Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I'll take my chances

Most of the people who know my husband and me also know that we lost our 18 year old daughter Lauren almost 10 years ago.  She died in her car on the way to mass on Mother's Day. She was nine days short of graduation from high school. She was an honor student. She left behind a devastated father, mother and brother. She also left behind a grieving myriad of family, friends, and classmates too numerous to name.

That was the worst week of my life. I have often said it was like being dragged through hell- being completely lost, desperately tired and emotionally drained, trying to comfort my husband and son, struggling to make needed plans and be present for the legions of family, friends and the community who came through our home, to the funeral home, to the Fine Arts Auditorium where her funeral was held. I don't think anyone who has not lived through it can truly understand it.

In the midst of all that, I wondered where God was. Where could he be? I was sitting on the organ bench, ready to play at mass, to be a part of our Sunday celebration. Where did he go? Why wasn't he there when she needed him? Would he be there when I needed him most?

In the days that followed, I saw God's love in action. I saw Jesus in the people who came to us in person, on the phone, in cards and letters and in those who helped us build the memorial scholarship for her. I knew he was there. I didn't understand why she was gone, but I knew he had a plan and this was all part of it.

I think people expected my husband and me to be angry at God. But neither of us could. Richard said, "Why should I be angry at God? He's the only one who can help me." That left a great impression on me. I think it was what I needed to hear at that time.

I've had lots of time since then to grieve over my loss and to contemplate the day when I will be reunited with her again. That day gives me hope. It has strengthened my faith and I have learned to try and be joyful in the Lord.

Somewhere along the way I heard about a debate between an atheist and a Catholic. The atheist said something to the effect of, "How do you know that God exists and that there is an afterlife? How can you be sure?" The Catholic replied that he could not be sure, but that he'd take his chances.

I think that is exactly how I feel. I'll take my chances. If we are right (and in my heart, I know we are) then Alleluia! But if we are wrong, and the atheist is right, what difference does it really make? None whatsoever, because in their minds, there is no afterlife, punishment, or anyone to answer to. So, I'll take my chances that I will be with the Lord and reunited with Lauren and my other loved ones one day. I figure those chances are pretty good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Portrait of a memory

Lauren loved Tinker Bell. I don't think I ever told her, but Tink was always my favorite Disney character, too. I remember being a very small child at Disneyland with my family looking up in the sky to try to see Tinker Bell flying around Cinderella's castle, like she did on television.

Lauren, like most little girls, started out as a Minnie Mouse fan. She had Minnie shirts, dolls, and a little china tea set that she got for her 5th birthday. All that changed when she saw "Peter Pan." She was hooked (no pun intended) on Tinker Bell.

Richard went to a conference in Orlando last week at one of the Disney properties. He told me there was a package coming. It came the same day Richard came home. When he opened it for me, it was this lovely portrait of Tinker Bell. 

He told me it was a giclee' by an artist who specialized in Disney characters. The artist likes to paint Disney characters in different places. This is number 8 of 15 0. He said he liked it because Tinker Bell seems to be looking toward heaven. He pictured Lauren looking down at her.  I see it, too. We placed it in the guest room downstairs, so we can share with our friends and family. 

"There was another light in the room now, a thousand times brighter than the night-lights, and in the time we have taken to say this, it had been in all the drawers in the nursery, looking for Peter's shadow, rummaged the wardrobe and turned every pocket inside out. It was not really a light; it made this light by flashing about so quickly, but when it came to rest for a second you saw it was a fairy, no longer than your hand, but still growing. It was a girl called Tinker Bell exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage..." J.M. Barrie, "Peter Pan." 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Keep me holy

Next week is going to be tough. For Catholics, it is the holiest week of the year. It is the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter season. Lent ends on Holy Thursday (aka "Maundy" Thursday) and our Triduum begins.

During those three days, we experience complete sadness remembering the death of our Lord, and exquisite joy celebrating His Resurrection and triumph over the grave. We celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. We marvel at His act of humility as he washed his disciples' feet. We ponder the cross and celebrate new members coming into the church. We renew our baptismal promises.  Most of all, our hearts will be pierced with the reality of His sacrifice as He paid the ultimate price for each and every one of us.

I'm a church musician, and it is my privilege (notice I did not say duty) to play at all four masses. In our little parish, very few do the work of many. (I have a feeling it's that way in many big parishes, too).  It is easy to get caught up in what we have to do and when -- what I have to play-- all those hymns, mass parts, responsorials... Sure, I want to sit in the pew and not worry about anything but worshipping, but I can't. I will make the sacrifice, because that is what I feel I am called to do.

Those of us who take an active part in the liturgy are under a lot of stress and pressure. It's easy to get lost in all of the "mechanics" of what has to be done to get through these four masses. It's easy to get frustrated, become resentful, be less "holy" than you should be.

That is what I meant when I entitled this post, "Keep me holy." It's really a prayer. It's really a petition. It is a plea.

Tonight I went to the Stations of the Cross. It hit me in the middle of our "journey" that it was the "Triduum in a nutshell." There it was - the whole story, really. It brought me such peace about next week. It reminded me that it is okay to make a mistake or to miss a cue, because He doesn't expect me to be perfect. He only expects me to be a servant. He only expects me to love.

So next week, I will strive for that balance- to be able to play for Him and pray to Him.  I will take up my "cross" willingly and (as I do every day) strive to become holy...  to be that loving servant.

The altar at our parish on Easter 2010

Monday, April 7, 2014

You never know who you are talking to

The other night, I went to a visitation for the daughter of a friend of mine. I worked with Janet at the newspaper for several years. Her daughter Jeanae was just 34 when an aneurysm took her the other day. I remember when Jeanae was on the flag team in high school and at Northwest. I remember when she got married. I knew she had two small boys. 

Janet had left the newspaper and moved to Missouri, but she came to my house when Lauren died. I never forgot that. I felt it was my duty to go and see her. 

The funeral home was really crowded and the line to get in was really long. (And it was pouring down rain.) 

 I struck up a conversation with a young lady next to me. We began to talk about how we knew Jeanae. She told me that she was the sister-in-law of Jenae's brother, Jeffrey. I mentioned that Janet had come when my daughter died. She told me that she had lost her two-year-old son to a drunk driver. Both of our children died 10 years ago. We shared a bit of our journey with each other, and said our goodbyes when we got inside the funeral home. 

The next morning my friend Sybil, who is the director of the Foundation at our college, emailed to say there was a family coming in to talk about starting a scholarship (like the one we have for Lauren). My director decided she would interview them because she felt it would be hard for me, since they had lost their son to a drunk driver. (I am so lucky to have the folks I work with. They are so thoughtful of me!)

When Sarah, my director came back, she started to tell me about the couple she had interviewed. She had shared my story with them in an effort to reassure them that the scholarship really is invaluable. She said the young woman's face changed when she realized she had been talking to me on Friday night!

My face changed too, when she recounted the story to me. I had never met this woman before. I was talking to her when I was in line to comfort yet another friend who had lost a child. I never mentioned my scholarship, which is odd, because I always talk to people about it. 

I can only chalk this up to God and his plans. Plans we don't understand, and we don't need to understand. We just need to be open to those plans. Lord, make me a vessel. 

"But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us." 2 Cor 4:7

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sometimes weird things just happen

A while back, I was asked to come back and play at my church after about a 3 year hiatus. I have always kept a little notebook and in it I write the hymns we sing at each mass. That way, I make sure we are not repeating them too often, and it also helps to build our choir's repertoire.  A few weeks ago, I wrote our hymns in the notebook like I always do.

On Saturday evening I was getting ready to practice the songs for Sunday and make a list for the choir to follow, and when I opened the notebook, the page from Wed. was gone! Nowhere to be found. Luckily, I remembered what songs we were singing and I wrote them  down again.

Sunday morning came around, and we were getting ready to start mass. I was softly playing the entrance hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy" on the organ for a prelude, when all of a sudden Fr. Thi pops up right beside the organ and says, "What's that song you are playing?" I answered, "Holy, Holy, Holy." He said, "I was singing that song on the way to church, thinking it should be the entrance hymn." I said, "Holy Spirit!"

"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. “ (John 14:16-18).

Monday, March 31, 2014

You can call me "Mimi"

I've been called a lot of things in my life. My daddy always called me "Baby." (Kind of like Frances Houseman in "Dirty Dancing.") My sister-in-law calls me "Juanzko." (Don't ask!) My godchildren call me "Nina," and my sweet Suzy (who lives next door to me) calls me "Mammie."

I'm Mom to my son, as I was to his sister.

There's a little person on the way who I hope will call me Mimi. We found out in February that our son and daughter-in-law were having their first child! Needless to say, my husband I were ecstatic.

Like everything else in our lives, the moment we found out our little one was coming was bittersweet. For us and our son and now for our daughter-in-law, there is something missing in everything in our lives. It is, as someone wisely said at the time of Lauren's death, our "new" normal.

I held my sweet daughter-in-law's hand across the table with tears in both of our eyes. Those tears were shared by our little family. The tears were tears of joy and of sadness. But one thing we all realized was that this little one coming this year is a double blessing. May 9 will be the 10th anniversary of Lauren's death. Having this baby to look forward to takes a lot of the sting out of this year.

We began to think about how excited Lauren would have been about this baby, and about being an aunt for the first time.

I believe that Lauren knows all about her niece or nephew and that she is rejoicing. We'll find out which it is at the end of next month.

Until then, I will imagine what this little person looks like. I will think about the times when we take our grandbaby to all the places we love: church, the Grove, to visit family, to Disneyworld! I will marvel at my son becoming a father, and his little family growing.

Until then...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Please, Mr. Postman

The other day I read a story about a grieving couple who received a letter in the mail. It was a "computer-generated" letter from a company whose primary purpose was to sell something to the recipient. We've all gotten them before.

This one was particularly heart-wrenching. The letter was addressed to a Chicago area man:  "Mike Seay, daughter killed in car crash, or current business..." When Mrs. Seay saw the letter in the mail, she, of course, was devastated and traumatized. They lost their 17-year-old daughter about 11 months ago.  My heart broke into pieces for them.

I know how hard it was to receive anything in the mail with Lauren's name on it. It pierces the heart in a way that is hard to describe. Over the years, we have received things in the mail with her name on it. It is far and few between, but it still happens from time to time.

In fact, a day or two before I read the story of the Seays, I got a letter in the mail with Lauren's name on it. It still hurt. I think because it had been such a long time since I had gotten one.

The company apologized to the Seays, stating that the letter came through a third-party administrator. Mr. Seay did not want to sue the company, he just wanted an apology for this completely insensitive action. He knows that no amount of "damages" paid can undo the damage done, or bring back his lovely daughter.

I am praying for the Seays and for all parents who have lost children. Our journey is not an easy one. I have to rely on Jesus to carry me through every day. And He does.

"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted." 

The letter received by the Seays.