Skip to content

Season of Joy and Sorrow

Every Christmas I write a letter to family and friends and try to get it out before the end of the season, which for the church is January 13th this year, so I think I will make it.

I had bought some Halloween and pumpkin stationery a few years back, thinking ‘I can write letters at other times of the year’ but then I never did. I did start this blog, so hopefully can reach those I don’t get to write to all that often. But I used the stationery this year for my letter, and am still sending it out – hopefully by the end of next week I will get it to those I intend to send it!

I love to receive snail mail and so I write to my friends and family fairly often, in hopes they will write back. I miss Papa, he wrote regularly, and Mama would write, too, when he was alive, in competition I suspect. Hers were brief and full of details, but not too interesting to me.

After my father died, Mama cleared the house with our help and sold it to move to assisted living, so Mike, my eldest brother, also a writer, took Papa’s writing that he had saved over the years, and some other things. When Mike died, his daughter returned some of the writing Mike had saved, in which we found some letters Mama had written Papa when he was confined to a mental hospital for two months. Her letters were a revelation, so sad that we found them only after they had died, we never got to talk to them about them. But she wrote daily, two or three pages each day, full of details of life and questions about how to rearrange furniture for the newly arriving baby (me!). Evidence that she loved him so much, that she needed him and missed him and couldn’t wait for him to come home. There was one he wrote to her, too, empty of his usual self, sign of his unsureness of his welcome with her. Heartbreaking.

Every time I visit my sister, I want to reread those letters. I want to publish them, they are so wonderful! Reading them, it dawned on me that Timbo, my artist/cartoonist brother, inherited his drawing skills from Mama. I knew she had gotten hired as a draftsman before she got pregnant, earning $25 an hour, but never before realized how talented she was – in one letter, she drew different outlines of the storeroom they were thinking about turning into a bedroom, asking Papa which one looked best to him – so clear!

I love to write, but never feel my letters are as good as Papa’s, and wonder if they are more a nuisance to the folk who receive them. Some friends do comment that they look forward to them, but I don’t know how much reading they do, so discount their complements. I love reading everyone’s letters, even though much of what they are writing about has nothing to do with me. The love expressed is so precious, I am delighted to be able to share it with them. One friend, a Carmelite Friar, writes a newsy letter and a reflection on the Gospels of the season – this year’s is so wonderful I want to turn it into a skit to do at Easter!

This time of year promotes retrospection, and that always involves remembering good and bad times of the previous year. Because Mama’s parents died 10 years apart on the same date, Nov. 26th, the end of the year has always been a mixed blessing. Her mother’s birthday was Dec. 16, on which Regina, our baby sister with Down’s Syndrome, died in 1962 when she was 5 years old. Papa’s mother died on Dec. 26, 1957 (or 6), and my parents got married on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28th, so we always knew that joys and sorrows come together, to cherish the joys and share the sorrows, so they would be manageable.

May your New Year be filled with joy, and don’t forget to share with all your friends, so the sorrows will not overwhelm you.

Advertisements

What They Never Warned You About in Aging

I am reading a book by Joan Chittister called The Gift of Years which is delightful, but she won’t be touching on these topics.

All right, we have heard the wonderful Bette Davis quote “Aging is not for sissies.” and she is not kidding, but if you don’t remember the poop jokes when you were a child with a smile, read no further.

There are digestive problems which no amount of ‘correct’ diet will fix. You get used to getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, but when you step on something gooey and realize it is poop, there are no words. Thank God it was me stepping on it and not my husband, because it was my poop. Small mercies. Sometimes you have very sticky poop that no amount of cleaning can remove. Then, as you are returning to bed, you drop a little piece. I think that is how it happened, I certainly didn’t feel anything. Next time you get up to go, you step on it. I ended up on my hands and knees, making sure I got it all. Wearing glasses as I do, I couldn’t see anything, but had to feel my way. Argh!

I have had several colonoscopies, as my father died from colon cancer that had metastasized before they found it. He didn’t like doctors, had dealt with pain for years. He was dead less than a month after they found it, at the age of 62. My mother’s siblings had had colon cancer too, so when my primary care found all that out before I was 50, she had me get a colonoscopy. Every time my husband’s work changed insurance plans, we had to get a new primary care that took that insurance. I had to remember to tell them all the right background. Sometimes they didn’t ask any questions. Working as a patient for student doctors to interview, I learned what they were supposed to be asking me.

Anyhow, they found one polyp, benign, so I was scheduled for another, 5 years later. The most recent was my 3rd or 4th, the intervening ones having found no polyps. This time they found 4, two of them large, both of them not cancer, but not benign. Now I have to have another one in 3 months, if those results are good, another in 6 months . . .we’ll see.

You may have heard about the horrors of colonoscopies before, though it is the preparation that is the worst part. Jim Gaffigan is pretty funny. You have to clean out your colon so they can see if there are any problems in there. This means you have to get rid of any waste in your system. The new doctor I went to this time, my old gastroenterologist having retired, is a lovely woman named Dr. Lu, who charmed me with her dialogue about my eating habits and exercising habits, so I was happy to get to know her. She told me there are several methods, but the one she gave me was not so horrible. Don’t get me wrong, they are all nasty, you have to eat nothing the day before the procedure, clear liquids are ok, and the night before it, you drink something that will help you get rid of all the waste in your system, which is as delightful as it sounds. Be ready to spend a lot of time in the bathroom, and you will probably not feel like reading. She recommended drinking a lot of water, even more than they recommend, and it really did help. She also recommended eating less to none of the things that are hard to digest in the week before the procedure. This makes such good sense I wonder that the other doctors didn’t do that.

When you are all done with the procedure, and wake up in the recovery room, to be told you have no polyps, you start to think, maybe I will wait longer for the next one. This time, although the procedure was done in the same location as 5 years earlier, I was told there were 4 polyps, two large, one the size of her thumb!, and she would get the results by the following Thursday. The following Thursday I got a call saying she wanted me to come in to get the results, they wouldn’t give it over the phone, though it was not an emergency to get an appointment immediately. This did not fill me with joy.

Good news! It is NOT cancer. Dr. Lu then proceeded to explain that there are 3 kinds of polyps, one that doesn’t turn into cancer, two different ones that do turn into cancer, one with a 10% likelihood, the other with a 40% likelihood of becoming cancerous. Mine are a combination of the two likely to become cancer, so we have to watch closely. Luckily, colon cancer is usually a cancer that grows slowly, but the size of the polyps is making her nervous. There is also evidence of diriticulosis, an outpouching of the colon, which happens in people over 55. Dietary restrictions include no dairy, lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds only if you chew very carefully and drink lots of water with them. Eating NO red meat or cured meat or FRIED food is also recommended. Sugar, is, of course, poison for all of us and needs to be eliminated from everyone’s diet.

This is the diet I have been trying to stick to for about the last 10 years, (except for the nuts part, I love nuts) but recently I have been getting more and more lax. Red meat once a week, dairy once a week. Ok, so it was more than once a week, and sometimes it was together – lasagna and ziti are so good! Didn’t realize pork and lamb are also red meats. Have not been as strict as I claimed I was being. My husband says, “What can we eat?” Turkey, chicken, fish and lots of vegetables. He likes all the meats, not so fond of the vegetables or fish. Fish once a week, especially if fried. Oh, well, baked is good too. He also gets bored with chicken every day, hasn’t been able to stop eating dairy or even cutting down. But he is willing to try if I commit to doing different vegetables – not that he will eat them, but he realizes if I eat the same vegetables all the time that won’t work either. I eat a lot of romaine lettuce. Oh, lovely, now all the romaine is suspect, have to find other kinds of lettuce. Thank you, 45, for making the regulations lax!

My sister is 4 years older than me, and has had digestive issues so severe that she doesn’t like to go out to eat, for fear that she will have an accident. I used to think it was because she has to take medications for her mental wellness, but as I age, I am wondering how true that is. Our brother is in between us in age, and has other problems with balance from they are not sure what cause. And we are relatively healthy! Can you imagine what it is like for those with heart problems, etc.?

As we baby boomers age, we need to be aware of things that help and let all of us know. And, of course, don’t take yourself too seriously, be willing to laugh, as laughter is still the best medicine!

 

October Thoughts

My eldest brother Mike was born and died in October, the day before his birthday when he would have been 56. He served in Vietnam 40 years earlier, and had been exposed to Agent Orange during those few years he was there. When he was diagnosed with chemically treatable leukemia, followed closely by lymphoma, we found out those diseases were on the top 10 list of diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange. The good news is he was eligible for coverage because he served in Vietnam. The bad news is he died shortly thereafter. If his wife hadn’t  known to ask for coverage for her daughters, she wouldn’t have gotten it. She was trying to find out where he served, in case that was needed, and my brother Brian, who had been in the Navy around the same time, let her know that serving anywhere in Vietnam constitutes being exposed to Agent Orange.

His younger daughter, Meredith, 16 when her daddy died, decided to get married in October, in order to have good memories for that month. Now, every year October rolls around, we have good reasons to celebrate. How brilliant is Meredith!

This year I am planning a retreat for my spiritual family, the Missionary Cenacle Family. Every year we have a retreat for the MCA (the lay branch of the family, to which I belong) and anyone interested in joining us. Our dates are Oct. 19-21 and I have spent months trying to get someone bilingual to run the retreat, as we have both English and Spanish speaking members, and my Spanish is not good enough. In August, I was on another retreat and found a book on Teresa of Avila from the series 30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher from Ave Maria Press. It is called Let Nothing Disturb You, and I quickly was inspired to do the retreat myself, if I can get someone bilingual to help. Luckily, my assistant Custodian is bilingual and was excited by the idea as well. Then I found out two others in the Cenacle Family, both named after Teresa of Avila, though they spell it Theresa, have many resources about Teresa and are willing to assist, one with prayer services and the other will do one of the talks. Since her feast day is the 15th, it is very timely.

Teresa has always been a favorite of mine, the first woman to be declared a doctor of the church, in 1970, loved by Dorothy Day, another of my favorites. There was another series, now out of print, called Companions for the Journey, by St. Mary’s Press, and Praying with Teresa of Avila by Rosemary Broughton was another I cherished. Using these two resources, I am getting excited about the possibilities of this retreat.

My parents had both passed away years before my brother, and I like to think of them all looking down from heaven, watching over all of us and helping us to grow in our relationships with God, and living lives that help share the love that God gives us. During these difficult times in the church right now, we are praying the prayer of Michael the Archangel, my brother’s patron saint. I can feel the support, as clearly as we did while Mike lay dying in the ER in DC, 18 years ago.

I am looking forward to this retreat. Being on retreat right after Mike’s birthday and anniversary of his death feels like the right thing to do. One of my favorite quotes of hers was also quoted by Dorothy Day: ‘Once when she was travelling from one part of Spain to another with some other nuns and a priest to start a convent, and their way took them over a stream, she was thrown from her donkey. The story goes that our Lord said to her, “That is how I treat my friends.” And she replied, “And that is why you have so few of them.”‘ It sounds like something Mike would say.

The reason I go on retreats is to enable me to live a life that makes the world a better place. “Mystical experiences and intimacy with the Divine do not translate into lives of ease. Rather, they produce people of truth, strength and courage.” – – -Caroline Myss, author of the forward to Let Nothing Disturb You

We like to think we trust in God, but some days it is easier than others. Going on retreat, I have this time of being directed by the Holy Spirit, strengthened to work for peace and justice, to stand up for those who have no power, to use active nonviolence in my daily life. Using Teresa’s words: “It is true that I might stumble for trying to do too much too soon, but it is also certain that I will never succeed if I hope for too little, or out of fear of failing start not at all.”—Let Nothing Disturb You, day twenty.

 

 

Yet Another Basal

I go in for skin checks every 3 months, because I grow cancer cells like mad. This last time I thought I was free and clear, but a couple weeks later, a spot on my nose bled enough for us to be sure it was a spot we needed to check. Last Thursday my dermatologist reported that the biopsy showed it was, indeed, another basal. Surgery to come at the end of July, beginning of August, whenever my dermatologist can arrange for the plastic surgeon who did the last repair in 2015 is available. She does the Mohs surgery to remove all the basal that shows up on the microscopic level, then the plastic surgeon repairs my face.

They do great work, but it is very stressful to have to continue getting surgeries. I do Theta Healing to try to get rid of any unknown problems that might be causing me to grow basals, but they keep coming back.

It feels like a big deal, and not a big deal at the same time.

I would like to be able to move to another state so my husband could stop feeling tormented by living in New York City, but we need to find work to make that happen. I do a lot of different jobs as an actor and usher to keep money coming in, and he continues at the job he hates to cover the majority of our bills and our insurance, and I like to think we could both find other jobs in another state, but it seems foolish to just move and hope for the best, so we stay so far.

Keep me in your good thoughts. I am supposed to be working on the virtue of simplicity.

Remembering Regina

My baby sister Regina Elizabeth Flanagan lived only 5 and a half years, but what an impact she had on our lives! She was born in May, but Mama already had a daughter named Mary, so she picked Regina, as that means Queen and May is the month we celebrate Mary as Queen of Heaven. Reggie was queen of all our hearts, that is certain.

Mama had had a miscarriage after my little brother Tim, and two years later Regina was born with Down’s Syndrome and a hole in her heart, for which she would have to have open heart surgery before she was 3 years old. Mama told Papa her duty in the bedroom was over, she wasn’t willing to risk another pregnancy. She had 7 children, after all, she had done enough.

At the time of the surgery, the doctors told my parents they were able to make the hole smaller, but not to close it. They would have to wait to do another surgery when Reggie was stronger, after she was 8 years old. My aunt Kate, my mother’s older sister who was a nurse, said Reggie would not live to be 8, so we always knew she was only with us for a short time.

We moved to Bedford Hts. from Cleveland Hts. in 1959, when Reggie was 2 and I was 7. It was halfway between Cleveland and Akron, so my father could work at either location of the Plain Dealer, the newspaper for which he worked, without having to move again. It was a ranch house, so everything was on one level, which Mama loved. It had a small backyard, which opened into a ravine that had a creek running down the middle and lots of trees, and we could get into it just by going down our backyard hill – all of us kids loved that! It was a new development, so we had neighbors but it felt a little closer to nature than our last house, though it was rather cold – all cement floors, with plaster walls that you could break just by throwing yourself at it hard enough, as several of my brothers discovered. Our parents had tiled the whole thing, learning how to do it as they worked, and painted the walls themselves – they chose grey, as it was the most neutral paint, but Tim discovered he could add blue to the grey and make a nice color, so he painted his bedroom himself, but that happened much later. I remember being very impressed that they had done all that work themselves. I didn’t know they didn’t have much choice, 7 kids make for a tight budget!

We were allowed to play in the woods by ourselves, as long as we could hear when they called us in to dinner. Tim was littler than me, so I had to make sure he came when we were called. As we got older, we knew what time dinner was, so could play in the next woods over, as long as we came home on time. Tim’s chore was setting the table, so we had to go home a little before dinner time, but sometimes he said there was plenty of time and refused to come when I said it was time. Then I would set the table and he had to do dishes, which was my chore. He would miss stuff all the time, and I would rewash the dishes he had messed up, which meant I had to do two chores, so I hated it when he did that. But that’s another story.

One day we were playing in the woods by Bobby and Bucky Walker’s house, over the hill by Sandhurst Blvd., when Papa called, “Marg, Tim, is Reggie with you?” I had no idea Papa knew where to look for us when we weren’t in the backyard, but answered, “No” right away, then asked, “What happened?” He shouted back something like, ‘Don’t worry’ and went away, but I told Tim ‘we better get back home and see what is going on.’ By the time we got there, Reggie was home and all was well.

It seems that while Mike, our eldest brother, was watching TV while babysitting Reggie, he hadn’t noticed her going outside for a walk. She was either 4 or 5 by this time, so could get around on her own very well, but we never let her go anywhere by herself, as her physical age was twice what her mental age was. When Mama and Papa came home from doing the shopping, Reggie was nowhere to be found. Mary Kay, my elder sister by 4 years, slept in on Saturday mornings and did a lot of reading in bed, so when Mama came into her room and said Reggie was missing, Mary Kay knew just where she would be. She used to take Reggie on walks around the neighborhood all the time, and she always went the same way, up Sandhurst, and over the next road to where Luann, her best friend, lived.

Meanwhile, Mike and Papa asked the neighbors if they had seen Reggie, and one said she had been at the end of the driveway and was waving at our garage, so he just assumed someone was in the garage watching her. Papa ran over to see if she was with us, and Mike got in the neighbor’s car and they drove around the block to see if they could find her.

Mary Kay got dressed and ran up Sandhurst to follow her route and find Reggie, but before she got to the top of the hill, there was Mike in the neighbor’s car with Reggie on his lap, beaming away because she was safe. She had been walking down the middle of the street and making faces at the cars. Mary Kay said, “Oh, I always walked the same way, and whenever a car came I would pick her up and run up onto whoever’s lawn we were in front of, and make faces at the cars, explaining that cars were dangerous and you had to get off the street when they were there.” We didn’t have sidewalks, though they were promised when Mama and Papa moved into the development. There wasn’t  too much traffic, so they never got around to making the sidewalks.

We could just picture Reggie waving ‘bye, bye’ at Mike, as he watched TV with the intensity that only the eldest of 7 has to have in order to enjoy his shows. I don’t imagine they left her with him while they were doing shopping anymore. Mary Kay remembers that the screen door was locked after that! We would have to knock to come in, or go in the back door, which was too hard for a 5 year old to open.

For Halloween one year, Mary Kay and Luann, they were 13 or 14, went as little girls, complete with big suckers and pigtails, and dressed Reggie as their Mom, wearing Mama’s black beret and short winter coat, which went to Reggie’s feet. They all had a lot of fun going trick or treating to the neighbors’ houses, with Reggie and without her, that was a hit for costumes that year!

Hard to believe she would have been 60 years old last year.

 

 

Joyous Passover! Happy Easter!

One of my many jobs is guiding students around NYC while on their school trips, so Holy Week and Easter I am working and not able to attend as many of the services as I would like. It is hard to miss the celebrations and preparation for Easter, not getting to see the adults who are preparing to be received into the church on Holy Saturday.

This morning I went to the 9am and the Noon Mass, and was able to wear Mama’s Easter suit, which still fits me, amazingly enough. Another parishioner, hearing it was my mom’s, showed me her pin, which had been her mom’s, and told me she always tells her mom, ‘we’re going to Mass, Mama’ when she wears it, and it helps her feel her presence.

When I was running the religious education program at my parish, many moons ago, I first got into all the services. Growing up in a family of 7 kids, we didn’t go to the special, long services – seeing the parents of young children trying to keep them occupied and respectful during a regular service, I understand why they never tried to get us to go to the long ones, though my parents were quite devout and probably would have enjoyed them very much themselves. Now, I always try to pay attention to the families and give the parents some positive reinforcement for themselves and their kids at Mass. It truly takes a village to raise children, and we are all part of that village. If we don’t participate, we get children who don’t understand their faith and don’t care to explore it further.

Not being in charge of the religious education program anymore, I sometimes forget that I am still part of the parish and responsible to share my faith with the younger generation in whatever way I can. Admiring the children in their Easter outfits, and giving them attention when they behave well is a little something, and the fact that the parents are the grown up children from when I ran the program helps a lot. I get to tell the kids I knew their parents when they were the size the kids are now! Always fun.

We made a ham and baked potatoes, white and sweet, and green beans, zucchini and squash and are now waiting for the dessert Da just put together. The baking soda was a little old (apparently we haven’t baked since 2011) but it smells good, so I will close.

 

Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, Joyful Kwanzaa and a very Happy New Year!

We spent last night wondering if we were going to have to go to the emergency room, as I was having pain in my lower right back that wouldn’t ease up, no matter how much massage Daver applied. It finally eased off during the night and today I feel fine – though I promise I will call the doctor tomorrow and figure out what is going on. Not sure if it is kidney stones or some kind of blockage or just arthritis, but I will not ignore it again! All else is fine with our health (though Daver says nothing about that or anything else).

We continue to live and work in the New York City area and hope for a call to somewhere rural where we can have some actual snow.

I lost my calendar in March, so am not sure exactly what I did in the first 3 months of last year, though I know I worked for concerts and graduations at Radio City, did a few Ellis Island Stories in schools, played a patient for student doctors to interview at Bellevue, worked as a sub at a preschool in Brooklyn, did some film acting when I could get it and began my second year as an OSC and third as a Field Specialist for World Strides, working with various groups of kids and their chaperones. It is always an adventure to see people new to the city finding their way around and enjoying it!

I am looking forward to more of the same this year!

I was able to visit Ohio twice this year, in April for my all class reunion at Light of Hearts Villa (Lumen Cordium, all girls’ high school when I attended, now a Senior Residence that hosts our reunions – a big one for the first graduating class of 1967, I was there in ’69), in late June/July for the visit of the Drumm Family, to introduce Aurora, who turned 1 in August and Michael, who was there when he was 3 months old, but at 4 was delighted to play with his ‘different cousins’ (and gave us all an excuse to celebrate Mary Kay and Ray’s 40th wedding anniversary a little early – and in great style, thanks to Eric, Amy, Jacob and Patrick and their spouses, as well as the Lands from Florida and PA who were able to join us. I got to visit with Janet and Donny both times, as well as brother Matthew, though too brief for everyone! I missed Bart’s graduation, and all the Flanagan and Furcolow cousins, but none of us can bilocate. I spent most of my time there with our grandkids, Brianna, who will be 8 in February this year, Joshua who turned 5 on Sept. 20 and Isaiah, who at 3 (as of July 15, his father’s due date) wears the same size as big brother! My cousin (Pat) Bill Flanagan and his wife and good friends came to NYC to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary in December, so I got to spend some lovely time with them, what fun!

I continue volunteering reading to kids at the local school, though BookPALS has disbanded as of December, working for peace and justice with Pax Christi Metro New York – come see Windborne at St. Joseph’s Casserly Hall on Jan. 28th, our Peacemaking through the Arts fundraiser – and with my spiritual family, the Missionary Cenacle Family. On my retreat with them this year, the theme was virtues and simplicity was calling to me, wonder why? At Trinita the theme was ‘be good, do good, be a power for good’ our Family motto. That was the theme in 2007 when I volunteered the first time with this incredible summer Family Development Program, great to revisit it. Looking forward to returning for my usual two weeks at the end of July this year as well.

I got to reprise my role as ‘Sr. Kunnegunda’, friend of both Mother Boniface and Margaret Healy, cofounders with Fr. Judge. The role was created for the Centennial of the Family in 2009, and with the Centennial of the Sisters’ founding this year, I hope to be able to do it again. The Generalate is being repurposed for women discerning their vocations, and will be called Dr. Margaret Healy House, and I got to perform it for the Sisters right there where Fr. Judge was laid out and the early Sisters lived.

I hope to see you all in the New Year!