I scanned the rack of greeting cards, one eye on my watch as I tried to shop for a last-minute birthday present. Anxiously riffling through the bad puns and flowery verse, I groaned at my procrastination.
And then I saw the Mother’s Day cards, and instinctively looked away.
Each May, this celebration lanced the same wound. I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother; in fact, for the last two decades of her life, I didn’t have any relationship with her at all. Our family had been a deeply troubled one, and as an angry young woman, I’d left home, severing almost all contact. A few faltering attempts at reconciliation, initiated on both sides, had failed, then ceased altogether.
Time passed; scar tissue formed over the rift, hard and inflexible. Schizophrenia, addiction and dementia steadily clouded my mother’s mind, and a relative called one day to tell me that the woman who had brought me into the world no longer knew my name or who I was. She died before I could make peace with her. I told myself that she’d died to me years earlier, but the sobs that racked my body after I’d received the news told a very different story.
In that season of sorrow, another woman — also a mother — quietly stepped into my life, offering solace and support. I’d known her since childhood, but I’d always managed to keep her at a distance; perhaps I’d been too hurt by my own mother to allow another maternal figure into my heart. Now, broken by grief, I found myself spending more time with this woman, drawn to her wisdom and kindness.
She didn’t judge me when, in the depths of my pain, I accused God of abandoning me. She didn’t lecture me when I accused myself of having failed as a daughter. She didn’t say much at all — she simply loved me, and led me to Christ.
She knew him well, as I expected she would. After all, she was his mother.
Mary, who carried the Son of God, wrapped her unseen arms around me during those dark days. She held me when I needed comfort, steadied me when I stumbled, and pushed me when I despaired. The hands that cuddled Christ have a sweet strength — work-worn, tender, tenacious.
I learned to pray the rosary, tracing Mary’s extraordinary journey with the Lord — one she had walked with a humble, trusting love that death itself could not conquer. Startled by an angel, she had surrendered completely to a plan she may not have fully understood until she beheld her risen Son. Her path had wound through woe and wonder, and she had walked each step breathing “yes” to a God whose mercy and might were immeasurable.
In the unremarkable moments of my everyday life, she taught me how to follow her lead: hushing an unkind word, prompting a prayer of gratitude, opening my hands to help others.
As my devotion to Mary grew, I reflected on how millions have sought refuge under her mantle, finding shelter from storms within and without. I often knelt before my parish’s statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which was draped with a shimmering, embroidered cloak; on difficult days, I imagined hiding from the world beneath those folds.
One morning, I looked through tears at the serene countenance, and I silently asked if my earthly mother — after the years of mental illness, addiction and abuse she’d endured — had at last found peace.
A gentle assurance dawned like a smile in my soul. Somehow I knew that Mary’s hands, which had embraced and guided me, also held my mother — and that her mantle, lovingly stretched by God over all humanity, covered us both.
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