I'm proud to dedicate this blog to my beautiful Mama, Phyllis Landrieu. I hope to have a fraction of your grace and courage some day. Happy Mother's Day! I love you!!!
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother. John 19:25
“My Mama’s given me big shoes to stand in,” I have frequently been heard to say. And it’s true. My mother is one of the smartest, most gifted, hard-working and energetic women I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and loving. And did I mention that she’s beautiful? At eighty-one, she’s lovely, elegant and graceful. See for yourself.
But the thing I appreciate most about my Mama is that she’s taught me to stand strong in the face of suffering. She’s demonstrated in living color how to let love make suffering pregnant with life, and how to permit intense pain to bear great fruit. She’s shown me how to stand—yes, stand at the foot of the Cross—offering bitter tears and the sacrifice of a sword-pierced heart for the good of other souls. Reflecting on my Mama, I can’t help but think of the Blessed Mother, who gave us the first big shoes to stand in. And like my earthly mother, stand she did, even as her heart was breaking.
When my mother faced the shattering suicide of my thirty-five year old brother, Scott, sixteen years ago, she had a choice to make. She could turn in on her grief—focus on her sorrow and let it consume her—or she could let her suffering become a conduit of blessing for others. She chose to found a task force in Scott’s name, training school teachers to recognize and respond to the signs of sexual abuse in children. It was not until my late husband, Bernie, died that Mama shared with me a private letter she’d written to him upon the death of his own son, Marshall. Her powerful words encouraged Bernie not to let his grief defeat him, but to use it instead as an impetus to help others. She wrote:
At first after Scott’s death, I wanted to remove myself from all of my activities, pull down into the lonely darkness...just sit and hold my pain. But the abused children kept calling me and I found an opportunity out of the darkness by working to open the Children’s Advocacy Center. I did it in Scott’s name and there is a picture of Scott on the wall…If I could relieve some child’s suffering, I could relieve some of Scott’s suffering, and mine…There are so many suffering, just as I am, with pain and disappointment. In helping them, I am helping myself...They dim my pain, and I am rejoicing that Scott is in some way helping them also.
Nine years after Scott’s death, Mama faced the unimaginable. She faced the loss of another child to suicide; this time it was her second born son, Stephen. If anyone ever had a right to close the blinds, turn off the lights and call it quits, it was my Mama. Instead, she chose to found an educational center in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of New Orleans designed not only to educate poor children, but also to provide comprehensive healthcare for them, as many poor children have never been to a doctor or a dentist in their lives. Though Mama has faced numerous personal and health challenges in recent years, including recuperating from a brain injury caused by a fall and caring for my Parkinson’s stricken Dad, she passionately presses on to help “the children,” for whom she fervently believes we all bear a responsibility.
Yes, my Mama has given me big shoes to stand in, but mostly, she’s taught me to stand. To stand upright when life goes face down, to stand steady when the rug is pulled out from under your feet, to stand, and keep standing, when all you really want to do is crumble to the ground in a heap. She’s shown all of us, with incredible courage and grace, how to walk forward in the face of inconceivable adversity. She walks forward with her face set like flint, carrying in her heart the sacrifice of her grief—a sacrifice that may just give a poor, needy kid a chance at life.
Now those are some shoes worth wearing.