Mary my Mother
A Pure Heart Create For Me O God
A frail, sick, elderly woman lay on her bed. Deep lines of pain and sorrow were etched across her thin face. Her dark wavy hair glistened in the evening sunlight highlighting the odd strands of grey weaved through her tangled and tossed strands. She moaned in pain, and spoke in hushed tones, barely able to annunciate her words. Her right arm was discoloured, swollen and the old, disabled woman was unable to move it. She lay in bed, and the one-inch open ulcer on her left arm rested on wet urine soaked sheets. A stale smell of urine permeated the heavy and oppressive air. Her special needs son lay on the living room couch asleep and intoxicated. He had been charged with the care of his mother Mila after his older alcoholic brother abdicated his position of responsibility.
Shocked to see the condition this unfortunate woman was in, my helper, Mario and I set out to alleviate her distress. We slowly moved her to a chair, changed and washed her and discarded the wet and dirty bed-clothes and mattress. We gasped for fresh air and threw open windows and doors. Mila and her son Kruno had been living in the new house a mere three months when she suffered a stroke. Her dislocated shoulder sustained while her drunken son tried to help her out of bed to take her to the loo, hung lifeless by her side.
“Dearest Mother”, I moaned “what are we going to do with this poor soul”, I implored. Her pitiably and miserable state had permeated the deepest part of my heart, and I was filled with sorrow for her. With several years of humanitarian work behind me at this point, I had adjusted to the harsh reality of suffering. I had struggled to find the presence of God in the mass ethnic cleansing, sickness, pain, poverty and those living on the margins of society that had once lived in comfortable homes dotted across scenic and idyllic parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I was spoon feeding Mila encouraging her to eat some scrambled egg. Disinterested in eating she turned the food several times around her mouth and swallowed hard. The scene reminded me of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I had everything in life, a beautiful home, youth and health to my advantage, a monthly salary and I began to thank the Lord for all that I was blessed to have. I caressed her wrinkled face and lifted her hand to my lips to kiss it. She raised her head and made eye contact with me and gave a little smile. My heart melted and tears flowed down my face, and a burning feeling rose up in my heart. I had never experienced this feeling before. My heart filled with tender love for this poor soul. I wanted her to know that she was loved and cared for, albeit by two strangers, one who spoke in a foreign language and the other, a tall Croatian man that sang love songs to her in her native language. Her sunken eyes grew a little brighter as we placed her back in a clean, dry bed propped up with pillows. Assuring her that we’d be back the next day we kept our promise and arrived properly equipped this time with food, medicines, extra bedclothes and disposables. We found Mila in the same position and similar condition as the previous evening.
Repeating the process, we tried to convince her to let us take her to the hospital, but she refused point blank. It was an unnegotiable position. Her hands and feet hadn’t been cared for or cleaned in a long time. Her nails were long with dirt gouged under them, and her skin was dry and hard. Mario agreed to clean her hands, and I began cleaning her feet and nails as we waited for the doctor to arrive.
I had grown up on a farm and had fed and looked after the small animals for many years. My siblings and I had chased each other with long worms that we pulled from the soil as my father cultivated the vegetable garden. I’d prepared the cow barns, cleaned out the hen house and was well accustomed to farmyard odours. I’d since discovered that my ability to deal with dirt, foul smells, and impoverished circumstances was no longer there. My stomach wrenched, and I tended to pull away. This time I couldn’t though as I held Mila’s foot in my hand. “Oh Holy Mother, give me the strength to do this work,” I invoked as I prayed silent Hail Marys. I cleaned underneath her toenails and pulled out dead bed bugs. I took deep breaths and continued to pray, and then the burning sensation of fire filled my heart, purifying it. “Bless the Lord”, I prayed “bless His holy name.” The flame continued until I finished my work. I kissed my Lady Lazarus on her forehead and cheeks and left.
I never saw Mila again. She died in her sleep after I returned to Ireland having left her in better and reliable care. The morning I received the news from Mario that Mila died I had just come from morning Mass. The gospel of the day was the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. I smiled knowing that God through his tender love and mercy had allowed me the gift of knowing Mila, and through it had freed me from my irrational fears and had opened my heart to love and care for His poor the way He would want to. From that day forward I was given the grace to embrace the most profound physically and mentally disabled people with a love that could only have come from God.
Praise be Jesus and Mary.
Patricia Keane is the author of the critically acclaimed book Journey Of Ten Thousand Smiles and is an inspirational speaker and witness to her inner healing in Medjugorje. She hosts a weekly programme, Health and Faith Matters on Radio Maria and blogs at www.journeyoftenthousandsmiles.org. She submits a monthly article for the Medjugorje Messenger and a bimonthly to Shalom Tidings.
She received two International Awards for her humanitarian work with the ethnically displaced families of Bosnia-Herzegovina through her tireless work the charity Rebuild for Bosnia.