Before I Knew Her

 

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 Birthday Dear Mom…

The little peanut in the photograph below from 1928 would be 89 years old today, and was lucky (?) enough to have been my mom. Mildred Elaine Baach (later Resch) was born to Fern and Edward Baach in Austin, MN on May 10, 1928; this is her tenth birthday since she’s been gone, and I have to admit that I still haven’t gotten to the point where the happy memories outweigh the pain of missing her. Maybe if she hadn’t been so wonderful–warm, generous, funny–or if we hadn’t been so close, it might be easier…or if I didn’t have the chronic illness and depression stuff to deal with all of the time…or if we had kids, and I could feel as though the cycle of life was continuing…but then again, maybe, most likely, none of that would make any difference at all.

I think part of the reason I am posting this is that if you are moving through grief I want you to know that there is no set time limit, no arbitrary rules that say, oh, by one year (or whatever) you need to be HERE emotionally and if you aren’t then you are maudlin and creepy and just wallowing in negativity. Or, ome people might say to you, hey, you should be happy, your loved one is in heaven with Jesus, so you shouldn’t be so sad. Baloney. Even Jesus cried when Lazarus died; you can be glad your loved one is partying up in heaven, but still miss them dreadfully and feel that you’d give anything for just one more hug. Grief is an incredibly complex, difficult state of being, affects every person differently, and no one has the right to criticize you for it. (The only caveat I’d add is that if if you feel your grief slipping into clinical depression, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.)

The reality is that you will grieve forever. you will not “get over” the loss of a loved one you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

btl_mom.birhday

goodbye may

Goodbye May…you’ve been simply lovely, despite the twin evils of fibromyalgia and depression. Tulips, crabapple blossoms, lilacs, lilies of the valley, and peonies galore. Of course Catholics celebrate May as Mary’s month, and for me, May has always been my mom’s month, bittersweet now that she’s gone, since her birthday and Mother’s Day fall so close together. So goodbye to May…and hello June! I’m looking forward to summer flowers (my salvias and lupines are blooming already) and hopefully a photography trip up to the North Shore (of Lake Superior, for all of you non-Minnesotans out there).

What was your favorite  part of May?

A to Z Blogging Challenge: F is for Family

WHEN EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL, THE PEOPLE WHO STAND BY YOU WITHOUT FLINCHING–THEY ARE YOUR FAMILY (JIM BUTCHER)

So here they are…just some of the people who have always been there, no matter what:

 

 

my favorite little things


These are some of my favorite little things!

Fiona a a newborn puppy
Fiona a a newborn puppy
Mom and me (age 4) pickniking at Minnehaha Falls
Mom and me (age 4 ) on a picnic at Minnehaha Falls
My dad's WWII memorabilia
My dad’s WWII memorabilia
10th wedding anniversary flowers from George
10th wedding anniversary flowers from George
Hot coffee on a cold January afternoon!
Hot coffee on a cold January afternoon!
The stark beauty of Lake Superior in winter
The stark beauty of Lake Superior in winter
New books--Xmas gift from George
New books–Xmas gift from George
Fiona dozing on a winter afternoon
Fiona dozing on a winter afternoon
Four generations of Resch kids at the family reunion
Four generations of Resch kids at the family reunion
Daddy and me (1 year) "sledding" in the backyard
Daddy and me (1 year) “sledding” in the backyard
Party at Camp da Sabas
Party at Camp da Sabas
twins game with my nieces
twins game with my nieces
Meeting my new cousin Elissa
Meeting my new cousin Elissa
Dinner with Tom and Kristine
Dinner with Tom and Kristine
Fiona taking time to sniff the flowers...
Fiona taking time to sniff the flowers…
Memories of my mom and dad
Memories of my mom and dad
George and me on a Sunday afternoon at Kieran's
George and me on a Sunday afternoon at Kieran’s

The most beauti…

Mom at my wedding
Mom at my wedding

 

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
(Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)

 

My Grandma Resch
My Grandma Resch

(Two of the most beautiful women I have ever known, my mom and my grandma. I can still feel their warmth and love envelop me when I look at their pictures. I should ever become so beautiful!)

grace and grumpiness

I am so incredibly, amazingly, crabby at the moment. I overdid it with my physical therapy exercises yesterday and am paying the price today. I also, I admit, was (to my surprise) completely emotionally overwhelmed yesterday by the election of Pope Francis. Pope Francis. But I am experiencing a tough letdown today after my elation and tears, which is making me headachy and grumpy.

It’s so easy to find grace in the beautiful moments, the happy times, when it seems as though God’s love is in the very air we breathe. Which it is, of course. But now? As I sit here in our cluttered bedroom, staring at the immense pile of dirty laundry that is refusing to wash itself, not to mention the many books which I swear mate while we sleep that have no home at the moment, and I could really use a shower, if I could work up the energy to turn on the water, get some towels (any clean ones?) and dig out some shower gel and shampoo which I know we have, somewhere or other.

my little family
my little family

Yet…I look at the face of my sleeping cocker spaniel, faithfully dozing next to me on the bed. I look across the room and see our wedding portrait, and I remember that I have a husband who takes me to all of my doctor and physical therapy appointments–and they are legion–and never complains. I remember my mother, and how thrilled she would be to see Pope Francis, and I smile, and say a quick prayer to her. And I think to myself, wow, am I blessed. Even if I do suspect my physical therapist of trying to kill me.

"Habemus Papam" - Cardinal Jorge Mar...
“Habemus Papam” – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., has been elected Pope Francis (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

friday five: where is its home?

This week’s Friday five, a tradition over at one of my all-time favorite blogs, RevGalBlogPals. Every Friday, one of the women posts a meme and invites other members to play. So this week, I’m playing!!! Here goes:
N.B. The narrative voice here asking the questions, etc., is from the original author, not me! My answers are in red.

“As noted at my own blog, my word for the year is “clear.”

One of the things to which this refers is clearing away clutter.

One of the best ways I have found to do this is to give everything that comes into my house a HOME. And I can easily tell that I have too many things when there are not enough homes for them all!

I gleaned the idea of items having homes  from my younger sister who used to say to her toddlers, “See that book on the floor there? Is that its home? No? Please put the book into its home.” Often, I am saying the same words to myself that she said to her little ones.

Photo from Discountofficeitems.com

In my mother’s house, the Marks-A-Lot marker always went in the cupboard next to the sink. I don’t know why, I just know that’s where the Marks-A-Lot goes, still and forever, in my house many miles away.

So:  Tell us your favorite homes for five things, the places that you can always and reliably find them. 

1. This one is easy. Books I’m currently reading, not including books for classes (who wants to see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night?) is my nightstand. Of course, other books frequently migrate there as well. And my Kindle is in my nightstand drawer when I’m not carrying it around the house with me like child with a blankie.

2. My dad’s things (his old missal, cards he saved from my mom and me, his photos from WWII, etc.) are in a special box kept on the first shelf in the study closet. Easy access, but out of the way enough so that, hopefully, nothing will get spilled on or chewed on (by the dog, not me, honest).

Image
My dad and his buddies during Basic Training at Fort Lewis, WA, ca 1942. My dad is in the middle.

 

3. Old family photos that have not yet been put into albums–one of my future projects–are kept in the top left-hand drawer of my old rolltop desk that my dad made for me. Most of them are from my mom’s side (not all), and I’m still trying to figure out who some of the people in them are, and what year, approximately anyway, they were taken. The most interesting photo isn’t a photo at all, at least not in the ordinary sense; it’s a daguerrotype that must date back to at least 1860 if not earlier, of my Cherokee great-great-many greats-grandmother. (Although this is my adoptive family, so there is no blood relation.)

Image
Bertha Wilhelmina Mohr and John Adam Resch on their wedding day. Pine City, MN, July 12, 1915. My grandparents. I never knew my grandpa but I adored my grandma. She was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, inside and out.

 

4. The Children’s Bible my godparents gave me for my First Communion resides in the Governor Winthrop in our living room. The Governor Winthrop is a combination secretary desk with a bookcase on top that I inherited from my Great-Aunt Millie, and it’s the perfect place for some of my most treasured old books, like my old bible. It’s dog-eared and falling apart, but just looking at it brings back the many hours I spent poring over the stories of David and Goliath, the First Christmas, and the fascinating pictures in the back of the places in the Holy Land where these exciting stories actually happened!

5. Fiona’s toys hang out on the living room floor. During the day, that is. At night she brings most of them to bed with her (us, I should say, much to the dismay of my allergist). She used to have fluffy stuffed toys, until she began destroying them, tearing them apart with great joy. So her toys now consist of chewsticks, rope toys, and Kongs, although she also considers my socks and bras toys as well. (She loves to trot out into the living room dragging one of my bras by the strap. Oh, the look of glee on her face!) Since I’m home most of the day, we usually play with each of her rope toys in turn; and I should note that part of our play consists of fishing her toys out from under the couch or the bed, which she finds great fun. I don’t, especially since I’m currently recovering from neck surgery, Sigh.

Image

So what does it say about me, I wonder, that my longest answer is about…my dog’s toys?

Readers, I invite you to play along too! Leave your answers in the comment box, and we’ll comapre notes!

ps: the prevailing wisdom that one should never have a “junk drawer”? I don’t buy that. Because, where else do you put your birthday candles, tiny measuring tape, kite string, eyeglasses repair kits, etc.? “

 

too, too much

 We all reach times when we suddenly feel that we have more to bear than we can handle. Thank goodness I’ve lived long enough to know this is fact, because for many years, I thought I was all alone, that I was the only one who ever felt inadequate, or selfish, or so overwhelmed that all I could do was crawl under the covers and pray that morning would be a long time coming.

Tonight is one of those times. I tell myself I am being silly, as I sit here typing away next to our Christmas tree. I remember every single ornament: who gave it to us, or where we bought it and where and why. There were presents under the tree, until Fiona started trying to unwrap them. (They now repose in an undisclosed location until Christmas morning.) Every day more Christmas cards from friends and family arrive in the mail, reminding me that George and I are part of a whole community of friends and family.


Yet all I can do is cry. Last Friday, as we all know, a very sick young man killed 20 children and 7 teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. I’ve been immersed in discussions/disputes about gun laws, treatment of the seriously mentally ill, grief for the parents and families left behind, as well as for those little darlings who will never graduate, not even from grade school, never travel, go to college, get married.

And for some reason I am having an even harder time than usual dealing with the absence of my own parents this year. My dad was like a little kid about Christmas; he and I always had so much fun together, decorating the the tree (always the day after Thanksgiving), going downtown to see all of the Christmas lights and the mechanized displays in the department store windows, especially Dayton’s. Caroling with mom and other parishioners from Incarnation. And every year, until I was 24, sitting between mom and dad at Midnight Mass, hearing the ancient words “For behold I bring you tidings of great joy…” Going up to the Creche afterwards to see the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, and in later years the Choir always sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah immediately after the conclusion of Mass. Holding hands with mom and dad as we prayed in the “words our Savior taught us, Our Father who art in heaven…” and most of all, singing the old, familiar carols, especially my favorite, Silent Night, Stille Nacht, written in Germany so long ago. Now there is new family, warm, loving, caring family. I have a husband, whom I love very much. But I haven’t been able to go to Midnight Mass since I lost my mom.

This is, without a doubt, the hardest time of year to be childless. We keep running into one roadblock after another with our efforts to adopt, until I have to shut myself alone in our bedroom so George doesn’t have to listen to me crying in hysteric despair. Yes, I feel selfish bringing up our loneliness for a child when I know parents out in Newtown are grieving their lost babies. But grief is grief, and it deserves to be honored and spoken of, regardless of the circumstances, or who is doing the grieving, or why.

I’m particularly overwhelmed by my upcoming neck surgery. Less than two days to go now. And I feel so alone, I guess everyone does when they are facing surgery or something similar. Because no one can experience it with you. George is spending the day with me; Friday he’s taking me over to  my Aunt Jo and cousin Melinda’s house, so they can fuss over me, and Sunday my birthmom is coming over to baby me. Plus, I am receiving the Catholic Sacrament of the Sick from one of my favorite priests tomorrow. So I have all of my ducks in a row, so to speak. but I still feel sick to my stomach every time I think about it. Part of my issue here is, yet again (this question has been popping up everywhere the last few days) is WHY. Damn it all, I am sick of being in pain every single blasted day of my life. Why do I have to endure more? Yes, I know other people have it worse. but I have have never understood why that is supposed to make me feel better. I’m supposed to be happy and grateful that at least I’m not suffering the way other people I love are? I don’t think so. 

I guess this is one of those times of, maybe not doubt, so much as feeling so desperately alone. This is why I ask for prayers, because right now I’ve lost the ability to form the words myself. I guess my tears and my writing tonight will have to be my prayers.

I guess a partial answer lies in something I told a friend the night of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, when we were struggling with the question of why, of how, an event so hideously, cosmically wrong could happen:

 You just sound upset, that’s all, hon. Don’t apologize for that. As to why this happened…can there possibly be a satisfactory answer? We live in a violent society. We can work for peace and justice. But does that help right now, at this very moment? All we know for sure is that God weeps with us, and that in the end God will wipe away all of our tears, and we will all be together again. And I always remember that Jesus wept when Lazarus died. He understands our feelings of grief and loss, because He experienced it too.

Amen.