Missing Mom

artist Michael Meier
It's been almost a year since my mom died (Dec. 2 is the actual anniversary.) I didn't think it would hit me this hard, but all I really want to do right now is retreat into a cocoon of blankets, tea and a rosary.

Dear Husband and I were with our spiritual director last night, and I spoke of this. She said, "You know, my parents have both been gone for over 20 years, and I still have moments where I think, 'I wish you were here." And she went on to speak of the "body experience" (which is a very Franciscan thing) of missing loved ones: the longing for the touch, the voice.

I don't want Mom "back." I pray her soul is at peace with God. But her voice, her hug. Whenever I visited, she would stand at her door as I was leaving and wave. "Call me when you get home, so I know you're safe."  I'm 50 years old, and she still worried about sending her baby out into the world, where so many bad things can happen. How can I not miss that?

I'm surrounded by her things. I wear her engagement ring as my own now. My parents were married nearly 60 years; I hope Dear Husband and I enjoy at least that much time together. But it's not the ring. It's the story of how Dad met Mom, how he courted her and then asked her to marry him. Tell us again, Daddy...

A year ago, I was sleep-deprived, standing watch over her as she struggled so mightily to shed her mortal shell. She had stopped speaking, but would cry out in the night, "Thy will be done." My brother or I would pray the rosary aloud, and we would hear her voice, weak but firm: "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."

My brother would arrive to "spell" me. I'd go grab a few hours of sleep, and then continue sorting through her things. Every item I touched required a decision. To whom should this go? Who will be the caretaker now? Should this be tossed? And then, I'd go back to Mom and hold the hand that had held each of these items.

I know that some people associate death with a body in a casket at a funeral home. The hushed tones. The boxes of Kleenex everywhere. Dimmed lights. But that's not death.

Death - like birth - is a privilege to behold, but is also so incredibly painful. That soul is lurching, as if in labor pains, to go back to whence it came: to be with God. For the ones standing by the bedside, you hold the hand, you wipe the brow, you feed ice chips. More than anything, you pray.

My birthday in 2015 was spent in exactly the same spot that my first birthday was celebrated: in the same hospital where I was born. This time, though, the roles were reversed: I was the caretaker, the one who tended to the cry.

I have this hurdle to clear on Friday. I will pray, as I do every day, that Mom and Dad have found eternal rest, and if not, that God may grant them that rest quickly. But still...

I am sure George MacDonald said it far better than I ever could, in his poem, A Prayer for the Past:

But were they dead in me, 
they live In Thee, Whose Parable is—Time, 
And Worlds, and Forms—all things that give 
Me thoughts, and this my rime. 

 Father, in joy our knees we bow: 
This earth is not a place of tombs: 
We are but in the nursery now; 
They in the upper rooms. 

 For are we not at home in Thee, 
And all this world a visioned show; 
That, knowing what Abroad is, we 
What Home is too may know?

Huh. Didn't see that comin'

If I were to write an autobiography, I believe it's title would be, Huh. Didn't See That Coming. A few examples:

  • A proper Catholic girl who fell in love with and married an agnostic. (He converted later.)
  • Infertility
  • Adopting 5 kids
  • Staying sane raising 5 kids
  • Speech therapy, psychological therapy, occupational therapy...
  • A parade of social workers who always knew better than I did
  • The incredible implosion that puberty had on my kids' brains.
I could go on. And I shall.

About 18 years ago, we bought a "dream house." A great place to raise kids. Lots of other kids in the neighborhood, on a quiet cul-de-sac. Perfect.

Until things went so completely, utterly and horribly sideways.

Eldest Son was far more troubled that we knew initially, and eventually was removed from our home. Our "perfect home" became haunted for me - I felt guilty for not seeing what was right under my nose. 

As our kids grew older, the chemicals that their birth mother had implanted in their brains in utero ran smack into the hormones of puberty and many, many things got broken: hearts, walls, appliances. For a long time, we lived in a war zone. 

About 8 years ago, my husband lost a job and the economy tanked. We clung to that house for dear life, but came within weeks of losing it. Our thinking was that losing the only house my kids knew would be one more devastating emotional blow. A friend stepped up and helped us out, and we stayed in the house.

This past year, we put a lot of money, time and energy into fixing the place up. It was finally becoming the house I really wanted - it was a new home and we were going to make so many new memories.

Then our friend decided it had taken far too long for us to get a new mortgage in our name. To be fair, it had. We actually had a new mortgage secured last summer, and then my husband became critically ill. We had to start the mortgage roulette all over again. So close...

An attorney wrote us a letter, and told us we were going to be evicted on January 1. Due to my health, we begged for another month. So, the eviction will take place on February 1.

We scrambled for a mortgage. And then - we stopped.

We found an apartment that "fits," for now. We are purging. We have too much stuff anyway. God is leading us somewhere, but we don't know where - yet. But we prayed, and talked, and this feels right.  We figured out (of course!) that "home" is wherever we are. 

Nope. Didn't see this comin'. But it will be fine. Really. Really fine. Because, after all, God's been in charge the whole way.

My Constant Prayer Right Now

Crucifixion, artist Simon Bisley
Holy wound in the side of my Jesus, I adore Thee; I compassionate Thee, O Jesus, for the cruel insult Thou didst suffer. I thank Thee, my Jesus, for the love which suffered Thy side and Heart to be pierced, so that the last drops of blood and water might issue forth, making my redemption to overflow. I offer to the Eternal Father this outrage, and the love of Thy most holy humanity, that my soul may enter once for all into that most loving Heart, eager and ready to receive the greatest sinners, and never more depart. 

Eight Years



Multiply that by eight years.

Eight years ago - 2008. The US elected a man I did not vote for nor like. His administration rammed a health care package down the throats of the American people that forced many of us to pay for birth control and abortion, which we find morally repugnant. He spoke of "freedom of worship" which is far different than "freedom of religion" - a fundamental right of Americans. His presidency will be remembered by some of us for going after the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns founded in 1839. They provide end of life care for the destitute. The president for the past 8 years believed these women should provide birth control and abortion for their employees, which is a direct violation of their religious freedom.

I could go on.

Eight years.

For the past eight years, I have fought like hell for a daughter with special needs. I have been told by "her" social worker, a state employee was charged with my daughter's care, "I haven't read her file, [laugh]. It's pretty long." The woman NEVER MET MY DAUGHTER, yet was responsible for making decisions regarding my daughter's care.

Another government employee told me and my husband as we were trying to get help for our daughter, help that was promised to us when we adopted her: "Oh, you're THOSE parents. You adopt a kid and then try and give her back to the state." That guy still has his teeth, which in itself is a miracle, because I damned near punched him.

When my daughter was viciously and repeatedly attacked, a police detective told me, "Your daughter is just a bad kid who got involved in stuff she didn't understand." This, despite the fact that my daughter identified her attackers; no one was ever arrested.

Eight years.

I've fought for my kids' education. I've raised 5 kids, some of whom have significant mental health issues.

I taught high school.

I lost both my parents, caring for them at the end of their life.

I've been in two horrific car accidents, both caused by distracted drivers.

I almost lost my husband to a rare complication following a "simple outpatient procedure."

I have depression. I'm still here.

I have a benign, inoperable spinal tumor that causes me pain every single day.

My kids have, at various times, found me stupid, irrelevant, overbearing, and difficult. Yet we still fight on for our family, in love, mercy and sheer stubbornness.

I've repaired a relationship with a sister.

I wrote a book, and in the process met some of the most amazing people who fight every day for victims of human trafficking. Some of those people are themselves survivors and are heroes just for getting out of bed every day, let alone fighting for other victims.

I was forced out of a job I loved and was damned good at, for reasons I still don't understand. I found a new job, only to be fired four days later. The guy who hired me told me I was an "embarrassment." I was still trying to remember where the break room was. I started another job in January of this year, and am pleased and relieved to say it is a joy to work here.

Eight years.

I'll bet if you look over the past eight years of  your life, you'll see joys and sorrows, triumphs and setbacks. Most of us are too damned busy to go out and protest against a politician. We have lunches to pack, laundry to wash and fold (and maybe put away), bills to pay. We have to get a teenager through geometry and a second-grader ready for First Communion. We have to help plan the parish bazaar, or makes meals for a neighbor who just had surgery.

Eight years. I have to say that - politically - I haven't been too damned thrilled with politicians in the past eight years, especially the President of the United States. But then again, I've never been too damned thrilled with politicians.

Here's the deal: every four years, one side wins and the other loses. And we Americans still have to get on with doing what we do. Right now, we need to decide: Is "what we do" tearing each other apart? Is that who Americans are now? Are we so politically divided that we will call each other "bigots" across the table at Thanksgiving? Do we divide our friends by whether or not they agree with us on every damn thing that comes down the pike?

I hope not.

I'm not too damned thrilled with the current President-Elect. But I've got bigger things on my mind. Am I being charitable? Am I doing what God's will is for me? Am I praying enough? Am I truly seeking what God wants? Am I serving my family and my friends.

In eight years, will I be a better person than I am today? Eight years.

Post-election Blues

Actually, I'm not really all that upset about the election. I didn't care for either of the major party candidates and judging by FB today, we are just as divided a nation today as we were yesterday. No, my heart is heavy for a lot of different reasons, none of them political.

For those of us who struggle with depression, we know it is a constant battle with the beast. Some days, just getting out of bed is a monumental effort. Got dressed? Bonus! Went to work? Double-bonus! Did not put  your head on your desk and weep? You win a trip to Aruba!! (If only...)

We have instituted a "family dinner" once a month, but it's never the whole family. Got too many wounds, too much turbulence, too much mental illness. I cherish these days, but they hurt too.

I'm worried about a medical procedure I'm supposed to have done. It's kinda radical, but also hopeful. But will it work? I dunno. But it will require some down time, and this year, I've missed so much work due to pain. My boss and my company have been supportive and gracious, but it still worries me.

I've got a kiddo who is bound and determined to be the Prodigal, even when we've begged and pleaded with him not to go. I just hope he will be able to return, and not wind up dead out there in the world.

We've had financial stresses for the past 15 years, but nothing like this. Will we be able to remain in our home? Can we get financing for a different house? Will we end up in an apartment (and have to get rid of beloved pets?)?

I am literally sick with worry. I know: trust in the Lord. But the Lord is not always so great on keeping me informed. And my depression and anxiety are not about a lack of faith; they are no more under my control than someone's appendicitis or another person's astigmatism. I know that God is with us, but I truly feel like my whole life is being juggled by a creepy clown.

President Trump? Ok. Not thrilled but we will deal with it. But if you see me smiling when you ask me how I am ... ask again, and say, "I really want to know how you're doing."

Holding on to a kid for dear life

Maybe you know this. Maybe you've done it. But if you haven't...

As parents, we know that someday, we must let go of our kids. They have to grow up. You relish those moments of cuddling them after a bath, of snuggling on the couch on a rainy day, of watching them learn a new skill.

But that moment when  you have to let go? We'd rather not.

Maybe it happens when  you drop them off at college that first time. Or that first time you hand them the keys to the car. Or when they get their first real job.

Maybe it's when they tell you (in utter sincerity) that they've learned a lesson you've put before them all their life, but NOW, it finally makes sense.

Sometimes, the letting go is not a happy one. It is not because they have reached a new height, or have grown up, matured. No, this letting go is ugly and sad and harder than anything you've ever done.

This letting go is because your child has made horrible choices. It's drugs or alcohol or the addictive behavior that goes along with it. You have to let go because you cannot support them or their habit. You cannot drag the rest of the family down.

You have to give the child a choice: get clean, learn a new way of living or ... you have to go.

Other parents will tell you how despicable you are for not supporting your child. People will see your kid and thank God that they are not you - for you must be a terrible parent for having a kid that has turned out this way. As a parent, you are a pariah, an anathema. You are at fault. For the other parents, it is inconceivable that their child might choose the same path, so it must be the parents' fault. It is the only way they can justify their damning of you.

Your child is a mess. They lie and steal and deny. You no longer talk to them: you talk to the drugs or the alcohol. You offer food, but not money. You will buy them clothes, but won't give them cash. You know all too well what that money would go for.

Is it love to treat your child like this? Or is it love to not have turned them out? You will be judged. You will be seen as the worst of parents - you "don't support your child." You have to carry that weight.

Your child to will curse you. He will judge you, say hateful things to you. You must wipe the spittle from  your face.

You have to let go.

What no one sees, of course, is that you are holding that child so tightly in prayer. You do not turn them out - you turn them over to God. You beg our Blessed Mother to protect that child. Your knees bleed because you are on them so much. You know, in a very small way, the sword that has pierced Our Mother's heart.

No, you have not let that child go. You are clinging to them in prayer, in supplication, in petition. You will never let them go.

Happy Feast of All Souls', the Day of the Dead And Why You Should Celebrate

One great thing about being Catholic is that we are always celebrating something. Halloween? Yes, please! Feast of All Saints'? You betcha! Feast of All Souls? We are in!

A woman decorates her family "ofrenda" or Day of the Dead altar
One thing that nearly all world religions have in common is some sort of attention to ancestors. It's common for Buddhist to have an altar or shrine in the home,  with a scroll in place listing the family ancestors. Both the Chinese and Japanese have a time of year when ancestral graves are cleaned, decorated and there is food prepared - both for the living and dead.

As Catholics, we celebrate All Saints' and All Souls'. I kinda wish we had more attention paid to what we can do in our homes to celebrate - our celebrations are pretty much limited to church attendance, unless you're more of a zealot. (And I consider myself one, so I do not mean that in a pejorative sense.)

Now, if you want to see these celebrations done right, head to Catholic Mexico and the Day of the Dead. This is a marvelous example of how Catholicism takes an indigenous belief and "sanctifies" it by bringing the Light of Truth (Jesus) to it.

In most Indian villages, beautiful altars (ofrendas) are made in each home. They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil & bright red cock's combs) mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan demuerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of soda, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits. Little folk art skeletons and sugar skulls, purchased at open-air markets, provide the final touches.
Day of the Dead is a very expensive holiday for these self-sufficient, rural based, indigenous families. Many spend over two month's income to honor their dead relatives. They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families. Ofrendabuilding keeps the family close.
On the afternoon of Nov. 2, the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones. Tradition keeps the village close. Day of the Dead is becoming very popular in the U.S. ~ perhaps because we don't have a way to celebrate and honor our dead, or maybe it's because of our fascination with it's mysticism.
When was the last time you walked around a cemetery? Have you ever visited ancestral graves? "It's been awhile" and "No..." are the most common answers. Yet, as Catholics, we passionately believe that the righteous dead (saints) are more fully alive than we are, since they exist now in the presence of Almighty God. These "big brothers and sisters" in the faith are the most likely people for us to ask for intercessory prayer (No, we do not worship the dead. Neither do most religions. We honor them.)

Every Catholic family could use the month of November to talk about how the Catholic faith has been lived out in OUR family. Talk about Grandma and Grandpa's marriage. How did our ancestors bring the faith from the Old World to the New? Are any of our family members found a new parish? What sacrifices did they make to make sure we were raised and educated in the faith?

Happy Feast of All Souls'. May this month be a rich one for you and your family of faith!

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