On a spring day about seven years ago, I was interviewing my friend Mary for my book Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. We sat in the living room of her bungalow-type home, which was filled with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in every imaginable place: painted on a cabinet, on a refrigerator magnet, on a decorative tile in the glassed-in hutch in the dining room.
Mary – I’ll refer to her as “my Mary,” to distinguish her from the Virgin Mary – explained to me her history with Our Lady of G, whom she’d loved ever since she was a child. Our Lady of G had been a huge comfort to my Mary during the uterine cancer she’d had several years before, a cancer which meant she could never have children of her own. Throughout that awful diagnosis and the recovery, throughout Mary’s subsequent engagement and wedding to her husband Tom, throughout the travels Mary adored and the teaching job she loved, Our Lady of G was there. “I feel like she’s always been watching out for me,” Mary told me on that day in 2006.
I’m not sure I paid much attention to Our Lady of G before knowing my friend Mary. Growing up in California, her image is ubiquitous, but I’d never felt much of a personal connection. And yet there was something in my Mary’s fervent love for her that made me take another look.
My Mary loved the earth tones of the skin of Our Lady of G. She loved how Our Lady of G spoke to the hearts of many people in the Central Valley farming community where Mary grew up. And through Mary’s eyes, I started to see something special in Our Lady of G, too: an earthiness, a real-ness. I liked that she looked at home in any context, both on a church altar and on a tattoo. I started to understand why people loved her.
Now she’s in my house, too. She’s in the center of the folk art cross that I bought at the Carmel Mission last year, and which I have hanging by my prayer desk.
She’s on a small desk clock that Scott found in a dime store in Chinatown. She’s on this T-shirt that I found at LA Congress, a shirt of which my Mary would heartily approve.
As it turns out, I wrote about Mary – my Mary – in my second book, too. She’s in the chapter about heaven. In 2010, her cancer came back, this time to her bile ducts. It ravaged her body, stole her strength, made it difficult for her to eat, and caused her great pain. This time, in spite of all efforts, it was terminal. It’s been a year and a half since she died, and there is no fancier way to say it than this: I miss her. I miss her so much and so often.
But this loss made Our Lady of G settle into an even deeper place in my heart, because the day that Mary died was December 12, 2011. December 12 is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There was – and there is – such a unique comfort in knowing that Mary’s struggles ended on that day of all days. I’m not normally given to flights of fancy, but it feels so natural to picture Our Lady wrapping Mary in her cloak and, after a lifetime of love, leading her to a place where she would suffer no more.
“I feel like she’s always been watching out for me,” Mary said in 2006. It’s bittersweet to read those words now, knowing what happened later. But at the same time, those words are truer than any of us could have predicted. And that is why I love Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The guest book table at Mary’s celebration of life