A Mother's Dream

There is very little you can say to comfort a mother on the day she leaves her firstborn at college. I anticipated my mother’s tears but wasn’t prepared for how many. We weren’t even halfway down The Avenue and the waterworks came streaming down Mom’s face. I did my best to offer words of support exclaiming “Mom, it’s going to be ok; it’s Saint Mary’s! We love Saint Mary’s!”

“That’s just it,” she managed. “It was my dream when you were born that someday you’d come here.” I sat there stunned. That long-held hope had never been shared with me during the college search process.

“Good choice, Laur,” my dad said as he glanced at me through the rearview mirror. “Good thing you didn’t blow it.”

Growing up, I knew that Saint Mary’s was special. It was always so much more than just where my mom went to college. It was a place that drew her back almost every fall for football weekends and every five years for reunions. I still remember how excited she got when Reunion was still a year away — she practically had a countdown going. She’d touch base with fellow classmates and was overjoyed to hear they would be returning for the weekend. I couldn’t believe Mom had been friends with so many of her classmates.

“That’s how it was at Saint Mary’s,” she said. “You just wished you had time to become best friends with everyone.” Once I became a student, I understood.

Mom started as a freshman in 1974, whereas I began 31 years later in 2005. With that kind of gap between our first-year orientations, there were bound to be vast differences in our collegiate experiences. Mom shared awkward stories about panty raids that were pretty different from how I felt walking into the freshmen mixer known as Domerfest. Like Mom, my choir concerts were a big part of my college experience, but my all-women experience was much different from the co-ed Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame Collegiate Choir she traveled the country with. And Mom never got to study abroad, an experience that I still treasure today.

Despite our generation gap, I know that Saint Mary’s had the same impact on both of us — it changed who we were. I still reap the benefits of deep, sister-like friendships developed during those formative years, and Mom and I both felt the challenge and gained the courage to go out and find our place in the world.

Saint Mary’s inspired us all to be our best selves — which is why at my mother’s funeral, her closest friends of more than 40 years flew in from all over the country to be there for our family. Likewise, my best friends of nearly 15 years traveled in, despite having young children and high-pressure jobs, to honor an incredible Saint Mary’s woman.

That day, a familiar sound rang out that united all the alumnae in the room. Just six weeks earlier, The Bells of Saint Mary’s brought tears of joy to all of us at my wedding and now echoed throughout the church as we said goodbye to Mom for the last time.

My mom’s death has come as a shock to many, because most were unaware of the 13-year battle she fought so quietly and courageously. She embodied the strength of a Saint Mary’s alumna, determined to persevere until the very end. She never wanted to be “the woman who had cancer,” but she was fearless in the face of death. During her last year of life, her efforts to attend a trip with Saint Mary’s friends to celebrate their 60th birthdays and my wedding were extraordinary. Even in her moments of pain and suffering, Mom chose peace and joy. She often said, “You’ve gotta suck the joy out of life,” and she always did.

I sought The Avenue this past July just days after my mother’s funeral. This time, the tears came streaming down my face. I felt relief from my grief knowing I would always feel her spirit here, yet the heartbreak, too, that she would never again join me on our beloved road. It will always be our special place. The Avenue. The Belles. The one and only Saint Mary’s.

Article reprinted from Courier, Spring 2018. See other great articles or download full issues online at saintmarys.edu/courier.