“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.” –Neil Gaiman.
“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.” –Neil Gaiman.
The summer after my mom died ten year ago, I discovered a cache of letters, poems, and old photos I had never seen before, many of which dated back to her high school and college years. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to discover that my mother–my mother!–had once been as immature and silly as I remember myself being during those years. Well, almost. There were other surprises awaiting me as well.
I think I was somewhere in my twenties when I realized that my parents had actually been people before I came into their lives. Interesting, intelligent, fun people, growing and experiencing young adulthood just as I was at the time. My head almost exploded at the thought. “Well, of course,” my mom said mildly, barely looking up from her mystery novel when I shared my discovery with her. My dad just looked at me. “When I was your age, I was fighting a war, ” was all he said, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open and my world tilted on its axis a bit more. Ever since, I’ve been hungry to learn more about them, the young woman and man who became my parents.
My mother’s letters and poems have helped me understand how she dealt (actually, she didn’t really deal) with the sudden loss of her father in a farming accident when she was 20. Reading her prose makes me sad that she never followed up on her youthful ambition to be a writer, and makes me more determined than ever to somehow, someway, realize my dream of becoming one, chronic migraines be damned! Looking through her papers I am continually reminded that although I may not be her flesh and blood, I am so much like her I might just as well be…The passionate love poem she wrote to my dad shortly before their wedding, well, I just have to keep putting that one aside because I can’t wrap my mind around that one, nor am I entire certain I want to!
But most astounding and overwhelming letters that I found were the ones I had no inkling existed, the letters she wrote to God when she converted to the Catholic Church in her early twenties. My mom was a real Christian; she lived the Beatitudes and was warm, generous, joyful, and loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental and kindness itself. But these letters reveal a depth of love so overwhelming that it is shocking, in the the same way some of the more mystical writings of the saints are shocking. It’s a good reminder that not all saints are canonized, that even those we love most have hidden depths, and that, indeed, we are all called to holiness.
Happy Easter Monday!
One of my theology professors used to refer to Christians as “Easter People”. Which we are, of course, since the death and resurrection of Christ are the founding events of our faith. But what does it mean, really…what are the implications for our everyday lives?
It means that we are never without hope. It means that all creation is redeemed and sanctified. It means that the final goodbye of death is, in reality, not forever, that Christ by his rising from the dead has forever conquered death, that although we may be parted from our loved ones for a time, someday we will be together again. It means that we have faith that our final destiny is to live forever with God, that our death is, in fact, a homecoming. And it means that we are loved, infinitely, amazingly, wonderfully loved by God, in manner far beyond our limited human comprehension.
So the question remains: How do we live our lives in response to the Easter event? I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that the serious business of Christianity is joy. Joy because our world is forever transformed, that no matter how ugly the news is, no matter how awful the presidential race becomes, we know that ultimately we are redeemed, that God calls us each by name. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong somehow to feel sadness, grief, anger, discouragement…all normal human emotions. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s some kind of sin to suffer from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It simply means that we understand that loss and grief, trauma, physical pain and illness,even evil, don’t have the last word; the God who loves us each beyond our wildest imaginings and who never leaves us does. So how can we possibly, if we really believe what we say we do, live our lives in any other way but in joyful, hopeful gratitude?
Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw it all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.
Build His church and deck His shrine,
Empty though it be on earth;
Ye have kept your choicest wine–
Let it flow for heavenly mirth;
Pluck the harp and breathe the horn:
Know ye not ’tis Easter morn?
Gather gladness from skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do open their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter’s robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.
Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe,
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow:
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.
Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth, let your souls always
Make each morn an Easter Day.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)*
*Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was a Jesuit priest and English poet
The last of the Resch boys, the five sons of John and Bertha Resch, was laid to rest earlier this month. He wasn’t the last-born, but he was the last to die; an entire century passed between the birth of Leo, the eldest of the five, and the death of Albert. But for those of us who loved them, my father and my uncles, a century wasn’t nearly enough time to have them with us.
My Uncle Al, the last surviving brother, died of pneumonia on January 6, 2016. Today would be his 88th birthday.
I feel as though my heart is broken and bleeding, scattered into dozens of pieces. I always adored my Uncle Al (I think all of his nieces did). More than that, however, he’s been like a second father to me ever since I lost my own 23 years ago. In fact, the moment he walked into my dad’s wake, I flung myself into his arms and asked him if he would give me away when I got married. Which, of course, he did. Miracle of miracles, he even wore a tux for the big event, which according to my Aunt Mickie was quite an amazing phenomenon. (I’m not entirely sure my own father would have agreed to wear one, actually.)
All of the Resch brothers were handsome, with easy grins and athletic builds. Although my dad, Leonard, was nine years older than Al, I loved watching them together because not only did they resemble each other physically, but they shared the same mannerisms, gestures, verbal expressions, and quirky sense of humor. And they were both just magic with kids. And animals. And growing things. All of those brothers had a strong nurturing, gentle streak. And talk about salt of the earth! If you needed them, you didn’t even have to ask–they were already there. I believe you learn a lot about a person’s character by what they take for granted. Well, those boys, every one of them, simply took for granted that one is there to help. To be kind. To be strong for you when you felt weak.
So many memories…The day after my dad’s funeral, I called my Aunt Barb in a panic, asking her to come over because mom and I’d had a stupid fight over nothing, and she was hysterical. I’d never seen my mother like that. In no time at all Aunt Barb was there, to talk to my mom in a way that I, submerged in my own grief, couldn’t. And Uncle Al was there too…I just recall clutching the flag from my dad’s casket and sobbing, endlessly, in his arms, while he patted my back and let me cry myself out.
He even came to stay with us a couple of times to help us with major repairs on the house–it was a beautiful turn of the century structure, but required constant upkeep. (That’s another thing about those Resch boys, they could fix anything!) While he was here, Uncle Al and I had a number of long talks, and he related stories about my dad, his Army service, all kinds of things I never heard from anyone else. So in a way, Uncle Al gave me the gift of my father. Just as he became a second father to me, for 23 years.
And of course, being a Resch brother meant mischief. It meant that one existed in order to tease and make the lives of their children, younger siblings, and nieces and nephews difficult! My dad always got this special twinkle in his blue eyes right before he was about to tease me, and so did Al, who called me “Sparky” all through my teen years because of my red hair and, er, temper. Furthermore, all through my teen years, every time a boy paid any attention to me, I was terrified my dad would find out–because I’d never, ever, hear the end of it! Everything was grist for the teasing mill. But they were always sweet, never mean or cruel in their teasing. We–children, nieces, and nephews–all knew it was a sign of affection, and we loved it.
Leo, Leonard, Tony, Al, and Frankie. One blog post can never do them justice, but this has to be written. As one of the nieces, and as Leonard’s daughter and only child, I feel compelled to write something to honor their passing, to tell whoever might stop to read this how truly special these brothers were. To give witness to the huge void they have left behind. And to honor the amazing legacy they have left for their children, their nieces and nephews, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.
Al’s death has left a lot of broken hearts. Yet, like his brothers, he also was a man who took a great deal of solace from his faith, and those of us left behind do as well; we know that, someday, God promises to wipe away every tear, that death will be no more, that goodbye is not forever. And in the meantime we have our memories, our stories, to share and cherish. We know that they are never far away from us. And most of all, we know that love never ends.
Al lived in Montana, where he and my beloved late Aunt Mickie raised eight children. Some of my favorite memories are of the trips daddy and I took to visit them all! It is fitting, somehow, that he lived in Big Sky Country, because when I think of him I picture enormous, unending blue sky, and sunshine, laughter and stories and a love even vaster than the sky above.
So goodbye for a while, darling Uncle Al. I hope you know how much I loved you and always will, and what a difference you made in my life.
In paradisium deducant te angeli
May choirs of angels lead you into paradise
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
and at your arrival may the martyrs welcome you;
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
may they bring you into the holy city, Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
May the holy angels welcome you,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
and with Lazarus, who lived in poverty,
aeternam habeas requiem.
may you have everlasting rest.
Until my father died suddenly, on a snowy, cold January day 23 years ago yesterday, I always assumed the word “heartache” was simply a metaphor.
Now I know better. I don’t feel it every day anymore, thank goodness, but I still do, a lot more often than I’d like, as though a cold, clammy hand is squeezing my heart until it hurts. Sometimes, when I’m alone, I double over from the pain, and wail, keen, at the top of my voice. I remind myself, repeatedly, that “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
I’m not trying to be maudlin, or melodramatic. Just honest about the intensity of the grief, partly because I know I am not the only one who lives with this deep aching void, even though our society doesn’t encourage us to talk about it.
And it’s good to talk about our losses, our grief. To share our stories. The pain never goes away completely, but together, we can help each other heal. Heal to the point where our memories bring us joy, not pain, and our hearts, although cracked, are even more able to love compassionately than before.
The absence of you
Carved a hole in my chest,
despite the passing of time.
If I could talk to you now,
fix my gaze upon your face,
or rest in your unwavering embrace
I wouldn’t let go,
I’d say I couldn’t get through.
Nothing could have prepared me
for the absence of you.
–Sarah Elle Emm
PRAY FOR PARIS
yes, pray for Paris
before They attacked Paris
They bombed Beirut
They brought down a Russian airliner
They killed one hundred in Egypt
They have slaughtered thousands in Syria and Iraq
and they are not done yet
so pray not just for Paris
pray for Our entire broken, bleeding, world
for We are all in this
I think my migraines have totally addled my brain. I’ve had them all week, just when the A to Blogging Challenge began. I couldn’t find my blog on their Linky list, so I think I might have been removed for not posting. I DID post briefly yesterday about the Challenge, then removed my post because I thought I’d been taken off of the list; I just happened to look at my stats today, however, and I had five visits to that post yesterday. So. I will do the Challenge, starting today. I have to post every day this month except Sundays. So I will post today, starting with “E” and my theme is Healing.
I plan to recount my journey, post about where I am now, and add photos, other images, and quotes (I love quotes, especially poetry) along with a heavy dose of spirituality, the occasional prayer, some tips and tricks I have found that help. I should note here that I am writing about healing in general but also specifically about my struggles with severe PTSD and major depression, along with back surgeries, cervical spine disease, infertility, chronic migraine, and last but not least, fibromyalgia.I also hope to begin a resource list.
I am going to go ahead and post the badge and links to the Challenge even though I might not be officially a part of it. I am looking forward to discovering new bloggy friends from the list (the one I don’t think I am on anymore, lol). I also hope to post a couple of times the first few days to add posts from letters A to D. And next year, hopefully I will be more together and start blogging with “A” on April 1st!
And hopefully, even if I’m not officially part of the Challenge, my posts might help some of my friends out there who are going through a rough stretch.
When people ask me why I’m studying theology, I usually just explain, “Well, I want to work as a chaplain, preferably in hospice.” Sometimes I just get a strange look, more often I get the look along with an “…oh, okay…” Occasionally a brave person will speak up and ask me what a chaplain actually does, or why I’d want to do something so depressing. A relative told me once he wished I would do something more worthwhile with my life than prayer. Um, okay.
I did my first chaplaincy internship back in my twenties, before I had to drop out of school to deal with my fibromyalgia and migraines. This is a short story about my first hospice consult (I was terrified) which was subsequently published in our archdiocesan newspaper when they asked for submission on the question: Who Is My Neighbor?
Dwarfed by the hospital bed, surrounded by IVs and beeping monitors, she was a tiny, frail elderly woman with enormous haunted dark eyes dominating a white face. A native of Poland, she spoke little English, but was nonetheless able to understand the diagnosis: inoperable stomach cancer.
Six months, maybe less, to live.
I was a chaplain intern with a grand total of three weeks experience,
observing my first hospice consult. What could I, a 27-year-old graduate
student, possibly say to a lonely frightened dying woman who didn’t
even speak English?
As I stood huddled in a corner of the room and watched, a tear formed in one of those dark eyes and slid slowly down her face. Then another. And another. Her fragile body began to shake; and suddenly I found myself far from the safety of my hidden corner, my inexperience forgotten, my arms around her and my face buried against her shoulder, I dug out my little blue
plastic rosary, and as we wept and prayed together, the healing love of
Christ transcended the gulf between us, overcoming the barriers of
language and age, binding us together as fellow pilgrims walking hand in
hand on our journey home.
In truth, I have come to realize since, we are all fellow pilgrims on a journey home to the God who created us and loves us beyond our wildest imaginings. We are, indeed, our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper, and we are called to bear one another’s burdens. We have more in common than we realize, as I discovered in my first hospice consult, and it is
through Christ’s love that we are able to journey with, and heal, each
And THAT is why I want to be a chaplain.
From today’s Prayer for the Morning in Magnificat, a hymn for Memorial Day:
“Remember, Lord, the fallen
Who died in fields of war,
In flaming clouds, in screaming crowds,
On streets that are no more,
That we today might waken
And greet this day in peace
With grateful prayer for those who bear
The storms that never cease.
“Remember friends and strangers,
And those forgotten now,
Whose names are known to you alone,
Before whose love we bow
And ask that you surround them
With mercy’s endless light
That we may live, and we forgive
The foe they went to fight.
“Remember, Lord, the living,
Who bear the pain of loss–
A death she died who stood beside
Her Son upon the cross.
“Remember all your children,
The dead and those who weep,
And make us one beneath the sun
Where love will never sleep.”
– Sr. Genevieve Glen, O.S.B.
Copyright 2004, Benedictine Nuns, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO.
My dad had many close calls while serving in Europe during WWII, and lost many friends, but there is one in particular I want to remember today: his best friend, killed by a land mine in France? Belgium? Germany? I’ll never know. He finally told me the story–which he had never told anyone else–on Memorial Day 1992. The last Memorial Day he lived to see. It was also only the second time I ever saw my dad in tears (the other was when my grandma died). I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to him. I was so stunned to see tears in my dad’s eyes I didn’t know what to say. But I’ve never forgotten the pain in his eyes, and the way his voice cracked in the middle of his tale.
This is a picture of them together, I think. I know this was taken in Europe because of my dad’s acne. He was very handsome but he broke out for the first and only time in his life in France from, he told me, eating too much chocolate from their rations! I suspect the stress of being in combat may have added to the skin problems. In any case, this soldier is in a number of pictures my dad took, and this is the only professional picture he had of him with any of his buddies. but I will never know. For the last 21 years, however, I have prayed for my dad’s friend, and all the boys he knew who never came home.
It gives me a pang in my heart every time I remember the time I was planning a trip to France, and I showed my dad all the material that the Normandy Tourist Office had sent me about visiting the WWII beaches, especially Omaha Beach. He looked puzzled and asked me why on earth I would want to go there. Shocked, I said, “Because you were there. You were in the third assault wave to land on Omaha Beach. Daddy,” I said, ” you were a hero.” He turned away to hide the fact, I suspect, that he got choked up. Amazingly, my own father, the man I had lived with for 23 years, never realized before that his daughter thought he was a hero. (Alas, the trip to France fell through. But someday I’m going to see that beach, and bring flowers in memory of all of those who shed their blood n “Bloody Omaha.”)
I mentioned a later that day that I was planning to visit the American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mere. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said, quietly, “I watched them build that cemetery.” And I know he never, ever, got over the images he carried from Nordhausen and Buchenwald.
My beloved and gentle father has been at peace now for 20 years. I believe this with all of my being; I know the memories which tormented him all his life have no power to hurt him now, and that God has wiped away all of his tears. But it still breaks my heart to think of my dad, just a boy really, straight off the farm in Minnesota, facing the evils of Nazi Germany.
Eternal rest grant unto him, and all those who served our country, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls rest in Your peace, until we meet again. Amen.
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