My mother was a beautiful woman in so many ways. She would have been 99 years old this week but died at 79 after being bed-ridden with Multiple Sclerosis for twenty-five years. It was during those years that she taught me the greatest lessons about life and the dignity of the human person. Rita Marie Doherty was the ninth and youngest child of Catherine and Patrick, immigrants from Donegal, Ireland who taught her about the importance of faith and family. At sixteen, she was taking care of the household after her mother died, and at twenty-one, she was married to my Italian father, Benjamin “Babe” Sano and started her own family.
My father was the strict disciplinarian, while my mother probably trusted us too much, and would always take the time to sit and listen to our day. I can’t remember her without a smile on her face as she gazed into your eyes and made you feel as if nothing else mattered. In this world of busyness, her example of being truly present with her children and others seems to resonate even more to me today. We never had much money, never took a vacation, and lived simply. There was never any doubt that God was the center of her life and our family was her love and her vocation. She loved to walk, to garden, visit with her brothers and sisters, volunteer at church, and sing – she was happy.
In her forties, she noticed some physical things happening to her body. By the age of fifty-four, the woman who loved to walk miles to Mass every morning was now bedridden and totally dependent upon my father and us for everything. The most interesting thing was that she didn’t feel angry or cheated. She trusted completely in God and His plan for her, no matter what the path was in front of her. “Take up your cross.” She continued to greet everyone with an enthusiastic smile and a positive attitude toward life. Over all those years, I never heard her complain or feel as if she was a victim, as she focused only on giving whoever came to visit her full attention. Her body atrophied and she could not feed herself (“this too shall pass” is what she would always say), yet her faith and trust in God only grew. She still had a mission in life and she took it on every single day.
What stood out for me was that she knew she was beloved by God and He was her only real source of purpose and worth, and while she was ready to go many times over those twenty-five years, her patient waiting for heaven showed the depth of that faith and trust. Regardless of our circumstances, she taught me that we always have a purpose and a mission to others – to let them know we are all the beloved sons and daughters of a loving God. She let me know that, no matter what this world brings, it is a small part of our full existence. She let me know what unconditional, self-giving love was all about and how it was the only true source of our happiness. She let me know the dignity of all human life from the start – and she let me know how much I mattered to her, every single day. I know she is alive today, smiling down on her family, letting us know that she still cares and she still loves us. What better gift can a parent give to their child?