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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

All Will Be Revealed, You Will Have No Questions

     One of the things that has stayed with me from Theresa's Divine Liturgy was the homily given by Fr. Robert Rankin.  At one point he held up a tapestry of the last supper and said that when you look at a tapestry from behind, the image is not very clear.  Yet when you look at it the correct way, the image becomes crystal clear.  Another line from that homily was that when you go beyond the veil into eternity, you will not have any questions.

     The photo above was taken in Paris at the Basilica of Sacre Coeur in 2018.  It came from one of the many mosaics that surround the altar dome.  We were looking through pictures of the various churches we had visited in Paris and when I looked at this photo, something became very apparent to me.

     If you enlarge the photo, you will see that the first two saints are St. Theresa and St. Rose.  That was the name given at birth to Theresa.  What suddenly occurred to me was that she chose the name Genevieve for her confirmation when she turned Catholic at 18.  The part that gave me chills was that my Jennifer's name saint is St. Genevieve.

     In so many ways and so many situations, I catch a glimpse of how interwoven our lives are.   The irony of this is how long it took me to make the connection.  We received a beautiful icon for our wedding of St. Patrick and St. Genevieve.  We found a statue of St. Genevieve in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.  We visited the church and venerated the relics of St. Genevieve in Paris.  But it 
wasn't until last night, looking at a picture that it came to me.

     While I am still on this side of the veil, I don't see all the ways our lives are connected and directed by the giver of life. I sure hope that Fr. Rankin is correct and at the moment I pierce the veil and see the other side, there will be no questions and all things will be revealed to me.  Until that moment, I will cherish the little moments when I catch a glimpse of just how blessed and directed our  (Jennie and Patrick) lives are.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Out of Nowhere

     Tonight I had some time to myself and decided to take the little red convertible out for a drive in the cool evening night.  I had the top down, heater turned all the way up (it was 62 degrees) and the seat warmer on.  I was driving down a two lane road when the song "Eye in the Sky" by Jonatha Brooke came on.

     The last time I heard all of this song was 5 years ago driving in a different convertible, on a two lane road in Sahuarita, AZ with Theresa sitting in the passenger seat.  She wasn't feeling good but wanted to go out in the cool night air for a drive and wanted to hear this song.  It was one of her favorites, especially the version above.  I remember that night like it was yesterday.  This totally caught me off-guard.

     I remember what she was wearing, a green scarf she bought in Ireland, a brown leather bomber jacket, jeans and a big heavy blanket wrapped around herself. When the song ended she turned to me and said, Thank You for playing that song for me and thank you for taking me out to enjoy this night..   It was such a powerful memory.  Little did I know on that cool night in Southern Arizona that just 144 short days later she would be gone from our lives forever.  I remember being told that this process would be like waves in the ocean crashing into you.  It amazes me that something as simple as a song can trigger such an intense memory from many years ago.

May her memory be eternal.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

This Should Be Required Watching

I found this today and watched the entire Ted talk.   I say this should be required watching for anyone who has lost someone, is losing someone or will lose someone.  Mad props to her for this talk.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Life Well Lived

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 was like any other day in our family.  Mom and Dad both went to work, the adults went to their jobs, and the kids to school.  I was sitting on my couch grading papers watching the World Series when my mom called at 6:58 pm.  I missed her first call because my ringer was off  and the phone was on the counter.  I was not used to getting a call from my mom during the week so I followed up a missed call with a return call a few minutes.  It went straight to voicemail.

She called me about 20 minutes later and said through tears, "Jennie, your dad is dead.  He's here in the house.  Can you come over?"  I was in shock, went to my room, and asked to her to repeat what she said.  She said it again with panic rising up in her voice.  I remember sobbing in my room while I waited for Patrick to come home.  My brother in law was here visiting for my mother in laws birthday and he came to the room to console me.  I remember sitting on the floor in the bathroom crying loudly with my arms around my knees and my legs scrunched up to my body.  I was rocking back and forth in a state of total confusion.  My husband was at the gym, the girls were at Joel's house.  

As soon as Patrick got home we rushed over.  I had so many thoughts swirling around in my head ... how can this be, he's only 67, we just saw him three days ago at the pumpkin patch.  It's just not possible.  I immediately wanted to go to him.  I knew he was at the house in the living room.  The police would not let us enter through the front door because they have to treat the area like a crime scene, taking pictures, examining the body etc ...

All I could think about is how my mother must have felt looking around the house for him, calling his name, then stumbling upon his lifeless body.  You see October 22nd was a normal day for my dad.  He went to work, came home, pulled in the trash, even changed out a part on the pool leaving a box in the recycle bin as evidence.  He had stopped to get himself dinner knowing my mom would be at church teaching.  He turned on the TV to Fox News and had it going in the front room while he went out to the living room where their computer sat.

We now know that heart disease caused him to have a cerebral stroke.  He died instantly and fell out of his computer chair.  I take comfort knowing that he was not in pain.  We bear the burden of the pain now when we think about just how fast it happened.  You wish that you had held on longer on that last hug.  We took the girls to the Pumpkin Patch just three days before dad died.  We went to lunch after and had to leave abruptly because Emma got sick.  I didn't get to say goodbye.  I do remember sitting across from him watching him eat chicken nuggets and drinking his favorite drink, lemonade.  He called me about an hour after we got home asking how Emma was feeling.  That's just the kind of dad/grandpa he was.  He always looked out for us and wanted to be sure his "girls" were ok.  I'll never forget the trip we were able to take to Disneyland with my parents this summer.  You debate sometimes, can we afford this?  Let me tell you, it was a stretch for me to get the girls there but I'm so glad we did.  These trips and moments with family are priceless.  I'd much rather save for travel with my family then spend money on things that fade with time.

Dad was a man of a strong faith.  It was a quiet faith, but you knew it was there when you got into his car and saw all of the prayer cards he had around his dash.  We found a miraculous medal on his nightstand as well as rosaries and prayer books.  I know it hurt my dad to see how far I fell away from the church in my 20's and 30's.  Both he and my mom are a huge reason for my reversion.  I'm certain of it.  If you knew my dad, you knew he was funny always had a joke to tell or a smile on his face.  He knew how to make us all laugh.  I'm going to miss that so much.  I was looking back on photos the other day and the ones from Father's Day came up.  I didn't know that would be my last Father's Day with my dad.

One thing I remember about October 22nd was taking my students to adoration.  We have a family whose father is struggling through a cancer diagnosis.  I knew it was the feast day of St. John Paul II and I prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament for a miracle for the Hammond family.  Little did I know, my dad needed a miracle of his own.  His heart was in bad shape and none of us knew just how precarious his condition was.   I know how proud my dad was that his daughter came home to the church.  He loved telling people I was a Catholic school teacher.  To go from leaving the faith, to teaching the faith, is quite a turn around.   I am forever grateful for the prayers this man offered (likely in front of the Blessed Sacrament)  that brought me back to the Lord.  My dad loved going to adoration.

A photo I took of the blessed sacrament just hours before he died.

My dad watched me go through some very hard times when my first marriage ended.  One thing I'm forever grateful for is that he was there to see me marry Patrick.  He walked me down the aisle, with my mom, beaming with pride and love.  He knew his daughter would loved and honored by the man who was waiting for me at the altar.   Dad loved Patrick.  You could just tell how proud he was to tell people his son in law worked for the FBI.  He loved discussing politics with Patrick.  If you know my dad, you know he was opinionated about politics.  Patrick would just listen to him and let him spout off all of his Fox News wisdom with a smile and a chuckle.  I love this photo of the two of them together at the St. Joseph's festival a few years ago.  Patrick reminds me of my dad in so many ways ... a man of God, a faithful and loving husband and father, and someone who loves me deeply.

If there is one thing anyone can learn from a sudden and unexpected death of a loved one it is that life is SHORT.  Today could very well be your last day on earth.  Are you in a job that you love, are you in a marriage where you are being honored, are you right with God?  If the answer is no, then change that RIGHT AWAY.  You just don't know when you will be called home.  67 is pretty young these days to be called to the Lord, as we have technology and medicines that should allow us to live well into our 80's now.  My dad didn't get to see those extra years, but I think that is just because his soul was perfected and God was ready for another servant in heaven.  When my husband lost his wife at a young age to cancer his priest said that sometimes it just takes less time to perfect a soul and that the departed may be able to able to do more for us from the other side of the kingdom. I take great comfort in those words during this time.  

May your memory be eternal, my beautiful and loving father.  I miss you so much!   

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Unequally Yoked and Protecting Innocence

     Of all the things one deals with in a second marriage, not much thought is given to what happens when the children spend time at a church that has a different, dare I say wrong, worldview on things.  Yet, this is one of the great stressors that comes out of a civil divorce and annulment of a Protestant and Catholic.

     In the Encyclical Quemadmodum, Pope Pius XII wrote:  "In the light of such words and sentiments, Venerable Brethren, you see with what love, diligence and care the Church looks after infants and children following the lead of her Founder.  While she exercises all possible care to see that they be provided with food, shelter and clothing for their bodies, she does not ignore or neglect their souls which - born, so to speak, from the breath of God - seem to portray the radiant beauty of Heaven.  Her first care and endeavor is, then, to preserve their innocence from stain and provide for their eternal salvation. Quemadmodum, Section 9.

     This unequal yoke came up a few months ago when one of Jennie's girls came home and asked, "Why does the Catholic Church hate gay people?"  "After all, they can't help it that God made them that way". "Love is love and they should be able to marry the person they love".   It was not a difficult thing to figure out where these questions and statement came from.  The Ecclesial community they attend 1/2 the year is rupturing over same-sex marriage, same-sex attraction and ministry.

     The teaching of the Catholic Church on same sex marriage and same sex attraction is clear. From the Catechism of The Catholic Church there are several points to reference.

  • 2357 - Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.  It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures.  Its psychological genes remains largely unexplained.
  • 2358 - The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.  This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes from most of them a trial.  They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.
  • 2360 - Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman.  In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion.
  • 2363 - The spouses' union achieves the twofold meaning of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life.  These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage.

     While questions asked above are bound to come up, how can one of the parents not see the teaching of their ecclesial community, the almost militant insistence on accepting of something that is morally objectionable is not a violation of the duty to preserve their children innocence from stain and provide for their eternal salvation?

     So, what is a Catholic parent to do when faced with this burden?  Here are some general discussion points to consider:

  • Once it has become evident that the child is hearing something that is a violation of their innocence, lay out the teaching of the church.
  • People with same-sex tendencies are to be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
  • Teach that respect, compassion and sensitivity do not mean acceptance of the behavior.  
  • Teach that the church is a hospital for sinners.  And like any hospital, you do not get to dictate the terms of your treatment plan.  
  • When faced with someone saying that "God made them this way",  teach your children that God did not make man to sin.  It was the disobedience of man that brought sin, and death into the world.  
  • Teach your children basic logic.  For example, if the false argument is put forth that God made same sex attracted couples the way they are and thus must be accepted without any questions, have the children ask "Did God make serial killers the way they are?"  If so, we must accept them without question.  Simple logic causes that question to fall flat.
  • Teach the faith to them all the time.  Be living examples of it and do not be afraid to give a defense for the hope that is in you.  
  • Finally, realize that this false dichotomy the children are exposed to in the non catholic community is what they are exposed to in the world.  Realize that this is a good training ground for them to learn how to understand their Catholic faith and how to defend it when faced with morally objectionable material.

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...