Yesterday, it was my privilege to join with the choirs of Holy Family to sing at the funeral mass for Sister Joanna. Sister Joanna had been most recently serving as director of social work and spiritual life at Mercy House, where my mother was in residence for five months before hospice discharged her. That was how I had met Sister Joanna, who often brought communion to my mother and coordinated such comfort measures as haircuts and massage therapy.
Sister Joanna’s death came as a shock. Although she had her share of health problems, she was only 69 and still very active between her work at Mercy House and caring for her own mother. Her loss will be keenly felt by all the volunteers and staff of Mercy House, as well as all the families and the staff of hospice.
The church was full for the funeral yesterday and included a whole row of priests who gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. It was a beautiful service, but it is only the beginning of the good-byes to Sister Joanna. She was a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and a vigil service and burial mass will be held in Reading, Pennsylvania, next week.
On Wednesday evening, I drove to Mercy House, the hospice residence where my mother lives, during a sun-shower after a heavy downpour. Given the time of day and the moisture in the air, I started to look for a rainbow. When I turned east, a full rainbow appeared before me, one end of it resting on Mercy House.
On Friday morning, the door to Phatar’s room was open, his bed made with the quilt pulled up. Near his pillow was a little memorial with a flower, the United States flag that had been on his door, a little poem that had been posted in his room, and his handprint in green paint on white canvas.
This morning at church, Father Clarence told Phatar’s story during the homily, about his cancer diagnosis, about his final months at Mercy House, about his desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and his baptism, and the comfort that brought him in his final weeks. There were smiles and tears as we listened.
Our mix of emotions in reacting to death is always complex, but I think most people have a particularly strong sense of sadness at the death of a child. It has also been sad watching Phatar’s mom these last months, suffering through every parent’s nightmare of the illness and death of their child. Still, I am grateful to have met Phatar and to know that he is now at peace.
The next time I see a rainbow, I will think of him.
The next day, ABC and her mom, our daughter E, left London, where they had spent eleven weeks visiting dad/spouse L, his parents, sister, and extended family, to return to our home in upstate New York.
The following day was daughter T’s birthday which we celebrated at one of our favorite local restaurants. ABC charmed the staff and other patrons as we celebrated both birthdays.
ABC managed not to have a problem with the five hours’ worth of jet lag, although the trip was much more taxing on E.
We are settling back into being a household of five. T and B had taken charge of childproofing prior to ABC’s arrival and we have managed to avoid any major catastrophes so far.
One of the things that happened while E and ABC were in the UK was the move of my mom, known here as Nana, to Mercy House, a nearby hospice residence. Everyone loves ABC’s visits as she toddles down the hallways and around the common area and in and out of Nana’s room. She brings smiles to everyone and has made some new friends.
One of her new friends is a resident. He is only twelve years old. His presence here reminds all of us to treasure each day that we are given, that youth is not a guarantee of good health, and that the presence of family and friends and care of staff and volunteers can bring peace even in the most difficult circumstances.
On May 4th, my mom, known here at TJCM as Nana, moved to Mercy House, a residence for people under the care of our local hospice. She had been under the care of hospice since last summer, staying with Paco in their independent living apartment with the help of family and aides, first for overnight and later during the day as well. As her symptoms from congestive heart failure worsened and she became weaker, the care needed to keep her safe and comfortable was outstripping what home aides are legally allowed to provide, so, when space became available at Mercy House, we chose to make the move.
Of course, there has been an adjustment period with new caregivers and routines and food, but things are settling in now. The staff all share a calling and commitment to this work, as do the many, many volunteers who make Mercy House such a peaceful, loving place.
My younger sister was here for the first week, helping Nana to settle in and staying overnight with Paco at the apartment. As it happened, on the one week mark at Mercy House, granddaughter S finished her semester at college and came to visit. She used her dorm room decorating skills to hang pictures for Nana and my sister, her husband, and S had an early Mother’s Day/Nana’s birthday lunch brought in from a favorite restaurant.
This second week, someone from my house has been staying overnight and we are developing a rhythm to our days. Nana and Paco each do their early morning routine in their places of residence and then, mid-morning, we bring Paco to Mercy House for the day. Like hospice, Mercy House’s mission reaches beyond care of the individual to care of the family, so the volunteers and staff help Paco, too. There is always food available in the common room and Nana and Paco eat supper together at the dining room table, which is special after so many months of eating on a tray table in the apartment living room.
At the moment, Nana is the only resident who is able to be that mobile, so Nana and Paco usually have the dining table to themselves, but it also means that we were able to have two dinners this week that my spouse B, daughter T, and I shared, too. On Monday, we brought Swedish meatballs, made with the recipe that Nana used which had come to her from her Swedish landlady 55 years ago, for a belated Mother’s Day dinner. Last night, we brought in Italian food and an apple-blackberry pie that B had baked to celebrate Nana’s 86th birthday. The volunteers had decorated the table with a centerpiece, special napkins, and a birthday hat for Nana!
Next week, my older sister will arrive for a week. We are all grateful to have so much love and support surrounding us.
Thank you also, dear readers, for the thoughts and prayers that you have been sending and for your patience with my increasingly haphazard postings. I truly appreciate your visits and comments here.
I have been trying to balance my poetry and blog writing time – not terribly successfully as various personal and family health issues intervene.
Still, there are a couple of things I need to get done by Wednesday afternoon to prepare for a couple of poetry workshops.
And, I’m going to get to them, in a few minutes.
Really. I am.
What I spent my creative time this morning doing was writing a prayer.
In the days when I served on liturgy committee, I used to do this with some frequency, but it has been over a decade since I’ve done it on a regular basis.
Yesterday, I got a call asking me to write a prayer for the dedication of Mercy House, a new home for people who are dying but aren’t able to stay in their homes. Although the idea came from a local Catholic parish and it is housed in a former Catholic church complex, Mercy House is non-sectarian, accepting any person in need of their services. Still, it is appropriate for there to be a prayer at the ribbon-cutting and open house scheduled for this Sunday.
I thought about it yesterday and last night and wrote and edited a draft this morning. I sent it out and just got a call saying that the priest for whom I had written it loves it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to use my writing to serve others.