Monday, November 26, 2012

MABOP Monday

Say what you will about the ginormous flower, but my Ella made it look good!

St. Ella, pray for us!

The Weight of This Cross

This Thanksgiving my family and I went to my parents’ place for the first time in five years.  Oh, we’ve seen them in the intervening years, of course, for holidays, special occasions, the funeral, but they always traveled to us.  I am not a big fan of flying, what with the taking off, the flying tens of thousands of feet above the earth, and the landing.  But flying was worth it to see my parents on their turf, to hang out being the kid again, to have good talks and tell jokes in person, and to get the hugs you can only get from your mommy and daddy.  It was such a good visit, and I was so thankful simply for being home and for just being with them.

My parents are the reason why I was able to go to Mass this past Tuesday.  Their steadfast support of me, especially during these past eleven months, and their unwavering faith in the face of excruciating personal pain and devastating loss are examples I take to heart and the type of example I hope to be for others one day.  On Tuesday, almost eleven months to the day of Ella’s death, we attended the funeral Mass of a sweet baby girl named Lucy, who, at almost seven months old, died of health complications she had battled since birth.  Her parents are friends of my parents and are their fellow parishioners.

Up until the moment we got into the car, I waffled internally about whether I would even go to the funeral.  My own grief is still so fresh, so raw.  In the grand scheme of things, eleven months is not so much time, but when that is the time you’ve counted since your own baby girl died, then it really is no more than a flash, a momentary blink of the eye, even as it seems an eternity.

I waffled, but I then decided that I must go.  I had to be there to unite my prayers with the community that would mourn Lucy’s death with her parents, the same community that prayed with my parents for my sweet Ella.  I wanted to express how very sorry I was for their loss and to say that even though I don’t know exactly what they’re feeling, I sort of do. I had to be there to cry once again for my own sweet saint, for my own loss that I still feel so keenly, for my Ella whom I mourn and miss every day. And I wanted to hug this newest, heartbroken mother of a saint.

There is an undeniable truth that all moms know.  Whether their children grew under their hearts or in them, upon being placed in their mother’s arms for the first time, they forever take a piece of their mom’s hearts with them.  That is why we moms feel everything so deeply when it comes to our kids - why we feel their joys so intensely, their pains so sharply, their disappointments so profoundly.  When our children took a piece of our hearts, we moms lost the right to feel selfishly.  We lost the right to withhold our own hearts from another person.  They took a piece of our hearts, while at the same time, we gladly handed our hearts to them.  There is nothing on this earth quite like a mother’s love, but that also means that there is nothing on this earth quite like a mother’s loss.

Too often I think that our society views pain - or the prospect of pain – as something to be avoided at all cost.  We view suffering as meritless, as though there can be nothing redemptive about it.  We don’t give ourselves enough credit for the capacity with which we can give and receive love or the compassion we can freely and wholeheartedly offer to those who suffer or to those with whom we share suffering.

When push comes to shove and we are forced by circumstances beyond our control – storms, floods, etc. – to accept suffering, to deal with it head on, we do so with gusto and a level of commitment that staggers the mind.  Just look at the can-do attitudes of those devastated by recent epic storms.  An act of God wreaked havoc on their lives, but “by God!” they are going to carry on.  They are going to get up, move forward, and do what has to be done.

Why not then for these greatest acts of God among us?  Why not for our unborn children?  Our unborn kids already have targets on their backs and are offered all too frequently on the altars of convenience and “it’s just too hard.”  Those targets only get bigger when those children come with difficult prenatal diagnoses of physical or mental imperfections.

Why can we not extend that same compassion and can-do spirit to their lives, however short those lives may be?  Do they not deserve the best we have to offer, and shouldn’t our best include all the love we can give and any sacrifice we may be required to make?  Don’t these kids deserve every ounce of compassion we have and then some?  Why do so many rush to solve inconvenient “problems” by ending lives instead of saying, “Yes, I will fight.  I will try.  Even in the face of terrible, incredible odds, I will give you my all because you are a person.  You are a worthwhile and precious act of God.”

One of the cheesiest movies I’ve seen in the last decade is “A Walk to Remember.”  That it stars a pop star from the early 2000s should tell you that it weighs heavy on the cheese scale.  That said, it contains one of my favorite lines: “Without suffering, there would be no compassion.”  Think about that for a minute.  Whose suffering?  Mine?  I’m a miserable hag when it comes to suffering!  I might offer it up, but I’ll likely do it a bit grudgingly, and even then, you’ll hear about it!  No, my suffering doesn’t elicit my compassion.  The suffering that draws compassion is that of others.  Please don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t wish another to suffer simply so I could put on a great display of compassion!  But we live in a fallen world corrupted by original sin.  We exist this side of Heaven; therefore, we exist in a world full of suffering.  We are surrounded by it.  How frequently do we turn a blind eye toward suffering when it is neither in our face nor on our TVs but is instead in the womb?

When we adopted Ella, we had no idea that she had multiple congenital heart defects (CHD).  All we knew was that we loved her before we knew her.  We loved the idea of her, and when she was placed in our arms, we loved her forever and unconditionally.  That we did that much in light of her seriously complicated medical condition and that we eagerly finalized her adoption astounded some people.  I distinctly remember one man’s reaction upon learning Ella’s story.

We were at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) for a dinner that had been provided by a local church’s adult Sunday school group.  As was common practice, various church members spoke to the RMH residents to hear our stories about our children and then to ask if they could pray for us.  As hard as it could be to talk about how sick Ella was, I was always glad to have more people praying for her.  I explained that my daughter was waiting for a heart transplant, and as usual, I then explained that we hadn’t known about her CHD before her birth, we had adopted her, etc.  During this conversation, a young man and his wife sitting at my table were listening.  The wife was a believer, but the husband wasn’t and also seemed to be skeptically disdainful toward believers.

Later, the young man asked about Ella.  He just couldn’t seem to wrap his brain around the fact that my husband and I proceeded with Ella’s adoption even after we found out how sick she was, that we chose to love her because of who she was and not because of what she had or didn’t have, that she was our child – our blessed act of God – in spite of her sick heart and including her sick heart, that we could not remember our lives before her or imagine our lives without her.  It amazed me that a man whose own child was ill at the hospital would not be able to see past the circumstances of our daughter’s arrival to our family.  Just as abortion would never have been a consideration had Ella been conceived in my womb, abandoning her to her CHD was never a consideration either.  She was our daughter.  She is our daughter.

Given the option, I never would have purposely chosen this hellish pain or endless suffering, but would I choose to live without it if so choosing meant that I would never have known Ella?  If it meant that, while I would remain untouched by the pain of infant death, I’d also remain untouched by the love of the most awesome baby that ever lived?  If so choosing would eliminate the impact that her sweet life has had on my life and on the lives of my family and friends?  Of course not!  I wouldn’t trade a second of my short time with Ella for anything, not even blissful, pain-free ignorance.  I don’t think any of the mothers of saints that I know would trade this daily pain of loss for the time with which they were blessed with their children.

A while back, my mom heard a priest quote his mother, saying, “The Lord didn’t tell us to drag our cross and follow Him.  He said to carry it.”  When we choose to love our children unconditionally, as parents are called to do, we choose to bear the weight of a cross.  Love isn’t just some feel good, mushy, fluffy emotion that we shrug off when it becomes hard.  Love is choice.  Love is sacrifice.  Love is not focused on self but on other.  And we don’t get to choose how much the cross of love – of parental love - weighs.  Sometimes carrying that cross feels like more than we can bear, especially if we are also bearing the weight of our sick child’s cross.  It is so heavy, so painful, so overwhelming.  But who among us would walk away from that cross?  Who would look her child in the eyes and say, “You’re on your own, kiddo.  I am too tired and too weak.  You’re just not worth it”?

Since Ella’s death, I have tried and failed and tried again to unite my suffering with that of Christ on the cross and to offer up this pain for my family, for my friends, for myself, for Him to do with as He wills.  I try, but so many days I feel as though it’s enough that I’ve peeled myself up off the floor.  I grew up hearing my mom say, “Offer it up!” so often when I was faced with pain and disappointment, but I never before felt that I had to “offer it up” so many times a day, so many days a week.  But I continue to try, and every time I try and fail, I offer it all up again – the pain, the frustration, the anger, the loss.  I offer it at the foot of His cross because how much more did He bear for me?  He fell.  He got back up.  Can I do no less?

This Thanksgiving holiday, I went to a funeral.  I went because I have to believe that there’s a reason bigger than I can see or understand for the cross that I’ve got to bear.  I’ve got to believe that Lucy’s life, like Ella’s, wasn’t in vain, and that my suffering and the suffering Lucy’s parents must endure isn’t in vain.  We chose our children’s lives, and in choosing, we chose to accept and to live with the inconvenience of their imperfections.  We chose to love them, our sweet acts of God.  We chose to see them as the whole of their parts, not just to dismiss the parts that were imperfect.  I went to a funeral because this world is corrupt and quite obviously not Heaven, but being in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is as close to Heaven as I can get while on earth.  I went to a funeral because we mothers of saints have to support each other.  We have to be willing to offer the same compassion to each other that we offered to our children.  We have to show this imperfect world that sometimes inconveniences are the greatest blessings one can ever experience.

I went to a funeral this Thanksgiving because I am thankful for the life of my daughter and for the life of Lucy and for the lives of all those wee saints who have gone before me.  By the grace of God, I made it through, and for the glory of God, I would do it all again.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A MABOP Thanksgiving

Sweet Ella smiles

However sad I am because my sweet Ella isn't here in my arms, however much I ache for missing her every day, I can't help but be thankful for every moment of the eight months, seven days and twenty minutes of her precious, beautiful, irreplacable life.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Writer Writes

So it’s been a while since I sat down in front of the computer to write.  Oh, I’ve wasted many, many hours in front of the computer over the five weeks, but I haven’t written much of anything and certainly nothing to write home about.  I don’t think my dazzlingly witty Facebook status updates count, which is a shame because they are awesome.  ;)  But actual writing, like the kind you can sink your mental teeth into, has escaped me.  When I finished writing my last post on letting go of why, I hadn’t realized that I would also be letting go of my writing mojo.  I hadn’t realized how elusive inspiration would be, and I certainly hadn’t intended on taking more than a monthlong break.

When I started this blog, I intended to write for myself.  I needed to figure out a way to wrap my brain around living this new reality of mine, and I needed to get the seemingly endless barrage of thoughts out of my head.  I had hoped that I could maybe help others along the way, too, if only to give them a place to say, “Yes…this.  These thoughts could be mine.  These words could be mine.”  I still wasn’t ready to talk to anyone in a professional capacity about the hell I was going through, but I knew that the thoughts that occupied my mind and that I was obsessing over had to go somewhere.  Writing, and by extension blogging, just made sense; plus my handwriting is utter crap, so keeping an actual journal was out of the question.  So better out than in, right?  Even I, as skeptical as I’ve been with regard to therapy and embracing the couch, so to speak, knew that something had to give.  I had to find a release, a way to vent what I was thinking and feeling, or suffer the mental and emotional consequences.

But the well dried up.  I had boopkas.  Nada.  Zero.  Zilch.  Oh, I still had the random thoughts at random times of the day and night, but I no longer had any focus, not that I had much to begin with!  I had no real way to rein in those thoughts.  Worse yet, I suddenly had a wicked case of apathetic procrastination with regard to writing.  I wanted to write, but when it became a bit more difficult to do than it had been in the past, I just said, “meh.  Whatev.  I’ll do it tomorrow.”  Well, tomorrow took five weeks to get here.

Even though I didn’t start this blog until this past June, I had started writing a few months before then.  I knew the blog was an eventuality, not just a pipe dream or an idea, so I wrote knowing that the essays would have a home here whenever I got around to creating “here.”   I wrote at a time in my grieving process when I still didn’t want to be social.  Not only did I not want to be social, but I really went out of my way to avoid human interaction.  I avoided forced social situations with others, whether at my boys’ school, our church, the hockey rink, etc.  At the time, writing was as social as I wanted to be and blogging was as much interaction as I could tolerate.

I think I’ve always given the appearance of an extrovert, even though I consider myself a closet introvert.  I can be loud, funny, and boisterous within the confines of a group of friends with whom I’m comfortable, but I’d really prefer to be at home sitting on my sofa wearing comfy pants while reading a book or crocheting a scarf.  If I do go out for fun, I often prefer to be with only a few friends at any given time to save myself from becoming overwhelmed.  When Ella died, my closet introvert came out of the closet only to run back in and hide.  It took a very long time for me to feel somewhat normal in public, to feel like it was ok to be a smartass on Facebook again, and to feel like I could be me without also feeling like I was wearing my brokenness on my sleeve.

When I was writing a little more regularly, I was giving an outlet to the pseudo-extrovert in me from the safety and introvert-ish comfort of my own home.  Writing was my new way of being social.  It was my way of connecting with people without having to actually connect.  But now that I am making my way back to a more normal, even slightly pre-Ella version of me – the me that hangs out with friends at the park, that not only goes to the hockey rink and the soccer field but cheers obnoxiously LOUDLY for my boys and their teams, and that truly enjoys coming up with whacky, snarky things to share on Facebook – I’m struggling with putting words to paper.  It’s not as though my time with friends is spent pouring out every thought that would have been written or hashing out the emotional demons I wrestle on a daily basis.  I’m not sure why, but I think just having the option – or rather, being open to the option that’s always been there - of spending time in the real world with real people means that the drive to spend time writing has diminished.  But man, I hadn’t realized how much I would miss having easy access the writing outlet!

A friend of mine dropped me a line the other day, saying, “Not to sound like a caseworker or anything, but you're sounding about 1000% better these days. I think it's awesome.”  It was nice to read that because there are so many days when I still feel like such a poseur, when I feel like the smile on my face is a fake one and the snarky sarcasm and wit are just fronts to hide what I’m still feeling so much of the time.  I found it a bit ironic that his note came the day after I stood in the kitchen sobbing in my husband’s arms for missing Ella so much, the day after a song on the radio made me cry while driving because I couldn't hear it without thinking of and missing my girl.  I’m awesome and getting back to normal…except when I’m not.  And when I’m not, I’m really not because it comes out of nowhere and hits me like a ton of freaking bricks, giving me no time to brace myself for it.  But I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that I was finally inching my way back to “normal” went hand-in-hand with not being able to write.  Crazy thought process, I know, but could it be that I can only write when I'm teetering on the edge of mental and emotional stability?

So I missed writing, but I figured that instead of trying to force it, perhaps a small break was in order.  When the drive to write sputtered to a complete halt, though, I didn’t really know what to do to get it back.  Then it dawned on me:  to be a writer, one has to actually try to write.  To be a writer, one has to actually sit down in front of the computer or pick up a pen and physically try to write.  Brilliant, no?  Profound, yes?  I’m so deep.  ;)

While I was walking the other morning, I recalled a scene from Sister Act 2 in which Sister Mary Clarence says to one of her students, “If, when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing, then you are a writer."  That line was actually taken from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, but these days I’ll take my inspiration where I can get it, even if it’s delivered by Whoopi Goldberg in a really cheesy movie.

It took several wordy words to get here, but the point is this:  I like writing,   I think about writing a lot, and I want to write moreI want to honor Ella’s memory with my writing, but I also want to be able to use my writing as a way to explore this still unfamiliar territory of being a saint’s mom.  I believe I’ve got more to say and more to share.  I’ve just got to actually physically do it now.
This writer's got to write.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

MABOP Monday-ish

I think even Ella was overwhelmed by all the girly-girl PINK, but she made it look so good!

The boys had a day off of school on Monday, which distracted me from posting.  Then Tuesday came and went.  So this week’s MABOP Monday is just sort of Monday-ish.  Plus, MABOP Hump Day just doesn't have the same ring to it.  ;) 

St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, November 5, 2012

MABOP Monday

Even a slightly blurry photo couldn't detract from her beauty

St. Ella, pray for us!