We got the call on a country road.

It was just another Sunday, the last day of our Christmas break.  We were going to do this or that, watch football, clean up the house, bask and prepare for back-to-normal.

But January 3rd would never be “just another Sunday” to us ever again.  Normal will forever be different.

Through the day, from holding my mother-in-law, to swallowing my tears and sneaking them out over tea and in the bathroom and under my arm, to holding my mother-in-law some more, to pulling out all my Type A stops and hiding behind lists and planning, one prayer kept running through my mind.

“Mary, be a mother to us now.”

My sister-in-law is, hands-down, one of the strongest, most courageous, most inspirational people I know.  My mother-in-law is neck-in-neck with her.

Hearing the news that my brother-in-law collapsed yesterday had me on the edge of the car seat.  The call less than ten minutes later, that he had been declared dead, was devastating.

And I’m just the sister-in-law in Ohio.

We gathered at my mother-in-law’s house.  It seemed like the natural thing to do.  In the face of tragedy and loss, we go to the flame, to the source of the love, to the one who needs us and who we need.

Just as the wise men traveled on that Epiphany many years ago, following a star in the sky, we went to my mother-in-law.

“Mary, be a mother to us now.”

Her first words crushed me.  They continue to crush me.  They strike my heart and tear me apart.

“Aren’t mothers supposed to make everything better?” she sobbed.  “I can’t help her.  I prayed to St. Joseph.  And…”

“Mary, be a mother to us now.”

I can tell you that Mary is here with us, sobbing and grieving.  She knows what it’s like. But as I tell you, knowing it as a fact, I have to also admit that I don’t feel it.  I don’t see her.  I can’t hear her.

What I hear is the buzzing in my head.  What I see is the mist in my eyes.  What I feel is the weight of loss — mostly my sister-in-law’s loss and my two nieces’ loss.

This isn’t a public spectacle, and it is an intimate time in our family.  I share this, because as I live the suffering, as I chronicle it in my mind, I can’t help but think of the last time.  It’s been years, and time is a great healer.

But some wounds remain.  Some tears don’t dry.  Sometimes there isn’t enough time, ever.

Mary knows about that, doesn’t she?  Isn’t that one of the reasons she’s Our Lady of Tears?

“Mary, be a mother to us now.”

This week I’ll be reflecting a lot more than usual on Mary — on her sorrows and her strength, on her pain and her wisdom, on how God turned her suffering into joy.

It’s hard to see joy when you’re looking at devastation.  It’s more than a challenge to think past the pain, to embrace God’s will and keep hope alive.

I don’t know how we’ll do it.

“Mary, be a mother to us now.”

Thank you for your prayers, your support, and your kind words.  Keep ’em comin’.  We’re going to need them.

“Mary, be a mother to us now.”