My mom is dying. It’s not cancer, a heart attack, a stroke; it’s not anything overtly physical. It might be Parkinson’s. It might be depression. It might be a strange sort of emotional dementia. It’s hard on her and it’s hard on us. She wants to die. We want her to find peace.
The prayer I most often pray for her is the “Hail, Holy Queen.” It started last fall at the Porziuncula in Assisi. Our pilgrim guide talked about Francis’s devotion to Mary, his love for his mother, and I knew it was the place I most needed to pray for Mom, struggling with anxiety and trying to settle into her assisted living home. The prayer emerged spontaneously from memory.
Many years ago, when I was living at home between grad school and a job, we both discovered the Liturgy of the Hours and would often pray it together. Night Prayer ends with the “Hail, Holy Queen.” Mom knew it by heart from long years of praying the rosary. As a 20-something, I found it negative, even maudlin: “to you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears….” My life, while not without problems, was pretty good most of the time and the world was a good place to be. I had no desire to flee from its delights.
Almost 30 years later, my life is still good and in many ways better than it was back then. But accompanying my mom on this last, difficult journey, I have a new understanding of that feeling of exile, of wilderness wandering. Mostly now as I pray, I just want her to find her way home at last.