Mother. My mouth shaped the word soundlessly as I approached this grave from the eastern side of the burial ground at St. John’s Church. It intrigued me that this word stood alone on one of the surfaces of the grave in bold. Facing the direction of the rising sun, these letters are consistently first to see the light of day. As dawn breaks into morning, the world knows the woman buried in this spot as “Mother.” As I ambled around the grave, I began to think that she had no other identification on the grave, and this was the only way this woman wished to be remembered. However, I rounded the last corner, finally coming upon an inscription: “Mary Relict of Florence Downey, Born at Moville, CO, Donegal, Ireland. Aug. 8 1789 – Died July 29, 1880.” Mary Relict of Florence Downey was my mystery mother. I had mixed feelings as I repeated her identifier again and again in my mind. At first, I felt a warmth, knowing that her most descriptive word associates with taking care of others. I thought of my own mom. I thought of protection. The simple grave does not give us any more information about her family, but I imagine she probably had many children. Or, seeing as another prominent aspect of the memorial is a cross, this could relate to the Mother in a religious sense. As she was of Irish descent, one could possibly surmise that she was Catholic- a religion that places large influence on Mother Mary. Either way, she must have led a fulfilled life to want to be remembered as “Mother.” Then the warm feeling began to fade as a result of her word choice. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, women generally did not have equal rights as men. Inscriptions and epitaphs essentially are the last thing a person is connected with in the earthly world. Mary, although she could have been brilliantly intelligent, was forever doomed to be attached to the word “mother.” She could never be known as anything more because she was a woman, and mothering was her primary duty. What came off originally as a sweet word ended up leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
In all, this grave struck me as unusual and attractive. The large cross, in a burial ground where religious symbols appeared infrequently, made me arrive at the conclusion that Mary held religion as a high priority. The top of the gravestone itself showed a scroll. It is possible that we can see the end of the scroll because it marks the end of her life on Earth. The shamrocks beautifully symbolize Mary’s country of origin. Although fairly simple, this gravestone holds a lot of meaning. Walking away from Mother, I felt that my time spent at her grave gave me insight to her life in ways that other stones did not.