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Harry McAvoy: Family stands tall on the rock of faith

By  Harry McAvoy
  • July 12, 2019

It was Mother’s Day when Anne Margaret McAvoy said her last goodbyes, spoken more with quiet groans than with words. She was a wonderful woman who loved deeply with a gentle heart. Through her words and deeds mom taught us to stay close to God.

When I think of mother’s faith example I think of the wonderful verse from Matthew 7:24-25: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

Mother built her life on the rock of her Catholic faith. Through the years there were storms. In her teens, during the Second World War, she lost her dear brother when his plane was shot down over the English Channel.

Then as a young mother, her third child, Catherine, was ravaged by and succumbed to celiac disease. As I was very young at the time, I only later heard stories of terrible suffering and how mom and dad found refuge in their faith.

In later years, after the usual ups and downs of life, mom was faced with a new storm. Her husband was slowly losing his ability to remember.

Dad was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and mom, supported by my sister Carol, would become dad’s primary caregiver. Together they provided dad with love and care over many difficult months that became years.

I had a front row seat watching mom navigate the storms. In her remembrance on the day of her funeral I spoke about how mom’s faith helped her survive the bad times, and it made the good times even better. Mom’s faith gave her strength and provided her with great comfort. She knew where she wanted to go, a place called Heaven to be with God, filled with the hope she would also find her loved ones there.

After we said our last goodbyes to mom, the sadness lingered but invariably life will return to normal. But what is normal anymore?

For me, I will return to my battle with memory loss. I am still learning how one lives well with missing pieces. I am also learning how to wait months between medical updates, when the future seems to hang on the specialist’s every word.

Fortunately, I am Anne and Harry McAvoy’s son and they provided a solid foundation. They taught their children that in good times and bad, the Eucharist is the source and the summit of Christian life, to be cherished and never taken for granted. They taught me to hit my knees in prayer, and the rosary is meant to be said often. They introduced me to Marylake, the Augustinian retreat house in King City, where they would go for their annual retreat weekends to sharpen the spiritual saw and where I have attended for 45 years as a retreatant.

While memory loss and mom’s death preoccupied my thoughts through spring and early summer, I am mindful that other storms will continue to come and go. In the last year alone one of our daughters suffered a workplace accident that has greatly affected her mobility and another lost her job when her company closed its doors. These have been tough times for the McAvoy family.

Fortunately, I have learned new strategies for coping with memory loss. I have even been able to return, for now, to part-time work. Most significantly, six days before mom died, our eldest daughter gave birth to our second grandbaby, and what happiness those little fingers and toes bring.

In the end, I know the storms are coming, they are always coming. As Scripture says, and my parent’s example taught, a life built on the rock of faith can endure anything, even death, and the suffering associated with memory loss.

That belief was running through my mind as I finished my mom’s remembrance with these words: “If we stay close to God, as mom did, we will meet again, and there will be great joy in Heaven.”

(McAvoy has been sharing his journey of dealing with memory loss with Register readers.)

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