What can I say about my mother, Kathleen Evans? I was invited to write a few words of remembrance and my first thought was “What could I possibly say?” People who know me know that I usually have lots to say, so here I go.
My mother, Kathleen Elizabeth Evans, née MacKenzie, was born into a very ‘by the book, old school’ Catholic family. The parts of Mum I never came to understand, I believe developed in that time. I have read Mum’s account of her youth in her book Kath’s Miracle and I believe that you can’t walk away from an upbringing like that without taking some of it with you. Mum’s mother was a hard woman, sometimes given to cruelty, for one reason or another. My mother was never cruel. Sometimes I think she struggled with emotions and with expressing how she truly felt and I can’t help but think this stemmed from that time. Regardless, Mum was a loving woman who made sure her family members knew how much she cherished them. We felt loved.
In 1993, when I was 13, Mum received the news that she was dying of cancer. I believe it was what was called a Stage 4 non-small, metastasised carcinoma. The cancer had spread to her glands and to her brain and it was inoperable. Any chemical or radiation treatment was predicted to give her maybe a week or two extra at best, along with a handful of horrible side-effects, so Mum elected to have no treatment. She retreated into her faith and to her growing connection with Mother Mary MacKillop, who was being talked about then as possibly Australia’s first saint.
Mum and the family, along with a lot of people from our Parish of Windale and throughout other parishes in Australia, prayed the novena prayer for Mother Mary’s intercession on our behalf to God. Mum used to like to say that if you were going for a job interview and you knew someone who was “in with the Big Boss”, you’d ask them to “put in a good word for you”. That’s what Mary was to Mum. In fact, Mum talked to Mary all the time and her prayers to God and Jesus were pretty much just conversations. She would talk to them, ask for advice and try to listen to the small voice within (or perhaps a big voice from outside) for answers. She often felt she got those answers in one form or another, but always cautioned us that sometimes the answers would not be what you wanted to hear.
At the end of the novena, Mum started to feel a little better. In 1994, some ten months after receiving her death sentence, Mum was told her cancer was gone. Gone completely, without treatment − until 2016, when she contracted both lung and brain tumours again.
So many questions spring out at me. Firstly, “Does this somehow negate her ‘miracle’?” To me, the answer is simply “No”. Doctors have told us this was a new illness, not a regrowth of the old tumours. The cancer was in the opposite lung this time and also at the other end of the brain. And 23 years ago, my mother was given six weeks to live. Twenty-three years! Something incredible happened then, whatever it was.
This leads to my next point: there are many who do not believe in miracles at all, or say that recoveries from cancer are not miraculous. To me, the definition of a miracle is any event that neither science nor medicine can explain. The rest is open to interpretation. I can only tell you what I saw – my mother was dying and then, for reasons no one can explain, she got better and stayed that way for 23 years. That’s a miracle to me.
People always asked, “Why you?” Mum struggled with this question. Why her and not every other person who has an illness and asks God for healing? It’s a good question and is one I can’t answer. What I see though is that Mum worked with other cancer patients for ten years and saw a lot of people through to their own deaths with a measure of hope, peace and acceptance that perhaps they were lacking before she walked into their lives. Also, she saw her little family grow to 19 grandchildren, along with five great-grandchildren, the last of whom is the only one Mum was not here to meet. He was born the day after she left us. “One went out and another came in,” my sister, (the baby’s proud grandmother) said. We jokingly called Mum “the Matriarch”. We were her family and she had 23 extra years with us.
And, of course, Australia now has its first saint, in part because of Mum and others stepping forward to discuss their connection to Mary and how they felt her acting in their lives today. I don’t know if any of that answers the “Why her?” question, but – again − it’s good enough for me.
Fr Brian Mascord was at Mum’s funeral as a concelebrant and he delivered a beautiful homily in which he shared a recent conversation he had with Mum. She said to him, “It was never about me, Brian, it was always about God.” Fr Brian reminded us that, in our own lives, we should remember that it is never about us, but about how we interact with the world and with individuals and how we put into practice the teachings of our God every day.