My Mother’s Suscipe

elderly woman walking

My mother, Rosemary Mulligan McCann, was a brilliant woman, and it was particularly hard for us to watch as Alzheimer’s seeped her brilliance from her.

When St. Ignatius encourages us to be detached or indifferent to an outcome or a decision, he knows detachment leads to a freedom which will bring us closer to God. When I think of that kind of freeing detachment, I often think of my mother’s last years.

Over those difficult nine years, she did not complain. At first she could no longer drive a car; later she no longer chose what clothes were put on her in the mornings. Losing those abilities was not her choice, but she was not bitter about her losses.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

For all that she had to give up, she was gracious, introducing us proudly as her daughters, often several times during the same meal. After a while, she introduced us warmly as her beloved sisters.

She joined the choir at her care center because she loved to sing, but after some months she had to quit because she was unable to learn new songs.

The burden of this terrible disease was to live each day not always comprehending where she was. “Is this my room?” she would ask over and over. “Whose room is this?” she wondered, looking around.

…my memory, my understanding,

It was not her choice: she was forced to practice detachment every day, letting go of her awareness of the world around her. Her fascination with politics and her love of entertaining were gone. Her five children watched as she relinquished her family roles as grandmother and then mother because she no longer remembered who our children were. Then, she no longer remembered us.

…and my entire will,

She gave up talking with her oldest friends, unable to carry on a conversation or use the phone.

…All I have and call my own.

When I visited, she would be thrilled to see me, joyful when I walked in the room. If I left for a minute and returned, she would give the same delighted response, elated that I had come to visit her, unaware I had been with her for two days.

You have given all to me.

She had a devout faith life, and prayers kneeling at the side of her bed had been a lifelong nightly habit. When she no longer knew what year it was or what city she lived in, she still had an innate sense when Sunday morning came around, and she was determined to get to Mass. Once she slipped out of her care center and was found walking the nearest highway, looking for a church.

To you, Lord, I return it.

She was polite and grateful to those who fed her and those who came into her room to care for her. They, in turn, loved her spirit and her continuing puns, even though she could not remember their names.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

When she was in the later stages of her illness, she no longer spoke much. But we could connect with her through music and through prayers. She knew the songs of her childhood and could recognize the operas she used to listen to with her father.

I could pray the Rosary for her and sometimes prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries for her, telling her how Jesus was suffering with her and loving her. Occasionally, her mouth would move in repetition as I prayed the words.

Give me only your love and your grace,

My mother set an example for me of God’s love and care in the midst of confusion and fear. She had been unwillingly detached from her intelligence, her relationships, and so many things that had made her earlier life a vibrant one. She allowed God to hold her close, wordlessly, when she didn’t understand anything that was going on in her life.

When I look at my own life, I see a constant and unreflective need to complete my to-do list and show off my accomplishments, senselessly trying to prove my worth to the God who loves me endlessly. My need for control in my own life and my unfounded idea that I have to earn my way to salvation is so different from my mother’s example. I am beloved by God simply in being and not doing.

I have so much to learn, and it is all there in front of me, in my mother’s example of detachment.

…that is enough for me.


The prayer woven throughout this piece is the Suscipe of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Today in 31 Days with St. Ignatius, think about Praying Our Stories.

About Maureen McCann Waldron 41 Articles
Maureen McCann Waldron graduated from Creighton University with a degree in journalism and then spent 22 years in corporate public relations. After receiving her master’s degree in Christian spirituality from Creighton, she joined Andy Alexander, SJ, in Creighton’s Collaborative Ministry Office.

20 Comments on My Mother’s Suscipe

  1. Thanks Maureen for this
    It brought to mind my mother’s own journey with dementia and her underlying faith
    It will also be of help in my work with the frail elderly.

  2. I am beloved by God simply by “being” . Those words and your mum’s story touched me deeply. My mum was devout and stoic and we were blessed that her faculties and caring for our well being remained until the end of her life. Even when Mum was diagnosed with cancer she did’nt want to discuss it but said ” I am in God’s hands now”. I miss her.

  3. What a beautiful way to look at one declining with Alzheimer. How could one look at Alzheimer in a negative way after reading this way of reciting the Suscipe in relation to the illness. This should be available to more people and families struggling with accepting a member with such a devastating illness.

  4. The writing is so beautiful, and the spirit behind the words is so warm. Thank you for sharing and for providing another beautiful example of what it looks like when we are able to “find God in all things.” Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

  5. I’ve struggled to understand the suscipe… why a loving God would want me to give up all autonomy… suddenly this post gives me a whole new understanding. I’m not giving up autonomy – I’m simply giving up the fantasy that I can control the future.
    And I love the idea that by practising detachment now, I’m preparing for a gracious end to my life if that final part of the journey involves illness and incapacity.
    thank you so much. It’s also finally convinced me that I can stop being uber-busy in order to prove my own self-worth. I’m loved because I am, not because I act.

  6. Maureen, so beautifully written. Heartfelt gratitude for your mother’s journey…and the lessons she shared through you. Thank you!

  7. Thanks so much Maureen for sharing your story. It is beautifully written and it moves me deeply as I remember my mother in her last year. “Detachment” is the take away message. No worries about the long to-do list. Just God’s love and grace, that’s enough for me.

  8. Thank you for this beautiful meditation on such a difficult disease. I will hold your insights in my heart as I visit a friend who is traveling the same sorrowful path as your mother.

  9. @Maureen-Thank you for your warm illustration of the Suscipe, which you have shared with us. You have shared with us what it’s like to live out the Suscipe, even though I’m sure it was very difficult for you all at the time.

  10. Maureen,
    You continue to amaze and inspire me with all that is good and gracious in a person.
    You are every bit your mother.

  11. I found this reflection so powerful because it exemplified my mother’s last year when she struggled with the effects of two hip surgeries, severe emphysema and the beginning of Parkinson’s. She had been so independent and now she had to depend on others for the most basic things. She accepted all with such humility and grace that it seemed as if it was planned. She would ask my brother and me how we wanted to do things, never telling us how she wanted things done. How I miss her.

  12. Oh, Maureen! Such a beautiful tribute to your mother with the words of my favorite prayer.
    Wish I could have known her…

  13. Thank you for this! I have worked with the elderly for 10 years, lost 3 parents and my father has dementia. This reflection captures the spiritual lessons I have seen lived and learned by many and I am trying to learn! It makes it less scary for me to think of what is possibly to come.

  14. Maureen, I recently lost a sister-in-law, Rosie, to Alzheimer’s. Nikki has mentioned that whenever she sings “Take Lord, Receive,” she thinks of Rosie. Such a beautiful song and prayer!!! Thank you for sharing. All of us can learn from your experience and faith-filled insight.

  15. This article gave me the perspective I need as I care for my husband who is losing his sense of the past because of widening dementia. Reading of your mother’s example helps me see my husband and his losses with fresh eyes. Thank you.

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