The most difficult writing assignment I’ve ever had occurred this year.
At the request of the family, I wrote my mother’s obituary.
I wrote it before she died. I edited the final details after her death.
Angelo Alaimo O’Donnell was asked to do the same for her mother.
In the last 48 days of her mother’s life, O’Donnell and her sisters gathered round their mother, Marion Salvi Alaimo. She had fallen and smashed her hip; whether she could survive the surgery required to repair it was questionable.
The gathering, as O’Donnell describes in Mortal Blessings: A Sacramental Farewell, becomes a kind of sacrament, just one of the many sacraments the family leads, participates in, and becomes part of in their mother’s final days. Sacraments, even those related to the death of an individual, gain their meaning in their communal celebration.
And while sacraments are an intrinsic part in the family’s Catholic faith, O’Donnell comes to understand that sacraments are not confined to officially defined ceremonies of the church. Sacraments can be found among the most commonplace of acts, events, and emotions.
|Marion Salvi Alaimo|
The sacrament of a haircut and manicure.
The sacraments of the cell phone and the wheelchair.
The sacraments of humor, honor and witness.
The sacraments of speech and memory.
The sacrament of distance.
|Angela Alaimo O'Donnell|
As a loved one is dying, the simplest of acts become sacraments, not only for the one dying but for the ones participating as well. Sacraments are communal acts, conferring meaning too all involved.
O’Donnell does not tell an idealized story. Dying and death sharpens and unveils, particularly if it occurs over a period of time. No life lived is perfect; O’Donnell doesn’t gloss over her mother’s failings, or her own. Mortal Blessings is not a memoir about her mother; it is a telling of the last days of a life, and what happens, what sacraments happen, when a family is drawn together around a dying person.
The writing of a book like Mortal Blessings is a sacrament, too.
Tomorrow, I’ll have the first of two personal meditations on Mortal Blessings.
My review of O’Donnell’s Saint Sinatra: Poems at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Photograph of the Church of the Mount of the Beatitudes by Betty Krausova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.