Memories of Father George

Two weeks ago, my fourth child was baptized by Father George Majka, the priest who married me and my husband. After the baptism he hurried off to pack for his yearly vacation–his one luxury, as far as I can tell, and a much-deserved one. He flew to the Dominican Republic, where he went scuba diving and drowned.

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As my husband commented, he was just moving on to his eternal vacation, that place of “light and refreshment” he had earned by over thirty years of sacrifice as a priest. I was also reminded of what my father said when Mother Teresa died: bad news for us, but good news for her. I’m very happy for Father George, and I’m convinced he’s in heaven already, and his body is whole again and he’s free from his suffering.

Father George was in terrible health. He was a very large man with breathing problems, and he had to stop and rest after climbing just a few stairs. You could see what a great effort it was for him to make it through the Mass. In spite of this, he never took shortcuts. He gave beautiful sermons every week, sang every hymn, and only sat down to deliver his sermon once that I can remember. I remember being heavily pregnant in the heat of the summer and often sitting down in the pew to rest, but feeling ashamed when I noticed that Father George never took the easy way out: he said each Mass reverently and thoughtfully, on his feet, even though it was obviously difficult for him to even stand.

Father George loved singing. His regular speaking voice was a bit high and unimpressive, but when he sang, a deep and powerful voice took over. He sung the hymns like he meant them, and you could tell he enjoyed them–you could always hear him whistling them after Mass. He had a unique way of picking hymns: he picked whatever directly corresponded to one of the readings, especially if it had a direct quote from the Bible passage. This led to a lot of weird hymns being selected, but it really drove in the theme of the readings. He would even cherry-pick verses: “We will sing hymn number 405, verses 1, 3, and 5.” When we picked “Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise” for one of our wedding hymns, he requested that we skip the second verse, which “doesn’t really do anything for me. But the third verse really sends me!”

Rest in peace, Father, and pray for us to be as strong and dedicated as you!

Will You Sweep Away the Righteous with the Wicked?

by Bill Mauldin, via Wikipedia

When I was in college, I thought America was pretty wonderful. As I got older, I was bombarded with the many ways she has fallen from her ideals, and I felt obligated to pretend that there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong, or at least nothing that we couldn’t overcome. To acknowledge America’s faults felt like a betrayal of my love for her. These days I’m working on detachment–loving what’s good about America, but not pinning my hopes on her when they should be elsewhere. I am reminding myself that America is just a country–a country with a lot of God’s truth at her core, and a country I’m lucky to live in–but still just a country: a country that comes and goes in the blink of God’s eye like any other.

For all who have felt my disillusionment, remember that detachment doesn’t mean that you don’t care about something; it just means caring about it only as much as is proper to its intrinsic worth. You can love America without being crushed by the idea that someday she will be gone. But whatever you may think about America today, it’s at least worth praying for. If God was willing to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only ten righteous men, don’t you think He could find ten righteous things left in America worth saving, if we remind Him?

Keep Moving

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“Cliffhanger” by Sam Purtill, via Flickr

A few days ago I came upon a quote from St. Bernard that really struck me:

You must either ascend or descend; if you try to remain in one position, you are sure to fall.

This might sound like a challenge or a threat at first; but I find it helpful because it sounds more like advice to me. When you’re fighting depression, or temptation, trying to stay in one place out of sheer force of will is not likely to work. Getting up and doing something is the only way to make some progress.

Imagine you’re sitting at home in front of your computer, and you’re attacked with a strong temptation to watch pornography. White-knuckling it is not going to work. Instead of doing your best to stay in your current position–in the near occasion of sin, but not sinning–you’d do much better to get moving. Go out of the room, call a friend, go outside, read a book, anything to distract your mind.

If your toddler keeps getting into the sugar bowl, you’re probably going to be disappointed if you keep admonishing him and putting the sugar back, hoping that his self-control will kick in. Do something! Put that sugar bowl on a higher shelf!

This doesn’t just apply to sin, either. When I was studying abroad in college, I fell suddenly into one of the deepest depressions of my life. I caught myself stopping in the middle of the staircase, trying to come up with a reason to take the next step. What finally brought me out of it was happening upon a quote similar to the one above, which reminded me that sitting there, being depressed, was never going to improve things. I had an impulse to pick up my homework, which was a reading from St. Thomas Aquinas, just to give myself something to do other than focus on my despair. To my surprise, I got completely caught up in the reading, and I was out of the depression when I finished. (Thank you, St. Thomas!) The chapter I read wasn’t particularly relevant to my situation or anything I was particularly interested in; it was just the act of doing something normal, something to take me out of myself, that rescued me.

When you’re stuck in a rut, don’t worry about finding the absolute best thing to do with yourself–just do something! You’ll be moving forward.

7QT: Why I love Magnificat

Happy Friday! Have you ever seen an issue of Magnificat Magazine at the back of the Church and wondered if it was worth the price? It’s so worth it. One year I used part of my birthday money to subscribe and I’m on my third year as a loyal reader. (I wasn’t asked or paid to endorse this, by the way, but if they want to send me some freebies that’s okay with me!) Here’s 7 reasons I love it:

      1. It has everything in one place. For me, it’s very helpful to have prayer written down, because I have a very hard time focusing on unguided mental prayer; and having a set of prayers for the day in one handy little book makes it much more likely that I’ll pray that day. It’s pathetic, but it can be overwhelming for me to look up the daily Mass readings, look up the saint of the day, find my Divine Office and find the right prayers for the week, and so on.
      2. There’s enough that you can pick and choose your favorite devotions, but not so much that it’s overwhelming: a shortened version of morning and evening prayer, night prayer, and the daily Mass readings. In addition, there are saints’ stories, reflections from various authors, special devotions for holy days and seasons, and special sections on Christian art, history, conversion stories, and more. Everything is short, and introduced with quotes, context, or biography when necessary, to help you grasp the theme of the day.
      3. I love the “Saint Who?” section. There’s a different saint almost every day, aside from whoever’s feastday it is, under a different theme each month: saints who were parents, saints who cared for the imprisoned, saints who did great work in their old age, etc. I find out about so many new people this way, including St. Benedict Menni, a man who cared for the mentally ill and suffered dementia himself at the end of his life. I’ve taken him as a special patron for my mother.
      4. It’s gentle but timely. I’m sure there is a lot of grace involved in the editors’ selection of excerpts for daily reflection, because they speak directly to me so often. They’re usually very practical, relevant to modern life, and encouraging. There’s also a wide variety of authors quoted, from saints, Church fathers, and popes to contemporaries like Dorothy Day, Caryll Houselander, Fulton Sheen, Fr. Walter Ciszek, even Ann Voskamp. I’ve discovered so many new authors to look into. I’ve especially loved everything I’ve read by Fr. Alfred Delp, and I want to read more.
      5. Hymns! A hymn for each morning and evening, usually ones I’ve never heard of that are directly connected to the readings or the saint of the day. Again, another place to make great discoveries, if your parish sings the same few hymns over and over again
      6. Each issue is carefully themed to the liturgical seasons, as well as devotions like the year of mercy, month of Mary, and so on. It feels so good to stay in tune with the Church around the world, even if you can’t get out of the house.
      7. I have some cheap trial subscriptions if you want them! For $5, (which I’d be glad to cover for you), you get three free months to try it out. If you’re comfortable sending me your address (you can send it privately to sunsetblog@aol.com), I’ll sign you up–I’d love to share the blessings this magazine has brought me. I’ve done this trial offer before and it works great, my friends didn’t report any difficulty with discontinuing after the 3 months.

Head on over to Kelly’s for the rest of the 7 Quick Takes!

 

It Is What It Is

Here’s a thought that attacks me all the time: I’m not doing enough. I should be spending more time with my mother; I should spend more one-on-one time with the kids; I should be praying better, and more often; I should be able to handle a long day without losing it; I should be able to manage without having my husband step in and rescue me all the time.

At first, I tried to counter this thought by arguing against it. I would tell myself that I really was doing enough; or I would say that yes, it wasn’t enough, but I had good excuses, and I would do better later. Neither of these worked; I couldn’t convince myself that I was giving my all, but I couldn’t realistically see myself doing more, either. I used to torture myself with the thought that I was not actually trying my best, because there were some moments–a lot or a few, it didn’t matter–when I was not trying as hard as I could have. This led to a vicious cycle of self-pity and self-accusation: I knew I could theoretically try harder, but even with my current minimum of effort I was a mess; so what was I supposed to do?

Here’s the answer: it is what it is. The fact is, you are not doing all you could possibly do. It could always be better. But here’s an equally important fact: just because you should, ideally, be doing something, doesn’t mean that it’s possible. Yes, I should be spending more time with my mother; but the fact is, I just can’t. For so many reasons, I can’t. This means that, given the situation, thinking about what I should or could be doing is irrelevant. It is what it is. Give yourself a break: this isn’t an excuse, it’s just reality. There are enough things to worry about without wasting your energy on things you can’t change.

(I had this insight while I was in therapy, not so much from my therapists, but from the thought processes they helped me start. I’ve found that this is the best thing about a good therapist; she doesn’t give you the answers so much as ask the right questions, and guide you to answer them yourself. I know, this sounds like a cop-out; but if you’ve ever tried sitting down by yourself and thinking about why you do a certain thing, or what part of your life needs to change, I bet you didn’t get very far. Having to do it out loud, in front of someone, really helps you kickstart the process!)

Linkup! How to Tell if You’re Depressed

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The last time I wrote about postpartum depression, I shared the fact that my struggle was made worse by guilt: motherhood was what I had always wanted, so why wasn’t I thriving? Another mother wrote in to say that she had the opposite problem: she felt guilty because being a stay-at-home mother was not something she had always wanted, and so she blamed her depression on her unpreparedness. My first thought was “oh, my post must not have helped her very much, because she couldn’t relate.” But instead, she found it helpful, because it showed that the fault was not hers; if both of us could be depressed for opposite reasons, the depression must have some origin besides our failings. So true! Your mind can find a reason to make you feel guilty no matter what. Depression can be connected to objective situations, of course; but in the end, it comes on its own and you can never be completely sure why.

I often find comfort in something my mother used to say: If you’re feeling guilty about not being a good enough mother, that means you are a good mother. A bad mother wouldn’t be worrying about it!

I’ve written several times about depression, therapy, and medication (links at the bottom–Wordpress is quirky today), so today I’d just like to focus on how to tell if you’re depressed or just sad, stressed, or have the “baby blues.” These are a few things I’ve noticed through the last few years as indicators of depression; but before all, check with your husband or someone who knows you well! When you’re in the thick of a pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding, or sleep-deprived state, it can be hard to think straight and realize that you’re not normal. An objective viewpoint is critical.

  • Do you still have a sense of humor? If you’re just having a bad day, you can laugh at things going wrong–maybe not that minute, but at least later on. When you’re depressed, nothing seems funny. Your life is awful and there’s nothing funny about it. Humor doesn’t ease the situation at all.
  • Likewise, when you’re depressed, nothing is cute, not even your kids. Even when they’re acting normally, you’re constantly aggravated and upset by them. You can’t enjoy them at all because you’re sick of them, they’re just things that make your life harder.
  • When you’re having a bad day, you can stop and say to yourself “okay, this day just stinks. Tomorrow will be better. It won’t be like this forever.” When you’re depressed, you don’t have that perspective. You can’t remember things being good before, and you can’t imagine them getting better in the future.
  • When it’s just a bad day, simple pick-me-ups can really help: a change of scenery, a snack, exercise, 5 minutes alone, getting distracted with a project, calling a friend, and so on. When you’re depressed, nothing works. You can do all the right things and still feel lousy. Again, that’s because depression doesn’t necessarily come from external circumstances. Sometimes it just comes. That means that you can’t always chase it away without external help.

My computer is freezing up when I try to insert links, so bear with me:

  • My original maternal depression post, which includes some helpful guidelines for considering therapy, medication, and self-help books:  https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/bloghop-good-catholic-moms-and-maternal-depression/
  • My post about making peace with medication, which I was very reluctant to try: https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/i-dont-want-to-be-on-a-pill-for-the-rest-of-my-life/
  • My post about some things that helped during rough periods postpartum, mostly suggested by various therapists:  https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/7qt-things-that-help/
  • My post about why prayer or spiritual counselling may not be enough to cure mental problems, and how God wants you to take advantage of any help you can get, spiritual, secular, or medical:  https://checkoutthatsunset.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/why-schools-need-real-counselors/

Please click over to Flourish in Hope (http://www.flourishinhope.com/2016/05/30/my-ppd-story/), a wonderful site I’m just discovering, for other moms’ stories, and thank you so much to them and to Katherine at Half Kindled (http://halfkindled.com/) for organizing this! Let’s all keep each other in our prayers.

 

Her Grief is Real

The photo and interview series Humans of New York recently did a group of stories on pediatric cancer, and the story of Max hit me especially hard. Like many of the others, it was a story of a child who died from pediatric cancer at age 7, as told by his mother; but unlike the others, his mother was in a lesbian relationship, and her son was conceived by IVF. She originally conceived twins, and aborted one of them “because I was scared at the time.” Now that her son is dead, she knows the decision to kill his twin “will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

What was your reaction on reading this story? I’ll be honest: I was crushed by the sorrow of it, but I also judged the mother. How could she have created her children so selfishly? How could she complain about one of them dying, when she purposely killed the other one? Why did she think it was a good idea to bring up children without a father? I almost felt as if she did not have a full right to her grief, because she wasn’t a real mother.

Then I kept reading. I saw tender details, like her memories of her son, the way she appreciated the tiniest pieces of his personality, the way she was unable to tell him he was dying, and blamed herself for not having the courage to do it. She was his mother. She suffered like a mother. She was as true a mother as any heterosexual, married, biological mother could be. Her grief was real.

To be merciful is to understand someone’s life, someone’s grief, as they understand it; not as you think it should be. To be merciful is to love Max’s broken, guilty mother, because she loved her son. Jesus have mercy.

(4/5) “I think I have post traumatic stress. I have so many horrible flashbacks. Two weeks after Max was diagnosed, he asked me if I’d be his Mommy forever. I said, ‘Of course I will.’ And he asked: ‘Even when I’m ninety?’ And I told him ‘yes.’ What was I supposed to say? And there were all the times he talked to me about the future. We’d talk about college. I just couldn’t tell him. God I was such a coward. I should have told him. I just couldn’t do it. Even toward the end. The day before he lost consciousness, I read his favorite book to him. It’s called Runaway Bunny. And the little bunny keeps threatening to run away. And the Mama bunny keeps saying: ‘Wherever you go, I will find you.’ Oh God, it was such a horrible way to die. He couldn’t speak or move or swallow or see. He basically starved to death. And the whole last week I’m whispering in his ear: ‘Let go, let go. Please Max, let go.’ My seven-year-old son. I’m telling him to let go. I mean, fuck. That’s not supposed to happen! And the whole time I never told him he was dying. I was such a coward. But he knew. He knew without me telling him. Because a couple weeks before he lost his speech, he asked me: ‘Mommy, do they speak English where I’m going?’” ——————————————————–Today is the last day of our fundraiser to aid Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in their fight against pediatric cancer. Over 65,000 people have donated and we’ve raised over $2.3 million so far. Max’s tumor is the same tumor that Dr. Souweidane is working on curing. (See previous story). In fact, Max was supposed to be part of Dr. Souweidane’s first clinical trial but he passed away too soon. I promised Julie that all money raised during the telling of Max’s story would be given to Dr. Souwedaine and his colleagues to aid in their DIPG research. The gift will be given in Max’s honor. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating. Link in bio.

A photo posted by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on

 

Image belongs to Humans of  New York on Instagram; I do not own this image.