On Saturday, August 27, a friend of mine died. Julie Mooney, 41, had breast cancer that metastasized to her bones. She was the mother of two boys — Quinn 10, who is in my son Jacob’s class at St. Monica, and Dylan, 13, an 8th grader there.
Her death was not a surprise. We all knew it was coming for quite awhile. The day before she died, I received a call letting me know she most likely had fewer than 24 hours. And the moment the phone rang at 6 a.m. that Saturday morning, I knew what the message would be. Yet, despite the fact I have nothing to be surprised about; despite the fact I knew about the chemotherapy and radiation and morphine; despite the fact that it was expected; part of me is still shocked. Part of me still looks at her age at death and thinks it’s unfair — that she only had half a life. She didn’t get to finish everything. She had to leave right in the middle of being a mom, when there are still lunches to be made and carpools to drive, hugs to give and birthday presents to wrap. She had to leave before she and her husband could celebrate any milestone anniversary like 20 or 25. She had to leave too soon.
But while part of me rails at the unfairness of it all, the other part understands that there are no guarantees — that while most people are older than 41 when they die, some are even younger. Before Julie’s breast cancer had metastasized to her bones in May of 2004, she had been cancer-free for the five previous years. The breast cancer that she had had when her boys were tiny was nowhere to be found for five years, and during that time, Julie had the chance to see her two little boys turn into bigger boys. She saw them learn to read and ride two-wheelers. She coached their classes’ variety show numbers and volunteered in their school. She smiled her enormous smile thousands of times in those five years, and those of us fortunate enough to know her were able to enjoy her unbelievably positive personality.
On the morning of her death, our family went to St. Monica for the morning daily Mass. After the opening song, the priest announced that the day was St. Monica’s feast day — St. Monica, patron saint of wives and mothers. My husband and I looked at one another, first stunned, then with that sense of “of course.” Of course God chose St. Monica’s feast day as the day for Julie to enter eternal life. Julie’s children and husband were her life. I saw her death on St. Monica’s feast day as recognition from God of the goodness of Julie’s devotion to her family. I also see the day as significant for another reason. While I believe Julie will continue her mothering from heaven, she is now unable to do the practical, day-to-day things that keep a household running. I see her death on St. Monica’s feast day as a call to the St. Monica community to help Julie with her parenting. I believe that Julie, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will inspire some of the mothers and fathers of the parish to know what her sons need. I believe she will put the right words in our mouths to give comfort to her boys, to help nourish them and guide them. The date of her death reminds us of our responsibility.
Looking toward this coming year, I cannot imagine how difficult it will be for Julie’s family to go on without her. I find myself talking to St. Monica — mother of 3 — more than I used to. And I’m pretty sure St. Monica and Julie are talking to each other — discussing a plan to help Dylan and Quinn, and her husband, Dan.
Two mothers, together in Heaven, working together.