Mortal Blessings

A Sacramental Farewell
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Format: Paperback

Publication date: September 8, 2014

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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.

Product Details

Pages: 160

Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5 inches

ISBN: 9781594714085

Imprint: Ave Maria Press

  • “Practical and inspiring.”

    “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.”

    Rev. James Martin, S.J.

  • “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. 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

  • “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. 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 One Ordinary Sunday

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