Mother's day is a time to reach out to moms across the room or across the miles. But for many of us the connections need to be made through memories of moms departed. Or perhaps spiritual connections.And so it is that with another Mother's Day approaching, a decade and a year on since my mom died surrounded by her grandchildren and great grandchildren, I am reminded anew about a column I wrote a few days after her death in July of 2004.
I keep the column in a desktop file and open it around Mother's Day to reflect on her passing and the why of the relationship that often comes to exist between moms and sons, different than between moms and daughters. When I reread the column, I'm reminded of reactions from many who said they were moved by the column to call their moms, drop a note, or wish that their moms were still around to stop by to visit. So I share the column again.)
My mother was a boys' mom, not only playing baseball, football and tag with her three sons and counseling us on our ability to succeed if we did our best, but also providing "mothering" for dozens of young men she kept her eye on in the St. Aloysius neighborhood in Spokane where we grew up, encouraging, scolding, guiding us all toward manhood.
One of those boys, now a prominent Spokane businessman, recalled in a note to me a few days after her funeral that she had been one of the "angel moms" who kept him from straying very far from the right path.
It was at the age of 82, three days after the sudden heart-attack death of her 94-year-old husband of 19 years while she was hospitalized for a heart problem of her own, that she decided there wasn't a lot of reason to go on alone in this life and that she was, as she told a caregiver, "ready to go home." She had said "goodbye," one by one, to each of her grandchildren and great grandchildren who had gathered at her Spokane home, then went to sleep for the last time.
Time allows the pain of loss to transition into perspective, though each of us deals with that process in his or her own way. Thus a couple of months after her death, I asked my brother, who had lived closed enough to Mom to stop by most days, how it felt to drive by her house now that she was no longer there.
"I just say to myself, 'I don't have time today, but I'll stop in for a visit tomorrow,'" he said, then realized sheepishly he'd been more candid in his response then he had intended to be.
The photos of her sons, seven grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren filled her home, and their accomplishments filled her heart. Those accomplishments frequently came about, I was convinced, by her incredible faith in the outcome when she prayed to her patron saints, asking for their help.
A convert to Catholicism, It was early on that she discovered St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. He and St. Anthony, patron saint of lost items, became the saints who heard from her the most, likely because her three sons frequently seemed like they needed the former and our antics led to the need for the latter.
She had a phenomenal record of success in having her prayers "answered," probably because those patron saints never heard her ask for anything for herself. To this day, I am convinced my track scholarship to Marquette was due to her prayers rather than my abilities.
Hazel Flynn was a working mom at a time when that was much more unusual than today. But our family needed the income supplement that her hours at the local IGA store in the St. Al's neighborhood provided.
She was pretty hard-nosed about teaching us to be the best we could be. Thus, on occasion in my early years when I'd come home crying from being struck or harassed by neighborhood kids, she'd march me back to the scene and force me to have a proper fistfight with the offending kid.
I can't remember ever losing one of those fistfights. Even on the occasion when I begged tearfully: "But mom, there are two of them!" She marched me back anyway and made the bigger kid stand aside until I had sent his pal home crying after our fight, then she motioned him to step in and get his drubbing.
Even from the perspective of almost seven decades, I still view that "battlefield education" by my mother as a remarkable, perhaps even unique, chapter in my early development. And many who have heard the story have remarked cryptically: "That explains a lot, Flynn."
She never had the opportunity, as a mom, to know the joy of daughters. But she did with the arrival of female grandchildren and great grandchildren, and she lavished her love on them perhaps even more than on the boys, perhaps to make up for her not having had a daughter.
She loved heading off to Nevada, where she had such phenomenal success on the dollar slots that she would be quite upset that she had wasted her time if she failed to come home with enough winnings to cover her trip costs, and have some left over for a gift for one or more of her family.
I always suspected that part of the reason she had such uncanny success with the slots was that she wasn't trying to win for herself, but had other uses in mind for any money she won. I have never heard of a patron saint of slot machines, but I became pretty convinced that she had discovered one, and prayed to him before each trip, and that her winnings were prayers being answered.
In fact, she was in contact with her patron saints so regularly that no matter who the heavenly greeting party normally includes, I'm quite sure in this case St. Jude and St. Anthony were on hand when Mom arrived that Friday afternoon in July of 2004, curious to meet the woman they had heard from so much during her lifetime.