At the age of 69 my mother was diagnosed with terminal liver failure. As I visited her in Brighton General Hospital, England the days drew quickly near when God would take back her soul and the memories of the past came flooding back to me.
Now she looked frail with the yellow tinges of liver cancer invading her drawn and now harrowed features, a far cry from the beautiful Miss England my mother was crowned in 1937. Later she married my father who was a famous and much loved British Lightweight boxing champion in the late 30’s and winner of the coveted Lonsdale Belt.
My mother had a most difficult life starting in her early marriage just before the Second World War. Everyone loved my father and he was everybody’s friend. A typical Irish good fellow who was sociability epitomised, always with his countless friends but sadly not the one to stay at home and be a husband and father. He was a most wonderful man who never said a bad word about anybody and just wanted to have fun and make all his friends happy.
I had been born in 1939 and my brother followed five years later. My father was never there and my mother struggled hard with two young children, trying to keep a job and with no help from my father. Being unable to cope, she put me in a children’s home at the age of just 14 months where I stayed, off and on, until I was 16 and the close ties between my mother and I were broken.
My mother did not have the money to pay for me to stay in what was a home for privileged children; and so the day came when I was either going to have to be removed or the lady of the home, Miss Bowler, would allow me to stay there for free. In the early years Miss Bowler had grown very fond of me, so there I stayed as an unofficial adopted child of my dear Auntie Bowler, and we found great love in one another.
My mother had stayed in touch with me but we had a very difficult relationship because she felt guilty at having left me in a home, and I resented having been abandoned. Life for my mother turned from bad to worse and she became an alcoholic, and a rather sad and lonely person who could only escape from her misery by getting drunk and blotting everything out.
My mother had been born a Protestant but now had no faith and was even aggressively anti-Catholic, probably due to her bad experience with my Catholic father, who, in spite of his wanderings, had always kept in touch with the faith. I, on the other hand, had been brought up as a Catholic and went to a convent school and had always practiced my faith. My mother had tried to love me, but love cannot exist alongside bitterness and resentment, which was always fuelled by guilt and the terrible effect of severe alcoholism.
So there I sat at the end of the bed watching my mother dying; trying desperately to find some happy memories to hold on to and amidst it all there were some. Choking back the tears I tried to pray; I could not find the words even to say a rosary, but as I gazed into the sad eyes of my dying mother I found myself reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet. So easy to say and with such powerful and meaningful words. Soon I was proclaiming the last of the ‘‘Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world’’ and as I did I found myself standing up and going to the nurses’ station and asking the duty nurse to call a Catholic priest as I wanted my mother to be anointed.
In what seemed to be no time at all I saw a young priest running breathlessly towards me carrying a missal. He stopped by the bed, greeted me, smiled at my mother then opened the missal. There, to my concern, I saw he was carrying a gold pix in which he had a communion host. As he opened the pix and I realised what he intended to do I said ‘‘Father my Mother is not a Catholic.” Then to my utter amazement I heard my mother’s weak voice say “No, but I have always wanted to be one and I brought my children up as Catholics.” These were words that I never thought I would ever hear coming from my mother who had always been so very anti- Catholic. I was speechless and before I could even utter a word the young priest turned and rushed off, calling back ‘‘I will go and I will return very quickly and receive you into the Church and you will be confirmed, be given general absolution and receive your first Holy Communion.”
I held my mother’s hand as we waited for the priest to return and whilst we were waiting I read my mother some passages from the Bible about the healings Jesus performed. I can remember how nervous I was when I started to read as I was still not sure that my mother would not turn against me; instead she said it reminded her of the time she was at schooland she thought the readings were beautiful. Again I could hardly believe my ears. The priest returned even more breathless than before, he must have run all the way to the church and back. This time he lit a candle and gently guided my mother through a repentance prayer, the profession of faith, the Our Father, and then after granting her a general absolution, he broke the Host he was carrying into two, gave one half to my mother and the other half to me. As my mother put out her tongue to receive the Lord I saw she was bleeding from the mouth and in the last stages of liver failure; her blood was being mixed with the blood of the Saviour and the blood of eternal life.
I saw in my lifetime the reality of those wonderful words ‘For the sake of His sorrowfulpassion have mercy on us and on the whole world’. My mother died peacefully the next day in what could only have been a state of complete grace having been reconciled with me, but more importantly having been reconciled and having accepted God on her death bed as her Lord and Saviour.
This was a very moving and powerful experience for me and I now recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day and always say the novena before the feast day after Easter and never fail to attend the Feast Day Celebration.
Suzanne Ellis, Surrey, England
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