Mom’s Many Gifts to Me

mom donnie & larry

If I were hanged on the highest hill,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

I know whose love would follow me still,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

I know whose tears would come down to me,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,  

I know whose prayers would make me whole,  

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

Rudyard Kipling



My Mom died on Easter Sunday in 1984, age 48.  Her second bout with breast cancer took her life, she having survived a first round in 1972.  She told me at that time that she asked God to spare her life until her two boys, my brother and I, were settled in life, and so He did.

Mom had fiery red hair and a tempestuous temperament to match.  When she was a child one of her colleagues at school made the mistake of chanting at her “Fox in the bread box, eating all the cheese!”, and Mom clocked her.  Growing up it was a rare day when I didn’t receive at least one slap, which I had always earned, and one hug, which I rarely earned.  Mom always wore her heart on her sleeve and that fact brought excitement to my life while growing up which I greatly enjoyed.

Mom was a talker.  My laconic father said on occasion that Mom did the talking for both of them and I think that was true.  My brother, who had both Mom’s hair and disposition, also liked to talk and so did I.  When the three of us got going it was an interesting melding of three non-stop monologues.

Mom was also a reader, and she helped instill a love of reading in me.  When I was in fourth grade I read H.G. Wells’ Outline of History.  Mom was somewhat concerned because she knew of Wells’ skepticism of Christianity.  I told Mom that I understood Wells’ bias against Christianity and it would have no impact on me.  Mom never again had any concern about the books that I read that were very advanced for my years.  Her trust in me now that I look back on it was quite touching.

Mom was no shrinking violet.  She always stood up for her family and what she believed in.  I have always been fortunate to have strong ladies around me who have helped me through this Vale of Tears and Mom set the mold for me.

Mom was Newfie Irish and she taught us all the old Irish and Newfie songs.  She always loved Newfoundland and I will always remember our 1967 trip there.  Simultaneously she became a patriotic American and one of her proudest days was when she became a naturalized citizen.  She instilled in me a fierce love of country that was not the least of her many gifts to me.

Mom loved to argue and debate and she passed this on to me.  Mom would have made a formidable attorney, as I mentioned to her on occasion.

Her greatest gift to me was the Faith.  Some people pay lip service to the Faith, or make it a thing of  the Head rather than the Heart.  Not my Mom!  Her Catholicism was at her core, a manifestation of her love of Christ.  When the story of the Passion was told in a television program Mom would sometimes weep, as would I.  She made sure that we never missed Mass and taught us to say our prayers.  Dad was a Protestant but had no opposition to our Catholicism and Mom made the religious decisions for the family.

Some loves are simply too deep for words and that was the love shared by my Mom and Dad.  They yelled at each other on occasion, with the normal minor fights that come into the best of marriages, but they laughed a lot more.  When I was very young my Mom threw a cup of coffee at my Dad and then walked around the block.  By the time she came back they were both laughing at the incident.  Mom and Dad set such an example of love, and made it appear so normal and matter of fact, that I was honestly surprised when I learned that all married couples did not share this type of love.

I think one of the happiest days of my Mom’s life was when I got married to my bride.  My Mom managed the whole thing and she was in her glory.  This was on December 18, 1982.  When my bride and I visited my parents over Christmas she revealed to me that the breast cancer had returned.  Neither she nor my Dad mentioned it because they did not want to put a damper on my wedding.

Mom now had a year and a third to live, but she was not done teaching me, as she had all her life.  She taught me grace and courage in the face of death.  She taught me how someone under a death sentence could have such good humor that she could have me laughing at such a dreadful time with her good and bad jokes.  She taught  me how to accept the will of God when that will means death for a loved one.  Mom and Dad gave me an advanced course on love as Dad cared tenderly for her and Mom did what she could to console him.

Mom was in a coma during her last two weeks of life on this Earth.  My bride and I would stay with her during the day, and my Dad and brother would sit with her during the night.  Come what may, Mom was not going to die alone.  As my bride and I walked into the hospital Easter morning we were met by my brother who came running towards us and told us Mom was waking up.  We raced to her room and Mom was opening her eyes.  My Dad was holding her hand.  She looked at all of us, said, “I love you all”, and died.  Father O’Hara, our parish priest, said that it was a great privilege to die on Easter and I concur.

Dad died in 1991 and their bodies lie now side by side awaiting the Resurrection.  They never got to see their three grandchildren in this life, but I have no doubt they have helped my bride and I pass on their heritage of love that it was my great and good fortune to be one of the heirs of.

mom dad & heir

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  1. Lawrence beckoning Our Lady for a mystical rose. A rose that soothes Mrs. McClarey’s heart on this blessed day.
    As grandma and son smile on from above, The Mother of God gives her okay.

    May this mystical rose bring you both the unfailing love that Is Christ. For with Him all things are possible.

    Your post…your family…truly blessed.

  2. Mr. McClarey,

    Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dilí the Irish…may her faithful soul be at the right hand of God.

    You will meet your mom again and she will be 33 forever and her hair blazing red.

  3. God bless your mother and mine and my wife Joyce mother of six. There is something about a mother we fathers cannot fully understand but just observe in awe.

  4. Bless you Philip. Mother’s Day in 2013 was the last Mass that Larry attended in this life. I have heard it often theorized that people often see their mothers as the first people to greet them as their souls depart their body. If that is true, I am sure that grandma McClarey was quite willing to play that role for Larry.

  5. “You will meet your mom again and she will be 33 forever and her hair blazing red.”

    And if she wants to give me a maternal slap slainte for old times’ sake, that would be just fine with me!

  6. Mr. McClarey writes, “And if she wants to give me a maternal slap slainte for old times’ sake, that would be just fine with me!”
    Be careful what you ask for…she might figure out a way to do it while you’re still down here. : )
    You’re lucky that your mom disciplined with her hand; my mom used a stick or the belt…and she chased us until she caught us. If God really does replay one’s life when we die, I look forward to viewing those scenes…my mom moved quickly and even my dad ducked for cover. 🙂

  7. Don,

    Thank you for this moving tribute to your mother. Our family will keep yours in our prayers. Although we don’t know each other personally, I’ve been reading your blog for so long now that I feel a connection to your personal stories. I think of Larry often as well.

  8. Thank you j.Christian, the prayers are greatly appreciated. I have been fortunate to have some unique individuals in my life, and Larry and my Mom both had a vast impact on me.

  9. My mother died of cancer on 4 May 1974, aged 54, just before my 23rd birthday. She died at home, surrounded by her family. It was harrowing, but after getting up from my knees after reciting the De Profundis at her deathbed I was conscious of the following.
    1. I had grown up. The only person who knew me before I was born was gone.
    2. With death, the disease which ravaged the body disappeared. For a short time I saw her as I had always remembered her.
    3. Death is not so terrible after all. Even in articulo mortis, when she appeared to not respond to any exterior stimulus, she was mumbling to herself, over and over again, the familiar prayers learnt in her childhood; the same prayers she had taught me.

    In life as in death she was an example of a genuinely devout (without being pietistic) Catholic. As young teacher in a Catholic school in the 1940s she took exception to the young Irish curate who walked into her class (as they were wont to do in those days) and tried to undermine her authority. She told him she was not prepared to be corrected on matters of doctrine by someone who had just come off the Liverpool boat. ‘My ancestors were kings in Ireland!’ he asserted. Drawing herself up to her full height of 5ft 2in she retorted ‘And I am descended from Guthrum the Dane!’. The wind now taken out of his sails, he said ‘Is that a fact, now?’, walked out, and treated her with respect afterwards.

    I owe her so much, and forty years on still miss her.

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