so what now? 

Almost a year ago today, I received my Master of Arts in Theology from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Actually, to be precise, my degree is a Master of Arts in Theology with a Concentration in Spirituality and a Certificate in Pastoral Theology. It took me six years to get that darn degree, thanks to fibromyalgia, bouts of chronic migraine, neck surgery after a car accident, and a quite nasty depression relapse.

Several things sustained me during this time: My husband’s unfailing support; the help and support of the incredible staff and faculty at St. Kate’s; and my belief that I was called, called by God, to pastoral care as a chaplain. I’d worked as a chaplain at the V.A. one summer in 1997 and for part of the previous summer in Oncology and General Medical-Surgical at a hospital in St. Paul. I loved it, loved it, even on the toughest, most exhausting days.

My fibromyalgia kept getting worse in my twenties and forced me to drop out of graduate school and give up on my dream of becoming a chaplain. But by my late thirties, new medications were  definitely easing the fibromyalgia pain and I remember telling my mom, before she died, that I was planning to go back and get my M.A., and she was so pleased!

And so I did. But in the end my pain defeats me again..not just fibromyalgia, but myofascial pain syndrome, multiple problems in my cervical spine, chronic migraines (yes, my Botox shots help, but I still get about ten a month). I can’t even volunteer, because I don’t know whether or not I’ll be well enough on any given day to appear when I say I will.

I’m angry. And frustrated. I’m not sorry I got my degree, because I love theology, and the knowledge and skills I gained, nothing–not even fibromyalgia–can take away from me. But I want so badly to use my degree to make a difference in the world, to help others to feel God’s love and mercy. It is so painful to mourn the loss of a dream…and to attempt to discern what God has in mind to take its place.

the last resch boy

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.

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Resch kids,from biggest to littlest: Leo, Marie, Leonard, Tony, Julie, Evelyn, Albert, Jo, Frankie.

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.)

Right before Uncle Al walked me down the aisle…

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.

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A favorite memory from my wedding–trying to pin Uncle Al’s corsage on his tux without drawing blood. We were both laughing so hard at my clumsiness Aunt Mickie had to take over, the two of us could hardly stand up!

 

 

 

Life is Grace

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are hidden moments and life itself is grace.

Fredrick Buechner

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top ten things i learned from my mother

THIS IS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO KNEW AND LOVED MY MOM:

Top Ten Things I Learned From My Mother
(In No Particular Order)


  1. She always told me that love is the only thing that really matters. You can lose your possessions, your job, and your health, but you can always hold on to the love. And in the final analysis, it’s the only thing that makes life worth living.
  2. Decorate your house with bookcases, because you can never have too many books! Nothing ever seems quite so bad if you can curl up with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa.
  3. Class is not determined by money or social position; rather, a truly classy person is one who goes out of her way to make others feel comfortable and special. Classy people are warm and gracious.
  4. You’ll never get old if you are always interested in other people and continue to learn new things.
  5. Life isn’t fair. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be good, even wonderful, if you retain a sense of gratitude and remember what really matters.
  6. God does not send us tragedy and pain. But he does give us the strength to bear them, the courage to face them, and the grace to learn and grow from them.
  7. Listen to your heart and follow your star. You never know where they might lead you!
  8. Yes, you are your brother’s–and your sister’s–keeper. Always remember that “whatsoever you do unto the least of them, that you do unto me.”
  9. What others think of you doesn’t matter. It’s what you think of yourself that counts.
  10. It takes more muscles to frown than to smile–and holding a grudge takes too much energy.
  1. Never, ever, take the people you love for granted. And never hesitate to say “I love you.”
  2. Tough times don’t last. But tough people do.
(NB: This is from the eulogy I gave at my mom’s funeral on April 19, 2007)

 

holocaust remembrance day

a8c00-holocaust3During WWII, my dad’s outfit helped liberate a small camp somewhere in the Hartz Mountain. area of Germany, near the infamous camps of Nordhausen and Buchenwald. I don’t know anything more about it, because although he told me a few bits and pieces about D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge, and the push through Germany, the camps were the one thing he’d refused to talk about. Please, Daddy, you must at least remember the name of the camp, I’d coax. That’s when he’d bury his face behind the newspaper and mumble, Nope. Don’t remember. And I knew better than to press any further. (I’ve tried to find out which one of the camps it was, but apparently the entire area was simply crawling with them; I’ll probably never know which one it was.)

He did tell me one thing, when I was working on a paper about the Holocaust for a college course: It was a work camp, not a death camp, he said. But, he added, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference between them. My dad didn’t anger easily but I never saw him angrier that the night we watched an episode of 60 Minutes that featured Neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. Eisenhower said this would happen, he sputtered. That’s why he made them take so many pictures.

After my dad died, I found his own snapshots. And finally understood why he never talked about the camps. Because every time I look at them I, quite literally, feel as though I’m about to vomit. And I wasn’t even there. (Somehow, probably because they were taken by my dad, they seem more real to me than the many other Holocaust pictures I’ve seen.)

So, now that we finally have a printer with a scanner, I can in my own small way honor my father’s legacy and be a witness to history, that those who perished, all six million of them, will never be forgotten. May their memory be a blessing.

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NEVER AGAIN
My edit, March 12, 2017: In the years since, I kept researching and discovered a letter from an officer in my dad’s outfit who mentioned the camp the guys “stumbled over” i.e. Nordhausen, a subcamp of Buchenwald. Nordhausen was mostly corpses and had no sanitary facilities or food or water; it was where the slave laborers of Dora Camp (Jews and POWS) were sent to die. Thus I suspect these photos were taken at Buchenwald. The letter mentions that many of the men from dad’s battalion visited at Eisenhower’s request. Ike reportedly said that “many of our soldiers have said they don’t know what they are fighting for. Well, I want them to know what they’ve been fighting against.”

the soul of the senate

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Politics is not about money or power games, or winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives, lessening human suffering, advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and in the world.
–Paul Wellstone

On the morning of October 25, 2002, a small plane went down in the sleet and bitter cold of northern Minnesota, crashing into the swampy, densely forested earth only a few miles from the Eveleth Airport. There were no survivors. Among the dead were U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila.

I don’t represent the big oil companies, I don’t represent the big pharmaceutical companies, I don’t represent the Enrons of the world, but you know what, they already have great representation in Washington. It’s the rest of the people that need it. I represent the people of Minnesota.
–Paul Wellstone

I loved him. And four years later, I miss him more than ever. I miss his kindness, his compassion, his exuberance, his courage, his passion for the most vulnerable of our society, his idealism.

The year he died, Paul Wellstone introduced the Mental Health Equity Act, which would force insurance companies to give equal coverage for both physical AND mental health problems. My first day with the 2002 campaign, I told Paul my own story, about how my parents spent their entire retirement savings on my treatment for depression and post traumatic stress. He held my hand in his and listened, told me how sorry he was for what my parents and I had been through. I’ve had a lot of experience in politics, and I’ve told a lot of people my story, and I can vouch for the fact that Paul Wellstone genuinely cared. It wasn’t just for show, it wasn’t just an act he put on to win political support, his empathy for the suffering and the underdog was the driving force of his life.

There is a huge leadership void in the country…Self-interest is more than economic self-interest; it is also how you feel about yourself. Are you living a life consistent with the words you speak, are you helping others, are you helping your community or your country or your world? A winning politics is a politics of values that appeals to the best in people, that enables citizens to dream again to make a better America.
–Paul Wellstone

Shortly before he died, Paul Wellstone was one of only a few senators to vote against the Iraq war. Most of the pundits predicted his vote would cost him the election. But just a few days before the crash, Wellstone pulled ahead of challenger Norm Coleman in the polls for the first time that fall.

Paul Wellstone was the soul of the Senate. He was one of the most noble and courageous men I have ever known. He was a gallant and passionate fighter, especially for the less fortunate. I am grateful to have known Paul and Sheila as dear and close friends. Their deaths are a shattering loss to Minnesota, to the nation, and to all who knew and loved them.
–U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, October 25, 2002.

Running though my mind as I write this is a Jewish proverb: We pay best homage to our dead by living our lives fully even in the shadow of our loss. In my dresser drawer is a pin the campaign distributed after the crash which reads, simply: “Stand Up/Keep Fighting.”

The future will not belong to those who are cynical or those who stand on the sidelines. The future will belong to those who have passion and are willing to work hard to make our country better.
–Paul Wellstone

(Quotations from Twelve Years and Thirteen Days: Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone, by Terry Gydesen.)

d-day plus 62 years

US troops attending mass as they embark on their journey across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy.

 

62 years ago this morning, my father, along with other young men–just boys, really– from the United States, Great Britain, and Canada, stormed the Normandy beaches to begin the Allied assault on Nazi-occupied Europe. When Eisenhower said the hopes of freedom-loving people everywhere went with them, he wasn’t kidding; WWII historian Stephen Ambrose called D-Day the definitive day of the twentieth century because it became the turning point in the European War and gave Hitler his first real taste of what he had so underestimated, what Eisenhower called the “fury of an aroused democracy.” If the landings had failed, there would have been no Western Front to relieve the pressure on the Soviets in the East, and it would have been at least another year before the Allies could have attempted another invasion of Occupied Europe.

Troops in their Higgins Landing Craft, minutes from Omaha Beach

A few of the troops landing in Normandy that day had some combat experience, primarily in North Africa and/or Italy. But the majority, like my dad, had never heard a shot fired in anger. For them, Omaha Beach would come to represent a hellish loss of innocence. There were five landing beaches: Gold, Juno, Sword (British and Canadian), Utah, and Omaha (American). Of the five, Gold, Juno, Sword, and Utah went relatively according to plan; Omaha, however, has been known as “Bloody Omaha” ever since. The first assault waves sustained tremendous casualties, as soldiers were mowed down by German mortar and artillery fire. Many drowned, wounded by German fire and loaded down by over 60 lbs. of gear, before they ever made the beach. The beach itself was a slaughter, littered with the bodies of the dead and wounded. There were body parts, blood and gore everywhere, along with the never-ending sounds of artillery fire and the screams of the dying. One soldier famously described landing on Omaha that day as a “descent into hell.” Did you ever see “Saving Private Ryan?” The opening scenes were set on Omaha Beach. According to WWII veterans who survived Omaha, the movie was horrifyingly accurate.

This, then, was what my dad, a farm boy from Minnesota, saw in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944. An artilleryman, he came ashore with the Third Assault Wave, which took 50% casualties and lost all of their jeeps and trucks and howitzers, etc., in the bloody chaos on the beach–if they managed to get any artillery equipment of their landing craft at all. I don’t know very much about what he experienced, as he wouldn’t say much about it and, like all children of combat veterans, I instinctively understood that there were some things one simply didn’t push dad to talk about. But he did tell me a few things: he was in the third assault wave to hit Omaha; in response to my question “what was it like” he said vaguely “…well, you know, gettin‘ shot at a lot…bullets in the air, everyone in the boat was seasick goin‘ over….” Actually he got quite graphic about the the depth of the vomit; apparently not everyone made it to the side of the boat.My mom asked him once what he thought about while crossing the English Channel on his way to France, and after he reflected for a while, he said that he mostly worried that he might be a coward, that he’d let his buddies down, and the family back home.

After he died, my Aunt Marie told me a story about my dad and Omaha Beach. After he finally worked his way on to the beach, a lieutenant (I’ve read that most of the young lieutenants that day were useless idiots; for the most part it was the enlisted men–the noncoms–who saved the day) grabbed him and barked, “Soldier, dig me a foxhole!” To which my dad replied, “Dig your own goddamn foxhole!” And thank God he did…

 

Injured troops awaiting evacuation to England, sheltered by the bluff.

Dead and dying soldiers on Omaha Beach

Because as Colonel George Taylor yelled to the soldiers crouched on the shingle, “There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach, those who are already dead and those who are gonna die. Now get off your butts!” The rest, including my dad, somehow got off the beach–and won the day by knocking out the German defenses from high up on the bluff. That was their job. Pinned down on the beach, the men would have had no hope of survival.

WWII historian Stephen Ambrose wrote this about D-Day:

D-Day, June 6, 1944, was the climactic moment of the twentieth century. The outcome of the war in Europe was at stake. If Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s forces had thrown back the invasion of Normandy, Nazi Germany might well have won the war. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the American, British, and Canadian forces, was prepared to resign his post if the attack had failed.
Operation Overlord, as the invasion was called, had superb planning, training, and equipment. But no matter how good the commanders had been in preparation, it was the men on the beaches at Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah, and Omaha who counted. At Omaha Beach, the infantry was pinned down at the seawall, taking fire from German mortar, artillery, and small arms fire. The U.S. First Army Commander, Gen. Omar Bradley, was at one point ready to pull them off the beach.
But they were soldiers of democracy. They were not as good as the German soldiers at taking orders [as my dad so amply proved], but they knew how to take responsibility and act on their own. What happened along the seawall–over there a sergeant, down the line a corporal, over there a lieutenant–they all came to the same conclusion: if I stay here I’m going to die, but before I do, I’m going to take some Germans with me. So he would yell at the men on his right and on his left, ‘I’m going up that bluff. Follow me,’ and start out. One man would follow, then another, soon a dozen or more. They got to the top of the bluff to begin the drive inland, toward Germany…
Their triumph that day against the best the Nazis had to put against them, ensured our freedom. There were eleven months of hard fighting ahead, but once the Allies got ashore in France, neither the skill nor the determination and the fighting abilities of the Germans could stop them. They put the Nazis where they belonged, in the ash can of history.  (From D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose.)

In 1994, the year after my dad died, I remember watching the 50th anniversary celebrations from Omaha on TV. What I remember most, and what I wrote in my journal later, was what President Bill Clinton said to and about the veterans of D-Day that day:

They may be older now, and grayer now, and their ranks are growing thin. But when these men were young, these men saved the world.

My dad never wanted to be a hero, and certainly didn’t think of himself as one (I was just doing my job, he said once to sum up his service during the war) but a hero he was. As were they all, those boys who became battle-scarred men on the beaches of Normandy that day.

And as for me, my father has long since gone to his peace, and memories of D-Day have no more power to torment him. This I know. I know, too, that the beaches of Normandy have been quiet and still for 62 years and that Hitler’s Nazi regime and all of its evil was soundly defeated. But it still breaks my heart to think of my dad, a sweet, gentle farm boy from Minnesota, facing that beach the morning of June 6, 1944.

***********

Postscript:
In Normandy, they have not forgotten. After 9/11, the French left thousands of notes and flowers at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in CollevillesurMer. Many of the notes read, simply, We Remember.

The American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach

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