surgery, mom was transferred to a private room in a nursing home. The first thing I noticed was that there was no television!

I quickly said to Mr. Pete, "Pete! There's no TV. Mom's got to have that. She will want to watch her stories!"

My dear husband dutifully went out to the storage garage where we had put all of moms things while she recovered and dug through the piles of things until he found her t.v. Then he brought it to the nursing home. Naturally, they had cable but no hookup, so Mr. Pete fixed all of that up and had her cable t.v. up and running within a day.

But after all of that, I noticed when I came to visit that Mom wasn't watching her t.v. She would be sleeping or just lying in bed staring at the ceiling. So I asked, "Mom, why aren't you watching your t.v.? Pete got it all hooked up. Don't you want to watch your Soaps?

Mom turned her head towards me with that rye smile and said, "Well I guess I'm not as addicted to them as you are!"

The Lesson

That was one of the firsts of many things that I started noticing mom was giving up. She gave up watching t.v., and reading (which was one of the great loves of her life!). She gave up physical therapy and they eventually gave up making her try, which resulted in her being moved to hospice care. She quit calling, she quit eating (another great love)  and basically, she just started to sleep all the time. She didn't give up praying though. When my sister and I went over to pray the rosary with her or when the Deacon came to visit, she would still pray.

My sister and I, however, were frantic with worry. We tried to encourage her to eat (which made her mad), I would turn on the t.v. to let it play in the background (which annoyed her) and I tried to get her to talk (she simply wouldn't). What I didn't understand then but what I see clearly now, was that Mom was preparing to die. Bit by bit, she was letting go of the little things in this life to prepare herself for finally letting go of her spirit and letting go of life.

The last thing she let go of before she died was us. She kept telling us every time we went to see her "I love you." She said that until she couldn't say it anymore.

You can hear a bit of a presentation I gave on this here starting at 22:03.

Applying the Lesson to Lent

In the years since then, as Lent comes and goes the practice of giving something up something for the season is very big in my house. Before mom died, it was a penance, a discipline, and a custom. I did it because I was supposed to. But all these years since Mom's death I see the church's wisdom in perpetuating this practice.

Every Lent we get to practice letting go as a reminder that life is just one series of things to give up and let go. We give up our youth, our looks and maybe even our health as time goes on. This happens to us just naturally. It is through the practice during Lent that we learn to do this with patience, with perseverance and with love.  Giving up the little things makes us re-evaluate and re-prioritize the blessings and gifts we still have. And wisely, as we go forward in the last few days of Lent perhaps we can see that giving up stuff is just a dress rehearsal for the things to give up in the years ahead.







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