Last updated on December 5, 2020
Those warm mid to end of February days were tough. Darren and I were travelling to Ottawa; he, to catch a flight to Vancouver to see family, and both of us to skate the world’s longest rink, the Rideau canal.
Temperatures, though, well above freezing, drowned that dream in a deep pool of melting ice. They closed the canal.
I headed home after Darren’s flight knowing that God is good, especially when the cross of February warmth is upon us. He has plans, great ones, unexpected, and sometimes playful ones, so getting discouraged is never good.
I knew what was on the way. A flood! The rain came, and wow, it fell. Once He determines the right amount of water, He sends the mercury dropping, yielding glassy, glowing, gorgeous ice. It’s hockey time. But only when it’s His time; I had a sense it was His time.
This year’s flood fell on the anniversary of my mother’s death one year ago, Feb 24, 2017. Time in prayer, thanksgiving, Mass, and a visit to Mom’s gravesite gathered my thoughts around God’s incredible presence when he brought her home a year ago.
Monday, Feb 21, was clear and sunny in 2017. Unaware that Mom was about to spend her last four days on earth, I wanted to take her for a winter walk. A sun-bathed section of road across from her home on Papineau Lake exposed the gravel surface, providing sure footing for her at 92. Surprisingly she didn’t use her cane, making it halfway up the steep incline to catch a view of the snow-covered lake.
Filled with excitement, she called my sisters that night to share her joy. I had a profound awareness of our Lord’s care of her that day, but it didn’t give me even a hint that three days later, she would be with Him. Quite the opposite. She could live to be a hundred, I thought. It was our last walk together. And He provided that gift.
One Year Later
I was alone this year, 2018, on that same stretch of lakeside road, remembering, thankful, and sensing Christ’s presence again, unaware of what He was orchestrating.
The silence embraced me. No snow-covered lake this year. Instead, beautiful, luscious ice spread from shoreline to shoreline, calling me, inviting me into the next stage of remembering my mother.
Excitement In My Veins
I returned to that spot the next day, with my skates and stick. With excitement in my veins, I fastened the skates, grabbed the hockey stick, and with my right leg drove the cold edge of steel into shiny lake ice, launching me into a dream. Every stride, every turn, every pivot, was silk; every sound of the puck hitting the blade of my stick seemed to echo through the hills into eternity as I praised God and His Mother in joyful thanks.
Long distances disappear when I’m skating, with each stride sending small ice chips into the air. How bizarre to have immediate, tangible recall of being in a kayak months ago on the same stretch of shoreline with paddle blades pulling dark, clear water.
This is Ontario, real, yet impossible to create from any clever planning. This is God’s own doing. He loves to play with and in His Creation; He loves to join us in the magnificent ability to play that He alone has given us. He skates and handles the puck in me while the pines praise Him.
The afternoon closed with a last look at an ice-covered cove where my skate blades carved beautiful arks for the stars of the gathering night. Returning to the car, I suddenly became aware of an extraordinary gift, the mysterious way Christ with His Mother was shaping this anniversary of my mother going home.
A Hockey Pilgrimage
The next day I brought my Magnificat. From here, this was a hockey pilgrimage of entering into the profound winter beauty, silence, and solitude, directing it toward God through prayer and hockey, all the while recalling how He entered my mother’s last days with me at her side.
I skated further down the lake, stopping at different spots to read a hymn, a psalm, a reading for the day’s Mass. Each spot, with its unique shoreline trait, provided a place to rest and pray.
The silence, cold, and outdoor splendour, helped lift my heart to marvel at the infinite mystery of God. I sensed a profound significance in all that was happening, along with a wish to know what and why.
While it was a non-mystery to experience the joy of skating on a lake, there was more, always more in whatever I do. I was on the threshold of understanding that more.
This outing had me exploring the south end of the lake with an eye to a beautiful Island holding tall red and white pines. This island has been a destination for my family when we were kids, when I was a young adult, with my wife and kids, and now on skates the year after my mother’s death.
My parents bought a cottage on this lake, Papineau, in the 60s, then moved here in ’79, two years after my father died from cancer at 51.
The sun’s warmth welcomed and soothed me as I glided my way in and out of the shoreline bays, making my way to open ice that joined the mainland to the island. I made my way to a raft anchored on a small sandy shore.
The sun gently pushed me back, easing me down on the raft. A gentle peace surrounded me as I took my rosary and prayed the hymn for the day. I soon felt an overwhelming sense of my mother’s presence, her involvement in this.
Remembering her in prayer, at Mass, at her gravesite, and on the road we walked, all flowed together. I became aware of her giving this glassy lake to me as a gift, a way of saying thanks. I had always known that it was God’s gift through His Mother, but how could this be, I wondered. I asked Jesus plainly, “Lord, can my mother intercede, have a part? Is this possible? To the extent, I’m experiencing now? Lord Jesus, I know the saints intercede for us, but…”
I rested in God’s trademark silence, not a silence of his absence, but one in which I experienced a yes, a deep clear yes.
It was the first time the ice remained for more than a week. Usually, it lasts a day or two. What an extraordinary gift, beyond what I imagined back in Ottawa. And that He placed it within the first anniversary of her death had me in awe. St. Paul came sweeping into my thoughts: “God now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.” (Eph 3: 20-21)
I looked back on the time she gave me my first pair of skates for Christmas. She and I loved hockey, watched Hockey Night In Canada every week with my Dad; we shared a passion for the game.
I know she was praying for me then as this simple gift of skates defined my person and friendships over the years. God nurtured it, and I came to know Him through it. I sat resting in the sun, overwhelmed at the mystery of heaven and earth, of saints and angels, of life and death, and Christ’s death to bring my mother to the fullness of life.
Her body gave me life; 65 years later I held her hand as she moved closer and closer to the Father’s hand at 92, having received the Holy Eucharist in the site of angels.
I wiped the tears, prayed a Psalm, closed the Magnificat, and skated away toward the shore where I left the car. Long, flowin strides, stickhandling around air pockets and the odd ridge of snow all combined with a heart filled with confident trust in the One who is accomplishing all things.
A surprise Closing
The closing day of this extraordinary gift happened to be Sunday. Following Mass, with skates and stick in the car, I headed to the south end of the lake. Making my way to the island, weaving around mounds of snow again with the puck on my blade, I followed the south shoreline.
Rounding the pine-dressed point, I caught a glimpse of skaters in the distance. Striding toward their gliding movement with the sun reflecting off the ice, it became increasingly clear that I knew them. Gradually, we came together with surprised, glowing smiles. Friends from Combermere, the Fritz’s, Rideouts, and staff from Madonna House Apostolate, Fr Zac, Meaghan, and a guest, Barbara, all joined me for the final skate.
As the day closed with the lake behind us and the sun setting, I felt my mother’s smile within the loving care of the One who holds us all. I remembered Fr Zac leading the closing prayer at my Mom’s wake last year at Huebner’s Funeral Home and his presence on the altar at her funeral Mass. I looked over at Meaghan, remembering her close friendship with her.
I stood overwhelmed at how this all happened, how He makes such things happen. With a dancing, grateful joy in the closing moments of this beautiful memorial gift, I raised my heart in humble, total gratitude.
We need only fix our eyes on the brilliant horizon where He stands with open arms creating all things new.
“Study the generations, long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” (Sirach 2: 10-11).