My mother-in-law, Josephine (“Mama”), arrived from Stockholm on Monday to spend a month with us here in Toronto. I blogged about her previously, about her wisdom and all that she has taught me in the 26 years I’ve been married to her fourth child, even though we’ve been separated by an ocean most of the time. She hasn’t visited with us for over three years, although she saw Z when he first moved to Toronto from Atlanta, before the boys and I moved up.
I am refreshing my French, as that is our common language. She loves to tell stories about the past, and I am enjoying hearing some old ones as well as some new ones. She is a very devout Catholic, and has experienced the hand of God throughout her life, bringing her safely through many hardships and heartbreaks.
Her parents were born in Mardin, Turkey (left) in the early part of the last century. They were part of the forced exodus of Armenians and other Christians from Turkey between 1915 and 1917. Her mother, Marine, was four years old when her family was expelled from the city and marched south. Her grandmother was pregnant with her uncle at the time, and gave birth on the road.
Yesterday morning, realizing that it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I asked Mama whether she’d like to go to mass. We’d already missed the one mass at our parish, so I had found one at another parish close by yesterday evening. She looked at me and told me that it was very important that she go to mass, not only for the Immaculate Conception but because her mother had been born on that day in 1912, as the bells were ringing for church. It was for that reason that she was named Marine. Even more importantly, she died on the same feast day 86 years later. She said that she had a lot of prayers to say, and that she very much wanted to go to church. Z had to stay late at work, so we went together, just the two of us.
We arrived a little bit early, and she took out her handful of prayer cards, mostly in Arabic, and began her prayers. There were 40 or 50 people at mass, mostly women. The priest began mass with the hymn Ave Maria, and I was overjoyed to hear my mother-in-law join in on the chorus. She has been to Lourdes a number of times, and told me that it is the song sung during processions there, with everyone singing in their own language. . The chorus is Latin, and she sang along with the congregation. I wish she could have understood the homily, because the priest talked about the gifts that we are all given to assist us with our vocation, just as Mary was given the gift of sinlessness. Mass ended with Salve Regina, and we headed back home at the beginning of the snow storm that hit us overnight.
This morning, she reported that had prayed another hour and a half at home before bed, and had slept very well, unlike her first night here. I hope to recount some of the stories she tells me over the next month. She is a model of holiness, a prayer warrior, a very courageous and funny woman, who has found comfort in her faith throughout her 78 years.
From left to right: Josephine’s brother Joseph, Josephine, her paternal grandmother Meme Marro, her mother Marine, her sister Antoinette.