Friday, August 24, 2018

Going Home

It's been 3 weeks since my mother passed.

Long enough for it to have sunk in to some degree. Not nearly long enough to understand the full impact of what life will look like moving forward.

I've gone back and forth about whether to publish her eulogy here. I've decided to do it. There was nobody quite like Mom, and her life continues to touch others to this day. So, for just a glimpse at what my mother did for the world while she was in it... here you are:




Preparing.


It’s usually difficult to describe someone using only one word, so difficult that most wouldn’t even try. But Mom? She was the epitome of that word: preparing. In the very active sense, in an ongoing manner, and in every area of her life.

Mom lived her life preparing for things ahead. So much so, that many may have described her as a catastrophizer, envisioning all the most unlikely and tragic outcomes to any scenario – but this was only in an effort to prepare for and avoid any problems before they became problems.

Growing up the oldest of 4 children, Mom knew they never had a lot materially, yet she always reminisced fondly on what a happy childhood and family she had. At her core, she knew what was most important, and had a deep appreciation for the meaning and beauty that could be found in the simplest pleasures. She brought that core value to her family as an adult, preparing us to understand and embrace the meaning of family above material things.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows our family, that Mom often became the brunt of our jokes. She always took it in stride, feigning offense, but laughing along with us in the end. She was an easy target, and she knew it. And all of those stories and jokes we had about her revolved around her life mission to be prepared, for her family, for her loved ones, for God… her purpose was ultimately about preparing those she loved for the important things in this life, and the next.  Whether it was driving us 3 hours early to a standardized test, making lists for school supplies in April, (making lists for EVERYTHING, actually), orchestrating her 7-Fish Dinner for Christmas Eve while cleaning up on Christmas Day (yes, 364 days in advance), writing instructions to remind us what to pack, and what to do if we were going somewhere without her (these instructions became incredibly detailed for Dad), putting all of OUR appointments on HER calendar, even when we were adults, to ensure we never forgot anything important, or stocking her pantry as if preparing for the apocalypse, Mom’s priority was to make things comfortable, easy, and perfectly beautiful, for us.

One classic story that will live on as long as her daughters do, is the Thanksgiving she hesitantly agreed to attend at my home. Mom was the Ultimate Hostess, so having her attend a major holiday somewhere she couldn’t prepare for every detail and ensure perfection (as her holidays always were) was difficult for her! She finally agreed, along with the offer to bring just about every side dish and dessert… but then she heard that Jennifer planned to bring the pumpkin pie.

This of course worried Mom, the planner. If Jennifer brought the pumpkin pie, a staple for Thanksgiving, she couldn’t prepare for the outcomes. Jennifer was planning to visit Laura in the city that morning for the parade, then give Laura a ride to my house for dinner. Mom used this information to her advantage…

“Jennifer, why don’t I just make the pumpkin pie. You’re going to New York that morning… where do you plan on putting it while you’re at the parade??”

“Mom, it’s fine, it’ll keep in the car. I can put it on the passenger’s seat.”

“But, you have to drive Laura! What if she sits on it??!!”

As you can imagine, we never let her live that one down. It’s one of many, many classic quotes from my Mom that will go down in history for the P___ family, but it’s also a perfect example of my Mom’s heart. More than anything, she wished to make things, especially the important things, as perfect as possible for those she loved. For my first hosted Thanksgiving, she wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing any key side dishes or desserts, and that the holiday was a success. For Dad, she brought the weird stuff only he will eat, like pearl onions, so that his Thanksgiving was as traditional as always, despite the change in venue. For Christine, she left a fridge stocked with fish at home just in case, honoring the known fact Christine hates Thanksgiving dinner and loathes turkey.  For Jennifer and Mackenzie’s trip to the city, she didn’t want it spoiled because they forgot the pie, had to drive back to get it, and miss part of the parade as a result.   And for Laura… well, she didn’t want her to ruin her nice holiday outfit by sitting in a pie!!

That was Mom. Preparing ahead for every detail, for others. Her life was in service to her family and loved ones. Her vocation was as a wife and mother, and she took to it like a force to be reckoned with. Her wants and needs were very simply to prepare a home, and a good, holy life, for her husband and children. 
Of course it sounds simple, but in practice, there was never a moment’s rest. Every meal home cooked, well-balanced (“I need a vegetable!” was a common meal prep utterance), and served with intention (“Have more, come on, I made it special for you!”); a home that was so organized, she had a specific “ribbon drawer” for gift wrapping; a house so tidy and clean, you could quite literally eat off the floor, unless she had just waxed them, in which case, you’d better stay far away or you’d be sorry; landscaping and gardening that looked like it was straight out of a magazine. 
But amidst these household preparations was also a passionate dedication to her children’s school and extra-curricular life, and a great sentimentality for family history, childhood memories, and life experiences; this made for incredibly touching and artistic scrapbooks, slideshows, and gift-giving, as when it came to Mom, every single detail was thought out and given a uniquely personal touch for the intended recipient.  

While dealing with her diagnosis and treatments earlier this year, her dear friend Valerie helped to organize meal drop-offs for the family. Mom spent roughly two weeks researching and looking online for the perfect thank you gift. “I can’t believe she’s doing all of this – do you know she had a huge tree fall on her garage during the storm?? She’s dealing with so much, already…” she told us. “Mom. You have CANCER. I think she’s more than happy to do this for you!” But that was Mom. Always focused on the other.


Preparing her home, and preparing all of the details that surrounded it was a daily, sometimes hourly task that kept Mom living a purposeful life. The life she loved – serving her family, friends- and God.
I read an article that likened our Mother Church to Italian mothers. And it resonates all too well, in Mom’s case. Part of it read:

No matter how terribly behaved her children are, Italian mammas always welcome them back home. She can only stay mad at them for so long. She might hit you with an umbrella first, or yell at you while gesticulating madly, but sooner or later, somewhere in the drama, she will let you know one way or another that you are loved and forgiven—probably by feeding you. 

Like earthly mothers, the Church offers great mercy to her prodigal children: first through confession and penance to mend what is broken and then through an invitation to join the family for a meal once again.”


Essentially, this is precisely what Mom was all about. Her preparations weren’t merely Earthly ones. Her focus, her priority, was on putting Christ at the center of her home and family life. She lived out the Sacrament of Marriage, with Dad, more beautifully, more steadfastly, and more lovingly than most people have ever had the privilege to witness. Her role as wife superseded even her role as mother, which she understood to be rightly ordered as their marriage was the foundation of our family. Weekly mass attendance was obviously a given, but she also saw to it that she frequented the confessional, and stressed to us all the importance of this beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation with God. Her rosary beads were always at the ready, and prayed daily, while her scapular hung close by her bed. Her devotion to the Divine Mercy, and its saving graces, was a source of strength to her in some of her darkest moments. Her child-like love of Our Lady started in her youth, and grew stronger as she discerned the religious life as a teenager.

I think our family can all say we are glad she received the calling to be a wife and mother, instead.

And that is exactly how she lived it – as a calling. Putting her family’s needs first, preparing a road for them all to heaven. Trying, as hard as she could, to shelter us from any suffering that may come our way, but teaching us that no suffering is ever in vain.  
In fact, Mom taught us all a lot, everyone who knew her, both through word and deed. Never a hypocrite, she practiced exactly what she preached, and in her life lessons, she was still preparing us for things ahead. She prepared us even for her death, and dying. She knew her heavenly Father was calling her home long before the rest of us were willing to accept it, and she began preparing both the personal and the spiritual effects. “You know, it’s not going to be 6 months of me like this,” she told me months ago. “I’m going to decline, and it’s going to be hard to watch…” Of course, it was. But even in her dying, she was imparting a beautiful lesson to those around her. Both her spirit and her body were strong, as the yearning for heaven was undeniable, but her body still fought on. Her nurses remarked on how strong she was, to the very end.

Mom spent her entire life up until her final breath preparing. And while she was preparing down below, heaven was preparing a place for her up above. 
All preparations are now complete.    Welcome Home, Mom.



Monday, July 2, 2018

Mom

It dawned on me a few weeks ago... there is something I don't easily discuss in any forum, and that is my family of origin, specifically, my parents and any issue that greatly affects me, involving them.


I haven't blogged much about my mom here on TCIE, except where it had to do with my own struggles through infertility, and wanting to model my own motherhood after hers, and my faith story.

I haven't blogged about my mom on the private blog at all, even though her part of that story was always felt, in strong, supportive, and loving ways.

I haven't even Facebooked about my mom or dad, except for an occasional Mother's Day and Father's Day post. And it's not just because they are smart, old people who think Facebook is stupid and would never set foot there.

It's because it's a part of me I am, for some reason, not so apt to open up about. I share freely with friends and strangers alike about my gynecological escapades for years on end, but talk about my mom, my relationship with her, and her current health situation? No.

I think I realized this in therapy recently. Having opened the conversation by giving the latest update on my mom's situation, I moved onto other areas of my personal and professional life and how my anxiety was trickling into all of them... then I backtracked and said "I don't know why I'm focusing so much on everything else except the biggest, most important issue, here." My therapist said, "Well, it was the very first thing you said when you sat down. You're not ignoring it." I replied, "Yes, but that was so I could get it over with and move on to other topics."

Because nobody wants to sit and dwell on the fact that their mother is dying.


And when Max, my therapist, told me he was sorry to hear the news and that it was awful... I sat in silence. Having already shed many tears in that room over all kinds of other stupid shit, here I was trying to hold back the tears that actually meant something.

I'm not a cryer. Not in front of other people, anyway. Unless two things are in place:  1) I really, really trust them, and 2) what I'm crying over helps me to feel better once the crying stops.
A good, cathartic cry is always good. I generally do them privately.

But, if I don't see a resolution, or a step towards feeling better? Ima fight those tears like they're the devil and I'm St Michael.


Tears for Mom? I don't see those stopping any time soon. So, I won't start.

Healthy, right?




In August 2015, Robbie had just turned 4 months old, and already had lost his first house and claimed bankruptcy (Mommy's Little Overachiever). That's when the 2 of us moved to my hometown, and I went in search of a job for his father. A few months later, Mom was diagnosed with a very rare form of ovarian cancer, originating in a dermoid cyst that was starting to cause her pain. (It's called squamous cell carcinoma of a dermoid.) The cyst was large enough at that point to have invaded the uterus, and was classified as Stage II. She had a complete hysterectomy, and began radiation and chemo through March/April 2016. That was when I started my business, and Robbie had his first birthday, which she attended after treatment.

With follow-up labs and scans, everything seemed okay cancer-wise. However, she developed a bad hernia after the surgery and a year later went through another abdominal surgery for that.

Then, around the holidays 2017, she started complaining of pain in her back and shoulder...

A mass was later found in her lung, which, prior to biopsy we weren't sure if it was a primary lung cancer or metastatic ovarian.

Turns out, it was the latter. And, due to its location, inoperable.

Around this time, Robbie and I decided to pack up the bare necessities from our quaint little cottage apartment, and move into a bedroom at Mom and Dad's, so I could be there 'round the clock. The intention was to cook, clean, and take care of as much as possible around the house that my mom could no longer do easily. It was meant to be short-term, as she was going to be starting treatments and was told there would be likely a couple of years.

Mom started radiation, and chemo. Got through first chemo, then wound up in hospital on Robbie's 3rd birthday, with what was later diagnosed as pneumonia. Came out of the hospital, had a 2nd chemo of a lesser dose, back in hospital from complications of the ongoing pneumonia and dehydration. Transferred to a rehab facility after that. Released home in early June.


Met with oncologist who said the only viable options at this point would be immunotherapy or palliative care. Immunotherapy was iffy because Mom still lacked the strength to tolerate it, not to mention the transportation to and from the appointments (she cannot do the stairs and requires an oxygen tank, so getting out of the house is a huge ordeal). Mom and Dad chose hospice.


Right now, she is using an in-home hospice team, and they have been pretty good. This just started late last week. My Dad and I are the main caregivers.

Robbie and I just signed a lease on a 2-bedroom house, just 3 minutes down the road. Haven't moved in, yet, that will be a slow process, I'm sure. After 3 months of staying with them 24/7, I am struggling to maintain balance for Robbie with care-giving for Mom (and Dad). From our own space, it will be easier.  I know that sounds weird, but trust me. It will.

And so now we all prepare. In our own way, on our own timeline.

If you haven't guessed it by now, my brand seems to be along the lines of "avoid by keeping busy" much like with my other crosses, in life. I am very much a Martha in times of high stress, and wouldn't know where to begin trying to be a Mary. So, care-giving I began and leaped in head first, 100%. Robbie has been... AMAZING through this whole thing, while yes, he is still three.  But he is a good, good boy and I am so blessed.

I never thought anything in my life could be this draining. And, I have my Dad also giving 100% (even more than me, as he's with her through the night, right next to her). But, let me tell you... this shit is HARD. The visiting Hospice Team members only come about once per day or every other day, we haven't even started with the home health aide schedule (personal care like bathing), and my Dad and I are trying to juggle an entire medical team's work with our own guilt of wondering what happens if we screw up something... I repeat: this. shit. is. HARD.



In the meantime, I recognize that it is the hard, and the constant, that have become my avoidance mechanism. I do not have to think about what's happening when I'm instead thinking about the phone ringing with instructions for the next medication, jumping to assist in bringing her to the bathroom, and ensuring Mom eats when she can, and that food is on the table for Dad and Robbie's mealtimes... yeah, I'm not dieting. On purpose. I love food. It's just waaaaay low on my priority list at the moment.


My mother. It's my mother. She is the woman who shaped me.

Thank God for her faith, and the faith she gave to me. I know I'll get through this. But I know it's going to hurt like hell when I finally allow it to...


Please join me in prayer for Donna Maria. My beautiful, loving, self-sacrificing, quirky, Heaven-seeking (not to be confused with perfection-seeking as each of her 4 daughters often interpreted it as teenagers and beyond...), steadfast and conscientious mother.




Hail Mary, full of grace...









Tuesday, June 19, 2018

In Love vs Love

It's funny how my last post, of a completely different vein than the rest of the archives on TCIE, got more hits than any other post in the past couple of years. I guess the interwebs are really invested in my dating life, eh?

For countless reasons, there are things I just can never, and will never share here on the public forum. Try as I may have to compartmentalize all the various pieces of my life, over the past year they have definitely managed to morph into one persona - me. The real me. And, sorry not sorry, I just need to keep some things private, as my *audience* is no longer restricted to the tiny little sector of Catholic Women with Infertility.

That said, know that my last post was shared to shed light on what things are like for a newly annulled Catholic woman who first began to wade into the intimi-dating waters... months ago.

Today, things look a bit different. And in true TCIE fashion, it's hard, it's daunting, and it's a challenge I welcome and run into like a stubborn toddler, learning the hard lessons as I go. Hopefully with less tantrums this time around.

But it occurred to me that there is a big topic that relates to my dating life and personal relationships, that I have never written about before, even though I have thought about it and ascribed to the idea, myself, for decades. And so I'd like to write about it, now.


That is, the way I define love vs. in love.




Contrary to pop culture, media, and perhaps the majority of society, I have from a young age seen the two as clearly distinct, not necessarily connected. Of course as a young girl, I wanted nothing more than to experience the feelings of being "in love," and would form hopeless crush after hopeless crush, thinking I was in love in each instance. Until it finally happened when I was 18.

Oh, what wonderful, addictive, chemically-potent feelings of falling in love when it's the 'real thing'! I was in love with being in love, not JUST with the guy on the receiving end! And I'm certainly not knocking the experience - it was exhilarating! And when it happened for real? I knew that love would follow... 

I had in my mind grasped the fact that love was a choice, even as a teenager. I also had an understanding that love was long-lasting whereas "in love" could fade in time. Basically it became a very well-defined distinction between FEELINGS (in love) and ACTION (love as a verb, as doing for the other, as reciprocating). 

And I think, in my youth, I was mostly right. I just didn't yet know that there was an even larger component to that 'active love' but I would certainly be schooled in it as time went on...


So, my first real experience of being in love ended with a crash, in true subtle, ill-defined, non-communicative fashion, where it wasn't ever really understood if we were on a break or broken up, as we kept up the romantic communication an ocean apart... but with distance and time, and no prospect of ever experiencing the real, active love with him, the feelings of in love did indeed fade.

And in the aftermath of those awful feelings, I made the choice - to CHOOSE the choice, of love. To forgo the whole "in love" thing, since it wasn't real, anyway. Who needs feelings when you can rely on God and choose to actively LOVE another one of His children in serving their needs?

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how I entered into a civil marriage. 

No, I was never in love with him. But I will never, ever deny that I loved him. I loved him until it broke me, and then all the little crumbled pieces of me loved him even more. And it was in the midst of that love that I began to understand that real love is sacrifice.

As I began to suspect, and then those suspicions were confirmed, that the love was purely sacrificial and one-sided and NOT Sacramental or valid, my education on what love is continued to deepen. Oh yes, I still love the father of my child, but not at all in the same way, as it became clear part of my sacrifices were sacrificing my own soul in cooperating in sin. And over the coming year, and months, and even to this day, I become more and more in-tuned to what that definition of love is.

So, it is clear that I wish to love, again. But, I *can* love anybody ;) When I said this to my therapist a few months ago, he nodded and said, "Oh, I believe that. You could love a criminal in prison!" (Not sure if that was a compliment... haha.) But more importantly through my self-discovery over the past year+, I know now that I want to allow myself to fall "in love" again. It was the fear of getting hurt, and my avoidance of that, which lead to a love that kept me stuck in place. It is time to set aside that fear and allow myself to go there, again.  To fall in love.


I just hope I remember how...








Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dating

Hmm.

There was a time when, over at TCIE, you'd see the Title of the new blog post: Dating, and assume it was a post about Pregnancy Dating, perhaps insight from a FertilityCare Practitioner on a client, or even a story of a Sonographer, measuring those tiny little miracles as I've done so many times, before...


If you had told me back in the day that I'd be writing a VERY DIFFERENT post about dating on This Cross I Embrace... well, I would have laughed in your face! Me?? Dating?? 
Joke's on me, cuz here I am.


Something a bit daunting occurred to me as I discerned getting back 'out there' following the declaration of nullity, and that is, I've never dated as an adult! College and post-college relationships were Insta-Serious, and before that, well, the opportunities were few and far between. I had literally been on ONE DATE in my life, as a 17 year old, with someone who wasn't already a "boyfriend." Now, having been civilly married 10 years... the prospect was decidedly more weird.

Armed with the advice of many girlfriends with much more experience than I, I dipped a toe in when the time was right and my discernment was complete. I was mostly nervous about knowing (or not knowing) what I was looking for. I could see that my checklist of desired attributes had been constantly vacillating very early on. "Is he awake at least 6 hours of the day? Excellent, marry me!" to "Oh, weird, he said he was Christian on his profile but he's Catholic, that must mean he's not really proud to be Catholic... delete!" My trust in others, and in myself, was most certainly *off* - and it was a blessing in disguise that the civil divorce process took as long as it did, because I know there would have been NO WAY I was ready to put my best self forward until I did.


But I did.

Very first thing I noticed is that a) it is an entirely different world out there from the last time I was out there (was I ever really out there??) and b) online dating isn't A thing, it's the ONLY thing. Obviously as a single parent it makes things easier for meeting new people, but even the never married, no kids crew seem to congregate to the "hide behind a computer screen/iPhone" world, now.

Weird.

But, I grabbed the reigns and went with the flow.

And, quickly discovered I am not cut out of the same mold as the rest of the online dating population.



Evidently, as a woman in her 30's online dating, I should be:

Asking a man his height before I even know his name.

Ascertaining a man's bank account and timeline for when he thinks he can fertilize my eggs.

Making the first move. Then continuing the make the moves, until it becomes abundantly clear that he has no moves, no thoughts, no opinions, and no cares of his own. #thanksfeminism

Posting pictures of myself jumping on a beach, covered in mud, and with an elephant. (All in one would probably score me even more points.)

Demanding to know when and where all of the man's pictures were taken.

Interested in starting tons of meaningless texting conversations that go on for months on end without ever actually meeting in person.

And, last but not least, open to the "ethical, non-monogamous" relationship possibility.



Now, hopefully you've established that these are not from Catholic-specific sites or apps. But, lest you think it was any better on those, here was the checklist for men on those sites:

CRICKETS (i.e. no contact and no response to messages) from the same men who "like" all of my photos.

Multiple creeper messages pledging their undying love and resolve to make me the "happiest woman on the planet" (boy, do you have me pegged, after all, happiness is all I'm really after...)

Rad Trads who have already established that I'm going to hell since I'm divorced.

Men who seem normal enough... at first... until I let a day go by because, you know, I have more important things to do, and then get the angry "What do I have to do to get you to message me back????? What's the secret???!!!" messages.

Profiles that utterly and completely contradict their actual status.

Fake profiles.




It's a ZOO out there.

And here I am, trying to find my way to the panda exhibit...