Saturday, March 17, 2018

Three Weeks On

A little more than three weeks has passed since my mother’s death and today was my first day to slow down and move through a day with a normal pace.

I have had little time to grieve because my chemo-lotion treatment for catching pre-cancerous cells had burned my face and upper body and I was in great pain for three weeks. I am past the pain happily and I cannot believe how constant was the pain.

This has been an incredible Lent: three Nor’easters, the painful skin treatment, and far too many deaths – my mother’s, a community member at 96 years of age, a sixteen-year-old boy, and eleven others who are part of the BC High community.

This past weekend I gave a retreat to the women of St. Paul’s parish in Harvard Square at a monastery in New Hampshire. One of the sisters went to the hospital with the flu, but before she left, she gave it to me. From there, I went to Flushing, New York City to give a parish mission at a friend’s church for four days. After dealing with the quick moving bug, I had the time of my life with the parish. I was very grateful my words were well received.

I suppose I will reserve Holy Week as a time to write thank you cards to those who took time to write notes and to come to the wake and funeral. It is consoling to get them, and I can see that writing the notes is part of the grieving process.

I was amazed at the numerous graces the family received throughout the process. The wake brought together the extended family of cousins and friends, and we were amazed at the range of people who came from far distances to pay respects to my mother and to offer condolences. The number of Jesuits who came to the wake and the funeral pleased me. It was fun to pull people together and introduce them to each other. Everything seemed to come full circle.

A blessing was to say the funeral mass at St. Denis church in East Douglas. St. Denis is modeled after the church outside Paris, France where Ignatius and his first companions took their simple vows as lay men with Peter Faber as the only priest. The pastor of the church is my mother’s cousin, but he could not be there because of a medical illness.

The Jesuits from my community concelebrated the mass with me. Each of them took part, including the Jesuit brother and a deaf priest, both who are part of my community. It was quite a bonding experience to have the community stand up for me in solidarity. That’s what brothers do for one another.

I was honored to have my musician friends from Boston come to sing. High school classmates showed up; friends from various stages of my life’s formation appeared. It was as if I returned to my roots and found it to be joyful.

It was fascinating to learn various aspects of my mother’s life. Each of her children had a different experience of her with many different memories. I had seen photos that I had not seen before and it made me realize how little we know about significant people in our lives. We get glimpses into a person’s life and we form judgments that are often incomplete.

I also found the range of conversations about suffering and death to be fascinating. Among the most helpful comments are simply, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “I’m glad to be here for you.” I was pleased to see people of various points of contacts sitting down and chatting with one another. Wakes and funerals are about coming together and sharing the beauty of life with one another.

Likewise, when I was in great pain due to my skin treatment and my face looked horrible, many people empathized with my pain. They certainly communicated that they felt my pain and that they hurt along with me. That was consoling. It was equally, if not more consoling, to hear the words of the 2% who said, “You look beautiful. You look great.” In a time when I was looking for hope and relief, those words elevated my spirit. It is odd how we can never know what will help a person who is suffering. I guess the best thing to do is to ask: What do you need? What do you want?  And make the person feel good.

So, I’m coming through these ordeals quite well. I look forward to Holy Week in trust and I know that Easter is on the horizon. I need Easter to come this year. I need the power of the Resurrection. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sweet Relief

After my third sleepless night, I decided to visit my dermatologist to have her look at my skin that is inflamed and in great pain. I did not even call to make an appointment, and she received me right away.

I am going through preventive skin cancer treatments by applying a lotion twice a day. For nine or ten days straight, I've had such a pain to bear. It was especially difficult to do during my mother's wake and funeral, but I endured. I could take it no longer this morning.

The doctor saw me and was very happy with my face. It is red, swollen, and unsightly, but she and my mother would probably find it beautiful. I said, "I need relief or I have to discontinue this."

Ah, she prescribed an ointment that delivers almost instantaneous result. What a relief. It still painful but the burning edge is taken off. With this medication, I can endure the next eleven days. I feel like part of my self has been given back to me.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Mom's Funeral Homily

You can tell that it is a good sign when the funeral readings for a full-blooded Italian begins with a celebration of rich juicy foods and choice fine wines. My siblings did well in selecting today’s readings and thereby honoring my mother’s Italian heritage. I’m sure there are loads pepperoni, capicola, salami, pizzelles, but not pasta fagiola. She could never understand combining beans with pasta. And she is certainly enjoying a heavenly banquet with her Ma and Pa, with her firstborn, Dawn Mari, and her sister, Betty, and many other loved ones, and this time she does not have to do any of the cooking.
            But the more important part of the readings is that Connie is with the One who wipes away all tears, the One who destroys the pain of death. She is with Our God who sets all things aright. And Connie waited for him, He sought her ought and she responded openly, Connie came to know him well, She came to know his rich, juicy, overflowing mercy and love, and she accepted the salvation God extended to her. And the Lord settled her soul as she knew she was one of his cherished, beloved ones.
            She beheld in life the mystery that St. Paul talks about in First Corinthians. We will not all die, but we will be changed. The Lord changed her so beautifully, gently, as they grew closer together in her last years, and she came to know how precious she was to the Lord, who validated her, affirmed her, and thanked her for all the good she did in her life.
            We siblings have always accounted our mother’s greatest sacrificial act in life was caring for her first-born, Dawn Mari, who was a special needs child. While Connie always measured out her parental love for each of us without partiality, Dawn Mari always needed the most specialized care a mother could provide. Dawn Mari was simply lovable and brought us all joy, even amidst the hardships, but my mother’s love for her was the type of unconditional love that we know God gives us. God will never be separated from us. We will never be out of God’s sight. God will always be extending a gentle hand to us  and hoping that we reach back for it in our time of need. Our mother cared for our sister similarly to the way God cares for us – with an unbroken bond of admiration and wonder, always joyful that we turn back to the one who loves us and smiles in gratitude.
            Dawn Mari, was a large part, but was not the complete story of Connie’s life, and I know she is happy with the Gospel selected, mainly because there is finally a large house with many dwelling places. No more will two parents, eight children, three dogs, five cats, and many other pets have to be squished into a tiny abode. Just as there were many rooms in her house during her life, there’s a special place for each of us in God’s house. She will continue to make certain that we are provided for uniquely and with her customary special attention, but most importantly, she will have her own space where she can rest and be cared for by the Lord. As children, we seldom saw her eat, we almost never saw her sleep, we never saw her take rest, and she was always providing for her family that sometimes placed great demands on her. God will repay her for her tireless, selfless, sacrifice of her life for her children and their loved ones. This moment is her time to be fully embraced by the Lord. It is her time to receive the care she lavished upon her loved ones.
            We have many stories we want to share about our mother, and we hope to share with you these essential parts of our lives in due time. In her later years, we learned so much about her parents, her friendship with her sisters and the Italian side of our family, her pride in serving in the Air Force, the toils and strains of her working life, the fears and regrets she made as a parent, the movies and songs that inspired her, and the fond memories that made her feel honored, but today is about her story of faith, and about what God is doing with her and for her. As the readings tell us, we cannot linger in sadness, we cannot live in grief. Mom does not want us to do so; God will lead us towards rejoicing.
            The Isaiah reading says: “The Lord will wipe away the tears for all faces.” This God has come for Connie, and God is tenderly embracing her and saying, “Welcome home, my dear one, the one with the most beautiful face. Thank you for sharing so much of your love on earth.” St. Paul says, “Death has no sting. Death has been broken and God’s love has the power to bind us together even through mortal death – because those who have died are alive to God and are alive to us. Everything is changed. Therefore, let us rejoice in this victory.” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ. And the Gospel from John reassures us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Just Believe and everything will be O.K. You are welcome in this house. You are welcome to this feast that has rich, juicy food and choice wines. This is a time of celebration for our God has come for us.”
            Dara, Rich, Dave, Diane, Sharon, Erica. Mom does not want you to be sad for her. She will continue to care for you more nearly, more perfectly, than you can imagine.
            Sometimes, we question and doubt, just as Connie did, just as Thomas and the other disciples did when they asked, “Where are you going? We do not know the way.” Jesus says to us: Don’t worry about the destination, just get on the train and take a seat. Connie was able to do that. During this past year, she talked about being afraid because she was on a train and she did not have a ticket or know the destination. The train was moving steadily and she felt alone and she was afraid the conductor would come to ask for her ticket. She had no money for one. I simply reassured her that I knew the train conductor well and I trusted him completely. He already paid for her ticket, and she could buy any snack, any food, anything she wanted on that train, and he would stay close to her and look after her. He would come by for short conversations to remove her fear and he would let her know when it was time to get off the train. He was the One who knew the way. He was the one to give life and to speak the truth. Connie learned to trust him. She learned Christ was the conductor, and he kept feeding her and healing her and leading her home. On Thursday, the train arrived at her destination and she is led by Christ to his Father’s mansion where Dawn Mari eagerly awaits, where her Ma and Pa kiss her all over, where all her loved ones say, “Welcome home, dear friend. You did well. Come live in the happiness long promised for you.”

Commended to God

My mother has been commended to God.

Her funeral mass was held this morning at St. Denis Church, in East Douglas. The church as a Jesuit connection because it is named after the church where the original Jesuit Friends in the Lord committed themselves together through simple vows at the church of St. Denis on Montmarte outside of Paris, France.

For me, it was somewhat of a homecoming. It was the only Catholic church in our hometown of Douglas, and its current pastor is my mother's cousin.

At a priest's ordination, his hands are oiled with Sacred Chrism, which is reserved for holy orders. Immediately afterwards, the purificator that is used to wipe the excess oils from his hands is given to his mother to be presented to Peter at her moment of death. Peter, reportedly, gives the mother of a priest entrance through the Pearly Gates without any questions asked. My mother died on the Feast of the Chair of Peter, forming a nice bond with heaven.

The calling hours were a time of consolation. Many people from all ages of our family's life came together to honor our mother. It was quite amazing to see the number of people who showed up for her and for us. It was truly an honor that so many people showed up to give condolences. The cards, notes, emails, Facebook posts, have been very consoling.

As we try to manage our time and make decisions about the funeral and wake, it has been a challenge to reply to any messages. That will come in due time.

The funeral was consoling as well. The rite gave my mother great dignity. Friends who are professional singers gave us a nice gift in their service. The choir formed a nice schola.

Six members of the Jesuit community at Boston College concelebrated the liturgy with me. It was a nice tribute for them to honor our fraternal bonds of affection.

Friends from all over came to the wake or the funeral. Cousins and relatives showed us great care. The parishioners of St. Denis provided nice snacks and hospitality desserts for our enjoyment. At the reception, people stayed for a nice lunch and fellowship.

Mom was well honored, and it was an honor for me to commend her to the Lord for eternal life. Rest in peace, Mom.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

She Persists

God love her, but my mother continues to hang onto dear life. She is severely weakened, but resting very comfortably. She looks serene and free of pain as we continue to sit vigil with her. She opened her eyes once during the day for a few seconds, but otherwise, she rests with a contented countenance.

I had the privilege of sitting with her for hours on end, just whispering consoling words into her ear. Later in the day, more family members showed up. Our cousin, Ellen, came to visit, and my brother's wife and daughter from California made their way back east. My sister from Maine and her family has been down often. My brothers and niece and their families showed up, and of course, my sister, who is the primary caretaker, has been very attentive with her entire family. My sister in California is with us in spirit and by social media, and our sister in heaven is no doubt urging my mother forward.

Our cousin brought us low-fat muffins to fortify us; my brother's good friend fed us with pizza and salad, the nursing home gave us a comfort cart at lunchtime and dinner.

Today, we began to look at possible funeral readings, and our review of them brought consolation to the family. I suspect we will have some decisions made tomorrow.

If my mother makes it through the night, then tomorrow will be her last day. Her body just cannot last.

Thanks for all your prayers. Thanks for understanding our need to concentrate on our mother's care and our attention to one another. We appreciate the prayers and we are remembering your kindness, and our energies are now focused on our vigil.

Gentle woman, do let go. Your heart and will are strong, and the place where you are going is a place of great happiness.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It is O.K. Let go

The hospice nurse called us this morning to let us know that my mother has hours left on this earth because she has been unresponsive and has not been hydrating. Her breathing is slow and her body is giving out. That is clear. We spent time with her all day to hold vigil.

I arrived to meet the social worker and the Sister of Mercy, who had been attending to my mother's needs. They were very kind and they showed concern for our family and our mother. They have done well in comforting my mother.

I told my mother that it is very fine for her to let go and to transition into the next world, where there would be no weeping and no tears. It is a place where fear no longer exists and God's mercy takes care of every concern of hers. God would see to it that she would go gently into the next world and she would have the freedom that she always wanted. So many arms would be there to welcome her and to embrace her warmly and the only tears she would have would be the ones she shed when she realized how beloved she was and is to very many people. She would be reunited and restored to her most loving relationships and that God would offer her the type of perfect love that we seek on earth, but is only achieved in the life to come.

I said the usual goodbyes that I have uttered so often, but it always seems like they are fresh word: I love you. I'm sorry for the ways I hurt you and I ask for your forgiveness. You also are forgiven and our relationship is completely reconciled through God's mercy. And thank you. Thank you for being my mother, my sister in the faith, a daughter of God, a friend as well. 

Months ago, she talked about the train conductor coming to take her for a trip on the train. I told her that Christ is the conductor and he paid for her ticket and he knows where he is taking her. He will never let her slip from her grasp and he will never let go of her hand. He is excited because he wants to show her to the people he has gathered in heaven. The train is moving into the light and the darkness has passed. 

Just then, Sr. Pat stood closer and we were bemused because on the music channel, "Climb Every Mountain" played in the background. One more hill to go, Mom, and then you'll arrive in the place reserved for you.

My family started to arrive and we began lots of different conversations. We played songs for her. We sang. We told stories. We held her hand. Hours passed.

I excused myself so I could attend the wake of a colleague's brother in Newport, Rhode Island. It was a long ride but we just show up for one another. I returned back to the nursing home three hours later and more family members arrived.

I must look like quite a sight. I'm applying chemotherapy lotion for precancerous skin blemishes that many Northern Europeans get. My face is blotchy and tight and my face, head, neck, and arms are on fire. It is painful to shave, and it is worse if I do not shave. This too shall pass. 

As most of the family gathered, we prayed the church's commendation for the dying. My brother said he would return, but as we were not sure when, we went ahead with service. Everyone enjoyed the fragrant oil that I picked up in Jerusalem. Even the nurse joined us in prayer, and even the young ones participating in the prayer of saying goodbye.

After an exhausting day, we retired late at night with the assurance that the nursing staff would keep us posted throughout the night watch. 

Rest well, dear woman. You are free to go.