I became keenly aware of the beauty of my mother’s name whilst sitting in a doctor’s waiting room in Roseville, California. Two delicate floral paintings hung side by side. One was named Margaret, the other Helen.
What a wonderful name it is. Margaret stands for Pearl. Helen stands for shining light.
On Saturday past, family and friends gathered, to remember before God, my mother, Margaret Helen. To give thanks for her life; to commend her to God and our merciful redeemer and judge; to commit her body to be cremated, and to comfort one another in grief.
Just like a pearl formed through suffering in the heart of an oyster, my mother’s childhood years involved suffering in the heart of a religious organization that failed to love and protect her when she was most vulnerable. Mum suffered horrible deprivation of body, mind and spirit and torture but she LIVED. She had to possess an immense amount of courage, strength and determination to survive such an experience in her formative years.
Not only did she live but she generated love and life in me and my brother James.
My mother’s final illness was far from easy, and was her final test of courage. It brought me back to Northern Ireland from California and my brother back to Ireland from Argentina. Parting from a parent, at whatever age or circumstances causes grief, and is also a shock because it marks the end of an era in our own lives. I can only hope that her passing was sweetened by the presence of the two people whom she loved most in the world. We had known a mother’s love in contrast to her own experience. It was sweetened also by the way my mum received grace to welcome a loving Savior into her life, and be assured of a greater and eternal life in his presence. Death could not hold her. In the end she silenced the boast of sin and grave.
Margaret Helen became a ward of the Irish State, confined to a Sisters of Mercy convent in Clonakilty, Cork at the tender age of two. She remained confined for 12 full years. Despite the horrors of what she was subjected to she was graced with a beautiful gentle, quiet and determined spirit. This gentle yet quietly determined way of being helped her to overcome future obstacles too.
Mum was unique in many ways. She had a special way of washing, hanging, ironing and neatly folding all of our clothes. She’d then place them in neat little rows, side by side. Every piece of clothing or cloth went under the touch of her steaming iron.
Mum was thoughtful. She threw the best birthday parties. And when I left Ireland, I never failed to receive birthday, Christmas or Easter cards.
Mum was gentle and giving. She was the most generous person I knew and she taught me first about acts of kindness. Unlike her own mother she regularly went without to make sure we had what we needed, or wanted.
Mum was creative and great with her hands. She could paint or wallpaper and entire house like nobody’s business. She use to knit the most intricate Irish Aran jumpers without reading the pattern book. She was a semi-professional Irish dancer, and could sing a high Latin mass.
Mum was energetic and hard working. Always on the go. She re-located from leafy suburban, middle class Dundonald, in east Belfast, to a new housing estate in Craigavon, Armagh to work with Good Year. Thus providing us with a stable and secure childhood for the next 16 years. Mum had a lot of physical energy and some of the last words she spoke from her hospital bed were, “hurry up, hurry up, c’mon.”
Mum gave me plenty of freedom as a child and adult. She taught me how to be self-reliant. She was naturally humble and served others easily. She emptied herself by her steadfast love, service and committed stand for our small family.
Mum was fun loving and playful. Treasured memories will always include holidays with her and my brother James in Portrush. Together we enjoyed the beach, sand dunes, Barry’s, spectacular scenery, sugary and greasy holiday foods that are unique to Portrush.
Mum was adventurous. She spent time with me and happily explored every place I’ve ever studied in, or lived. She especially enjoyed San Francisco and Hawaii, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in a bright red fire truck, or sailing out and exploring Alcatraz, shopping in Union Square or strolling through open air art festivals in the Bay area.
Our time together was limited in the past decade but I will treasure our mutual exchange of “I Love You.” I am so thankful now that I did that consistently and regularly.
Margaret Helen’s love was always with her family. She took a lifelong stand for us. I know no-one who comes close to displaying the courage that she did. She lived out well, the fine qualities of her beautiful name. She was a pearl of great prize, and a bright shining light. And she lives on in the lives she touched and the love she shared. In the words of Julian Norwich long ago “All things are well, and all things are well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Her legacy as “strength and courage” lives on in me. My mother brought heaven down for me and she helped form in me a sharpness to see beyond the naive and superficial, at a time in the world when it is so deeply needed.