My parents have been dead a long time. Or not so long. It depends on my mood, how long it seems. My mom died in April 2007, my dad in January 1993. I often wonder what advice they would give me now, about being childless, being disabled and in chronic pain and often frustrated and depressed. Then, by chance, today I came across a quote that spells out what I know in my heart they would both say to me so perfectly, it gave me chills. In fact, I can hear my mom’s voice…
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
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I am feeling horribly fragile today, as I have been on most days these last months. Fibromyalgia pain, worsening back and neck pain from arthritis, migraines, foot pain, and depression, a nasty depression relapse that just goes on and on and on…Are my medications not effective any longer? Are changing hormone levels playing a role? Am I getting worse as I get older? Did breaking my foot so badly throw everything off? Or all of the above?
It’s hard to say. But none of my usual self-care strategies seem to be helping anymore. My gratitude journal, guided meditation, walking, losing myself in a good book…all of my long honored tried-and-true comforts are failing me. I’m also having a tough time reaching out to friends because I don’t know what to say.
And part of this, I know, is the ongoing pain of childlessness. The gaping, supperating wound that never heals. It’s always there, a dull ache that crescendos to a roar at times, like around Father’s Day, which is this coming Sunday.
I don’t quite know what to do with so much pain, both physical and emotional. My husband has been wonderfully, incredibly supportive, I have terrific doctors, but it’s as if my usual coping mechanisms have run dry. So all I can do for the moment is to hold on tight to the love I know heals me. From my family, my husband, my God. And force myself to get out of bed every day, to get dressed, to sit out in the backyard with the sun and the flowers and the dog, and hope that eventually healing grace will start to take hold.
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’
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.
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.
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.
Every week, the women over at RevGalBlogPals, an organization formed to support women in ministry who also happen to blog, have a weekly feature, Friday Five, covering a variety of topics. This week, 3dogmom writes (the image above is hers also):
It’s been a week of ups and downs at our house. On Tuesday I received word of the birth of my goddaughter’s second daughter, a blessing to that family, and the hope of the first daughter happily fulfilled. That evening I learned that my sister-in-law, a breast cancer survivor, is facing a recurrence of cancer in her lymph nodes, and probably her lungs. Joy and concern pressing in on my heart has made for a week of lots of deep breaths and deep-in-the-marrow prayer, smiles and tears.
At times like this I my soul finds comfort and seeks expression through my senses. Pinterest feeds my visual need for beauty and color (not to mention adorable puppies, and herds of sheep). Cooking fills the house with pleasant aromas, and the results satisfy my palette. My hands find tactile pleasure in massaging my dogs, and music penetrates and reverberates in the fiber of my being.
When you need to hold disparate parts of your life in tension, what do you do? Share five things that steady your pace, recharge your batteries and invite peace to your soul.
I think I wound up with more than five, but here we go.
This picture shows the most important elements of what I think of as my “Fibromyalgia Care Kit”. When I’m hurting, exhausted, and often, depressed (mild depression seems to tag along after a flbro flare like an uninvited dinner guest), I need my puppy, Fiona, to cuddle with me and make me laugh, and gaze adoringly at me with her huge, melty brown, spaniel eyes. Her softness and warmth has gotten me through many unspeakably painful days, like the days my mom was in hospice and I couldn’t cry in front of mom. So I would come home, crawl into bed under the wedding quilt my Aunt Marie made for me, and Fiona would come and snuggle against my back. She still does.
I love my nightstand, my little nook, that holds my reading lamp, a photo of my husband George and Fiona, a drink (I mean a soda, or cocoa, or tea, not that kind of drink!), and a stack of books. Books feed my mind and my soul. They are like friends, who comfort and soothe my hurts. I have started practicing mindfulness meditation a few times a week, although I’m not very good at it yet. Hugs. From George especially, but from any of my friends or family, occasionally even my therapist. Drawing, with messy utensils like charcoal and pastels, gives tactile satisfaction too, regardless of the result. Looking at photographs, or taking an especially good one myself, and growing flowers when I’m physically able, or getting a bouquet when I need cheering up, gives me a taste of beauty, I keep my mother’s old rosary in my nightstand drawer; there is something soothing about the feel of the beads as I run them through my fingers.
The photos and books, the hugs, the art, my blog, Fiona, flowers, the rosary…all of these things are both celebratory and comforting, frequently both at the same time. They do serve to tie the varying elements of my life together. And so does the grace woven into each hug, every tear, all of the laughter.
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