Salve Regina

I recently returned from a trip home to N.J. for my aunt’s funeral.  I’ve talked about her before. I am her namesake, but she was Marie Louise and I am Mary Louise.  She was 92, and entered the convent at 16.  She was a brilliant woman and the former mother general of her order. If there is such a thing as a wonderful funeral, this was it.  What better way for any of us to die than as a valued, honored member of a community that cared for us through the end?   A few months ago, I called the sister in charge of the nursing/retirement home, to see how things were going, since my aunt no longer talked on the phone or wrote letters.  Sister seemed surprised when I expressed my gratitude for the loving care my aunt was receiving.  “To us, your aunt is an icon of greatness.  She led us through the most difficult times in our history, and planned for the future most of us couldn’t envision.”

That was the message I heard over and over at the wake and funeral.  A nun’s funeral has a very clearly outlined ritual, which comforted even this agnostic lapsed Catholic’s heart, from the opening prayers  to the Salve Regina at the graveside.  Towards the end of the wake, there was a time of reflection, where everyone had a chance to speak, and oh, the stories they told.  From the time my aunt asked the bishop in a budget meeting in the 60’s why the teaching nuns did not receive the same stipend as the teaching brothers and was told “not to be so fresh,” to individual testimonies of life-changing attentions from a teacher, principal and friend.  (BTW, the nuns ended up with equal pay; that bishop had no idea who he was dealing with.)

One nun spoke of how loving my aunt was, but it was not “a Hallmark card kind of love.”  I’ll say.  When I was a teenager, we butted heads constantly.  She drove me crazy, and I’m sure I did the same to her.  I was too lazy, self-centered, didn’t help my mother enough, etc. etc. When my mother was dying of cancer, I was 21.  Mommy asked me to promise her that I would always make my aunt, her sister, welcome, and be good to her.  Of course I said yes, but inside I thought “You have got to be kidding!”  A promise is a promise, though, and I reached out to my aunt.  In turn, she modeled for me how to back away from a position you’ve taken, show your vulnerabilities, and allow others to grow and change.  We became dear friends, and as she slipped into dementia, I missed her greatly.

Here she is in an Aran cardigan I knitted for her about 15 years ago.  This was the first time I used the Aran lace stitch that I’ve since put in the Yarni Lace baby cardigan.  The pictures are scanned from old snapshots, so they don’t show very good detail.  I was taking them so I’d have a record of what I did, and was telling my aunt I didn’t care what she looked like, I only wanted to see the sweater!
mimi sweater 2

mimi sweater back

I wasn’t knitting it fast enough, I guess, since one time when she asked how it was going, she told me I’d better hurry up or she’d be wearing it as her shroud!   She wore it many years, I’m glad to say, and was not wearing it last week when they laid her to rest.  Another sister will be cozying up in it as she watches the light fade.



19 responses to “Salve Regina

  1. A lovely story about a wonderful-sounding woman!

  2. She sounds awesome and awe-inspiring. What great stories and memories you have about her tho!

  3. What a beautiful post! Sorry for your loss, Mary Lou. She sounds like a very special person.

  4. A moving remembrance. How lucky you both were to have each other. And the sweater is lovely – how wonderful that it will be passed along to another to keep her cozy.

  5. Lovely tribute. Your aunt sounds like a wonderful woman. Could you please tell us more about the lace stitch?

  6. What a lovely way to to remember a life well lived.

  7. A great tribute, and good memories!

  8. Yes, there can be wonderful funerals, although they’re few and far between.

    Aunts rock. I was 40 when my mother died and all of my aunts – my mother’s sister, my father’s sisters and his sisters-in-law – took a step nearer to me. I hadn’t expected it and I appreciated it so much. Even the one I’d been terrified of as a child turned out to be a dear, and I got so much from them.

    I remember this when my nieces are being pains in the butt, and I hang in there.

  9. Sorry for your loss! Aunts do have a very special part in our hearts (I agree with Helen about nieces being pains….but they need us there!). Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  10. I’m sorry for your loss and the loss for the world of such a great woman. We could use more of her. But she’s earned her reward and is certainly in a nicer place now.

    Isn’t it so true what our mother’s used to tell us “you’ll be glad I made you do this one day?” At the time, we always thought they were wrong, now we know how wrong we were.

  11. I’m sorry for your loss, Mary Lou. Your aunt sounds like she was quite a character.

    Nice Aran sweater! The good we do lives on.

  12. Oh, Mary Lou, I’m so sorry for your loss. What a lovely tribute to your aunt this post is, though; and it sounds like the funeral service was, as well. This really resonates with me right now, and it means a great deal to me to read about a person who will be long remembered in the best possible way.

  13. What a lovely tribute to your Aunt Mary Louise.

  14. I’m very sorry your aunt is gone, but what a lovely tribute and beautiful story. And a wonderful sweater, too.

  15. It sounds as if your aunt was a wonderful person–strong and loving. And you were a faithful niece to her. The aran sweater’s beautiful.

  16. A beautiful story, Mary Lou. I especially appreciate the symmetry between your aunt’s cardigan being passed along to warm and comfort someone else and your aunt’s inspiration and values being passed along to you.

    And I recognize the Fishtrap and Sheepfold patterns from Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books on the back of the cardy, too.

  17. Thanks so much for writing this moving tribute to your aunt.

  18. I’m so sorry to hear about your aunt. Hers sounds like a lovely life, and together a lovely friendship. My husband’s grandmother had a wonderful funeral nine years ago this fall — she died after a long, good life in her garden (and it was the end of the season too…), and all her grandchildren wore touches of purple, her favorite color.

    I love the way she’s posing with her arms and hands out — almost like an angel : ).

  19. This makes me cry. What a wonderful story! I love her bravery and intelligence and spirit.

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