Mother’s Day at Mt. Calvary

Mother’s Day wasn’t sad for me this year. I had some twinges last week reading blogs about Mother’s Day and mothers. Because I am from a twisted Irish family, we are known to say things like “My mother’s dead” when anyone asks about Mother’s Day and we will do the same for Father’s Day in June. It makes us laugh and makes whoever else is around pretty uncomfortable. The Irish have a gift for cloaking sentiment in black humor.

This is the fourth Mother’s Day I have taken flowers to my mom at Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery. Mother’s Day is the busiest cemetery day of the year, according to me and no other supporting research.

When I went up the hill to the cemetery for my first Mother’s Day at Mt. Calvary in 2009, I remember being struck by how many people were there. I also looked down the hill from my parents’ place and saw a man around my age with flowers that he was leaving for his mother, I assume.

View from my parents’ neighborhood at Mt. Calvary. Their stone is the big rectangle on the right.

When I left that day, I drove by where the man had been and he had left his flowers for his mother, Joan Sullivan. Joan like my mother, Joan O’Connor, has a substantial green marble head stone with a big Celtic cross at the top. Mrs. Sullivan’s husband Donn is still alive so that makes me sad. I have always thought the man should go first, women can handle it.

I don’t get sad when I go to the cemetery. If I am sad about something and I go up there, I usually have a good cry but going there doesn’t bother me. It’s a beautiful place. I was up there this morning bringing mom flowers from my yard.

I saw people cleaning headstones and leaving flowers and there were small children with their parents. and grown children with their parents. I saw three men, who looked to be in their 20s or 30s, putting out flowers at a grave. They had a Suburban and all the doors were open and they had boxes on the ground from which they were removing flowers and putting them on the grass in front of the marker. It looked like they were making a blanket of flowers for their mom.

I put the flowers I had brought in the Permavase (definitely get one when the time comes), cleaned up, chatted with my Mom and Dad for a bit, took some photos of the fleurs and left. As I was driving out, I thought about all the families and all the stories at Mt. Calvary and realized I needed to write about that. I had plans for the day with my sister so I decided to return later in the day and see Mother’s Day at Mt. Calvary.

Mt. Calvary was established in 1888. There are a LOT of Irish people buried there. Mt. Calvary has a monument to Ireland’s Potato Famine (as opposed to the Cambodian Potato Famine). There are many graves of people born in Ireland and died in Oregon. Some of the old stones are so worn that you can see where something was etched in them but the words have smoothed and faded over the years. The old stones are hauntingly beautiful from both age and design.

Poor Bridget O’C. Frainey was only 31 when she died. The Fraineys were a large family judging from all the Frainey markers I saw. A large Irish family, weird, right? Also note, her middle initials appear as “O’C.” My father always said our last initial was O’C which is really hard to use in a monogram.

Pat Connelly is my friend Ellen’s mom. Pat was in the WAVES during WWII. The WAVES were a division of the U.S. Navy and consisted entirely of women. The name was the acronym for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service“. Ellen’s mom could take apart a machine gun and put it back together with her eyes closed! She took up downhill skiing when she was 60, I think. She threw great parties and loved to dance. I went to her funeral and found myself in awe of this woman.

Ellen must have lilac in her yard, too.

As I get older I look at Old People, in their 70s, 80s, 90s and remind myself to think, “they weren’t always this old. They aren’t that thrilled to be falling apart either.” I think of all the great stories they have to tell. I hope when I am old and gray this blog will remind my children or grandchildren of my stories.

Here’s the western hillside of Mt. Calvary. There are sections of the cemetery where only flat stones are allowed. All the flowers made me think of an Easter egg hunt.

As I wandered through Mt. Calvary stopping and reading markers and taking pictures, I noticed a musky smell. A smell that wasn’t the warm spring day or mown grass or flowers but it smelled good. Then I noticed a faint wisp of smoke. I walked over another row and found the grave shown below. I think you can make out the three sticks of incense at the top of the marker that were smoking and giving off the scent I had noticed. This woman, whose name I couldn’t see because her headstone was covered in flowers which I didn’t want to disturb, was Vietnamese. I had happened upon a corner of the graveyard that had many Vietnamese families’ loved ones buried there. And the Vietnamese leave incense and candles at the graves.

I continued to wander and read the markers and guess at the stories. Sometimes it wasn’t necessary to guess. Just the few words on the stone, told the story. Seeing this marker was the only time I teared up today:

Ora Mae and John were married for 53 years and now Ora Mae is gone.

After this stone, I walked up the hill back toward my car and saw this marker. I’m pretty mathtarded so it took a few minutes to stare at this marker and realize that Jeanne was 47 when she died. I’m 47. And Jeanne left behind a husband and sons. I’m still here and reminded again of how lucky I am.

I just did the math again and she was 47.

Here’s a tiny bit of Jeanne’s story. I am happy she was so loved.

And here is the Virgin Mother who watches over a herd of nuns that are buried around her.

Outside of NYC on the way to JFK Airport, I think, there is a huge cemetery. I really do love cemeteries. Mt. Calvary isn’t as big as ones I’ve seen outside of NY, Chicago, LA, etc. but still beautiful.

This one was kind of weird, what with it being my name and all:

Well, it’s not THE Margaret O’Connor

I wound up back at my car and drove down the hill to check out the blanket of flowers that was being laid out earlier in the morning. The blanket was made of pink, red and purple rhododendron blooms and creamy white pom pom hydrangea flowers. The three men I saw were Joe, Chris and Matt (their names are on the bench next to her grave) who must have been in their teens, maybe early 20’s when their mom Joanne died at 47 in 2006.

The Mother’s Day blanket from Joanne’s three sons.

Yesterday was the best Mother’s Day I think I’ve ever had. I wish much happiness to all the mothers out there and all the women who mother even if they don’t have children. Thank you to my sweet ex-husband and my darling girls for giving me such a great day!

And Thanks Mom.


38 thoughts on “Mother’s Day at Mt. Calvary

  1. When I started reading this I didn’t expect to laugh but “according to me and no other supporting research.” proved me wrong. Happy Mother’s Day Maggie.

  2. “Herd of nuns”. LOL! Beautiful piece. My mom’s been gone for over 20 years now. Sometimes it seems like yesterday and sometimes a million years ago. I live an hour away from her grave site so haven’t left any flowers in her permavase lately. Maybe I should.

    • I hear you, sometimes it seems like she was just here or I should call her and sometimes it seems like ages. I’m glad I live close and I love the Permavase!
      Thanks for reading.

  3. Seriously, I am still affected by the blanket of flowers. It is killing me in a sweet way. I want to meet her boys and tell them that she was one lucky Mom, except for dying young. That part sucks. I know what it takes just to get my two kids out of the house for school in the morning. The thought of these boys picking the flowers, designing the blanket, laying it out for their Mom.The planning! LORD. It is ripping my heart out.

    • You are so sweet. It was really cool to be there in the morning when they were working on it and then to see the finished product in the afternoon. Nice Italian boys.

  4. I’m happy my keyboard didn’t short out from the water falling on it as I read your post today. I thought of you all many, many times yesterday; With Love,

  5. The blanket of flowers. Oh, how dear that was! The rest of he post was such a hoot, written with your usual dry humor, so, thanks for that. Hope the rest of your Mother’s Day was a good one.

  6. Pulled at the heart strings, with the perfect blend of humor. I forgot at times I was reading about a cemetary. Really great post. Oh and happy belated Mother’s Day!

  7. I’m fortunate enough that both my parents are still with me, and most of my older relatives! I too share your fascination for cemetaries though. Like you I like to wander about and read the different headstones, think about the people, what was happening in the world during their lifetimes. If I’m visiting a new place and there is an uncharted cemetary, I must go explore!

  8. I was fine until the blanket of flowers. My dad died when I was 3, and this reminded me of what I do for him. On his birthday Sept 29, it is usually our Football grandfinal. Whenever his team are in I decorate his head stone with Collingwood merchandise and shed a few tears. My nan, who died two years ago, is buried in the same row, and I didn’t go and see her this year. But, on her birthday in October, I will be making her a blanket as you have outlined by the boys. It was a beautiful gesture. xxx

    • Wasn’t that sweet? I’m so sorry about your Dad and your Nan. I’m remembering correctly that you’re down under so you have flowers in October? You’ll have to post a photo of the flower blanket! xos

      • Yep, im in Oz 🙂 I felt bad for not visiting nanny this year but I am struggling more with her death in this second year than the first. Thats why her birthday is going to be awesome 🙂 xxx

  9. Beautiful piece, well done! You could probably do a follow-up on the quotes on the gravestones that were written to Mom’s from their relatives. “her life’s quilt will forever keep us warm”, kinda cheesy but still touching. My wife almost never visits her Mom’s grave. I wonder if she would feel guilty reading your story.

  10. Reblogged this on Someone Fat Happened and commented:

    I’m reposting because I feel so out of it because I’m frantically prepping for the 18th. I have to be frantic to get things done, that’s how I operate. Mother’s Day is this weekend and I will be up at the cemetery visiting my mom so here is a reblog of last year’s visit.

  11. Thank you for the post and for reposting it. I am a recent subscriber to your blog and grateful that you wrote this story. My mom was 48 and in a lot of pain before her death. I just passed her up last year. This year I’ll turn 50 and it still hurts like hell if I allow myself to stop and consider it all. Our father decided to leave this world in 2000, he never got over missing her. You’re right, women can handle it. We have no tombstones, both had ashes instead. People need a place to return to. To put death in perspective, we all leave, and not feel so alone, comforted by all the others having to say goodbye. Thank you

    • Thank you for sharing your story. 48 is waaayyy too young. I feel gypped and my mom was 68. I like having somewhere to go. Both my parents were cremated and we buried the urns, inurnment is what they called it. I’m glad you made it to 50 although that must be weird for you. Thank you again for reading.

  12. Amy VC shared this post, I loved it! I’ve always thought I should be Irish. I showed the pic of the flower blanket to my kids (10 & 12) and said “This is what I want you to do for me when I’m dead!”. I scar them that way often. Thank you for this lovely post!

    • Thank you Jennifer! If we didn’t scar our children what stories would they have to tell their college friends? their therapists? They will thank us someday! Thank your for reading.

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