Gina Christian

As May approaches, I always feel a pang. Not that I want winter to overstay its welcome; I once decided not to apply to an otherwise excellent graduate school simply because it was in Canada, and I didn’t fancy snowfall well into late April.

The real reason for my springtime sorrow is, quite honestly, Mother’s Day.

I didn’t have a good relationship with my own mother, and for the last two decades of her life, I didn’t have any relationship with her at all. Our family was shattered by abuse, mental illness and addiction. Moments of warmth and security were few and fleeting.

In my early twenties, I left home for good — meaning permanently, since the ensuing years, while not without some glimmers, were anything but prosperous and peaceful. Marriage and children never materialized, and given my scars, perhaps that was a blessing for all.

Somewhere in those dark decades, a motherly hand began to clasp my own, unseen but not unfelt. The woman was silent, but strong; she didn’t flinch at my anger and acting out, but regarded me with a deep compassion for my wounds, and a longing to lead me to Someone who could heal them.

I wasn’t a regular in the pews then, but I began to see this woman, or at least reminders of her, throughout my daily life: in the rosary beads a friend gave me, in the long-forgotten holy card that fell out of a book, in the Scripture passage to which I happened to open my Bible.

As I began to return to my faith, I found myself lingering after Mass to spend time with her, kneeling before her image as the Immaculate Conception or the Virgin of Guadalupe — or once, in a mountainside church, simply as a young mother whose serene eyes seemed to gaze into my soul.

Under her touch, the knots of my life began to loosen, and I came to forgive both my earthly mother and myself for our estrangement. In honor of the woman who bore me and the woman who bore my Savior, I took to laying a bouquet of flowers at one of my parish’s statues of Mary each Mother’s Day. I knew she would share them with the mother I prayed had found peace at her side.

But there won’t be any flowers this year. Though our parish church is open for times of prayer during this pandemic, our faces are masked, and our gloved hands bring no blossoms that could contaminate our shrines.

The coronavirus would seem to have blighted even this small gesture, yet this year’s holiday will actually be richer for that loss: I realized more than ever that although we are created in their wombs, mothers ultimately live in us, dwelling in the hearts to which they gave their own flesh and blood, a reflection of Christ himself.

And that’s a bond that no disease, even one that brings the world to a near halt, can break.

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Gina Christian is a senior content editor at CatholicPhilly.com and host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.