Saint Mary

This is a major religious holiday. August 15 is the Ascension of Mary.

Which might not mean much to you if you were raised Deepwater Baptist like me and thereby prohibited from keeping NyQuil in the house. But this holy day is a big deal for other denominations.

It’s the Feast of the Assumption. La Asunción de Santa Maria. The day Saint Mary’s body was lifted into heaven. It is the day of the year when many churches have giant potlucks and big to-dos.

It is also the day my mother-in-law died.

My mother-in-law happened to be named Mary. She was the quintessential mother of her family. The matriarch of her clan. We called her Mother Mary.

I was the one who began calling her by the nickname “Mother Mary.” I’m big on nicknames. I come from a long line of horse thieves and used car salesmen who gave everyone nicknames.

My cousin, for example, was nicknamed “Tater Log.” One of my uncles is named “Sugar Boo.” Another of my cousins—who is now a Primitive Baptist minister and about as fun as elective surgery—is named “Doublewide.”

My aunts have a wide variety of nicknames, too. There was Aunt “Muffin,” Aunt “Shortie,” Aunt “Puddin’” and we affectionately call my Aunt Eulah “Joseph Stalin.”

So it just felt right calling my mother-in-law “Mother” Mary.

What I liked about the nickname most of all were the slightly religious overtones. It was a moniker that conveyed piety. Sanctity. Fervor. Holiness.

Which is why we sometimes also called Mary “Blessed Mother,” or “Mother of Sorrows,” “Our Lady of Perpetual Yard Work.”

It was especially fun whenever my mother-in-law had Catholics over to the house. They didn’t know what to think of her irreverent nickname. Often, one of us would yell out: “Would someone get the Blessed Mother some more bourbon and Coke?”

When someone would refresh Mary’s drink, Mother Mary would always smile and say with scriptural-like seriousness, “My cup runneth over.”

But those times are gone now. Life changes. People come and go like leaves on trees.

Last year Mother Mary went to her eternal home. And her death was a long, arduous process. I still remember when hospice was called, they told us it would be any day now. But it wasn’t.

Mother Mary held on for days. For weeks. For months. There was one moment when we all gathered around the deathbed and seriously thought she was going to pass. Everyone was weeping. Come to find out, she was just having a particularly bad urinary tract infection.

She kept hanging on. Day after day. Week after week. Finally, after she was no longer able to eat or drink we thought it was only a matter of time.

We were wrong again. She went whole days—“days” with an S—without water. Even the hospice nurses didn’t understand how she was still living.

We tried to help her into the great beyond. People told us to what she needed was permission to depart. So we gave it to her.

Everyone in her family took turns parading by her bedside, giving her permission. We practically pleaded with her to leave her suffering. But she wouldn’t. She just wouldn’t die.

Others told us that it might be that she had unfinished business. But I don’t think it was that, either.

None of us could figure out why she was holding on for so long.

So nothing made sense. It was mid-August. Her chest kept rising and falling. Her body kept withering. A little more every day. Like a plant someone forgot to water. But she kept on breathing.

Then one afternoon, it finally happened. My wife and I were beside her. I was holding Mother Mary’s hand.

Mary’s breathing slowed. Then she stopped breathing altogether. Then, just when you thought she was gone, she’d start breathing again with a gasp.


Then the dying process would start all over again. And eventually, after hours of these false alarms, she died. My hand was still clasping hers. I felt her muscles slacken. I felt her whole body go soft.

And all the ceremonies that follow death occurred. I tied a pillowcase around her jaw to keep her mouth closed. The funeral home was called. The house became somber and cold.

Later, when I told one of my friends, an Episcopalian, that Mother Mary had died, he said, “You’re kidding me. She actually died today? Do you know what today is?”

He seemed shocked. I asked why he was so surprised.

“Because today is a holiday,” he said. “A major religious holiday. It’s the Ascension of Mary.”

“The what?”

“This is the day,” he explained, “that Saint Mary gave up the ghost, shed her mortal coil, and was lifted into the heavens to be with the Lord, forever and ever.”

Well, my cup ranneth over.


  1. Ed (Bear) - August 15, 2022 6:48 am

    Scoffers and unbelievers would say coincidence. Sounds to me like “Mother Mary” had a message to send.

  2. Babs - August 15, 2022 6:55 am

    She indeed was waiting for that special day

  3. Maria Mullins - August 15, 2022 7:45 am

    Very interesting! As a Catholic I had to chuckle at you!

    • Lynn B - August 15, 2022 11:49 am

      Your writing about Mother Mary’s death was the gift God sent to me last year. My mom died on August 20th in exactly the same way. It was grueling watching her suffer. A little later, I was trying to sort out all the complications of my feelings, when someone posted one of your Lake Martin pieces on our LM FB page. I instantly loved you and started reading your columns. All your pieces on your mother-in-law helped me understand some of my own feelings and how to mourn someone who could be SO wonderful and also such a hurtful pain in the butt to this freckled redhead. I am so very thankful God sent you to me. It was no ‘coincidence’ we were both mourning at the same time.

  4. Leigh Amiot - August 15, 2022 9:58 am

    “Our Lady of Perpetual Yard Work”—that is funny!
    I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the first year of “withouts” after a loss of someone so close is the toughest—the first birthday without, the first Mother’s Day without, the first Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays without…
    I just hope your Aunt Joseph Stalin is resting in peace! 😂

  5. Steve McCaleb - August 15, 2022 10:36 am

    You are one unique writer. I’m pretty durn sure I just read the only the only article in the history of journalism where Murderin’ Joe Stalin was mentioned and something “rannith” over in the same paragraph. I love it. Don’t ever change…..please

  6. Lander - August 15, 2022 11:12 am

    Fred Buechner, one of my favorite writer and someone with whom you have a lot in common, including the loss of a father as a kid, said something like coincidence is maybe a way of being reminded you are in the right place at the right time, you are not forgotten. And with this coincidence, maybe it’s a little sign of God’s humor. Mother Mary’s cup really doth runneth over.

  7. Chasity Davis Ritter - August 15, 2022 11:18 am

    Oh Sean….. of course she wanted it to be a holiday in her honor. I always look forward to your emails but I remember last august. Anxiously opening each one wondering if today was the day. My preacher brother Greg had been in the hospital ICU at the same time. And I thought maybe they would go together but no he went in home and mother Mary Stayed. My best friends dad was on hospice and coming to the end. Would they be going together too? No he went home as well and yet mother Mary was still here. And even my daughter in law lost her Dad (unexpectedly) and mother Mary outlasted them all. But now we know why. Now we have the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to say. She waited for HER holiday. (But even without it she would never have been forgotten). Love to Jamie and You. I know it still hurts even if you can smile now.

  8. Sandy Costello - August 15, 2022 11:35 am

    Hi Sean. This is the feast of the ASSUMPTION of Mary. Jesus ascended and Mary was assumed into heaven. Early church history shows that there was no body after Mary died, and some believe Jesus came and got her before she passed away.

  9. Trent - August 15, 2022 11:53 am

    Bless her heart…

  10. Cate Buckler - August 15, 2022 12:02 pm

    Sounds a bit like my mother wo died on February 1st of this year. She was 106. Two years ago she had not eaten nor had anything to drink for a week and our dooctor called in Hospice. At one point we gave her the last rites. (She was Catholic and her birthday is August 15.) We too thought she wanted permission and we all gathered around her bed and said it was ok to go. Her very weak response was “Go? Go where?” It is ok to die we said. “Die? Who the hell wants to die?” She remained that way for 3 weeks. Then one day got up and dressed herself and stated she was hungry. The following year, almost to the day, she slept again for 2 weeks. No Hospice this time. Then this year she did it again for one week and we did call in Hospice. They came, took her vitals, gathered all the intake information and went to check on her before leaving and she was gone. Just like that.

    • David Britnell - August 15, 2022 1:39 pm

      Dang it Sean, everyday you bring out every emotion I have! Thanks again for your blog!

  11. 1018le - August 15, 2022 12:08 pm

    I enjoy the nicknames! Mine was Half-pint because I am now 4 ft. 7 in. tall! (Not a child, either!). Anyway, I am not Catholic but my work with Hospice for 14 yrs. made me very aware of how. the rituals helped folks get through the end of their lives. I know what you mean when you said that Mary would not die. I have often thought that the harder a person fought to live, they would also do so, to die. But that is not a given. It is all in God’s timing, not ours. Just think, one day, time will not even exist! That’s something to think about! 🙂

  12. AL - August 15, 2022 1:07 pm

    My daughter and I deliver Meals On Wheels every Friday. Over the years we have made many friends and lost many friends. One of our friends lived in a broken down trailer but became so special to us. He was old, still smoked, could only get around with a walker but he’d wait for us each Friday outside with his walker. He was slowly dying as the weeks went by. I called hospice and they came. On one Friday he was unresponsive and the hospice nurse said he had entered the dying process. Even though hospice was there, I decided to stay. He knew me so I didn’t want him to die without a friend with him. So we wait. The hours went by. It became late at night and the hospice nurses changed. And we wait. He was still breathing. The nurse said she would be there all night so I decided to go home for awhile. I came back the next morning. Thought for sure he would have passed. My friend was sitting on the edge of his bed eating a bowl of cheerio’s. He was moved to a hospice facility and passed peacefully a few days later. God’s timing.

  13. Kevin - August 15, 2022 1:12 pm

    I have to stop reading your posts at work. People are always coming over and asking me if I’m okay, they thought they heard me sobbing.

  14. Lauri Reeg - August 15, 2022 1:17 pm

    Lovely, funny memorial to your MIL!

  15. Ann King - August 15, 2022 1:56 pm

    Sean, I’m Catholic and want you to know how much I was moved by this story. May Mother Mary Rest In Peace!

  16. Anne Arthur - August 15, 2022 2:47 pm

    Indeed, today is a great feast day for us Catholics. The Assumption of Mary is always celebrated with lots of joy.

    Btw., it’s Mary’s ASSUMPTION, she was assumed, which means she was taken body and soul to heaven to live with her Son. On the other hand, the Ascension is unique to Jesus, who is the only one to have the power and privilege to ascend by his own will to heaven.

    For your lovely Mother Mary being granted passing on this feast day is an honor. Rejoice, she must be greatly loved by God.
    Thanks for honoring her in your writing and sharing your life with us.

  17. nancy - August 15, 2022 3:08 pm

    oh my. i like it.

  18. Charles Clendennen - August 15, 2022 3:30 pm

    I always enjoy your words, and THANK YOU for spelling “psych” correctly! BTW, I’ve done a lot of work in hospice, and you described it perfectly. Thanks again.

  19. Patricia Gibson - August 15, 2022 3:46 pm

    An amazing story of a dear lady.

  20. Bob Hughes - August 15, 2022 5:04 pm

    Sean, you may want to visit Arnaudville, LA where my wife was born & raised, for their honoring of fete-Dieu du Teche today.
    We enjoy your posts.

  21. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 15, 2022 6:23 pm


  22. Teresa Harrison - August 15, 2022 7:20 pm

    The day that the Marys fell asleep in the Lord. Beautiful! Thank you

  23. Gayle Wilson - August 15, 2022 7:29 pm

    What a lovely remembrance to Mother Mary. And as much as you had your good humor in the remembrance, I’m sure that this is a hard time for you and Jamie. You don’t care for someone, like you and Jamie did for Mother Mary, and not feel the vacancy of their departure for many years. Sending hugs and prayers to you and Jamie.

  24. maxnayagus - August 15, 2022 8:43 pm

    Love to you and blessings forever for loving and caring for Mother Mary, now living in glory. What a lovely anniversary memorial. xo

  25. Rebecca Souders - August 15, 2022 9:31 pm

    Nice, Sean. Mother Mary is smiling, I’m sure.

  26. linda - August 15, 2022 9:39 pm

    I was thinking about Mother Mary just the other day and the journey you took us on with her last year. My cup ranneth while I was reading about Saint Mary here just now, and I wish I had met Jamie’s mother. I think we would’ve laughed a lot together.

  27. Deacon Nick - August 15, 2022 9:55 pm

    As a Catholic, the key to this feast is that our Blessed Mother, Mary, was Assumed (taken) into Heaven, body and soul. Since Mary was a sinless soul — by a singular grace of Jesus she was born without sin — and lived without sinning while here on earth, her body was not subject to the curse of bodily death. This is why we call Mary the Ark of the New Covenant, since Jesus became flesh in her womb. And if you will research microchemerism, you will find that a microscopic part of Our Lord Jesus’ cells (which are eternal and cannot be destroyed) are in our Mother Mary.

  28. MAM - August 15, 2022 10:06 pm

    What a beautiful (and entertaining) tribute to your Mother Mary, as we Catholics celebrate our Mother Mary’s assumption into heaven. I send prayers for you and Jamie to yes, still mourn, but understand that Mother Mary is where she wanted to be. Thank you, Sean, for your daily messages that always attack our emotions, whether crying or laughing (or both on the same day!).

  29. suzi - August 15, 2022 11:04 pm


  30. Betty - August 15, 2022 11:42 pm

    Today is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary not the Ascension. Major difference. Look it up.

  31. Larry R. Terry - August 16, 2022 3:56 am

    Thank you, yet again, for distracting me from myself, with a blessing.

  32. Sharon on Southside - August 16, 2022 2:13 pm

    Sean- love your stories everyday. My mother, too, was Mary. She passed in a way similar to your Mother Mary. Days with no eating or drinking. But, always a smile on her face. She waited until Father’s Day that year, to be with my Dad. His name was Joseph.

  33. Anne Godwin - August 16, 2022 2:41 pm

    With such great love comes great sorrow at their passing. Being with someone as they pass from this life to the next is a sacred experience.

    When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be…

    Thank you for continuing to write the good news.

  34. Fred Frederick - August 17, 2022 2:30 pm

    Somehow they just know.
    My father-in-law, who was in his 80’s and had more than one heart attack, lung cancer removed with surgery, gall bladder removed from surgery, had COPD, but still managed to keep moving and working. He loved the Kentucky Derby and hosted many large parties complete with betting windows in his younger days. I guess it was only right that he would pass on Derby Day.

  35. Darlene Humphries - August 18, 2022 2:21 pm


  36. Susan - August 18, 2022 2:57 pm

    Sean, thank you so much for sharing. I went through some of the same experiences when my Mom died from lung cancer and my Dad from pancreatic cancer (who knew someone could live so long with eating or drinking?). I do not have the ability to put things in writing like you do and I just want you to know how much it helps after all this time – 25 and 21 years ago respectively. Please know that you, your wife, and your family are in my prayers. Those anniversary dates are hard…


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