Every Day Should Be Mothers' Day

Dear Families of CBC Fremantle,  img_0896-2.jpg

I shared some personal moments with the mums, grandmums and boys on Wednesday at our annual Mothers' Day Liturgy. You would all be aware of my personal circumstances and my mother's early death from breast cancer at the age of 33. It is always very painful for me to share, and Mother's Day remains my biggest challenge each year. The pain never subsides, if anything, it gets harder with each anniversary.

My mum was born in 1942. The second world war was raging, and it came home after the Allied landings near her home town in 1943. One day as her family was crossing a bridge in their Sicilian carretto they were strafed by a P38 fighter jet. As everyone scurried underneath the bridge for safety, a head count soon brought the realisation that mum had been left in her blankets cooing under the seat of the carretto. As life turned out, it was where her luck ran out.

In 1996, I returned to the town of my parents and decided to climb Mt Guastanella as I had done as an 11 year old in 1972, but this time with my 8 year old son. We set out very early on a hot morning and by around 10am were making our way back to the village in 40 degree heat.

An old blue Fiat 850 pulled up alongside us and an elderly gentleman asked if we would like a lift. Unhesitatingly, we accepted. Small talk soon led to the question where are you from and how are you linked to Raffadali? I replied my dad is Francesco Burgio, the shoemaker who left in 1950. He then went through a series of other Burgios trying to pinpoint a connection without luck. "What about your mother?" he asked. I replied my mum was Rosa Di Noto, daughter of Giovanni and Antonina. The words had barely left my mouth and he slammed on the brakes. He turned to me and began to cry. "Your mother was the flower of our town. It was devastating when she left. I still remember her like it was yesterday." img_9175-1-edited.png

My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever met. That beauty, in my eyes has only ever been matched by my wife. She was born into a family where her father had frittered away his inheritance and my grandmother's dowry and by 1958 when my dad headed back to find a wife, the Di Noto family were living hand to mouth and in deep debt. After a couple of false starts with other women, whose sticking point was leaving their families for the other side of the world, my father eventually met my mother. I'm not sure if it was love at first sight. Certainly, the love letters my mum sent my father during our 4 months in Sicily in 1972 indicated a deep love. Each letter was sealed with a lipstick kiss. What I am sure was that somewhere in her decision-making, my mother, 16 years old at the time, was thinking about her family. Her mum and dad. Her sister. Her four brothers. My dad received no dowry, rather paid off the family's debt and in her mind my mum had secured a new life for the family as the plan was, they would all immigrate to Australia.

Mum arrived in Fremantle to a hostile welcome. I came along in 1960 and soon mum was joined by her sister and her sister's family. That joy was short-lived. A lack of work meant her sister moved to Sydney. Two of her four brothers soon arrived in Fremantle, and she found work in an O'Connor shoe factory, making the walk from Beaconsfield there and back each day. Cooking, cleaning, and washing for three men and a baby without a word of complaint until the brothers also left. Then came the shattering news that her mother and father would not be joining her. My mum had a complete breakdown in the mid-60s.

In early 1970, my mum received a photo of her mum, who had diabetes. Her mum looked like she had lost about 30 kgs since mum last saw her, so she made it her business to save the money and visit her mum before she died. As it turned out, it was my grandmother who got to see my mum before my mum died. That trip was funded by debt and my father's goodwill and yet each Monday of the 4 months we spent in Sicily my mum would slip 100,000 lire in my grandfather's pocket so that it appeared to all the village that my grandfather was providing.

Upon our return, mum started working at Basil's Deli in Winterfold, and in July 1973, bought the Deli. It was a goldmine. New Year's Day 1974, when a chicken was a dollar and a loaf of bread 25 cents, our turnover was over $1000. It seemed things had finally turned around. A few months later, after much procrastination, mum visited the surgeon Mr Cook and was told she had breast cancer. 18 short months later, she was dead. img_5837.jpg

My mum didn't die of cancer. She died of selflessness. The lump in her breast had been there for ages, but she always put duty and others first. It took me a long time to get over the anger I felt about the injustice I perceived had taken this angel so young. My mum had always sacrificed herself for others, and to be honest, I'm not sure it was ever valued; rather many took advantage of it. My brother and I grew up alone without a mother's love; the kind of love that is like an asbestos suit, protecting you from every danger. My beautiful brother never recovered emotionally, but with a bit of luck and the help of an amazing woman, I started to conquer my demons. I think joining this community in 2008 was a turning point. Re-connecting with my faith and, through that faith, understanding the hope of everlasting life. Not only did it occur to me my mother hadn't died, I came to realise that every member of the CBC Fremantle community has met her. Whenever I show anyone kindness and love, they meet my mum. Whenever I show anyone compassion and empathy, they meet my mum. Whenever I forgive, you meet my mum. Whenever I serve, you meet my mum. Whenever I spend an hour on the phone in the evening listening to a Year 7 mother wailing about her son not making the football team, that parent meets my mum. And importantly, whenever I hold someone to account, they meet my mum because accountability is love.

My message to the mums is this. Look after yourselves. If your selflessness means you crash and burn, those you love and serve will suffer. Make time for you. Anyone who nails themselves to a cross always has trouble with the last nail. Don't feel guilty about loving yourself, because you deserve a little of your own abundance of love.

My message to the boys is this.Don't just take advantage of the benefits you receive from your mum. Understand that those benefits are derived from attributes, and it is the attributes you should focus on. Your dad is an essential role-model, but so is your mum. Your mum is honoured when you emulate her actions and attributes, and her immortality is assured when those attributes are passed on to your children and your children's children if you choose to have a family and shared with all who come in contact with you. Every good decision you make in the next few years will make your mother's heart leap with joy, but remember, the bad decisions you make break her heart first and foremost. If you really love your mum, and want to honour your mum, then be your mum. mothers-day-dom-2.png

Finally gentlemen, remember this. Your mum is a woman. She was a woman before she was a mum. You can never fully honour your mum if you don't respect women. When you objectify women, you dishonour your mum. When you act aggressively towards a woman, you dishonour your mum. When you financially control a woman, you dishonour your mum. And a good man, a gentleman, a CBC Gentleman never, ever raises his hand to a woman. That is the ultimate dishonouring of your mum.

I wish all our CBC mums, grandmums, foster mums and mother figures a wonderful day on Sunday. I'm sure you will be kept busy cleaning up the attempts by your sons to fete you with breakfast and other such efforts. You will probably smile as your day is taken up by playing the magic elf returning order to the house after the men have been in the kitchen because you know it comes from such a good place. But if I had my way, every day would be Mother's Day.

Domenic Burgio