Unshakeable Hope

hope anchor - image by Loyola Press

We all know people like the princess who couldn’t sleep because of a pea under her many mattresses. Mary Abrahamsohn was the opposite of that.

To me it seemed there were days when her glass had only a few drops in it, but she always saw it as almost full. She brought a hopeful attitude to every situation. When she died at 94, she had never conveyed the idea that her life was difficult, but it was. She loved the life she had, filled it with positivity, and used humor as a ministry to others.

The oldest of five, Mary weighed barely over three pounds at birth. Before incubators, nurses kept her in a shoebox to keep her warm. She was a miracle from the start.

I wish I had her unsinkable attitude. At 12, she insisted her siblings help her roller-skate downhill despite her suffering from a debilitating problem as an infant that left her disabled. Mary was unflappable through multiple surgeries, when she lost the ability to walk unassisted, when she transitioned to a walker, and when she finally accepted confinement to a wheelchair late in life.

It’s no exaggeration that Mary was always thrilled to see visitors, as if one were the most important person to her world. I pray to be more like her.

She taught her eight children never to worry with the unfailing message: “Trust in God.” When things were tough, and they often were, she’d say, “We’ll pray about that.” Mary never appeared to be under duress nor complained. Not through miscarriage. Not when her son died by suicide. Not when Al, her husband, battled depression. Not when a daughter came down with early onset Alzheimer’s in her mid-50s. Not when that daughter no longer knew her mom. Mary trusted God.

Once on my way into a doctor’s appointment, I found her waiting, smiling, in a parking lot for someone to help her get her walker out of the trunk. She’d been in that spot for 20 minutes. She didn’t mind. She trusted God would eventually send some Samaritan. I would’ve been pitching a fit.

In our faith-sharing group, Mary confided that frequent sleepless nights were an opportunity to pray multiple Rosaries for loved ones. After all, she smiled, God could give her more attention since everyone else was sleeping!

Life in low-income housing? No problem. Moved to assisted living? Mary found joy. “Al and I are out roller-skating,” her answering machine teased. In a letter she wrote, “Nowadays my life is extremely serene. I don’t have to cook, and I don’t have to clean. I don’t have to deal with a washing machine. I now live like a queen.”

When Al died, her unshakable hopeful attitude skipped a beat as a new vocation was imposed on her. And yet after that, she said to me, “Every day I see miracles.” She still could see out a window to cars passing. Everything caused her to marvel. She didn’t see challenges. She saw Incarnation.

Anyone battling some trial soon had an inspirational poem, prayer, and letter from Mary. It was her ministry. And she had many, including smiling in soup kitchens and sitting in a rocking chair at parish after-school care so kids like mine could crawl into her lap, pour out their troubles, and find comfort.

And oh, how she laughed off her shortcomings and those of others! She never took cruelty from others to heart.

I think of her late December death as one of Jesus’ birthday presents to himself. Her hopeful heart and indomitable spirit were gifts he accepted that year.

Mary taught me what Philippians 4:12–13 means:

I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Dear Queen Mary, as Al called you, I bet you’re roller-skating in heaven, still an inspiration to people here to be happy and trust God always.

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Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for writing about Mary. You have captured the beautiful story of Mary’s spirit and faith as I grew to know her over the years. Mary and Al’s story is an inspiration to all whose lives they touched.

  2. Roberta, yes… one’s spirit can live on through memories. Extremely grateful to you for capturing Mary’s Faith-filled presence on this earth!
    …and I was blessed to have known both Mary+Al💕

  3. Loretta, Thank you for wrapping up so many qualities of Mary in one bundle. I remember her at a Stephen’s Ministry retreat when my priest friend/moderator came from Iowa to lead us. He asked if there would be soup for dinner and she thought he said soap, so she brought a bar of soap to the dinner table for him. He never forgot what a beautiful couple Mary and Al were. I will forward your article to Msgr. Dean Walz, now retired at age 93.

  4. A beautiful tribute to Mary. What a lady! After we moved out of state, away from San Jose, we stayed in touch with Mary and Al until the days they passed away. They were both bountiful letter writers. We still pray for them. Thank you, Jesus, for Mary’s faith and life!

  5. Loretta, thank you for sharing this beautiful story. Mary was an inspiration to all who knew her. I will always remember her smile and her enthusiasm for life. There are many saints among us and Mary certainly was one. God bless you for sharing your memories of Mary.

  6. Thank you, Loretta, for sharing Mary and her faith and joy. You’ve reawakened lovely memories of moments shared with her and prayers prayed together. She lived and lived with so much joy and her smile and welcome lit up the room and my heart. 🙏❤️

  7. Loretta,
    Thank you for capturing the essence of my Grandma Mary through your beautiful words. My Grandma was definitely a very special person, an inspiration to many. If only we could all strive to be more like her as her heart was so much like the heart of Jesus. She is missed dearly but her legacy lives on through those that knew her.

  8. Mary was my mother and knowing her intimately I have always been aware of her love for people. She never cared to impress only to bless and she was a blessing to so many. Her Faith, her love of life, her concerned for others will be passed on to the next generation.

  9. Mary was a one-of-kind bundle of joy and hope. I will forever see her smile in my heart. Thank you, Loretta, for reminding us of the gift of joy and gratitude during difficult times.

  10. Dear Loretta, What a wonderful real-life story of hope, love and laughter in this world where many of us are complaining about missing out on cream and cheese. I would love to send it to my friends, but I am at a loss as to how to do it. God bless you, Loretta.

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