Mortal Blessings

Mortal Blessings

A Sacramental Farewell 

Author: Angela Alaimo O'Donnell

Price: $15.95

Format: Paperback

Pages: 160

Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5 inches

ISBN: 978-1-59471-408-5

Imprint: Ave Maria Press

On-sale date: September 8, 2014

More Bereavement, Death and Dying, Spirituality


Winner of a 2015 Catholic Press Award: Family Life Category (First Place). 

In this lyrical adieu to her mother, renowned Catholic essayist, poet, and professor Angela O’Donnell explores how the mundane tasks of caregiving during her mother’s final days—bathing, feeding, taking her for a walk in her wheelchair—became rituals or ordinary sacraments that revealed traces of the divine.  

With Joan Didion’s grasp of grief, the spiritual playfulness of Mary Karr, and the poetic agility of Kathleen Norris, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell narrates the events that followed her mother’s fall and the broken hip that led to surgery. As O’Donnell and her sisters cared for their mother’s failing body during the last days of her life, they unconsciously observed rituals that began to take on a deeper importance.  

Bathing her each morning was a kind of baptism, the nightly feeding of pie took on a Eucharistic significance, trimming and polishing nails became a kind of anointing. Beyond the seven there are the myriad sacraments they made up: the sacrament of community via cell phone, the sacrament of wheelchair pilgrimage around the nursing home, and the sacrament of humor and laughter. Mortal Blessings: A Sacramental Farewell is a deeply human portrait of loss balanced by the surprising grace found in letting go; it will resonate with any spiritual reader but especially caregivers and those currently in grief.

Features & Benefits

  • O’Donnell is well known for her regular contributions to America and Christian Century, and as an occasional contributor to Commonweal. Her poems have been published in twenty different magazines and journals.
  • A perfect gift for caregivers and those grieving.
  • O’Donnell gives poetry readings and lectures and teaches poetry writing workshops throughout the United States.


"A stunning meditation on the sacramentality of our living and our dying."

"Mortal Blessings is a stunning meditation on the sacramentality of our living and our dying. As practical as it is inspiring, its wisdom will be a gift of hope and peace for many."

Ron Hansen
Author of Mariette in Ecstasy

"Beautiful and beautifully written!"

"In this beautiful and beautifully written book Angela Alaimo O'Donnell shows us that there are many more than just seven sacraments. By meditating deeply on what might seem ordinary moments, she shows us how life can be extraordinary indeed. This is a lovely book."


James Martin, S.J.
Author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

"Thoughtful memoir."

“In Mortal Blessings Angela O’Donnell brilliantly reads our final acts of caretaking, not as repetitive and meaningless, but as significant, holy ritual. Cutting a loved one’s hair, bringing her pie, engaging in conversation, even though it’s repetitive—all gain evocative meaning. In a culture obsessed by youth, a culture which hides illness and death, we need O’Donnell’s thoughtful memoir about how her mother’s last days became sacramental.”

Jeanne Murray Walker
Author of The Geography of Memory

"Narrative of failure and forgiveness."

“This is a memoir of a tangled and difficult mother-daughter relationship which will compel you to read on. It is a mortal story of flawed people facing illness and life's end. There is nothing pietistic or saccharine here, but there are blessings as O’Donnell confronts these hard realities through creative sacramental practices and literary insight. This narrative of failure and forgiveness will provoke daughters of every stripe to reflect on their most primal relationship.”

Dana Greene
Author of biographies of Evelyn Underhill, Maisie Ward, and Denise Levertov
Dean Emerita of Oxford College of Emory University

"Invites us to ponder the gratuity and importance of ordinary gestures."

"Angela O’Donnell invites us to ponder the gratuity and importance of ordinary gestures amidst the silences and helplessness of accompanying loved ones through illness, intrusive memory, and death. Through her eyes we discover that the 'holy folly' we engage in at such times takes on a sacred poignancy that we already knew, but never imagined."

Mark Mossa, S.J.
Author of Already There: Letting God Find You

"One of the most grown up books I've ever read!"

"On a short list of pivotal life experiences, helping your mother die—especially when the relationship has always been a difficult one—ranks near the top. Mortal Blessings, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s meditation on her mother’s forty-eight day death process, is not only hauntingly beautiful, extraordinarily moving, and utterly memorable, it is one of the most grown up books I’ve ever read."

Paula Huston
Author of A Season of Mystery

An Interview with Angela Alaimo O'Donnell

Purchase on Kindle.

Purchase on Nook.

Purchase on Kobo.

Purchase on Google Play.

An Interview with Angela Alaimo O'Donnell