I was 24 years old, newly engaged, and had just started my first "real" job in the mental health field that I had worked so hard to get into. Life was going exactly according to my plans.
And then I received that phone call.
My father was on the other end of the line, and the way he was speaking immediately alerted me to the fact that something was wrong. He told me that I had to come home from work right away. I pushed him for specifics as to what was going on, even though I knew that I didn't really want to hear what he was about to say.
He told me that he had come home and found her on the bathroom floor, that he called 911, called our our parish priest, and that he did everything he could think to do in that horrifying moment. But it was no use.
My mother was gone.
Nine years later, I still often find myself struggling with feeling cheated by God. Cheated because he allowed my mother to be taken away at such a young age. Cheated out of my children ever knowing their grandmother. Cheated out of ever getting a chance to see my mother be a grandmother, which was something I know she looked forward to with such joy.
I love her so much, and even after all this time, there still isn't a day that goes by where I don't miss her and pray for her.
As I have moved through my life, getting married to my beautiful wife and having three unbelievably amazing boys, I have come to realize somthing about my mother that has brought me a great sense of peace and relief amid the difficulties and struggles of parenting and family life.
My mother wasn't perfect, but she was perfect for me.
Most accounts would show my mother falling well short of being perfect. She grew up in a family that had a myriad of problems, and she carried her emotional scars from those problems into our family. She was a lifetime smoker, she never went to college, never had anything more than a minimum wage job, and she was late...to everything. After a serious medical problem, she developed debilitating migraine headaches that practically paralyzed her.
To escape the intense pain, she took medication that would sideline her from daily life. I can't even tell you how many days I would come home from school and have to be as quiet as a mouse because even the most minor of sounds would tend to double her headache pain. As an only child, this obviously led to a great deal of loneliness for me. My friends certainly didn't want to come over and hang out at a house where you had to be more quiet than you would at the library.
My mom missed out on a lot that I wish she would have been there for, and, especially as a teenager, I resented her for all of these things.
And yet, despite all of this, my mother was perfect for me. She was perfect for me because she did one thing perfectly: love. And the way she was able to perfectly love me made me who I am today.
My mother, despite everything she was going through, and everything she had experienced, was a perfect example of love.
She loved unconditionally, without thinking of herself, and her example taught me a profound lesson.
My first experience of her love came at the very beginning of my life, about three weeks in, to be specific.
My birth parents were, at least from what I've been told, two 18-year-old Catholic kids who let their passions get the best of them. Thanks be to God that they chose to give me up for adoption, because three weeks after I was born, my mother held me lovingly in her arms as though I was her very own. Knowing that I was adopted never left me feeling abandoned by my birth parents, but rather allowed me to feel an amazing unconditional love that I wish everyone could experience.
My mother and father prayed for me to come into their lives, and that sense of being created by God as an answer to their prayers is something that blows my mind if I take the time to sit and think about it.
Throughout my life growing up, my mother's example of unconditional and other-centered love was profound. I remember her striking love for her extended family despite their many mistakes and flaws, her ability to ofter help to others without ever thinking she would get something in return (in fact, explicity knowing she wouldn't get anything in return), and her complete selflessness in relation to our family.
I rarely, if ever, remember her being selfish, impatient, or prideful. Instead, despite all the flaws she did have, I remember her always loving in the dramatic way that Jesus calls us to: sacrificially, faithfully, and completely.
This one thing she did perfectly had a big impact on me. And looking back, it seems so simple.
Over the years, I spent a lot of time looking back and wondering how she was able to live this life of authentic and profound love.
When my wife and I were in the hospital together about five years ago, it all made sense. As I held my first child in my arms and looked into the tiny little eyes of the first person I had ever met in my entire life that I was biologically related to, it all made sense. And as I come home from work to three tiny smiling faces and the undeserved gift that is my beloved spouse, it all makes perfect sense.
I am so very, very far from perfect, but God called me here because I am perfect for them. And the way I need to answer that call is not by being smart, not by making a lot of money, and not by attending all the big moments in their lives.
The way I need to answer that call is with love. And I pray that my mother is up in Heaven, sharing a Pepsi with the Blessed Virgin Mary, cheering me on.
Copyright 2015 Tommy Tighe.
Art by Walter Crane (1845-1915) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Tommy is a Catholic husband, father of four boys, and the author of The Catholic Hipster Handbook (available now!).