CathBlog - My mother's prayer list


Every night for the past few weeks I've been handwriting letters to my late mother, whose anniversary it is today (26 July). In them, I tell her about our family's life and how much she is loved and missed. 

Writing to someone who has been gone for 10 years may seem a strange thing to do but there is something about putting pen to paper and letting an uninterrupted flow of thoughts from your mind and heart be committed to paper. These letters are important because as her anniversary draws closer, they quell my ongoing grief and keep our relationship alive. 

The process confirmed how important our handwritten word is to others. Over the years I've developed a collection of penned letters and cards I've received and even scrap paper on which short notes have been written. 

They include the letters and postcards my parents sent when they travelled on their pilgrimages, short notes of random homespun philosophy (invariably using the word “integrity”) which my father would leave for me and, between the pages of my Bible, I keep one special one of my mother’s. 

It’s a yellowed shopping list in her curly script, written partly in English, partly Italian and some words formed in a strange hybrid. The list consists of: polvere per piatti (dishwashing powder) Jif (the cleaning product), miele (honey) salcicce (sausages) and the phonetic ‘sosich’ rolls. 

Every time I read the last entry on the list, the tears come. There is something exquisitely tender about her commitment to make the best she could of the English language (the last of three languages she learned to speak, read and write). But for me, the real gift of that paper fragment is that keeps me linked with her and what was her everyday life. The list reminds me of the essence of her and that connection goes bridges the gap between the time of her being here and her painful absence.

Mum was a great list keeper. Her best was her prayer list which took up to three hours to get through. Even when she was terminally ill, she stuck to it every night. 

With her typically organised mind, she kept the list divided up — those who were in need and those for whom she had to thank God for his blessing. She added people to it with great regularity. Sometimes she would ask me if friends had found an answer to their problem because she needed space on her “active” list and wanted to move some to the “thank you” list. For her, that list formed one of her many connections to God, with whom she was in steady conversation. I wish I had that prayer list now. 

Not unexpectedly, communication technology has overtaken the art of the handwritten letter. While there is much to be said for the convenience and immediacy of emails or SMS messages, they don’t have the same elements of thoughtful relationship that comes with putting pen to paper. 

Handwriting takes a different sort of effort and attention. It says I care enough about your needs to take time to give you this one-of-a-kind message. It leaves a part of us on the paper from which another can benefit. 

I'm a writer of simple thought and I often wonder how great writers approach their letter writing. How did St Paul do it? In my mind’s eye I envision him thinking about what he needed to say, committing his message to the page, probably never imagining then the extent of the readership his letters would gather, the length of time they would last or the debates they would engender. At the end of it all, his words can still connect us back to those early days of the church and again join us in a commonality which transcends time and distance.  

I’d like to see a renaissance of handwritten letters and lists and I'm trying to play my small part. At the moment I'm working on a gratitude list to remind myself of all that is good in my life and the ways in which I've been blessed. Tonight I will write my mother another letter. I’ll thank her for teaching me the value of letters and lists and, if I had Heaven’s postcode, I’d mail the letter immediately. 

Lucia NardoLucia Nardo is a Melbourne-based writer who teaches Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University. Flickr Creative Commons image.

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