One of the happiest times I remember about my mother long before she had Alzheimer's disease was a certain day of the year. It was St. Joseph's day. It occurred every year on March 19th. The Catholic Church recognizes almost every day of the year as some feast day, and this was always considered a most important day in the church.
Way back when in the sixties and early seventies, my catholic grade school even used to give that day off from school, to honor the day. Over my grade school years the day off became only a half day off. It seems that perhaps in keeping with the political words of progressiveness, perhaps honoring feast days and patron Saints became less significant. Yet it was not so long ago this was a most important day in the church.
On that day, my mother would take me downtown to St Peter's Cathedral in Erie, Pennsylvania and then to St Joseph's Church on Sassafras street. We would light a blessed candle at each of the St Joseph side alters, and actually get on our knees and pray. In those days the churches used to have kneelers in front of the alters, many still do. We said our intentions.
The years used to go by more slowly back then. It was a timeless tradition. It was about religion and praying but it was also about a mother and son bond.
After going to church we usually stopped by Carlisle's department store and had lunch. It was so special it was like a birthday or Christmas to a kid.
My mother would by me a present, a commemorative gift. One year it was microscope slides, another year it was a Grand Funk Railroad Album. It was a big day.
I think my mother looked forward to it as much as I did.
She was selfless when it came to raising her kids.
It was not so long ago, yet it was ages ago. It was still a bit before the "me-first" generation when it really was not pretentious or politically incorrect to put your kids before yourself.
Putting your kids before yourself as a parent nowadays sometimes is done out of a fierce competitiveness, in keeping with the "me-first" times. Kids now become objects of the parents, since we are often so narcissistically wounded and must move so fast and "get ahead" of everyone else.
I think those special St. Joseph's days were born out of love. I had obviously never heard of Alzheimer's disease back then and I had no idea that in just a few short years the disease would take my mother.
My parent's were fortunate enough to travel to Europe once in 1966. I was about four years old. They went to Italy and got to attend a mass celebrated by Pope Paul VI at the Vatican. My mother got me a brown Rosary blessed by the Pope. It was my first communion rosary which I made in 1970. On St Joseph's day I used to bring that with me to church and would say a decat or several for all my intentions. I still have that rosary. It is a keepsake.
St Joseph was the patron Saint of the Universal Church, the worker, and the family. It was something bigger than all of us. It was something to strive for and someone to pray to and emulate.
I realize in the world today, the world of relativism, with all the cool intellectual and "actualized" agnostics and atheists out there, most of this stuff is now considered hokey or ignorant.
All I can say is every single person out there had or has a mother, regardless of religious affiliation or lack of affiliation. It was a powerful and timeless context for my mother and I.
As a kid I thought we would have this tradition forever. My mother and I would sometimes talk about that. St Joseph's day would always be our special day, no matter how old I was. The tradition of going to church and lunch of stopped when I was about 13 or 14. My father died when I was sixteen and my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's shortly thereafter.
Perhaps somewhere in the collective unconscious my mother knew, or God knew what was to come. March 19th St Joseph's Day was a timeless gift for both of us.
When you have such an important decent gift of love and a tradition like this, it makes the awfulness of the disease seem that much more awful.
To have something like that and then have a disease like Alzheimer's take it away is maybe worse than never having had anything at all.
Yet, I know in the end, that special day and that special time can never be taken away from me as it will live in my heart forever.
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