By Anya Murphy ’19
It has been one year since my great-grandmother’s death. Mary Ann O’Toole, the matriarch of my mother’s family, left behind more than 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren and 15 children, of whom my maternal grandfather is the second oldest. Despite her wishes, a two-day wake had to be held after her death because of the sheer number of people who wanted to celebrate her life.
So it was that day, exactly one year later, my mom and I woke in the chilly dawn of St. Patrick’s day to attend her 8:00 a.m. memorial Mass at St. Anthony’s parish in Oceanside. We met my aunt and uncle at the door and chose a pew, and as we sat down, I found myself thinking about her funeral. How my cousins and I sat in the back of the funeral parlor pasting old photos of her to two poster boards. How we tried laughing instead of crying. How we methodically categorized all of our relatives into a family tree that gave us a count of cousins, aunts and uncles. How we talked, as we always did, of the myriad ways our family was special – the fact that my ‘cousins’ Mary Liz and Annie, though we are all the same age, are actually my mom’s cousins, because of that pesky fifteen-year age gap between my grandfather and their parents. How we reminded each other that she had lived a good life, and that she was ready to go the way that she did – surrounded by family.
I thought about our family’s history. Thought about my great-grandfather, Eddie, who ran in the London Olympics’ 1000 meter, and was the first American to cross the finish line, who died when I was only a year old, but who loved me, his oldest great-grandchild. Thought about how much he loved monarch butterflies, and how my mom’s favorite story to tell is how one once landed on my nose as a baby. Thought about the card that is now hanging on my mirror, an old photo of the two of them, smiling astride a motorcycle parked in their driveway. Thought about how much my mother looks up to both of them – how she tries to imitate them in faith, in love and in dedication. Thought about my parents’ approaching 20th wedding anniversary, and how they had gotten married in that very church. Thought about how every part of my ancestors’ lives trickled down into me and my life.
Then, the first reading: Genesis 15:5. God’s covenant with Abram ensuring that his descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky. It seemed oddly fitting that this reading should be the one assigned to the memorial of my great-grandmother, who had more children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren than anyone I have ever met, and who did so with an incredible amount of grace and patience.
It is this grace and patience that I hope to inherit from her, and, as Rev. Donovan explained in his homily, the kind of fortitude we all should try to replicate during Lent.
The Gospel, Luke 9:28-36, tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration after it had been completed, of Peter’s mobility to grasp its magnitude, but willingness to help nonetheless. Rev. Donovan called on the congregation to be like Peter during the difficult parts of Lent, citing the placement of the reading on that second Sunday as encouragement, rather than a warning.
During the homily, I reflected on ways I could channel my great-grandmother’s strength, her patience and her courage. I decided that her dedication to family was a quality that I should try to develop, because, as exciting as the prospect of going to college is, it means leaving my big family behind, at least for a little while. So my new Lenten resolution is to spend more time with my family, grow closer with them, so that, even if we no longer live together, our relationship will be as strong as ever. I think she would like that. She created so many opportunities for love in our family that, two generations of O’Tooles later, I am determined to follow her example of selfless love.
We brought up the gifts for Communion – something that I’ve never done before. It seemed symbolic to me, watching my mother walk down the same aisle that she did on her wedding day, bearing witness to the generations of love that made my life possible.
When Mass ended, my aunt and I were walking out of the pew. When I realized that my mom wasn’t behind me, I looked back, only to find that, in typical ‘mom’ fashion, she had found someone she knew and had struck up a conversation. It turned out to be my preschool teacher and my parents’ youth group leader, who had known them since they were my age, before they were married. She hugged me, saying, “I don’t believe it – you’re so grown up!” I felt that the day had come full circle, from my great-grandparents, to my parents, to myself. I thought about the years of wisdom I had to draw on, and felt strengthened in my resolve to strengthen my relationship with my family in honor of my great-grandmother.
By Anya Murphy ’19