Holidays, Mass, and Memories

The holidays are here and that means it’s time for me to write about my most favorite subject ever – My mama! ūüôā

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So holidays for my Mom and my family were simply the best. My Mom could be described as “Festive to the Extreme.” To give you an idea, she decorated our house for Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Labor Day with little flags everywhere. I mean, lets face it, most people will celebrate by enjoying the day off work but my Mom would get out her flags and put them in the potted plants outside and in the yard, she’d get on her Flag sweatshirt and grab her Flag Tote bag and would just LIVE for stuff like that.

Christmas was always a bit over the top, and Mom just made it really special. Her last Christmas was no exception. In fact, we considered it a miracle (and looking back, I think Mom just WILLED herself to get enough of her strength back) to be released from the hospital in time to celebrate Christmas.

One of my last memories of that final Christmas was walking down the stairs to the kitchen and stopping on the landing halfway, to just take in the smell of baked cookies and her famous sweet bread baking in the oven and thinking, “This is the last time this house will smell like this. It won’t be the same anymore. I’ll never hear her fiddling in the kitchen, I’ll never hear her playing her favorite Christmas CD’s, I’ll never see her smiling to present her bread.” And I don’t remember crying or anything, but I remember just inhaling that smell before I walked all the way downstairs into the kitchen. And just saying to myself,

“Damn. That was it. This won’t ever¬†be this¬†again.”

And you know what? That first Christmas was really rough. I won’t say it was awful but it was really hard. We tried to decorate the house like she would have but I had zero desire to even put up the tree or anything.

One day in the fall of the year that she passed, I think around Thanksgiving, I just decided to pick up her digital camera and see what was on it.

And the first picture I see is of the interior of our house…at Christmas…the year before. And then another. And another. And another. She took about 20 photos of the entire house with the Christmas decorations because she knew we wouldn’t know how to decorate quite like her. It was basically a Tutorial of How To Do Christmas Like Mom.

I pretty much lost it and called my sister to tell her about Mom’s picture-by-picture guide and she came over and we began to unpack the boxes and started to decorate the house.

And we found a note in one of them. I can’t recall what it said, but something like “Take care of each other.” Mom wrote it apparently when she was feeling well, in remission. We thought “How neat! Mom left us notes!”

We kinda forgot about it until Christmas time and started to unpack those decorations and found..you guessed it – more notes! (I wrote about this whole thing in greater detail in a blog post here). <—Get the Kleenex ready if you start to read that one.

My point with today’s post was to give some sort of solidarity to those who are about to experience their “first” holiday post-loss of a loved one. The first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers Day/Fathers Day, etc are not really…enjoyable.

I mean, let’s just be real¬† – they suck.

I hate that word, but it’s just so true. You’re always thinking about THEIR last holiday and how they looked, what they said, what they wore, what they made, where you went with them. And it’s just not the same. Nothing is ever the same.

And people will always try their hardest to make you feel better by saying, “Their memory lives on forever.”

Gag me.

That’s straight out of a Hallmark Channel Movie! So lame. Yeah yeah, their memory lives on. In our minds. Yes.

But that’s not good enough – we want our loved ones here in the flesh. I want to be able to hug my Mom right now, ya know? I can’t hug a memory. (I had the BEST dream about her the other day where I DID hug her and it was so great!)

I want to smell that bread again (IT’S THAT GOOD okay? Trust me, everyone RAVED about my Mom’s sweet bread. Thank God my sister bakes it now and it’s just as good although she’ll read this and say “No, it’s not as good as Mom’s. No one made it like Mom.”)

I want to hear her play her favorite Christmas music and hear her wrapping gifts and complaining that she had to scour the internet looking for that one obscure rare gift my brother always asked for every year, and couldn’t find (but she always found it! Sometimes at the last minute, but she did.)

I want to see her, in her recliner, reading her little devotional books, ask her how she’s feeling, and hear her voice and talk to her.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation but All Souls Day is not. I feel like they both should be obligatory.¬† All Saints Day mass was exactly what I needed. The incense, the chanting, the lighting…it was incredible. All Souls Day had the same feel and although it’s a solemn mass and lots of tears are shed, the homily filled me with hope.

I LOVE going to the mass and feeling my Mom there with me.

After all, mass itself is heaven on earth. It’s where we encounter Jesus and it’s where we pray to the Saints and to Mary and it’s where I feel closest to my Mom and all of my relatives and friends who have passed on. They are where I want to be someday (hopefully not soon) but I know it’s where I’ll see her again and hear her laugh and see her smile and give her the biggest hug ever!

And when I’m on my knees in prayer after the Sanctus (the Holy Holy Holy…) I really try to envision all of the saints right there and my Mom too, hovered around the altar, kneeling with us before God on His throne.

I know it can be a chore and really tough to picture this when you’re at mass where there’s crying babies, fidgeting kids, people’s cell phones going off (come on people, it’s been 10 years can we please learn how to turn them off!?) or an off-key singer in the choir or just distracted by your random thoughts, but if you shut your eyes and just listen to the priest, you CAN do this.

Even if it’s just 10 seconds of being truly present at mass, it’s a game-changer. It may be the most peaceful moment you’ll have that day. And if you keep experiencing that peace, I would be willing to bet you’ll want to keep coming back to get those peaceful experiences again.

My prayers are with all of my friends and family members who are experiencing their “first” holidays without your favorite person in your life there with you this year. But you’ll see them again.¬†And it won’t be from a memory.

It’ll be real.¬†

Can’t wait to see you again, Mom! Save a slice of that bread for me will ya? ūüėČ

Daily Mass Project: West Side Welcoming

I made¬†the trip to the far west side for one of my many jobs and was really excited to add a few more churches to the DMP. In addition to the parishes listed below, I also attended Adoration at St. Anthony of Padua in Lorain and Benediction/Adoration as well as Evening Prayer at St. Peter’s in North Ridgeville.


back_windowSt.Thomas the Apostle  Sunday March 19th 11am

Celebrant: Fr. Stephen Shields

Gospel: The woman at the well, my all time favorite Gospel story. John 4: 5-42

That window! Gorgeous and ginormous.¬†Even though it had the numbers for a larger daily mass, (maybe 70 people) it made for a more intimate Sunday mass.¬†St Thomas is part of a cluster parish including St. Teresa of Avila and St. Anthony of Padua. We recited the parish prayer at the beginning and the prayer to St Michael at the end. ¬†No kneelers but since it’s carpeted, everyone kneels regardless.

Homily Reflection: On Ash Wednesday, we say, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Samaritan woman had repented after meeting with Jesus at the well. As she left him to go tell others about him (I’ve heard it said she was the first evangelist) she was starting to believe in the Gospel. During this time in Lent, are we starting to believe? Or do we still need to repent?

Holy Moments: Since there isn’t really a gathering space, Father waved hello to many of us before he processed in. As he preached his homily, he walked up and down the aisles and shook hands with all of the kids who were there. And as he processed out with the servers, he motioned for a few of the kids to join him as well. They all genuflected and walked out holding hands. Very sweet and tender moment!

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Some other beautiful things to look at in this parish…

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St. Jude – Elyria – Monday March 20th – 7am – Chapel

The Feast of St. Joseph

Initial thoughts:¬†As I was driving to mass, I noticed how the sun hadn’t come up yet so it was really dark. I was actually feeling a little sick that morning and thought of skipping it and trying to find an evening mass instead. But I thought I should just tough it out and go. Because any time I think, “Well maybe I just won’t go,” I always notice that there’s a REASON I am there. And this time was no different as you’ll see.

Homily Reflection: The priest mentioned how St. Joseph was declared to be the Defender of the Family and someone we can pray to as the spiritual father of Jesus. Whenever I hear defending the family, for me personally, I always think of how the family and marriage is under attack right now. I also think of the unborn being attacked physically thru abortion. So I must admit, my mind did tend to wander into that realm as Father preached. But I do recall the end as he said we must be obedient to God as Jesus was obedient to his parents before he began his ministry.

As I did more research on St. Joseph I found this prayer from JP2 in Redemportis Custos

“Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin…graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness…and just as once you saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God’s holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.”

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As I was admiring this beautiful replica of the Pieta there, a man came up to me and hugged me out of the blue! He was hugging everyone goodbye as they left. What a sweet man! He then proceeded to tell me all about their stained glass here. He introduced himself as we walked out by saying his name was Henry, “Henry the hugger,” he said. after I got done talking and hugging Henry, I felt so much better! As we walked out to our cars, I noticed how the sun had come out and it was a beautiful spring day. Very much divine timing. Probably one of the best ways to start a Monday morning.


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Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-Lorain  Wed- March 22nd Р6:30pm

Celebrant: Fr. Robert Glepko

Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19

Initial thoughts: Just pulling up to this Church from the street, you notice how it stands out. I am not that familair with Lorain in general so driving through it I wasn’t sure what to expect. But as I turned the corner and drove down the street and saw the Church, it’s such a stark contrast to the other buildings around it. It felt like I was just in a completely different world.

Homily Reflection: The priest noted that as we gathered, we had heard on the news about the London terrorist attack. Interestingly enough, it was the feast day of Nicholas Owen, an England born saint. He became a carpenter/builder and served the Jesuit priests in England for two decades by constructing hiding places for them in mansions throughout the country, called priest holes. He is believed to have saved the lives of many priests during the 16th century.

Holy Moments:¬† The¬†mass itself was largely attended for a daily mass. I realized later it was probably because they were going to do Stations of the Cross right after mass, which unfortunately, I couldn’t attend. For this mass, not only did they have a Deacon assisting, they had 4 adult servers (1 was lector and I believe the other was EM).

My favorite part of this church has to be the giant crown of thorns hanging from the ceiling. I tried to get a picture of it as best I could – IMG_6756

It’s somewhat hard to tell from this picture but I promise you it’s there. For more pictures of this gorgeous 120+ year old church, go to their website photo gallery.¬†


For those that have been following along, you may recall I went out to Valley City to visit the historic St. Martin of Tours.  I heard, what I referred to at the time, as one of the best homilies given by the priest there, Fr. Dunphy. I was told from one of the parishioners that I should make a point to come out on St. Patricks Day to hear Father sing. I made a note in my calendar that I would do this.

I went on Facebook for just a few minutes a couple weeks ago and saw that Fr. Dunphy passed away on March 11th at the age of 86. What a tremendous loss for the community of Valley City and the parish of St. Martin. 

I thought it was incredibly fitting that he was buried just a day before St. Patricks Day. And I feel so very¬†blessed that I was able to hear this man preach and be at St Martin’s when I normally would never have been there if it hadn’t been for this project God put on my heart. May he rest in peace.

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The Gift of: Spiritual Adoption

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The Sacred Family

I cannot stop staring at this picture. The first time I saw it was at a (surprise surprise) Catholic Women’s Conference in Columbus where one of the vendors was a pro-life organization. There was a stack of prayer cards on the table. The prayer was on one side, this picture was on the other.

The prayer is this:

‚ÄúJesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn child that I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion.‚ÄĚ

The prayer is from Venerable Fulton Sheen who wrote it in 1973 after abortion was deemed legal in the United States. He encouraged Catholics to pray this prayer daily for nine months in the name of the baby. He believed that, by such ‚Äúspiritual adoption‚ÄĚ of specific babies ‚ÄĒ one prayer at a time ‚ÄĒ the advance of the culture of death in America and abroad could be thwarted.

I spiritually adopted an unborn baby the week prior to reading this card, although I didn’t quite know it.

I had been asked, along with many of my friends, to pray for a young college student who found herself unexpectedly pregnant. We were asked to pray that this young woman would cancel her appointment at the abortion clinic the following week. We knew nothing more about this woman except for her first name.

A week later I was at this conference and saw this prayer card. Little did I know that the unborn baby that I knew of that was in danger of abortion, was scheduled to have an abortion that very day.

It is still unclear, about 3 weeks later, if this young girl went through with her abortion. No matter what, I find myself still praying for her. And I pray for her unborn baby as well all of the unborn everyday.

It’s difficult to express especially to those that aren’t pro-life, the sadness I feel for all women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Pretty sure many pro-choicers assume that I’m anti-woman.

I cry for these women.

I’m sad for them because I know 4,000 women each day abort their child. I’m sad for them because they usually receive no support from the father of their child or from their parents or friends. I’m sad for them because the only “friend” they find themselves talking to is the abortion worker. I’m sad for them because they have believed the lies that so many of us women have believed for far too long: “You’re weak. You’re helpless. You’re not strong enough to have this baby. This baby will ruin your life. In fact, it will end your life.”

I believed these lies for SO long. I remained convinced from 8th grade until just a couple years ago: “If I ever get pregnant, my life is over.”

Who told me this lie? No one specifically. It was more of the “mantra” of my teenage and college years. Almost like a “Scared Straight” episode but with pregnancy as the “drug” that will do you in. A baby TRAPPED you. A baby was a BURDEN. A baby was a MISTAKE.

I’ve written about my conversion to the pro-life side here. But what I’d like to end with today is a letter to the unborn. It seems that “An Open Letter To…” posts tend to be popular. I just saw someone wrote one to a certain Presidential Candidate who shall remain nameless. But in the abortion industry, people write letters too.

For example, did you know you can write letters to abortion workers telling them they are praying for their conversion and that they were there to help, like the Love Letter Campaign from And Then There Were None? People write letters to women who’ve had abortions who claim they have no regrets about ending their lives of their offspring, like this one from Rep. Diane Black. People write letters to women who are hurting and feeling suicidal due to their abortions (simply Google “An Open Letter to Post-Abortive Women” and you’ll see tons of examples, especially from those who have had an abortion).

I found myself writing the following letter that I addressed to the unborn. I know most children that I “spiritually adopt” in the womb will never read this. But I am still comforted by the fact that they will one day understand that there were many of us that fought for the least of these:

To The Unborn-

I don’t know you, little one. I don’t know you or your mother. But I pray everyday that you hear my voice in that little womb of yours. If you hear echoes of “protect” and “save” and “choose life,” that’s me and my friends. We fight for your life everyday. Some days we might say this prayer called a Rosary where we pray for our Mother Mary to intercede for us to save your life.

I want you to know that I desperately want you to live. Sometimes people out here don’t understand what they say when they yell and scream or even just talk to one another about “Choice” and “Reproductive Rights.” I know these words don’t mean much to you now but I assure you there are people who claim these words mean that they can end your life before you see your Mom face to face.

Just know that your Mom loves you. She doesn’t understand what’s happening right now. And maybe some people are lying to her. They make her feel weak and inadequate. They tell her that she’s incapable of taking care of you. They tell her things that make her feel like she’s making the right “choice.” They use language to make her feel like you are nothing but a problem that needs to be destroyed. That you are a mistake. And a burden.

But many of us know better. We know destroying an innocent life like yours is not going to solve any “problem.”¬†Please know that in addition to praying for your soul, I pray for your parents too. I want them to meet you and God someday so I know how important it is to pray for their souls.¬†

Unfortunately, your parents don’t understand the JOY and HAPPINESS that your life could bring them! But I know, without a doubt, your Mom IS strong. I pray she knows that. And your Mom IS loving. I pray for her to know that too. She may say or think that she’s “not ready to be a mother.” But what she doesn’t know is that she’s already a mother. The second you were conceived, she became a mother and your dad became a father. They are parents and always will be, no matter what.

Most of all I pray for you and your little soul. Many more people that you don’t even know and will never meet are praying for you right now, too. Many of us end up crying, begging, and pleading with God that you’re life is spared from death. That you get a chance to take a breath outside your home in your mother’s body.

So stay strong. Don’t be scared. And forgive your parents, especially your mother. The pain you may feel will be quickly forgotten once you experience the bliss and joy of entering heaven’s gate and see Mary, Our Mother, her arms wide open to welcome you home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of: A Happy Death

O Blessed Joseph, who died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me, I beseech you, the grace of a happy death. In that hour of dread and anguish, assist me by your presence, and protect me by your power against the enemies of my salvation. Into your hands, living and dying, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I commend my soul. Amen

March 10th 2016 will mark three years since my Mom passed away.

I’ve written about Mom in the past – this one is the fan favorite.

I wanted to write about so many things today in an effort to celebrate this most blessed anniversary of hers.

But after several drafts and re-writes, it seems I’m supposed to write about those 3 days. A Friday, Saturday and a Sunday 3 years ago.

Clearly, this will be a brief version with just the highlights.

There were many of us in the family that were there those 3 days but in an effort to protect their privacy, I’d like to just share my own views of those final days of my Mom’s life.


 

She requested hospice on a Friday and was gone by Sunday. 3 days…just like someone else we know.

“I hope I’m making the right decision.” She just kept repeating that…over and over. How do you even respond to that?

She was incredibly lucid in those first hours, especially that first day, to the point where we were in disbelief that the hospice nurse said she wouldn’t last more than 2 more days.

“But it’s Friday! What do you mean she won’t make it the weekend? This IS the weekend!”

It’s incredibly surreal – The hospice nurses instruct you when and how to administer the morphine and it’s like watching a movie, almost like it’s happening to someone else’s family.

“Will she tell us when she needs the morphine? How do we know if it’s too much? Or not enough?”

But then it becomes too real and you just want it to be over. But you can’t wish for that because this isn’t your battle. This is hers and you just have to be there.

We were told that she is going to go through a “life review” which at first you don’t quite believe but then you actually witness it. And it’s heartbreaking and mesmerizing and awesome and awful all at once.

By Saturday we had to laugh at certain points because if we didn’t we’d go nuts.

“She’s going to be so mad when she sees what she’s wearing and that we let the hospice nurses see her like this.”

The worst moment for me – I sat at her feet when she was in the recliner (before she had to move to the hospital bed) and just looked up at her and realized this was it. I cried at her feet and I can still hear her saying and repeating, “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

She eventually she had to be moved to the hospital bed. She just kept looking at it. She knew her own mother died shortly after being moved from the recliner to the hospital bed. I’m sure that’s what she was thinking. I know she was trying to prolong her stay here as long as she could. Not for herself, but for us. To spare us the pain of seeing her die.

She said goodbye to my nephews who recorded a beautiful voicemail for her that we played on speaker so everyone could hear. The look on her face as she listened was pure joy. I had never seen her smile like that in weeks. It was probably the most heartbreaking moment of all as we realized this was the last time she’d hear their young voices. Her grandsons were her source of joy. Hands down, they were her world. Especially Sean since he was so young and so oblivious to what was happening to “G.”

Time for a sidenote/side story:

Just two weeks prior to her death, she had ended up in the hospital again to drain fluid from her lungs. I was having a particularly bad time dealing with this and went over to my sisters to see the boys. Sean (the younger of the two) was hanging out with my brother-in-law. Out of the blue he pointed out that “Daddy has a cut on his head from shaving.” I glanced and saw, yes indeed he had a tiny cut on his head. Sean was asking me to look at it. I said I saw it but was clearly preoccupied with my Mom’s illness to not particularly care all that much.¬† Sean looked me in the eye and said in his sweet little 4 year old voice: “I’m going to pray that my Dad is healed from that cut. Because you know what auntie? God hears my prayers. Did you know that? He hears my prayers.”

Twice. My nephew said this twice and looked at me in the eye as if he was channeling someone.¬† I just looked at him and almost started crying. I wanted to tell him, “God DOES hear your prayers. And right now can you please pray that G is healed? Please?! I don’t want to lose my Mom!”

But I didn’t. I just remember that moment as being so surreal. How innocent a child prays. It wasn’t even a question – “Do you think God hears my prayers??” It was a STATEMENT. “God hears my prayers Auntie.” I will never forget that.

Sunday – I remember that morning as the one that my Mom saw her Dad. She spoke to him and said things like “Daddy, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?¬† This wasn’t in the brochure! She’s not supposed to be scared!”

She also said things that were incomprehensible as she flowed in and out of lucidity. Sometimes her eyes were opened and she spoke but you could tell she wasn’t talking to us. I don’t recall responding too often so as not to confuse her. But I also felt like if I spoke or responded to her, that would be…rude. ūüôā¬† She was clearly having a private conversation with someone and I was not about to interfere with that.

It was a sunny day and I thought “What a beautiful day to leave and go home!”¬† However, things didn’t progress that well. In fact, we called the hospice nurse on call to tell us what to do. We were concerned she was in pain! After all, she kept saying she was afraid. So that must mean she’s in pain, right?

“She’s in spiritual pain. Have you prayed with her?” – the hospice nurse asked.

The look on my face was complete embarrassment.

Had I prayed with my mother on her deathbed?  NO! Duh!!! What the heck was wrong with me?

I prayed with her as best I knew. I think many of us said the Our Father because that seemed to be the only prayer we all knew.

“How do you pray with someone who can’t hear you and can’t speak?”

I was clueless.

Sunday evening – We called her priest to come and give her last rites. He also managed to ask a question I was all too embarrassed to NOT know the answer to –

“What’s your mother’s favorite prayer?”

I went from feeling like a decent daughter to being the worlds worst. I had never even bothered to ask my Mother’s favorite prayer.

We ended up praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at her bedside which I think she would have approved.

Shortly before she passed, I ran out of “prayers” and instead took all the cards anyone had ever sent her and read them all out loud to her. I took her hand, told her it was okay for her to go and said I would see her in the morning.

My dad took over the “shift” change.

I went up to bed and prayed and cried to God to please ease my Mom’s sickness.

An hour later she passed away with my Dad at her side.

I don’t even recall crying. I immediately thought God heard my prayer just an hour before.¬† (Thanks to Sean for restoring my faith in prayer).


 

My Mom was always happy and forever smiling during her life and in countless pictures.

As her body lay there, I stared at her. She looked so….GOOD! As if she would just sit up and say, “What are you looking at? Be happy for me! I’m home!”

I couldn’t help but think …

…that’s how you die a happy death.

 

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