Betty Duffy

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Outrage

There's a retired priest in our town, who travels to the different parishes when a Pastor is off duty. I was sitting in a pew, wrestling a three-year-old before Mass one day, when I saw this particular priest in the Sacristy putting on his vestments. My stomach lurched because I knew then that Mass would take a very long time. He always gives a rambling 45-minute homily. He also cries, every. single. time. he reads the Gospel.

It wasn't too late to drive three miles over to the other Parish in town. I'd only be a few minutes late getting there. But I felt this guilty sensation: what if scads of people escaped to other Parishes every time I showed myself in Church?

I stayed.

During the Gospel, as ordained, Father cried when Jesus said, "One of you will betray me," and Judas dipped his morsel in the cup with Jesus. For some reason, on this day, the tears touched me. It was sad that Judas would betray Jesus, and that Jesus knew it, and Judas knew it, but that no one would stop it. It was sad that Judas would condemn his own soul as a result.


During the homily, Father let us know that it was the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He thanked us for celebrating with him. He recalled his baptism. He recalled his time in the Seminary, and how during a homiletics course, his professor chastised him for using the term, "we sinners" in a homily, saying, "Never, ever, admit from the pulpit that you are a sinner."

"My teacher was a very good and holy man who did much good for the Church," said the retired priest, "but that is the one lesson I learned in Seminary with which I have never agreed. Just as the Gospel points out today, good and evil have always existed side by side in every man, but Christ."

In the wake of Father Thomas D Williams's revelation that he fathered a child during his priesthood, there have been a few blog posts going around that insist, it is ok to feel outrage about this situation. It's not uncharitable to discuss the scandal, and we have a right to our feelings of anger about it.

To which I say, thank you for the permission to feel outrage. But not only do I not need another charismatic leader telling me how to function, the feeling of outrage at other people's sins seems too easy to be the right response.

I recognize that many of these posts come from people who have had ties in the past to Regnum Christi or the Legion, and so they are used to being told that they should not discuss the failings they see in others.

I have to admit, that the sense of charity offered to others, assuming the best of people, even though it contributed to a culture of silence, is something I miss from my RC days.

At the time, it bothered me that I couldn't go into the dorms with another co-worker and complain about the Consecrated lady whose heavy footfall in the hallway always meant that she was coming to ask: "Can you do me a favor?" She had so many favors to ask, and I just wanted to point it out to someone--"Have you noticed she always asks for favors, and they're always totally easy things she could do for herself? Isn't that annoying?

I could not wait to point out that the emperor had no clothes. She acted holy but she wasn't. I could recognize it, and all that was left for me to do was to say it out loud to someone, so we could feel mutual annoyance, and experience a bond. Keeping my feelings to myself was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

In the internet age, there are many, many watchdogs waiting to point out that the emperor has no clothes. It's good, I suppose, that people, especially priests, aren't getting away with tough sins. And it's definitely good that they no longer get away with crimes--but what surprises me about all this information is that it doesn't feel as good to dwell on it as I thought it would feel.

I want to feel outrage. My gut instinct says OUTRAGE! But, there's a still small voice that says, Lord, protect me from the kind of thinking that says, I would never do that. I would never be unfaithful to my vocation. I would never deceive people who believed in me. I would never maintain the office of speaking for the faith when my private life was such a mess. What a Judas-y thing to do.

The problem with thinking that way is that it's A.) not accurate, and B.) it distracts me from the outrage I should feel for my own failings. In different circumstances, with a different psychology, I have been unfaithful. I have been deceptive.

Do I feel outrage about the time I hid the receipt for an online purchase until the evidence was on my doorstep?  Am I outraged about my pride? About trying to control people? About not praying? About my out-of-control anger? About giving less than I can to the poor? About being uncharitable in my thoughts towards good and faithful priests who happen to test my patience?

Good and evil do exist side by side in every man, so even if the circumstances of my life prohibit me from committing the exact sin that Father Thomas, or even Maciel committed, sins of public duplicity, of taking advantage of people's trust and good intention, of abuse, it is equally outrageous that I betray my own vocation in the ways that are particular to my own life.

Saint Paul says that if we must boast, we should boast of our own weakness, not of our astute ability to identify other people's sins. We could spend our whole lives cataloguing their sins, and never run out of things with which to be outraged (They use NFP selfishly. They have disordered sexual desires...). It's exhausting to think about.

When I consider my own weakness, the truth is that I don't feel outrage about my sin. If I'm able to silence the justifying reasons why I behaved the way I did for long enough to make a good confession, underneath I feel sadness and disappointment at my own Judas-y behavior, followed by tearful relief at God's mercy.

Poor Jesus gives his life for all of humanity, but can't even find twelve good men to eat at his table for his last meal. Judas betrays him. Peter denies him, and thousands of years in the future, priests continue to behave badly, and people keep ignoring their own sins, saying, Thank God I am not like them.


I no longer think that charity entails pretending that other people's faults don't exist, but it does seem to involve extending the same gentleness to others that I extend to myself.


I don't think that what Father Thomas did is excusable, but it is forgivable, and when I imagine that God has already forgiven him, which is most likely the case, maintaining any kind of personal outrage becomes too much labor. Rather, tears seem more appropriate.


It's no wonder the old priest in my town cries at the Word of God. Maybe tears are the only thing that make sense in response to the tragedy of human failing, and Christ's outrageous mercy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Crazy Bus

It's not all thunderclouds at the Duffys, in spite of several weeks of troubling news. We have now embarked on our annual busy season, which consists of the last two weekends in May during which we celebrate two birthdays and an anniversary. In addition, the time tends to bring other events, like First Communions, Parish Festivals, and Graduations.

This year has been a perfect storm of all of the above.

1. The Parish Festival was this weekend, and knowing I had a First Communion the same weekend, I told them I couldn't work this year. So they asked, naturally, if I would consider "chairing" an event, which only entails finding volunteers in advance.

Here's the thing with volunteer stuff-- I can only say no once. If my first no is met with another question that sounds like a mild compromise, I can never draw enough ammunition on the spot to answer a consecutive no, which is how, last year, in the throws of labor with a miscarriage, I became the Chair of the Skeeball booth. And this year, in the wake of several deaths in the family, with full knowledge I'd be celebrating two birthdays, an anniversary, a First Communion, and a graduation, I became Chair of the Three Point Challenge.

Believe it or not, my first mass email calling for volunteers yielded nothing. Not a soul answered. So, I began phase two of finding volunteers, whereby I go through the Parish directory and leave messages on people's voicemail--because no one answers my call when they don't recognize my number. Naturally, having heard my actual message, no one called me back--except for one woman who, with a little too much joy in her voice, let me know she was going to be out of town the weekend of the festival.

During phase three, I complain to friends who are parishioners about how no one has answered my request for volunteers. I usually get one or two guilt volunteers during this phase. And in phase four, I myself man the booth for all the empty slots I was unable to fill. This is why, Saturday night, after the house was cleaned, and the casseroles prepared for Sunday morning's First Communion, I was trekking off to the graveyard shift at the festival, rather than putting up my weary feet.

The Three Point Challenge made about $15 on that shift, which meant most of the time, I spent sitting at a table awaiting competitors, watching the Crazy Bus ride as hydraulic mechanisms shifted and a geometric pattern of lights made a slow circumference in the dark to the tunes of eighties hair bands. It was hypnotizing, actually--probably more restful than lying in bed thinking about everything I needed to do.


2. Among the things I needed to do, was figure out who all was coming to my house the following day. Because it occurred to me, that in my quest to find people to work the festival, I might not have done a very good job of inviting people to our party. I know I had told all the family verbally, but I'd never sent invitations in writing. And there was a slew of friends I wanted to invite, but I was waiting to invite until I knew whether or not I'd actually pull off the party.

I didn't know I was pulling off the party until the night before, sitting and watching the Crazy Bus-- it occurred to me that I had done it--I had accomplished all the shopping, cooking and cleaning I needed to do to have a big party, and I hadn't invited anyone but family, a few of whom had already sent regrets.

After the Mass on Sunday, at which my daughter received her First Communion, looking angelic and feeling great fervor for the Lord (maybe), my sister-in-law let me know that one of her kids had thrown up in the bushes outside Church and that she was taking her brood and heading home. My other brother-in-law had a fence to paint, or something, which made the head count at the party a rousing four grandparents.

So, I started inviting people at Church, and I managed to rope in some friends who have a bunch of kids--actually, one daughter and four boys, like us--and voila--a party!


3. So, I think it all came off ok this weekend. I'm up to my ears in leftover casserole, which I tried foisting on the kids for dinner last night, and again for breakfast this morning. There's still the option of a casserole dinner tonight, but the kids are already starting to make fun of me for answering "casserole" to their every inquiry.

For example, "What's for dessert?"--Casserole.


"What's going on tomorrow?" -- Casserole.



"Who's coming to my birthday party next week?"--Casserole


Which reminds me, next weekend, I've got to conjure up another party or four, for the birthdays and the fifth grade graduation, oh, and a kindergarten graduation (which we'll probably fluff over due to the rousing preschool graduation we celebrated for the same pupil last year). I'm going to give myself a little break though before I start thinking about it--maybe til Wednesday when school's out, and I'm sure to have all kinds of time for party planning and casserole making. Though maybe next week we'll just have hot dogs so I have time to invite some guests.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pub life


A couple weeks ago, my husband and I had an argument. Things escalated, yada, yada, and before we knew it, three days of monosyllabic conversation sans eye contact had ensued. 
Then the phone rang. It was my friend Pedge inviting us over to play cards with her and her husband. I agreed, procured a babysitter, and said to my husband, "Do you want to make up so we can go play Euchre?"


(If you've been around for awhile, you've probably read my post at Patheos this week here on my blog in 2009, but if not, it's on drinking and the public life of the family.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sinners, celebrities, and the Internet

So, I was a member of Regnum Christi, the lay arm of the Legionaries of Christ, for a very long time. I joined in college, in Rome at Easter time. After college, I lived at Mater Ecclesiae for a year, which is a Regnum Christi house of formation for their Consecrated members. I was a co-worker, which is a lay position, in which an unmarried person can commit up to three years to working full time for the Movement. I met my husband through Regnum Christi. We were married by a Legionary Priest. Some of my closest female friends, I met through the Movement. After marriage and kids, I continued to participate, up until shortly after the allegations against Father Maciel were confirmed. And then I couldn't participate any more.

I didn't know instantly that I could no longer participate. My entire adult life was predicated on a faith and Charism that I learned in the Movement. I started out just taking a break, to think things through.

Pedge and I had brought together a large group of women who were all ready to begin a study course in which they would discern if they wanted to join Regnum Christi too, but the night before our first meeting, the news of Father Maciel's transgressions broke.

We informed the ladies that we wouldn't be doing RC stuff after all. Instead, Pedge and I went to a local Catholic book store, and picked out a Bible study course that had many copies of the book in stock, so we could begin without waiting for an order to come in.

The book wasn't very good, and after the first few meetings, attendance started to drop. Pedge and I kept discussing the group--what are we giving them, if not Regnum Christi? All I had to offer them was this charism I had learned through that group, and if that's not what we were doing, why were we doing anything? Anyone can read a book about Women of the Bible.

The group dissipated, but Pedge and I, and some other women continued to meet to have coffee, and read the upcoming Sunday's Gospels. We say a Come Holy Spirit prayer. We read. Then we reflect on the Word, and on what's going on in our lives. When the chat becomes shallow, we know the Gospel reflection part of our meeting is over. We talk about our kids and spray tans, and then we might have lunch and go home.

We don't worry about adding anyone to our group.  A few women have come and gone--but it's been more of a social connection rather than a spiritual one. "Recruitment" is a word we have expunged from our vocabulary, and we've been surprised by how liberating it is to see other women, not for what we can offer them, or for their potential to enrich the Movement, but just because they're Christian women who might want to pray with us, or they might not. Doesn't matter.

Only in hindsight does it occur to me the arrogance with which I used to approach other women (I'm about to offer you a guaranteed and approved method of becoming Holy, a method you clearly need), also the ways in which I used to objectify them as "RC material," someone having the leadership skills and attractive qualities necessary to entice even more members to the Movement.

I've also been surprised by how much the Church has grown in my understanding, since I no longer participate in Regnum Christi. I had developed a habit of measuring every liturgy, every Parish, every priest by how they compared to Regnum Christi and the Legion, which meant that parishes, priests and liturgies were always disappointing me. Liturgy and reverence for the Eucharist are things the Legion does very, very well.

Slowly, my perspective has changed, and Parishes, priests and liturgies of all kinds have become a source of joy and wonder to me--the bigness, the diversity of charisms, the universality of Catholicism. And every year, I become more and more disappointed with what has been uprooted in Regnum Christi and the Legion--more scandals, more abuses.

This morning, in my inbox, I had another email from RC (I'm still on the mailing list) that Father Thomas D Williams had fathered a child "a number of years ago," while he was a priest. This comes after the Vatican has opened another investigation in response to more abuse allegations from other Legionary priests. The blogs are talking about the fall of "Another Celebrity Priest." And frankly, I'm sort of bored.

I'm bored with celebrity priests, first of all--a feeling that began with the canned adulation that opened up any time Father Maciel used to enter a room. I remember so vividly the confusion I felt about it--why does he have body guards? Why are people cheering for him? Why am I cheering just because everyone else is? All of this goes so completely against the grain of my understanding of the priesthood--of Christ, of being the Least. It goes against my understanding of Christianity, to seek out and encourage popular admiration.

I'm bored with celebrity, second of all. Who, in this age of stats, and pageviews, and followers, and "likes," turns down celebrity of any kind? There but by the grace of God go I. I blogged my way out of Regnum Christi, as I began this blog just as I was leaving the Movement, and found my way into a new cult of celebrity to which I am surely not immune.

Would I say no if Fox News called today to ask for my opinion on something? Would I turn down radio interviews, television appearances, a book deal? Probably not. And why not? What is it in me that just can't say no? I wonder if it isn't that same sort of arrogance that led me to believe I had something life-changing to offer the sinful "other" that is not me. Of course for Christians in the media, it could also be a kind of humility that's willing to weather criticism for voicing unpopular ideas. It could be both arrogance and humility wound together in one complex soul.

So the last boring part of this story is when a media Catholic--priest or not-- turns out to be a sinner. Because who were we kidding, ever, at any time, that someone in the spotlight would not eventually fall from its grace, and in so doing, also not potentially fall from God's grace as well?

Fortunately, there's always a way back.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tears in my Beer


My life is starting to sound like a country music song. First my Grandma died, now my dog. 

I know the loss of a Grandmother and the loss of a dog, are not on the same level at all. But I've got five kids who spent every day with their dog; some of them slept with him. I spent more time alone with him than I do with my husband just because we were here together all day long. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth for dearly departed Doug the dog, and it's not just the kids.

For some reason it always hurts worse when a death is untimely, and Doug was just getting good. He finally, could sit alone in a room with a discarded sneaker, and NOT eat it. We had replaced our front door that he ate. I just sold my car, the steering wheel of which he chewed--all the signs of his former bad habits had been whitewashed, and we'd moved into a new stage of Doug, lying peacefully at our feet while we watched a movie, Doug, gently licking the salt off your shins as you sit drinking water on the porch, Doug, waiting patiently while we finished our dinner to move in and clean up table scraps left on the kids' chairs and the floor, a Doug we could trust, a Doug we could enjoy, a Doug who was always a gem to look at, and was equally pleasant to be around. I have been walking around my yard and my house for two days now stupidly asking myself, "Where IS my dog?"

Well, he's in a big mound in the back yard. I even half expect him to come charging out of it, fine as he was three days ago, the day I had no idea would be his last, when I'd taken him for a walk, and he'd pounced on some kind of a rodent in the tall clover at the side of the road, and the sun gleamed on his black coat, his tail up and alert, and I thought that is one fine-looking dog.

Later that night, I was on my way into town to go to a school fundraiser, and I was almost there when my husband called to tell me that he had some bad news. My oldest son was walking my daughter to her soccer practice at the fields across the street, and after they had safely crossed, Doug ran after them, right into an oncoming truck. My son heard the unmistakeable noise, and turned around to see his pet rolling in the street. He ran back. The man driving the truck stopped, thankfully, and they discerned that he was killed instantly.

My husband carried him up to the house, and that's where I found my son when I got home about thirty minutes later, still sitting under the tree, sobbing and petting his dog, who was bleeding from the ears and mouth. We dug a big hole. My daughter picked some of the blooming Irises and Peonies out of the garden, which we tossed over him, and the deed was done. Doug was all but erased from our lives. After the kids were in bed, I vacuumed the house, mopped the kitchen floor, moved the dog bed and bowls out of our entry way, and carried the two forty pound bags of dog food out to the garage. And at night, making the rounds before bed, there was this void in the house, this absence. 

Today I recognize the absence not just of the dog, but there's an absence of so many other things, like an absence of anxiety when someone leaves a sandwich unguarded on the kitchen table, or when someone leaves the car doors gaping open. In the past, the dog would have eaten the sandwich and jumped into the car for a nap, probably with muddy feet. There's a new recognition that I'm going to have to clean up after myself when I drop rogue cheerios out of my fist, while munching them throughout the house, or when someone spills a glass of milk on the floor. I used to just call the dog. And there's a new anxiety about leaving the doors unlocked, or my husband being out of town. Doug was very friendly, but intimidating. Our UPS guy wouldn't even come up the driveway if the dog was out. 

And the squirrels in the yard are having a party. I've never seen so many squirrels climbing around on my husband's truck and the swing-set. I'd trained the dog to stay out of my garden, but he also kept other critters away, and they are impossible to train, though they come around as they like now.

I was talking to my mom the other day, about what she's going to do now that she no longer drives into Indianapolis two days a week to visit with my grandma. She just got her forty-year-old sewing machine fixed and is talking about learning how to sew altar cloths like her friend Jane does. 

"I've got two days in my schedule now that I didn't used to have, and I just want to make sure I use them wisely, rather than letting them fritter away," she said. "I don't want to spend them shopping or being on the internet."

It's tempting sometimes to think that having our lives freed from the demands of all these people or other living creatures who command our attention will be some great new freedom, and I'll finally get to use my time how I want to (I admit to longing for a time when my house didn't smell like a dog.). But it's not freedom really. It's loss. Being more alone in the world is always a loss.







Later Doug

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thigh Problems

Apparently it's time to break out the shorts. Which should mean fun times for summer lovers. Unfortunately, I have a genetic complication with shorts season, in that, of the two sets of thighs in the photo above, I got the set on the right. They're great thighs if you're in the NFL.

They are not great thighs if you are an aging woman who is less than six feet tall. I've often wondered if I missed a calling as a women's rugby player, or a rower. I do run, which has never been my calling, being a thick-boned woman with chafing thighs, but it burns calories and helps me think, and so a large part of my life has been devoted to finding the right pair of shorts in which to do so.

(Fun family memory: Nine years old, wearing corduroys for a hiking trip in the Smokey Mountains, my thighs were bleeding due to the inseam of my pants. I was crying for my parents to carry me, but I wasn't a little girl by any standards, so the obvious solution was just to take the pants off. We were alone on the trail anyway. But I didn't want to hike in my unders; I didn't want to hike, period. So I threw a tantrum, which didn't do much for getting us the three miles we needed to travel out of the woods. At wit's end, my parents tried to remove my pants by force, which caused me to scream, "Don't take my pants off! I don't want you to take my pants off!" in shrieking tones. And it was at that moment, that we saw the only other people in the woods on that day. I don't know how my parents explained themselves.)

Anyway, after all these years, they are now making running shorts for people like me--biking shorts with something like a skirt built over them--called, The Skapri.


(As you can see, I have no idea how to take a photo off the internet and put it on a blog so that it looks right.)

Leggings cover the biggest part of the leg, and prevent chafing. Skirt slims and covers your bum. Best pants ever (and I'm not getting paid for this).

(P.S. You can find them cheaper than at the above-linked website. I found mine at the Rack for half that price.)

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Clearly, I've got nothing interesting going on in my mind, so please read this post at Reading for Believers instead. Any time Otepoti writes, you know you're going to be led on a very good ride. This one takes her from New Zealand to China where she helps out her friend, Pentimento, by shepherding P's adopted son back to the United States.

Friday, May 4, 2012

People and Things

I live about 45 minutes outside of Indianapolis, so when I go into town for a meeting on Thursday mornings, I'm always tempted to go shopping afterwards. There's a Trader Joe's and a TJ Maxx right around the corner from Pedge's house, where we hold our meeting, and I imagine, over the years, I've saved thousands of dollars by repeating the mantra to myself "people before things" and heading to my Mimi's house instead.

There, I'd sit on the couch and flip through the knee high stacks of catalogs that Mimi kept on the floor surrounding her favorite chair, and we'd eat lunch, and get caught up on the past week, maybe watch a soap opera.

I don't know how many pregnancies I announced to my grandmother in this setting, nor how many times she asked if I was pregnant when I wasn't--as pregnancies have been the primary news of my life for the past ten years.

 Mimi wasn't always enthusiastic about these announcements--the most recent one being about this time last year. She was an only child, a Protestant, an advocate of not-so-natural family planning, and usually the revelation that I was expecting again came with an almost, but not quite congratulating statement like, "At least I know they'll be cared for in your family."

I never quite knew how to respond to these statements, and the implications that came with them--that children required certain material satisfaction in order to be welcome in the world. My instinct was to be as matter-of-fact as possible, and also politely casual about the news--dropping it as I would any other bits of information--in between bites of a sandwich. "Well, people before things."

 "I thought you were happy with the number of people in your family," she said. 

"And I still will be."

 Of course, when the babies arrived, there was no one who bragged louder than my grandmother at the gratuitous number of great-grandchildren she'd been given. It was one of the first things she mentioned in meeting anyone new, "I was an only child. I had three kids, nine grandkids and 29 great-grand children. Can you believe it?"

And when Mimi heard the news that I had lost that most recent pregnancy, she was one of the first people to call me, crying on the phone saying, "I just want you to know, if I could, I'd be holding my little Boo-baby here on my lap right now." Boo-baby is me--that whole side of the family calls me Boo--always has.

So, the family has been going through Mimi's things, now that the person who accumulated them is gone. For awhile, the cousins and siblings did a fragile Texas Two-step among these items:

You take it.

 No you.

 No you.

 Well, ok.

And in the process of wondering if everyone was getting the right things Mimi wanted them to have, my sister and I started hypothesizing how we'd split up our own mother's goods, and how we might work out the more difficult distributions even now, before we're overwhelmed by her one-day inevitable death. We may be tactless and rude, but we will be prepared.

My mother has rings, some that were my paternal grandmothers, some that were Mimi's. And at the end of a day, after two funeral meals, and several hours sorting through and thinking about jewelry I actually said out loud, "My mouth hurts from eating too much sugar, and my brain hurts from thinking about diamonds."

 "Sounds like a first world problem to me," said my sister-in-law.

 "I'm a monster!" was the going feeling that night, and the pendulum swung back to monk-like levels of detachment. I don't want any of it. Please do not offer me another thing. I will say no.

Nevertheless, family went home. People taking their bequests, loaded them up into pick-up trucks and Mimi's diaspora settled her former belongings into various parts of the country. Youngish families furnished rooms in their homes. Knick-knacks found new coffee tables to sit upon.

Yet there was still a house full of stuff remaining. Where did it all come from? Mimi's house never looked like it was hiding so much stuff. But she loved shopping, loved jewelry, loved clothes, and a bargain, and figurines, and tea-pots, and plastic storage containers, and colonial candles.

There are five closets filled with clothes, most of them out of date. There were three boxes full of costume jewelry. A few pieces of fine jewelry, with receipts attached so she would not forget their value.

The thing I'm most surprised to have brought home are Mimi's nylon Vasarrette pajamas--the kind you occasionally come across at a thrift store, smelling like mothballs, a bit faded, and think, "Uh oh, Someone's grandma just died." It is different when they belonged to your own grandma. I've been wearing them to bed.

My husband's default position is that most of what I bring home from thrift stores, garage sales, and grandparents' houses is crap. We have reached a point in the furnishing of our living room where certain doors and corners cannot be accessed because of furniture I keep scooting aside to make room for one more piece--this couch from my cousins, this chair from Mimi's bedroom, this end table I picked up from someone's trash heap.

I like crap in spite of how distasteful and unbecoming I know it is to like crap. If my husband weren't moving things out the back door as fast as I bring them in the front door, there would be no room in this house for people. So the "people before things" mantra becomes more and more important for me as we sort through the things people keep leaving behind. Most of it cannot improve your life in any noticeable way, and will end up being someone else's burden to dispose of--except maybe for those coasters, and the steak knives...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The problem of other people

Suffering from emotional frigidity? Are other people's feelings getting on your nerves? Do you ever secretly suspect that your only true love is yourself?

Maalox might help.

And/ or my column at Patheos today.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Wedding and a Funeral

My cousin Rachel is a hospice nurse. When she sold her house in anticipation of her upcoming nuptials, it made sense for her to move in temporarily with our grandmother, "Mimi," who was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her stomach around Christmas time. Everyone knew that a move for Mimi, out to live with my Mom, was inevitable at some point, but it was not her preference to leave home. So Rachel spent her nights there, and a caregiver came to stay with Mimi during the day while Rachel worked.

 On Monday, when Rachel and I were on our way to shop for the wedding trousseau, we received a call notifying us that Mimi had fallen and couldn't get up. So we made a detour, drove by the house, and picked Mimi up, literally. She was tired, but still in relatively good spirits, and her Minister from Church had arrived to visit, so Rachel and I went on to our errand.

 When we returned, Mimi wanted to look at what we'd bought, so we laid the lovelies out on the bed for her to see, and she raised her eyebrows and said, "What you need to know is whether your fiance is a butt man or a boob man. They're all either one or the other."

 And Rachel said, "Mimi! Get your mind out of the gutter! I don't know that, because we're not married yet."

 Mimi also used to sing a song that went "Oh, I wish I were a fascinating lady, with a future so bright and a past kind of shady." I forget the whole lyric, but it ends on the note--"Instead of a minister's wife!"--which is exactly what Mimi had been until my Grandpa died several years ago. There's a certain dirty sense of humor that only a True Innocent can pull off. But still, if I have my own tendency towards ribald humor, it's probably Mimi's fault.

 Rachel and Mimi interacted like two warring sisters while they lived together. Mimi, still hoping to return to health had hidden her car keys so Rachel couldn't hide them from her. She said to Rachel, "When are you getting your stuff out of here? I'm ready to have my space back."

 And Rachel answered, "What do you need space for? You going to start aerobics?"

 "No, I just like my space." Mimi's long time mantra has been, "There is no roof in the world wide enough for two women to live under." All things considered, however, Rachel and Mimi were making a pretty good go of it. Some moments were tense, but others were tender. When we were picking Mimi off the floor she said, "You're so rough! Stop hurting me!" Not long after that, she said, "What would I do without you? You take such good care of me."

 On Friday night after the wedding rehearsal, Rachel went home to Mimi's rather than staying with my cousins so she could get extra sleep. She had more packing to do so she decided to take the risk that Mimi would keep her up throughout the night with trips to the bathroom, etc.

 "What are you doing here?" Mimi asked when Rachel returned.

 "I decided to come home and get things done. I'm getting married in the morning, you know." She showed Mimi the pictures on her phone of the decorating we'd done that day.

 Mimi said, "It's going to be beautiful. I wish I could be there." Then they both went to sleep.

 A half hour later, Mimi called out for help to the bathroom. Rachel went into her bedroom, and Mimi stood up and died.

 ***

 The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. We went ahead with the wedding the following day. A few days later, everyone came back into town for a funeral.

My mom and I have been at Mimi's house all afternoon, going through things…so many things. And I'm not sure any of us have put the necessary closure on this era in our lives--my last surviving grandparent has just died. She was happy to go. We're all happy for her that she got to stay at home until the end, and that she didn't suffer much -- her death happened quickly, while she was in action, which is like her. She was almost ninety. 

Anyway, I've been meaning to tie all of my thoughts together on the subject, but I can't. I'll be back to blogging whenever I'm back.