Editor’s Note: Secular Franciscan, Denise Clare, participated in a short-term mission awareness trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia with FMS. Denise reflects on how love has bloomed through the passing of Mother.

There were no flowers in bloom on that bitterly cold gray morning, the last day of November and the First Sunday of Advent. I did not make it to Mass that morning to see the lighting of the first candle in the Advent wreath. Instead, I, along with my sister, accompanied Dad to the funeral home to make the arrangements for Mom’s funeral.

Mom died on the last day of the liturgical year and – as I would later learn – on the Feast of All Saints of the Seraphic (i.e., Franciscan)Order. She would have appreciated that. You see, Mom had a special devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. While Mom was alive, all I knew about St. Francis was that pets were blessed on his feast day. In the years since her death, Mom has encouraged me to look beyond the birdbath saint and to get to know St. Francis as an alter Christus – another Christ.

I haven’t had many dreams about Mom since she’s been gone. But one morning, when I knew that I was dreaming, Mom visited me. I asked her for some words of advice, and she replied, “Learn what you can.” In her memory, I am motivated to do just that!

Mom has since inspired me to study the life and spirituality of St. Francis, primarily through my initial formation in the Secular Franciscan Order, into which I have recently been welcomed as a candidate. To deepen my understanding of Franciscan spirituality, I have also immersed myself in Franciscan retreats, pilgrimages, and solitude experiences – and even a short-term mission awareness trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia this past summer with FMS! It comforts me to think that Mom is with me in spirit on these travels and wishing me peace and all good.

Last year, on the evening before the third anniversary of Mom’s passing from this world, Dad and I went out to dinner. Back at his house, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life, and both of us shed a few tears at the end when Clarence finally got his wings. So that I could accompany Dad to Mass the next morning, I spent the night in the guest bedroom, which Mom had painstakingly decorated so many years before.

In the morning, I showed Dad two books about St. Francis that I had found on the night stand in the guest bedroom. Nervously, I asked, “Can I have these?” and Dad assented. Once upon a Christmas past, I had given these books to Mom, and now it seemed that she was lovingly returning them to me to help guide me on my Franciscan journey. Love is the gift that keeps on giving.

In Chapter 8 of Song of Songs, we read, “For Love is as strong as Death…” Even after death, love blooms, just like Fioretti di San Francesco d’Assisi (Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi), one of the books that Mom gave me on a cold winter’s day three years after she went home to God.

Reflection: How do you and your departed loved ones continue to show your love for each other?