Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The First Feast of the Church New Year

     "More honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, you the Theotokos, we magnify."

    September 8th marks the first feast day of the Eastern church new year which began on September 1st.  It also happens to be a date that has a special significance in my life.  September 8, 2003 was the day my Dad was born into eternity.  September 8, 2014 was the day my Mom came into full communion with the Catholic Church.  September 8, 2021  was the day we placed my Mom's cremains into the niche that she is sharing with Theresa.  The last event date was picked by me in large part due to the other two events that took place outside of my control.  I just liked how they all lined up.


    Today was the 8th day of the month and was also the 80th day of Mom being born into eternity.  The number 8 in Catholic theology is also an important number.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week."  Because it is the first day, the day of Christ's resurrection recalls the first creation.  Because it is the 8th day following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ's resurrection.  The 8th day reminds us that when we walk into church for the Divine Liturgy, we are glimpsing our first day in heaven.  The 8th day serves to remind us that before we even open the doors to the church we are to prepare ourselves to experience heaven in the person and real presence of Christ.

    The Divine Liturgy that took place this morning for the Nativity of the Theotokos.  From Matins of the Feast we sing:  "O marvelous wonder!  The Source of life is born of the barren one and grace begins to bear its glorious fruits.  Rejoice, O Joachim at the birth of the Theotokos.  No earthly father is the same as you, for through divine inspiration the Virgin is given to us; she is the dwelling place of God, the divine."  In the Vespers for the Feast we sing:  "Today Anna, the barren one, gives birth to the maiden of God who had been chosen from all the human generations to become the dwelling place of the Creator, Christ our God and the King of all.  In her he fulfilled his divine plan through which our human nature was renewed and by which we were to be transferred from corruption to eternal life."

    After the Divine Liturgy was over, Jennie and I processed out to the columbarium behind Fr. Diodoro Mendoza who was incensing the path from the Church to the final resting spot.  .  After Theresa was born into eternity we placed her cremains into the St. Nicholas columbarium on May 14, 2016 which happened to be the 5th All Souls Liturgy of 2016.  After the niche was opened, Fr. Diodoro sprinkled dirt onto the top of the container and it was placed into the niche and sealed with the words:  "This niche is sealed until the Second Coming of Christ in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.     Several months before she died Mom said that she wanted to be placed in the same niche as Theresa.  Today the simple granite stone was removed, the niche unsealed and the earthly remains of Irene Cullen were placed inside the niche first occupied by her daughter in law 1,943 days ago.  After the stone had been removed I caught my first look at the box containing the earthly remains of my first wife, Theresa. While it has been several years I was immediately taken back to that 5th All Souls Liturgy of 2016 when I last saw the contents of the niche.  There was still a pain in my stomach seeing the box with the label:  Theresa R Cullen, 1971 - 2016.  For all the time that has passed there is still a part of me that was ripped away in 2016 and a scar remains.  We humans cannot go backwards and we cannot stay where we are.  The only path is to move forward and forward we have moved.  I love the life that has come after the pain of loss in 2016 and am thankful for that every day.  But like a scar reminds us of an event, seeing the contents of the niche served as a reminder that our life is but a few years on earth, but an eternity in the afterlife.

 When speaking of a loved one who has died we like to say they were born into eternity.  Today marks the 6,575th day since Robert Cullen was born into eternity.  Today marks the 1,969th day since Theresa Cullen was born into eternity.  And today marks the 80th day since Irene Cullen was born into eternity. On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos we celebrate the birth of the one who would give birth to the One that opened paradise and restored us from our fallen state.  Looking into the niche which holds 2 peoples earthly remains, there is in a sense a "barren" spot as what remains is merely ashes.  . But today also is the "the beginning of our salvation, O people; for behold the Mother and Virgin who was chosen from all generations to be the habitation of God is born and comes forth from the barren one."   Let us celebrate the birth of the Theotokos some 2,035 years ago which brought forth the one who bore Christ in her womb allowing us to celebrate the 18th, 5th and 1st years of my family members being born into eternity.

"This niche is sealed until the Second coming of Christ, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

    "With the souls of the just brought to perfection, give rest O Savior to the souls of your servants.  Keeping them for the blessed life with You for You love us all.  In your place of rest O Lord, where all Your saints repose, give rest to the souls of Your servants for you alone love us all."

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Only Constant Is Change

 "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice;  you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy."

    Today the Phoenix Field Office leadership brought in a Catholic priest from Oakland, CA who serves as a chaplain for the Oakland Fire Department as well as the Oakland Field Office of the FBI.  The past 24 months have been months unlike any I have experienced in my 17.5 years in the Phoenix Field Office.  In the past 24 months we have had the following things happen:

  • May 2019 - Intelligence Analyst Sean Sego collapsed in the stairwell and died
  • Nov 2019 - Special Agent Dave Williams went out for a morning jog before work and died during his run
  • Apr 2020 - A man fired shots into the FBI Building in Phoenix
  • Jul 2020 - Agent involved shooting leaving 2 agents injured, subject dead
  • Oct 2020 - Jennie's father died suddenly of a blood clot
  • Dec 2020 - Agent involved shooting leaving subject dead
  • Feb 2021 - Special Agent Jimmie Daniels found dead at home 
  • Apr 2021 - Special Agent Geoffrey Young found dead at home

    SA Young died on the same day that Theresa did 5 years ago.  One big difference between his repose and that of Theresa's was the suddenness of it.  I knew for some time that things were going to end and in a rather short order.  SA Young's family did not have the luxury of knowing when his last day was going to be.  When I heard about SA Daniels and SA Young I thought of how this was going to affect their spouses and children.  I know the path that they are being forced to walk.  I'm not going to sugar coat it, it sucks.  It is like walking through a minefield, not knowing where the next blowup is going to come from.  It is a year of firsts without your spouse, without your children's parent, that always has the potential to blow up.  It is getting through the first year to realize that the second year might be more difficult than the first.  It is a journey of sad times, good times and many stops along the way.

    As I listened to Fr. Jayson this morning, he said one thing that stood out to me.  He laughed, pointed to his collar and said because I wear this I will say this.  In my tradition we know the cycle of sadness that turns to joy.  You get the joy of Easter Sunday only after the sadness of Good Friday.  That really does sum up our short journey in this life.  We experience intense sadness at times as well as intense happiness at other times.  And in between that continuum of sadness and joy we experience many spots along the way.  As the title says, the only constant is change.

    I was reminded of that as I rode the elevator this morning with a fellow employee, Pete.  He and I both were in Tucson for a period of time before he transferred to the El Paso office.  He and I share the sadness of having lost a spouse at a young age.  In May 2015 he and his family set out for a roadtrip in Texas.  They experienced a tire blowout which caused their SUV to roll over at freeway speed.  Killed in the accident were his 38yo wife and 3 kids 18, 14 and 11.  Pete woke up in a hospital to find 4 family members dead with one 6yo child surviving.  5 years ago, not yet a full year after this tragedy, he came to the funeral Divine Liturgy we had for Theresa.  I don't know how he did it but he did.  When I moved to Phoenix I realized that he had transferred back to Phoenix and had married again.  As we rode the elevator today I asked him how his wife was doing since she is about to give birth to a child.  The cycle of intense sadness and intense joy is played out in his life.  He smiled and said she was doing well and that her due date was in June.  The only constant is change.

    At some point in the past few years Jennie and I merged our Google Photo account and we see pictures of our lives, before we met and after we met.  Yesterday the photo memories that popped up for me had pictures from Theresa's funeral.  On the same day, albeit a different year, the photo memories were of a beach vacation Jennie and I took.  We have experienced that cycle of joy and sadness many times during our lives together.  We had the joy of being married and visiting France, followed shortly by a change in my Mom's health.  We went through the joy of Jennie and the girls spending the day with her dad at a pumpkin farm followed shortly the sadness of his sudden death.  This ebb and flow of good and bad reminds us that the only constant is change.

    For anyone reading this who may be about to walk the journey I have walked or is currently walking that journey, remember that we experience good times and bad times in our lives.  It is the natural rhythm of life.  One of the things that helped me get through that journey was my faith life.  When Theresa reposed my  "grace tank" was full.  I completely depleted that reserve and went into a grace deficit.  As time marched on, I have gradually been able to refill that tank through all the good times in my new families life which has helped me to get through the bad times.  Now is the time to work on building up your reserves.  As the past 24 months have shown, bad things happen all the time and usually happen unexpectedly and rapidly.  

    In your kindness please pray for the souls of all the people mentioned above and for their families who are walking this journey.  They are moving forward because the only way to go is forward.  Pray that they will receive the graces needed to find joy and happiness despite the tragedy they have experienced.

Christ is Risen!


Sunday, April 11, 2021

A Lifetime of Change in 5 Years

 "Love endures everything, love is stronger than death, love fears nothing." Sr. Faustina

    Last week was Holy Week for Catholics around the world.  The triumphant entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday led believers on a wave of emotions from joy to disbelief to sadness and finally to joy.  Five years ago Holy Week fell a little earlier in the year, March 20th to March 27th.  I remember that Holy Week like none other before it.  It was the last week where Theresa was able to have a rational conversation and the first Pascha for us spent in a hospital.

    In a blog post dated March 28, 2016, I wrote about how impressed I was with Ryan when he told me he was taking the $5 he received in his Easter basket and buying his Mom some chocolate to enjoy with our Easter dinner in her hospital room.  I took many photos during that Holy Week but this one was one of my favorites from the week.  My boy climbed up in the bed with his Mom and shared some of the Easter goodies with her.  Little did we know that she had just 20 days remaining on her earthly journey.

    Today we spent another few hours on a Sunday in another hospital room keeping my Mom company for a little while.  On Friday I received a call from Jennie that Mom had fallen on the tile floor and thought her hip was broken.  We called Phoenix Fire and had her taken to the hospital where they confirmed that she did have a broken hip.  The surgeon scheduled her for Saturday morning and they repaired the fractured hip by driving a rod into her femur and screwing it into the bone that goes into the hip joint.  When we picked Ryan up from the bus stop on Friday he knew something was up as both Jennie & I were in the car.  When I told him what had happened he got really quiet and wanted to go see her.  We were able to spend sometime with her on Friday.  Before leaving he asked for a few minutes alone with her and we left after that.

    We went to visit Mom again today after attending the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday.  They put her in the intensive care unit because her blood pressure was really low and her heart was experiencing bouts of atrial fibrillation.  We grabbed some lunch before going to the hospital at a pizza place called Barro's.  There is a drink they have at Barro's called Stubbon Agave Cream soda that both Ryan and Mom like.  When we got to her room, Ryan took the refill he had gotten and gave it to his Grandma saying this is the cream soda we both really like.  What a flashback moment I had sitting in that room.  Instead of taking his $5 and getting something for his Mom, he took his favorite drink and gave it to his Grandma.

    We sat with her for a little over one hour and he just sat by her side to keep her company.  It gave me time to reflect on just how much Ryan has grown in 5 years since his world was turned upside down.  By no means has this been an easy journey.  We moved twice, once to Oro Valley and ultimately to Cave Creek.  Ryan started middle school in a new city and ended up in a different school for the second half of 6th grade where he remains today.  He saw his Dad get married again, bringing a whole new dynamic of stepmom and stepsisters to his world.  He has watched his Grandma go through 5 more years of cancer treatment with all the ups and downs that entails.  And all of this taking place as he grows into a man and all the hormonal challenges that come with that.  And through all of this he has finally found his stride and is doing well in school and life.   One of my phrases that I repeated again and again to him was "as humans we can not go backwards and we can not stay stuck in today.  The only way for us to move is to go forward."  
    The Second Sunday of Easter is known as Thomas Sunday in the Eastern church and Divine Mercy Sunday in the Western church.  It is called Thomas Sunday because the Gospel of John is read where Thomas was not present when Christ appeared to the 10 Apostles after his Resurrection.  Thomas said that he would not believe it was the Lord until he put his hands in the wounds of Jesus.  8 days later Christ appeared again to the 11 Apostles and told Thomas to put his hands into the wounds.  Thomas responded with a profound statement, "my Lord and my God".   Jesus said to Thomas, "You have believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe"

    It is called Divine Mercy Sunday in the West because Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina in 2000 on the Second Sunday of Easter and proclaimed that this Sunday would be known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  I have told Ryan the story of John Paul II, how he lost his mother at the age of 8, his brother 4 years later at the age of 12 and his father 9 years later at the age of 21.  No one in this fallen world would have blamed John Paul II had he taken a different path than he did.  He lost every family member of his by the time he was 21 and was growing up under communist oppression in Poland.  He once said that you have two choices when adversity strikes, you can become bitter or you can get better.  Rising through the clerical ranks to assume the Chair of St. Peter and remain there for more than 27 years, clearly he took the better, not bitter route.

    These two Sunday's came together today watching Ryan sit with his Grandma.  Just like Thomas, there was much doubt in his mind when we talked about the future and that things would get better.  I know for many months and maybe a couple of years he didn't believe that going forward was going to be a good route.  Through all that doubt he has chosen to become better, not bitter, and it shows with how well he has handled his Grandma's hospitalization.  For the first time in almost 5 years, I am not as concerned about how he will handle the anniversary of his Mom being born into eternity.  Glory to Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

There Is No Rewind Button



    I posted before about hearing the news that one of my co-workers had reposed on February 1, 2021.  He went to sleep on the night of January 31st and did not wake up.  His memorial service is tomorrow and I learned today of a page that his family set up to keep all their memories.  One of the things included on that page was a video that his wife made talking about their life together.  She spoke of how they were made for each other and he was her left to her right.  The video can be found here:

    "Life doesn't give you do-overs; it doesn't let you hit rewind; it doesn't warn you when you are approaching a cliff; our world although tightly intermingled and wrapped in love, had lost its way.  The job had taken its toll on Jimmie and he spent many of his evenings physically present, but emotionally checked out."  "That facade of separation prevented us from making changes in our own lives.  It wasn't enough to shift our priorities."..."He left the work he loved to heal the wounds he didn't know he had until it was too late.  When you shine light into a dark world, it can consume you."  "We thought we had more time".

    He was one of the best agents I knew who worked child exploitation matters.  The consensus in our forensic lab was he was the last person on earth you would want tracking you down.  For as long as I knew him, he worked child exploitation cases.  When he stepped away from that violation last year, none of us knew why he stepped away.  In listening to his wife's from the heart video, it seems that he did so for his family and his own well being.

    In my little world, of the last 5 people that I knew from work or from a family tie who died, 4 died suddenly and without warning.   Jennie's dad died suddenly in his living room; an intelligence analyst died in the stairwell at work on his way upstairs for work; an agent died while out for a morning jog; an agent went to sleep on January 31 and never woke up.  Only one, my first wife Theresa, knew it was coming and had time to prepare.  As Christians we all know that we are not guaranteed one more breath in our life.  In my little bubble, 80% of the people did not know that they would be called home suddenly and without warning.

    "We all have things we put off until later. Until there is a better time.  Until we finish that one last project, that one last case, answer that one last phone call, respond to that one last email.  Life brings us many purposes, but the biggest purpose of all is connection and love.  It is more important than all the noise in our chaotic life."  "It is too easy to get lost in the daily grind of life.  To be together, and yet be so far apart.  To be lost in a parallel existence of iPads, cell phones and work."

    One of the things that came out of the death of Theresa at such a young age was that I lost any preconceived notions that I had that life will go according to my plan.  That there will always be another day to be "in the moment".  That there will be another chance to tell someone how I feel about them.  Theresa died on a Monday morning.  The next day I had an appointment to visit the mortuary to finalize the business of dying.  I woke up around 4:30am and decided to go for a walk on the back trails.  As the sun started to rise and more people came outside, people were going on with their lives.  They were walking in groups, talking, laughing, smiling.  I wanted to scream at them that my world had just blown up and they were laughing.  It was such a strange feeling and experience.  The reality that quickly came over me was life goes on, with or without you.

    JJD also died on a Monday.  Two days later, his supervisor and a co-worker were going through all of his things looking for "accountable property" that belonged to the FBI but was assigned to him.  I had the same strange feeling that I had on April 19, 2016.  I wanted to scream at them, "the body is not even cold yet and you are scavenging for stuff".  Yet, the same reality came to me that day too.  Life goes on, with or without you.  Our society has allowed work and noise to permeate all parts of our day.  With many people now working from home, the line has been further blurred.  However, at the end of the day, each of us will die and all that will remain for our family are memories.  I might be the most successful forensic examiner in all the FBI, but when I retire, or repose, someone else will pick up the ball and move it down the field.  Do not fool yourself.  Despite what some may say at memorial services, we are all replaceable.  At work that is.

    I am coming up on the 5 year anniversary of Theresa falling asleep in the Lord.  At her funeral Divine Liturgy our parish priest talked about how competent she was in all the tasks that she undertook, in her work life and in her volunteer work at the parish.  He was absolutely spot on in that assessment.  Yet, I don't remember her for how good she was with spreadsheets, balance sheets and other financial tasks.  I remember the vacations we took; the quiet times we had before Ryan was born; the absolute joy in her voice when she woke me up to tell me that she was pregnant; the fun times of watching Ryan grow up all too fast; the sad times that we endured as a couple (the death of my dad, the loss of a baby to miscarriage, the death of her mother whom she was estranged from, the heartbreaking news that all the treatment she undertook was for naught). 

    I am far from being a perfect husband.  However, I often tell Jennie that she got a better husband at the start of our marriage than Theresa had.  I am a better husband because I know what matters in life and it is not spending all my time on work related things.  I sent the video above to Jennie and told her that it was a tough one to watch. That JJD knew what needed to be done, that he needed to focus more time on his family and that time was cut short.  Jennie asked me a simple question in our exchange:  "What is something you would be sad we didn't do or finish if I were to die suddenly?"  I responded with "that we would not have a long marriage".  Jennie countered with, "But anything you've wanted to do with me that we just haven't made time for..I know travel is limited obviously."  My response was a simple but profound, "not really".  I said, "Mrs. Cullen getting sentimental.  Jennie responded with this gem:

    All of the sadness and trauma that came from having a spouse die at 44 years old, or a father who died suddenly at 67,  has changed  both Jennie and I in one profound way.  We know what matters in life and it is the connection with your close family and the memories that you make.   Everything else is really just window dressing. JJD's wife ended her video with the following words:

    "We all have a gift.  We all have love and connections in our lives.  How often do we nurture those connections?  How often do we carve away time to just be present, to just be in the moment with those we love? How often do we let go of the burdens the weigh us down in order to dance to the beat that life has always been playing for us?  My hope for you is that you strain your ears and find that beat, because in all reality that is truly why we are all here."

    One of the best messages I received came from Fr. John Petro, a co-director of the Deacon Formation Program, on the evening of 4/18/2016.  "There are some journeys in life, Patrick, that we must walk alone.  And this is one of them for you.  Others may offer their support, their prayers and their help in many wonderful way, but, at the end of the day, it is a journey that only you can walk.  No one can enter that sacred place the defined your relationship with Theresa.  And, no one can ever take it away from you either.  Please treasure that sacred place as Theresa's lasting gift to you." 

    Focus your time and energies on things that matter, the people in your life.  Don't waste an opportunity to tell them how you feel, don't go to bed angry, don't leave the house angry.  The last thing you say to someone will one day truly be the last thing you say.  In your charity, say a prayer for the soul of JJD and for peace for his family that can only come from above.  We pray in our tradition, "Great peace to your world, to your churches, to the priests, to our government, and to all your people. For all generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from you, the Father of Lights; and we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever."



Thursday, February 4, 2021

What the F*&K Are You Even Talking About

    What the F*&K are you even talking about?  This is something that has come to my mind recently, along with several other key times in my life over the past 5 years.  Sometimes we don’t what to say.  Two things usually happen in this situation.  First, we don’t say anything.  Second, our mouth opens up and says what it wants to say.  Some of the events that caused this reaction were:

    February 2, 2016 when a reconstructive surgeon told Theresa and I that he believed all of the issues she was seeing on her skin was inflammatory breast cancer.  What the F*&K  are you talking about Doc?  We have been undergoing the gold standard breast cancer treatment over the past 6 months.  What?

    February 19, 2016 when a phone call from Theresa told me that the PET scan revealed multiple hepatic and osseous lesions indicative of metastatic disease.  What the F*&K are you talking about?  How did we go from good margins with no lymph node involvement to metastatic breast cancer with spreading to the chest, femur and brain? What?

    October 22, 2019 when my cell phone rang while running on a treadmill with my wife telling me that I needed to come home, her dad is dead.  What the F*&K are you talking about?  You saw him 3 days prior, he was perfectly healthy and was did not have any known underlying disease. What?

    February 1, 2021 when a co-worker and I returned from an errand out of the office and another agent told us that Jimmie was found dead that morning.  What the F*&K are you taking about?  I just talked to him on Friday.  He was the same, obnoxious, funny, person that we all knew.  What?

    February 2, 2021 when that same co-worker asked me if I had heard the news out of Florida.  Two FBI Special Agents were shot and killed during the execution of a federal search warrant for Violent Crimes Against Children.  What the F*&K are you talking about?  I’ve been on many of these types of warrants and made it out alive.  What?

    I have written many times about the problem of why bad things happen to good people.  Why is it that some really bad people seem to hit the gene lottery and live well into their 80’s or 90’s, all the while being “shit-heads”, while other people seem to be losers in the gene lottery, dying of some unknown reason at 42, metastatic breast cancer at 44 or heart disease at 67.  It truly rattles your nerves when you see good, moral people, dying at a young age.  How do you even begin to process things when death comes calling for your person?

    The events of this week stirred up some things in me that had been lying dormant for a while.  3 FBI agents dead leaving 3 spouse and 6 children to pick up the pieces and move forward.  Why move forward?  Because that is the only thing that humans get to do.  We do not get to go backwards and we can not stay where we are, especially when there are 6 children that need to move forward and will look to the serving spouse for guidance.  In the case of the agents killed, I had an intense desire, a near rage, to want to serve justice and vengeance on their killer.  

    3 young spouses who are going to have to navigate the world of being a young widow.  It truly is not for the faint of heart.  In a world where divorced people are kind of like "a dime a dozen”, they just entered into a pretty exclusive and crappy club.  If and when they choose to embrace someone new, they will all face that scrutiny that they aren’t doing it right; they are moving on too fast; they must not have loved their former spouse that much since they are already moving on.  They will find themselves in this strange world where the person they choose to move forward with, or just date, doesn’t have any frame of reference to their world and sometimes can not deal with it all.

They will find people who are not secure enough to be the one that comes after.  They will meet people who can’t understand how a person can still love their first spouse and yet give themselves totally to their new spouse.  This comes from the divorce culture we live in.  You see, our marriages ended because God said so and took our spouses.  Their marriages ended because one or both just stopped loving each other.  Even when we find the right person, there are many issues that will come up, primarily driven by the way the divorced spouse was wronged in their marriage.  

We widows come from good experiences in our marriage.  When it is all said and done, the divorced spouse has a harder time in a second marriage than the widowed spouse.  I had a great marriage and would be working on 26 years if God had not taken my first wife. Yet, one of my insecurities comes when Jennie goes on a road trip alone. I have this irrational fear that I will get a call that she is gone.  It is left over baggage from my past trauma and it is just something that I’ve had to learn to live with.

    On the other hand, Jennie had a terrible marriage with a jackass spouse who brought so much insecurity to her life. She also has irrational fears, albeit different ones than me.  That I will eventually stop loving her and choose to check out of the marriage.  Just like my irrational fear, this is leftover from her first marriage and is something she has had to learn to live with.  Add to this that she still has to see her first spouse, deal with him in the joint raising of children and see the same manipulative, narcissistic tendencies come out while dealing with the children.  

    This is why the news this week hit me so hard.  3 spouses having to go through the pain of burying a young spouse; having to walk a treacherous path with their children and try to bring some semblance of normalcy to their broken world; having to deal with the fact that regardless of just how much people say they are going to help you and be there for you, it all goes away in a fairly short amount of time.  3 spouses, if they choose the path of remarriage, who will have to deal with all the sideways glances, murmurs, questions about just how much they loved their first spouse, comments that you are moving on too soon, comments that you need to move on with your life.  They will have to learn how to navigate the world of broken marriages and broken spouses who have a hard time understanding how they can still love their first spouse.  They will have to learn to “bite their tongue” when the biological parent makes their new spouse miserable and the kids suffer for it.  

    Having walked this crazy, and pardon my French, shitty path, there is an aching in my soul for what they are enduring right now and will continue to endure for months and years to come. As I have said before, I will say it again.  If you have not walked in the shoes of these young widows you would be best served just to keep your mouth shut.  Rather to be thought a fool and jackass than to open your mouth and confirm those suspicions. 

    What I would tell each of those spouses about the road they are going to travel is that it will get better.  Follow your instincts when it comes to helping your kids navigate this road.  Take time to listen to them, but also take time to listen to yourself.  You will know if and when the time is right to consider opening up to someone new.  Do not let others influence you or make you feel bad about any decisions you make.  I can promise you when the right person comes along, you will know it and you will feel like you have been given a new lease on life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Time Marches On

  Five years ago I sat in the front row of my parish church, in front of the icon of the Theotokos, and came to the realization that Theresa's cancer journey was not going to end well.  I've written about this before, but to serve as a refresher, I used to pray the Orthodox prayer for the sick daily for Theresa.  In that prayer we pray: "Who are able to put aside every sickness and infirmity, do You Yourself, the same Lord, grant aid to Your servant and cure  them of every sickness of which he/she is grieved; and send down up them Your great mercy, and if to be Your will, give to them health and a complete recovery...."  From June to October I would always leave off the If It Be Your Will part. But on that October day I prayed the complete prayer and had a calm pass over me even though accepting His will was not going to coincide with what my will would have been.

     From that day until the present day, I have worked hard to try and help Ryan move forward.  From October to April the focus was preparing him for that moment when his mom was taken away from him.  From April to now it has been preparing him for life without his Mom and getting him to realize his full potential, despite all of the sad things that took place.

     The journey forward has not been an easy one.  There have been moments over the past five years when I was mad about being the one left behind, the one left to pick up the pieces and go forward.  I have thought back to how much stronger my faith was in 2015 and how being called home to The Holy Trinity would have been an easier thing than moving forward.  I remember sitting alone some nights thinking how in the hell can I help my boy move forward when everything in his life was turned upside down and nothing seems to be going right for us. I had to remind myself many times that time marches on. 

     He entered into middle school a few months after Theresa died and that was one of the hardest times in our life.  Middle school is hard enough without dealing with all the life events that had taken place. It was a common occurrence for me to get phone calls from the school because things were not going well.  My co-workers in Tucson could tell you stories of my cell phone flying across the room a few times because of these calls.  Academically he was failing just about every subject he was taking.  Despite all of that, he called me one day and told me that he was going to run for an elected office on the student council.  He crafted a speech and gave it the next day.  Nothing came of that event other than frustration and sadness at the treatment he received by some of the 6th grade kids.

     Half way through 6th grade, we moved to Phoenix and found a private school for him to attend.  The rest of 6th grade was still hard.  7th grade got a little easier and 8th grade a lot easier. As he settled into his school, he started to realize his potential and ended the 8th grade on a high.  Despite the lunacy of the Covid-19 lockdown, he was maintaining a 4.0 GPA and becoming more engaged with his fellow students. 

     In the days and weeks after Theresa died, Ryan did not want anything to do with the present or future.  He did not want to ride in her car since it reminded him of her.  He did not want to stay in our house in Sahuarita since it reminded him of her.  He did not want to attend church since it reminded him of her.  He did not want to think about the future because it was a painful thought of walking forward with his Mom.  I remember telling him many times that as humans we can not go backwards and we can not stay in the present.  Time marches on and the only way for humans is to move forward.  I've had to tell myself that too.

     Last night Ryan told me that he was running for the class representative spot on the student council.  He told me that the elections were held earlier that day and that he would know the results of them in the village meeting his school holds every morning.  He told me he would email me once he knew the outcome of the election.  I texted him before school started "Good luck this morning.  Regardless of the outcome I'm proud that you ran".  This morning at 9:15 I received the following email: "I'm student rep for 9th grade".  Despite all the issues, setbacks, bullying and general garbage of life happening to him, Ryan was determined to move forward and to do it well.

     You look back on the lives of some of the Saints of the Church and you see all the hardships, struggles and sadness that they had to deal with.  Pope John Paul II lost his mother when he was 8 years old. 4 years later at the age of 12 he lost his brother to scarlet fever.  At the age of 21, his father died leaving him alone in the world at 21.  Despite all this sadness in his life, Karol Wojtyla found his way in the world, rising through the clerical ranks to assume the Chair of St. Peter in 1978 and remaining there until 2005, the second longest Papacy in church history.   I'm happy to see my boy finding his way in the world despite all the potholes in the road.   I wrote some time ago that life ain't always beautiful, but it's a beautiful ride.  

Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

Saint Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The First Time Back Is Always The Toughest

      A few weeks ago Ryan suggested that he and I do a roadtrip down to Tucson.  We could eat at some of our old favorite restaurants, do some of the fun tourist things we used to do, visit with some old friends and take a stroll down memory lane.  We drove to Tucson on September 4th and stayed in an AirBnb in the Catalina Foothills.  On Friday we drove by the house we moved into in April 2017 and sold in November 2017.  This was the house we moved to from the one we had where Ryan, Theresa and I lived.

     We did some fun things on Saturday morning, got lunch at Frankies Cheesteaks and drove down to our first house in Arizona located in Sahuarita.  I noticed that Ryan wasn't saying much on the drive down but he was looking out the window as the scenery of I-19 went by.  We pulled into our old neighborhood and I asked him if he remembered the way to our house.  He shook his head no.  We made our way through the maze of side streets until we turned down the road that went by the old place.  I looked over at Ryan and could see that this visit made him sad.

     Since we moved from Sahuarita in 2017, I had driven by that old house at least 5 times on various trips to Tucson.  It never occurred to me until Saturday that this was the first time Ryan had been back to that place since we moved from it after his Mom had died there.  We finished the trip to Sahuarita driving past his elementary school and headed back to our AirBnB.

     We headed to our old parish church, St. Melany, for the Saturday Divine Liturgy.  During the homily, Fr. Rankin spoke on fear and grief.  He said, "there are many people here today who can identify that one of the hardest things to do is to go back to church following the funeral of a loved one because that is the place where the funeral took place."  It was a timely homily to hear given the sadness that my boy had earlier in the day when he returned to his first home for the first time since he left it after the death of his Mom.

     I remember well the timeline of events that took place after Theresa died on a Monday.  We made arrangements on Tuesday, had her Parastas on Wednesday, her funeral on Thursday and returned to church on Sunday.  I remember all the things that Ryan said he could no longer do:  I can't ride in Mom's old car again; I can't sleep/stay in this house anymore; I can't sit through Divine Liturgy because church is the last place I saw Mom.

Homily from Sep 5

     This is the strength of the human spirit.  From a little boy saying all the things he could not do, he continued to sleep at the Sahuarita house for more than a year after his Mom died there.  He did ride in her old car, albeit for only a short period of time, until we traded it in.  And he did sit through many Divine Liturgies at St. Melany because that is what we do as Catholics, we attend our Divine services.  Nearly 5 years later, he sat in another Divine Liturgy in the church where his Mom was resting for her funeral Divine Liturgy and heard his priest speak about returning to church to experience the liturgy, seeing that the church is the portal to heaven and having faith to look beyond the physical experience of seeing a casket and body to see the hope of the Resurrection.  To not have that ability to see beyond the physical is a sin against faith.

     I am proud of my boy for just how far he has come since those conversations about not wanting to stay in his house.  His growth as a person and ability to overcome the giant obstacle that was put in his path is a testament to the power of faith.

The First Feast of the Church New Year

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