Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Starość Nie Radość!

Can’t We Talk About Something More PLEASANT? by Roz Chast

This book highlights the events surrounding the last years of life of Roz Chast’s parents. It’s written in graphic novel format, using the same style as the Roz Chast cartoons you’ll find in The New Yorker magazine. And, while there is humor in this book, it’s also quite depressing.

It’s amazing to me how universal the process of dying is. In my lifetime I’ve lived through the aging and death of my father, 2 aunts, and a great aunt and have witnessed the aging and debilitating conditions of other family members. While reading this book I would often remember one relative or another going through similar experiences that Ms. Chast’s parents experienced. While no one relative experienced it all, collectively, among all the relatives I’ve witnessed age and die, I could point to various scenarios in this book and think about a similar experience in the life of me or my relatives.

I could totally relate to Ms. Chast and her apprehension at visiting her father in the nursing home. I could also relate to her saying that even though her dad made her “bats”, in the end, that’s not what mattered. She also said that she still dreams of her father. I do too. Although, unlike Ms. Chast, my dreams don’t always put me at peace nor is my father at peace sometimes in my dreams. Sometimes I get the feeling of dread knowing what’s coming, thinking that I’ll have to go through the caregiving experience again. Once I wake up I realize that my father is dead and no, I don’t have to go through that again. What’s past is past, thankfully.

Interestingly enough, soon after my father died, he appeared to me in a dream glowing. He told me: “Hold His hand and test the waters.” An odd thing for my father to say but clearly referencing Matthew 14 where Peter walks on water as long as he keeps his focus on Jesus.

28 Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” — New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), Matthew 14:28-33.

My father’s last words to me were: “Have a good time!” What he meant was: “I’m dying. You can now live your life. You no longer have to put your life on hold to take care of me.”

From time to time I try to remember my father’s “hold His hand” commandment when I get to a point of retreating into myself and my anxiety starts to take over and overwhelms me. God has a plan for me and all I have to do is “hold His hand and test the waters.”

(For those of you who don’t speak Polish, the translated title of this post is “There’s nothing pleasant about old age!” A phrase my father and one of his sisters would repeat often, in Polish, as they got older.)

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The first reading at Mass today resonated with me, especially in this fractured time we live in, with all the vitriol that has been spewed from both sides of the political spectrum.

Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call and the Lord will answer,
you shall cry for help, and He will say:
Here I am!
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;

And the next verse:

Then the Lord will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.

Source: Isaiah 58:7-11 from The New American Bible.

Recently I’ve been thinking about going offline permanently, except for work. Staying away from social media, specifically. But also trying my hardest to stay away from the comments on news sites. Recently I was watching a video about President Trump’s travel ban and its implications. The comments were acerbic; the name calling was rampant. There was no opportunity for intelligent people to have a constructive conversation about the pros and cons of the ban. No opportunity to question, no opportunity to attempt to understand the other’s point of view.

Recently on Facebook, I asked a simple question about a relative’s shared post. At least I thought it was a simple question: Why didn’t President Trump include more countries in the travel ban, specifically those countries that spawned the terrorists that have attacked or tried to attack our country? I don’t understand.

And I still don’t understand. The question was never answered (at least not as of the publication date of this post). Followup comments included telling me to get my facts straight about our current vetting of refugees (I mentioned that I thought the 1.5-2 year vetting by 15 government agencies was sufficient). Another comment said that I need to “check my facts on radical Muslims attacking our shores… I need to read what’s really happening in our country. The media only tells how and what they want us to know.” But, no source was was given for these facts she speaks about. When I asked where she gets these facts about radical Muslims attacking our shores, someone else listed everything from the shoe bomber, to the underwear bomber, to the Fort Hood shooter, to the World Trade Center bombing, to the attacks in London and the attack on the USS Cole. This culminated with the comment: “Those are a few facts, would u like more.” Again, this still didn’t answer my original question. All of these bombings and shootings were committed by people who were born in countries other than the countries on the travel ban list, including by some U.S. citizens. And some weren’t even committed in this country. So, again, why didn’t President Trump include countries that have spawned terrorists who have actually attempted to or carried out attacks on our country? I may never know my relative’s thoughts on the matter (especially since this relative has since un-friended me on Facebook).


I guess I should be used to this by now and not just in the political realm. Ever since I asked my teacher a math question in the first grade, and she refused to answer, the response has been the same by everyone that I’ve tried to ask a question of since. That’s largely why I stopped asking questions in school. Things did not get better in adulthood. My husband once chided me about spending too much time analyzing characters and plot lines from my favorite TV show (I’m a former English major, so analyzing characters I care about is fun for me). He says I should spend my time on learning something new. So, I asked him about the braking system on trains (he programs train simulators for a major railroad company). He never gave me an answer.

Again, Exasperating!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my father. When it came to whole groups of people and his attitude toward them, there was no denying he was a racist. More than once growing up I heard the Polish translation for the “N” word come out of his mouth. And, considering his experiences in life, I can totally understand his attitude. But, on an individual basis, once he got to know you and you got to know him, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you no matter your race or ethnic background. Not too long ago I was at an event and someone who was good friends with my father kept saying what a good man he was and what a good friend my father was to him. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this from his friends, former neighbors, and their families. It warms my heart that even after all these years (he died in 1993) his memory brings a warm feeling to so many people’s hearts. He truly was a light of the world.

We need more light in this world. A way to be that light is to get to know people who don’t look like we do, who don’t think like we do, who are in different circumstances than we are. Ask questions. Answer questions honestly. Don’t be defensive. Truly try to understand another person’s point of view. Only then I think we can stop seeing the “other”. Only then we can begin to see what we have in common, what unites us rather than what divides us.

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In honor of the March for Life in Washington DC today, I’m reposting this blog post I originally posted back on January 25, 2010. The total number of abortions (1973-2015) has risen to 58,586,256 since my original post.

“What would happen if there were a beautiful and highly intelligent child up in heaven waiting to be born and his or her parents decided that the two children they already had were enough?”

— Linus Van Pelt [from a Peanuts comic strip originally published in July 1970; Schultz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts 1969 to 1970, July 2008, p. 244.]

Recently my aunt and I were discussing the issue of, as my aunt calls it, “how does it come to be that you get the feeling that you are you?” You’re probably thinking: Huh!? But, it’s not that difficult to understand, really. At least the concept isn’t difficult. The actual answer is a mystery, however. What she means is why is it that she was born the 8th child in her family. Why wasn’t her sister Helen the 8th? Or her sister Frances? Or, even her brother John? When (and how) was it decided that Helen would be child number seven, Frances child number six, and John child number five. And, I’m not talking about why their parents picked those names when they did; I’m talking about why the person as a whole was born when he or she was born and into the family he or she was born into.

In our discussion yesterday, this brought to mind a recent Sunday reading from church:

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the same benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.”
— 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11, The New American Bible

St. Paul goes on to say that each of us is a part of a whole, and each of our gifts are meant to be used for the benefit of the community. And, each of us, no matter our gifts, are integral to the functioning of the whole. (See: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30.)

Well, this got me thinking. Maybe the reason each of us is born, into the family we are born, at the time we are born, is because God knows what that family and in a larger sense, the world as a whole, needs. The child being born is given those necessary gifts. And, that child as he or she grows is responsible for using those gifts for the betterment of the family and the world at large.

Now, this of course, brings us back to the quote cited at the start of this post. And, this is something I think about quite often. What if God wants a certain child to be born, knowing that that person is what the world needs. And, the parents decide that they are done having children or in the extreme case, what if the child is conceived and then aborted. I often wonder what if one or more of those 49 million aborted babies was supposed to grow up to cure cancer or some other disease. Maybe each of them wasn’t supposed to do something so heroic, but whatever gifts were given to that baby, in some small way, was supposed to make our world a better place to live. But, now by the fact that this child was not born, the fate of the world (or maybe just the fate of those that this child may have come in contact with in his or her daily life) is changed. And, what are the ultimate consequences of that choice by the parents? No one will ever know what God intended.

All of this is a mystery, of course. But something to ponder. And at the same time, we all should ponder what gifts God has given us and we should ask ourselves: “Are we using those gifts for the betterment of our family (however we define family) and the world at large?”

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Personally, I’ve never felt a desire to give birth to children (although I’ve always said that if I’d marry, I wouldn’t deny my husband the joy of biological children.) However, since the 2nd grade, when I learned what adoption was, I had felt a strong desire to adopt children in the event that I would marry someday. Eleven years ago I married a wonderful man, but motherhood is looking less and less likely a possibility as time moves on. Recently I came across an article on Facebook titled “Spiritual Motherhood“. Perhaps I should take Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s advice:

“From now on your daily prayer should be, “God, send me spiritual children and I will never turn any one of them down. The more the better.” Simple as that. Pray for the gift of spiritual children. It might very well be that in your beautiful desire to be a biological mother you have overlooked cases where you could have become a spiritual mother….

You are called to motherhood right now. Not next week, not next month. I’m absolutely convinced that God has placed people in your path and called you to motherhood. Your task is to love those that are weak, unhappy, helpless, and unloved.”

I’m posting this ahead of Mother’s Day for all the women out there who, for whatever reason, have not been blessed with biological or adopted children. Sometimes a sadness and depression can set in, a mourning if you will, when this happens. But, perhaps God has a different sort of motherhood in mind for you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the biological, adoptive, and spiritual mothers!

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Society’s Downfall

Anyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with the TV show Scorpion. I like to talk about it, and could talk about it, the characters, and the plot for hours if given the chance (which I never am). Somehow the topic came up at dinner with my in-laws yesterday and my mother-in-law commented that it’s shows like that, that show geniuses in such a totally unrealistic way, that are basically leading to the downfall of society. According to her, shows like this cause people to think that all geniuses/academically-minded people are inept socially, not “normal”, whatever. My guess is she’s hinting that if people see academically-minded people in such a negative light, most people would not want to be educated. A mass of non-educated people in a democratic society will lead to its downfall. I agree that a section of our population sees education as a non-necessity. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I did read in a local paper a few years back that a huge majority of people in the area I grew up in believed that a college education was not necessary to getting ahead in life. People skills are seen as more important. This trend has been decades in the making, long before Scorpion or even The Big Bang Theory appeared on TV sets. I’m not here to debate that.

I’m writing to say that when one delves into the characters themselves, the geniuses of Scorpion are not portrayed negatively or unrealistically in my opinion. They are portrayed as human. Yes, they have extraordinary abilities and they think more logically than “normals” (this even my mother-in-law concedes), but I’d argue that their emotional well-being, or lack thereof, is because of the circumstances that they’ve grown up in and not because they are geniuses/academically-minded. I’d argue that if “normals” were put in the same circumstances, their emotional well-being would be influenced negatively too. Perhaps the “normals” would also have the same problems.

Take Walter’s life. He never had a good relationship with his father. His father didn’t understand him. He was bullied in school, including by his teachers (or at least one teacher as shown in one flashback episode). Thank goodness for his sister, but she’s currently dying. When he was 10 years old he met Cabe Gallo, a government agent. Throughout his pre-teen and early- to mid-teen years Cabe was like a father to him. He was someone Walter trusted. Cabe would have Walter work on projects for the government. Cabe understood that Walter wanted to do good things and needed something to keep his mind occupied, to keep learning new things. Then, Walter hears on the news that the software he created to drop aid packages was actually used to drop bombs, killing 2,000 innocent people. Trust was completely broken and Walter now has to live with that on his conscience. He hasn’t been able to sleep well for the past 16 years, having nightmares. Is it any wonder he has closed himself off to the world emotionally? Shunned by his parents, his peers. Opens himself up emotionally to someone who he thought would be like a father to him only to have his heart broken in a major way. What “normal” person could go through that in life and still come away unscathed?

Then there’s Happy.  First, her mother dies in childbirth. As someone who personally experienced losing a mother at a young age (3 years old), I can tell you, you never really get over the abandonment issues totally. Then when she was 3 years old her father got her a doll house. She wired it for electricity (she’s a mechanical genius). I’m sure she was very proud of herself. But, rather than being proud of his daughter and her abilities (or teaching his daughter the right way to do things if she did it wrong), her father ripped all her wiring out of the doll house. She rewired it. Her dad took away the doll house. Happy then became less talkative and more quiet. Is it any wonder why she can’t stand to be judged? As for a fear of getting close to someone that also probably goes back to her father putting her into foster care. Being moved from foster home to foster home, while always looking out the window to see if her dad is coming back, didn’t help her abandonment issues. Logically, there would be no point in getting close to someone when that person is just going to hurt you and leave. In these circumstances, what “normal” person would be fine emotionally?

I could say more about Sylvester and Toby, but essentially, they’re the way they are emotionally because of their experiences early in life too. Personally, I admire Sylvester. Despite his anxiety and fears, he has the courage to do what needs to be done to help those he loves and the greater good. Quite an inspiration for me.

Then there’s Ralph. A 10-year old genius, but someone who’s learning to come into his own living in a world of non-geniuses. Walter and the other geniuses teach him to understand his mind and his abilities, give him a safe place to realize his potential. But, at the same time, Ralph wants to know how to interact with is peers, how to make “normal” friends, be as “normal” as possible. And, with the support of Walter and Ralph’s mother, especially, but also Happy, Toby, Sylvester, and now Ray, he feels comfortable enough to do just that. What if Walter, Sylvester, Happy, and Toby had that type of support growing up?

What I’ve learned in my 45 years on this planet is that “normal” doesn’t exist. Everyone has some quirks. Sure, society dictates what is and what is not normal, and many know how to play the game of appearing normal in society, but most, if not all, have their obsessions, fears, opinions, points of view, ways of dealing with life that perhaps may seem out of the mainstream.

What if society would create a safe haven for those of all abilities and talents, without judgement and ridicule? I bet most of the troubles experienced in this world would disappear and we’d get closer to what God intended for our world and His children. As Pope Francis said in his address to Congress earlier this year:

Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.



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I believe it’s a fact of life that what we have is less important than what we make out of what we have. The same holds true for families: It’s not how many people there are in a family that counts, but rather the feelings among the people who are there.

— Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, p. 38

Something that made me go “Hmmm…”

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The Chipped Teacup

It’s that time of year again when many of us get bombarded with appeals from various charities asking for donations to help feed the hungry over the holidays. Perhaps some of you are saying: “I get bombarded with appeals all year long!” Yes, the poor and hungry are always with us and more so now during this lingering economic downturn.

Yesterday I was pondering the following in a commentary by Fr. Ron Rolheiser entitled “A prophetic mantra about the poor,” in The Michigan Catholic:

The great prophets of Israel had coined this mantra: The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land…. For the great prophets of Israel, ultimately we will be judged religiously and morally on the basis of how the poorest of the poor fared while we are alive.

That’s a scary thought which becomes scarier when we see how Jesus endorsed that view…. Jesus tells us that, at the end of day, when we stand before the great King on the day of judgement, we will be asked only one set of questions and they all will have to do with how we treat the poor: Did you feed the hungry? Give drink to the thirsty? Welcome the stranger? Clothe the naked? Visit the sick? Visit prisoners?… Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.

This first got me thinking about an article I read not an hour before in the Lansing State Journal about those in the Occupy Wall Street movement creating a situation (free food, medical care, and shelter to anyone) that attracts the homeless. While there have been incidents of fights, drunkenness, and weapons being drawn as a result, according to this article many homeless people say that the movement has given them a voice to speak out against the economic conditions that forced them to be homeless. The article goes on to say that some organizers feel that including the homeless allows them to demonstrate their political ideals, showing the world that the homeless can become functional parts of society. [Source: Associated Press, “‘Occupy’ sites offer food, shelter,” Lansing State Journal, October 23, 2011, p. 4A]

I then got to thinking about how I would answer those questions above. First off, I can honestly say that I’ve never visited anyone in prison and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll do that anytime within my lifetime. As for the other questions, well, my husband and I have been blessed so we try to do what we can. We give money to the local food bank yearly. Recently when the Okemos High School National Honor Society put a bag on our porch wanting food and toiletries for their Red Cross Food Drive, we were eager to help. However, what was in the bag never got to its intended destination because no one came back on the appointed day to pick up the bag. So, I rebagged the food and donated it to the ongoing food drive at church. Periodically we’ve given goods to Goodwill. Visiting the sick. I’ve definitely made enough trips to visit relatives and friends of the family in hospitals and nursing homes to last a lifetime. For years I helped an elderly aunt of mine run her errands. I suppose when I stayed overnight or on weekends this provided some companionship so she didn’t get too lonely. I still call her periodically. On the spiritual end, I was once what they used to call a Eucharistic Minister in my church and over the years I have thought about getting re-trained for that ministry if or when my time gets freed up to serve. But, is this enough?

Somehow this brought to mind a chipped teacup. Years ago someone I know was working for an organization that was having a fundraiser. This person was tasked with going around to people’s homes to pick up donations then unpacking them at the fundraiser site. In one of the boxes, there was a chipped teacup. Now, who would think that someone would buy a chipped teacup? she said, dismayed (or disgusted). Her father replied, perhaps equally disgusted, “Of course no one would buy a chipped teacup.” Now, I did not see this cup, nor do I know the people who donated it. But what if the people who donated it were not well off, or were facing some tough times and didn’t have much themselves or were afraid of losing what they had and yet they still wanted to donate something to this fundraiser? They may have thought that this teacup, despite its flaws, was still usable and therefore still valuable and could fetch at least a little something at the fundraiser.

This led me to think about a garage sale I went to long ago. Growing up we didn’t have much money, but I did get some money for birthdays and Christmas. I saved most of it, but I did spend some too. When I was in elementary school, or perhaps early in middle school, my neighbor had a garage sale to raise some money (no one in that neighborhood was too well off). A friend of mine and I went with some pocket change. There wasn’t much that we could afford, but there were two things that caught my eye there. One was a small, plastic glow-in-the-dark St. Mary statue and another was a small plastic figurine of a little girl at her First Communion kneeling at a Communion rail. I paid the 10 cents or whatever it was and was so excited to get it home and show my father. We decided to put both in prominent places in the living room.

I was not shy about showing these beautiful pieces to my relatives that came over. But when I showed this one aunt of mine the First Communion figurine her reaction was not supportive. “Why would you pay money for it? It’s broken.” Implying that it was best suited to the garbage, not to a place on a table in the living room. Until she mentioned it, I had not seen its brokenness. I didn’t notice that one of the candles was missing. All I saw was the little girl in the beautiful dress with the angelic look on her face. When I saw this figurine and the St. Mary figurine, something spoke to me from within. Both were beautiful in my eyes, and I wanted that beauty near me. Although my aunt’s comments hurt my feelings, I never stopped seeing the beauty. I no longer have the First Communion figurine. Until I moved a year ago, the glow-in-the-dark St. Mary statue was near my bedside, one of the last things I’d see before going to sleep at night.

Sometimes I wonder if these two things, and the feelings they evoked within me over the years, helped lead me back into full participation in the Catholic faith. All I know for sure is that I am grateful to whatever did lead me back. I have not regretted a minute of it since.

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