The Pope, the Exorcist & my mother

pope_rosaryI was always afraid that Jesus would inadvertently kill my mother.  For many years, she had a giant, ivory rosary hanging in her bedroom above her bed.  Each gigantic bead was carved with a silhouette of the Virgin Mary or Jesus depending on what prayer you were to say on the corresponding bead.   The rosary was a gift from my grandparents after a pilgrimage to St. Anne de Beaupré to see Pope John Paul II sometime in the 80s.  The rosary used to freak me out, not because it was scary looking but because it was at least five feet long and extremely heavy.  I always feared that it might fall off the wall on to her head in the middle of the night while she was sleeping and kill her.

The rosary sat on our dining room table in a big, wooden box with a pink, velvet interior for weeks before my mom could encourage my dad to finally hang it for her.  Every time we’d have a visitor, which was often because of my mom’s condition, she would show it off and go into a long discussion of how her parents drove from Michigan to Quebec to see the Pope.

My mom had a knack for never telling a story the same way twice.  For the five or six weeks that the rosary sat on the table, I heard at least twenty renditions of how grandma and grandpa made their way from Michigan to Quebec to see the Pope.  Sometimes mom focused on their drive through Canada and joked around about how many times grandpa had to stop for grandma to get out and go to the bathroom.  Other times she focused on how they watched the Pope on a huge television screen from their spot in a lawn chair among the likes of thousands of other pilgrims from the grounds of the basilica.  The rendition of the story varied depending on the visitor.  Dad’s friends got the humorous, road-trip version.  Mom’s friends and family got the serious version about how passionate the Pope’s delivery was and how people reacted to his presence.  She told the story with the same vigor and enthusiasm as I had heard my grandma tell it from her first person perspective.

My mom was very aware of her deteriorating physical condition, but it was clear that she envied my grandparents ability to get up and leave for a three-week pilgrimage north to Canada.  Every time I overheard her tell a version of their story I felt a certain pang of sadness for her as I realized she wished she could have gone with them.  Each version of her story included specific mutterings of “I wish I could have seen that for myself,” and “It must have been just beautiful.”  She ended each story of her want-to-be trip by saying  “he blessed this rosary, touched it with his hands.  It’s going in my bedroom.”

When dad finally did agree to hang mom’s rosary it was a huge production.  The introduction of such a holy piece into to my mom’s bedroom obviously required a cleaner-than-thou environment.  I couldn’t imagine a place in our house being more pristine than mom’s bedroom, but she made it a point to have me and dad help her move her single bed with the vinyl headboard out from the wall so that she could push the vacuum on the carpet underneath it.

Vacuuming was a major production for my mom and what would take me or dad three minutes took her at least 15, but she insisted on doing it herself.    The bed, nightstand, and adjacent dresser were going back into exactly the same spot they came from and neither of them had been moved or cleaned underneath for years.  The introduction of this blessed piece of Catholic holiness apparently ignited something in my mother and her sudden desire to eliminate the dust bunnies before Jesus entered her room became priority number one.

After the furniture had been moved and mom had pushed the sweeper slowly but surely all over every surface of her lime green carpeting, dad told me to go find some picture hangers from the junk drawer in the kitchen.  In the grand tradition of my family and our lack of ability for doing anything extremely handy, we used what we had in the junk drawer to complete any kind of home improvement project.  Mom immediately began to argue about the picture hangers.

“They’ll look ugly, Ray!  I don’t want it to look shanty Irish,” she said.

Dad didn’t say anything back, he just continued with a small grunt to take the hangers, which I had found in the drawer out of my hand.  Without as much as a tape measure, he began nailing the two little silver hooks into the wall with their accompanying tiny little nails.  Mom just sighed, she knew better than to argue with him.  It was picture hangers or nothing and after 5 weeks of the rosary collecting dust in the dining room, she must have figured that Shanty-Irish was better than nothing at all.

Dad proceeded to hang the rosary with the picture holders, both of which were different sizes.  Mom was right, it looked terrible – but the rosary was up in a kind of heart shaped pattern where the picture hooks created two peaks at the top of the loop, and she seemed pleased.  Dad and I moved the rest of the furniture back in to place and after a kiss from my mom saying “thank you for helping sweetie.”   I promptly went across the hall to my room as dad took the hammer back out to the garage and went about his business.   I never expressed to my mom how much I disliked the rosary or how I thought that it might inadvertently suffocate or cause a brain hemorrhage by landing on her while she slept some night.

Mom and dad slept in different rooms.  They had since I could remember.  I never really questioned it, but as I got to be about seven or eight years old I realized the reason was because of the sounds my mother made while she slept.  She groaned, snored, and breathed like something out of a horror movie all throughout the night while she slept.  She also got up to go to the bathroom at least three times a night, and was not quiet about it.  As her physical condition changed with age her sleeping habits also changed.  At some point while I was in high school, she traded in her single bed with the vinyl headboard for a Craftmatic adjustable bed.  It was more comfortable (and less noisy) for her to sleep with the head of the Craftmatic propped up at almost at a 90-degree angle.  I always wondered how it was comfortable for her to sleep like that, but it did lessen the nighttime sounds she made.  The Craftmatic’s ability to mechanically move from low to high with the flick of a button on the remote control also helped her get out of bed by herself as her arthritis caused her to experience less and less mobility.

Dad and I grew accustomed mom’s nighttime noises and while I lived at home we somehow managed to make it through the evenings without incident.  However, on the night before my first wedding, even thought I was living with my fiancée and had been for at least 4 years, I slept in my old bedroom at my parent’s house.  Mom kept saying it was tradition to spend the night before the wedding away from the husband-to-be and even though I disagreed with her idea of tradition, staying at mom and dad’s house for one evening was the least I could do for her.  I hoped it doing this deed for my mother would absolve me of the sin of lying – especially since I had been lying to the priest of the church we were getting married in about the specifics of my living arrangements since we had signed up to get married there.

Since I hadn’t slept there in nearly five years, I had forgotten how loud of a sleeper my mother was.  At one point in the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom out of sheer frustration.  Mom’s sleep sounds were a lot louder than I had remembered.  Dad was passed out on the couch in the living room with a sleeping bag.  He sat up as he heard me come out of my room.

“Having wedding jitters?  Can’t sleep?”  he asked.

“No, mom sounds like the freakin’ Exorcist in there!  I can’t tune it out anymore!” I replied

We both laughed, my dad said “Yeah, no shit.  That’s why I’m on the couch.  I can hear it from my room, too.  She must be extra restless tonight worrying about tomorrow,”  he shifted back into position on the couch under the sleeping bag.

“There are ear plugs in the junk drawer if you want them,” he added.

I peed, went back to my room, and tried to sleep a little before I had to be up to get ready for my wedding in the morning.  I distinctly remember fabricating an elaborate story in my head about how I could get my mother to shut up so I could fall to sleep.  I thought…  If that rosary would finally just fall down and land behind the bed, or something just enough to startle her and jar her out of sleep – the confusion and chaos that it may cause would keep her awake, and silent just long enough to allow me to finally drift off.