Rest in peace, Millie

It’s past bedtime, but I have just been sending out some emails about the death of a friend’s mom.

The friendship goes back over thirty years and is rooted in the parish I belonged to from 1983-2005. My friend was the music and liturgy director and I volunteered extensively in those ministries. She is godmother to my younger daughter.

Her mom has been struggling for years with Alzheimer’s, a disease that is unfortunately all too familiar. My grandfather, two aunts, and an uncle all had Alzheimer’s, so I know some of the possibilities and complications of the disease, although one of the features of it is its unpredictability. Still, my friend and her family knew that her mom’s death was imminent and were able to gather for these last few days to be with her and each other, which I’m sure gave them strength and comfort.

The funeral will be at the church where my friend currently serves and where my daughter has been singing in the choir. My friend will be playing the organ and directing the music for the funeral. My daughter will be singing with the combined choirs and I will be writing the prayer petitions that end the liturgy of the word.

When someone has been suffering for so long, it is hard to say that you are sorry to hear of their death. While I am sorry for the family to lose a wife, mother, grandmother, and aunt, in truth, they have been losing her little by little for years. What is comforting is that, in our tradition, we believe that she is in now experiencing eternal peace and joy in heaven, freed from all suffering and illness.

Millie, as the choir will sing at the funeral, “may the angels lead you into paradise.”

numb

There is too much death and sadness today. The Malaysian airliner shot down in Ukraine. The collapse of the ceasefire in Gaza and the rockets and groundforce invasion following.  Even my writing activities have been difficult. Submitting this poem for possible inclusion in an anthology whose purpose is to raise money for cancer research. A writing prompt in poetry workshop set in a pediatric hospital unit and the sad poems that poets wrote and shared in response.

I am too numb to have any insight to share. All I can do is pray for those who have died or been injured and their families and pray for healing and for peace.

gentleness

As often happens, Sunday Mass renews my perspective. Over the last week, I’ve been struggling with how things are going, especially here in the US.

Today’s readings and homily reminded me of what my response should be in the face of upset and violence:  gentleness.

The now-retired long-time pastor of my former parish was filling in at church this morning. Along with Scripture passages, the homily referenced the Aesop fable of the wind and the sun competing to get a man to take off his coat. No matter how violently the wind blew, it could not remove the man’s coat, but the gentle rays of the sun soon warmed the man to the point that he removed his coat.

It was a reminder to me that however upset I am with the disrespect and violence in our culture, my response must be gentleness and understanding. I am not generally one to fight fire with fire, but the reminder was welcome. Don’t despair or fear, but keep on gently speaking and abiding in truth and peace.

Corpus Christi

This morning, we observed the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still often called by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. Because for many years we ministered at a church dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament who also observed it as its feast day, we are especially attached to its observance. I even composed a Corpus Christi anthem for the Blessed Sacrament choir to sing, based on part of the reading from the gospel of John (Jn 6:51-58) that we heard proclaimed today. It has also traditionally been the last Mass at which the adult choir sings before taking a break for the summer, so it was the last opportunity for Trinity to sing with Genesis Choir at our current parish, as I alluded to in this post.

Trinity was able to sing, although not without complications. For the last week and a half, she has been battling what seems to be a systemic allergic reaction. We can’t figure out what is causing it. So far, there have been a visit to the walk-in clinic at our family practice, overlapping doses of three different antihistamines, oatmeal baths, special lotions, blood tests, and a visit to the allergist, but no real relief or answers yet. Despite not getting much sleep last night and not feeling well, Trinity made it to church to sing and say good-bye to her choir friends, many of whom are a generation or two older than she.

I sat near the choir area and kept an eye on Trinity, in case she became so uncomfortable that she needed me to bring her home. By the grace of God, she made it through and is now changed into more comfortable clothes and resting. There will be a follow-up appointment with the allergist later in the week; we are hoping for answers and a plan to bring lasting relief.

24 Years of Lessons Learned

The nursery rhyme tells us that “Friday’s child is loving and giving.” While I don’t universally subscribe to the accuracy of nursery rhymes, as all Wednesday’s children will be grateful to hear, in the case of my younger daughter, who was born twenty -four years ago yesterday on the Friday before Trinity Sunday , the nursery rhyme was definitely true.  We didn’t know her sex until her arrival, but we had chosen the name Trinity for a girl, after a high school friend. It was an extra bonus that she was born so close to Trinity Sunday.

Her birthday this year fell on Pentecost, and at early morning Mass where she was both singing and ringing handbells, I began to reflect on the gifts that she has given to me as a parent and a person. (I recently wrote a post about the impending end of the resident-daughter-in-church-choir era here.)

Trinity reinforced a lesson I had begun to learn from her older sister:  that children come as their own individual selves, with a large portion of their temperament already formed. Even before she was born, Trinity reacted strongly to her environment. For instance, she would startle markedly in utero if there was a loud noise nearby. As an infant, she was so sensitive to sound that she would awaken if someone across the room turned the page of the newspaper.

This sensitivity extended to people and emotions as well. It was clear at a young age that Trinity had a social conscience. I remember her playing with paper dolls and creating conversations between them, as though performing a little play. She told me that this doll worked at helping people who were poor, but her sister liked to have lots of nice clothes and things so she had a job where she made a lot of money, but she also gave money to her sister that she could use to help people.

Trinity’s empathy also encompasses the environment. She went on to major in the Science of Natural and Environmental Systems at Cornell and will soon start a master’s program in Conservation Biology at ESF, with a goal of restoring native species to ecosystems. Her empathy does not extend to harmful invasive species!

Trinity also taught me the importance of solitude. Perhaps because she was so sensitive to the world around her, as soon as she could crawl, Trinity would sometimes go off to her room to play alone. As she got older, there was always solitary reading, writing, thinking, dreaming time built into her day. This alone time is vital for keeping her sense of personal balance and I expect will remain so. Her example taught me about being alone without being lonely.

Trinity was also spiritually aware from a young age. She was blessed with a sense of prayer and connection with God as a child. Unfortunately, dealing with the church as a human organization is more complicated. Her place in the church was severely tested in her early teen years, when we left our home parish over an emotionally abusive and unstable pastor. Trinity was halfway through the two-year preparation for her confirmation, so we joined a parish where many of her high school friends were members, so that she would have familiar classmates for the final year of preparation. It was still very difficult to decide that she wanted to be confirmed in a church that had hurt her and many friends and family very badly. She also had to write a letter to the bishop who had refused to protect us, asking to be confirmed. I never read the letter, but she apparently forthrightly told him of her struggles with the situation. She did decide to be confirmed and receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts she displays in her own quiet way. The red vestments and banners in the church, the symbol of the tongues as of fire, and the readings and prayers of Pentecost reminded me of her confirmation and her spiritual gifts yesterday on her birthday. Next Sunday will be Trinity Sunday, so I’m sure more reminders are in store. Each of us is a child of God in our own right; Trinity has always clearly shown that being my child does not make her God’s grandchild or child-once-removed, but always her own unique reflection of the Divine Light.

In other ways, Trinity has taught me to patiently and quietly deal with suffering. When she was sixteen, she was hospitalized for a week with severe colitis, which was diagnosed as Crohn’s disease. I stayed in the hospital with her and she was such a good patient, despite pain and some pretty harrowing test prep protocols. Given that we were already dealing with a chronic illness with her sister, Trinity’s diagnosis was a big blow to our family. After catching everything her sister had brought home from school before she was old enough to go to school herself, Trinity had been remarkably healthy during her own school years, so her level of equanimity in the face of illness was amazing to me. The next two years were filled with side effects from meds, follow-up tests, second opinions, diet changes, concerns about health care facilities when looking at colleges, etc. Finally, after transferring her care to a gastroenterologist near her college, she was put on a carefully monitored program to cut back and out the medication she was taking, which revealed that she did not have Crohn’s disease after all, for which we are all very grateful. I will always remember how calmly and maturely she dealt with a very difficult situation and an uncertain future.

I should probably close before I risk embarrassing Trinity any further. I don’t think she reads my blog very often, so perhaps she will be spared. Thank you, Trinity for the privilege of being your mom for the last twenty-four years. I wish you a great year to come, as you embark on grad school. I’m sure you will keep learning and that others will learn from you by example, as I have.

End of an era

This June marks the end of an era for me. Since my older daughter began singing in the youth choir at church when she was in third grade, one or both of my daughters have been singing in choir, cantoring, and/or ringing handbells nearly all the years that they were living at home. With my younger daughter scheduled to move away to begin graduate school in August and no likelihood of her or her sister living in our hometown again, after this month, I will not hear them singing or ringing on a regular basis.

Of course, I have heard them sing in other places: elementary, middle, and high schools; Gettysburg College; Cornell University; even Carnegie Hall in NYC. I’ve heard my older daughter sing at her now home parish in Honolulu. My younger daughter is hoping to find a chorus in which to sing while she is in grad school, which is only about a 90 minute drive, definitely close enough for concert attendance.

I’ve actually extended the era of hearing them sing in our church longer than anticipated, with my younger daughter living at home for two years while doing volunteer work and preparing for grad school, affording her the opportunity to sing for the first time with an adult, rather than youth or teen, church choir, and to join the new handbell choir at our current parish. She and her sister had both rung in the parish where they were baptized, which is now closed; she had missed ringing, so the new bell choir was a tremendous blessing for her personally, as well as for the parish.

While I don’t foresee a circumstance where our daughters would live here, it is possible that at some future point – after we are retired, perhaps – we might live near one or both of them and again get to hear their voices raised in song at church on a regular basis. I don’t know what the future holds, but I will try to cherish these last few times, hearing my daughter ring and sing, helping us all to lift our hearts and minds to God in prayer.