When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~ Kahlil Gibran, from"The Prophet"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

from the pew in the middle

The combination of too many gray days strung together and the recent loss of two very dear people ~ a girl I've known since first grade and the mother of a friend/matriarch of a special family ~ has caused poor Keenan's mane to be soaked as of late.

The death of my friend was another sobering reminder of the fragility of life - of the devastating effect of unexpected tragedy's ability to boldly make its presence known yet again. I didn't need to be reminded.

Mary Jo is the first of us to leave.
One from my group of grammar school friends.

The tall, thin, gorgeous one wearing the white dress and the brightest smile.
This is our girl!

She left three children who are in their twenties; two daughters and a son, who will now have to maneuver through the remainder of their lives without the benefit of their mother's wisdom and advice when facing life's challenges or her presence to celebrate future milestones. And, she left her own mother to bear the sorrow of letting go of her daughter, still her beloved child even at the age of 52 years.

These three young adults matured before my eyes as the weight of responsibilities began settling firmly on their shoulders. Children, with the adult task of burying their mother. I marveled at their poise as each stood before the mourners gathered at mass, with their individual eulogies blending to capture the essence of our Mary Jo ~ a woman who was sweet and generous of heart, who could talk to the shiest of individuals and within minutes make them feel at ease, who reminded everyone to have a good time because a mess could always be cleaned up later, whose beaming smile, contagious laughter and vibrant personality lit any room she walked into...  who had the fine and often elusive art of living for the moment down to perfection.

With genuine exuberance, one daughter told us after mass that they would honor their mother's wishes by scattering her ashes from the top of a mountain in Colorado ~ a fitting tribute to recognize the need for Mary Jo's spirit to fly, unobstructed. Free.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Catherine Mary, nee McGowan, a proud Irish lady she was, forged bravely through the adversity life tends to heap on certain chosen souls, and buried not only her husband, but two of her eight children as well - a son many years ago and a daughter, my friend, from cancer six years ago. Kay met cancer as well, and after facing the wreckage bestowed by this all too familiar adversary once again, was finally ready at the age of 79 for well-deserved peace. I must again emphasize here that I detest cancer. I don't think I can ever say those words enough.

For years, our community has been a privileged witness to the strength of this family as they stoically rallied around first one, and then the other. They cared for their own as each tragedy struck, and they graciously reached out to others in need (me, for one) through a delightful combination of selfless acts of generosity and an unbridled sense of humor. One could learn a multitude from The Battles.  Kay's daughter was not only my friend, but my principal/my boss, and though I didn't know at the time that I would one day draw upon her example with my own daughter, she was the role model who taught me it was possible to LIVE with cancer while raising four sons and running a school. Part of the reason she was able to do all of that was because she had Kay.

Kay's grandchildren are fully aware of her role in their lives. One of the four boys, now young men, spoke on behalf of the family at mass, delivering a poignant eulogy that clearly articulated their admiration, devotion and love for their grandmother. I just sat in that pew and thought ~ Dear God, the four of you buried your mother six years ago! How does this happen? And yet it does, and there they all were, as handsome, confident and eloquent as ever. You guys done good! Each and every one of you.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

These funerals occurred last weekend within a few days of one another, and though I attended a couple of others not long after Erin died, I found myself profoundly affected by Mary Jo's and Kay's. I understand now that the numbness of Erin's death still provided a protective coat against reality back then, and now I'm all here, so to speak. Also, my relationship with each of these families runs deep.

I know now that I was not all there when we went through the process with Erin, and as I sat at these two funerals, this time in a pew in the middle of the church as opposed to the prominent seat up front and center, I wondered how in God's name any of us is able to plan these beautiful farewells to our loved ones when we are so grief-stricken. My only explanation is that we all function on raw energy and adrenaline, and are fueled by the overwhelming need for our goodbyes to be perfect. At least I was.

Looking back now, I wouldn't change a thing we did. We'd sat in our living room by the fire the day after Erin died, and together carefully chose readings and songs we felt portrayed who she was, how she'd lived and how we hoped all would go forward carrying her spirit ~ changed "For Good". I know these two families just did the same thing.  Both services were beautiful.

As I entered the rooms in that same funeral home over the weekend, I envisioned the endless line of people who'd attended Erin's wake, and I caught myself reliving the scenes from that December day when Dave and I had first walked in to make the plans for our daughter.

I saw the room where we'd sat at the desk with the funeral director as he calmly guided us through unthinkable decisions ~ How many mass cards? 1200 please. What would you like printed on the back? The Tagore quote, now copied in my blog's sidebar. We need a snowflake printed behind the lettering. What kind of flowers would you like? Red roses, bunches of various evergreens, dogwood twigs - red. Simple. Nothing fussy. The school children all made paper snowflakes and wrote prayers to Erin on them. Can we hang them on the walls here? Thank you. Now, let's write the obituary for the newspapers. Will there be a luncheon afterward?...

And then, there's the door that opens to the stairway that leads to the room. By no means a Stairway to Heaven, this is an ascent to a hellish loft where the sight of so many boxes with brass handles threatens overwhelming suffocation as one's eyes dart from pine to oak to cherry to... and you're asked about this color lining and that color pillow, until you finally point THAT ONE and then babble, "When we drop off her clothes we're going to drop off her own pillow case from home, the lime green one with white polka dots from her bed." and then pray you don't fall as you run down those stairs while stifling the urge to scream at the top of your lungs.

They're going to put our daughter in a box made of cherry wood.

The awareness followed me into the church, and both days as I watched the families of Mary Jo and Kay walk the long aisle from vestibule to altar, I clearly saw our own family in them. I saw us enter the back of the church and gather around the casket. I saw the priest sprinkle the holy water to recall the waters of baptism and then lay the white pall to be draped over the top. I saw us walk up the aisle, and I remember, only from a sensation of periphery, that the church was filled. I couldn't take my eyes off the white-cloaked box now rolling along on wheels that held my daughter. I'd walked to the front pew with my family, looked straight ahead and tried to absorb as much of our carefully chosen readings and music as I could. I tried very hard not to cry because I wanted to hear it all. I know I only really heard part of it, but I know it was beautiful.

This time, as I sat in a pew in the middle of the church with friends, for Mary Jo and then for Kay, I was acutely aware of the readings and the music and the homilies, and I grieved. I felt sadness over the deaths of my friends and for the families they left behind, but I selfishly grieved for myself as well, for due to the clarity of it all now, I felt I said goodbye to Erin all over again in their goodbyes and I felt a surge of my own pain, fresh again in their pain.

But, I also clearly heard the strength of the voices of the children, the young adults who spoke with such confidence, and I remembered Chris doing the same in his eulogy for Erin, and in this time-suspended state of being, where I still feel like I certainly must be living someone else's life, I have the hope that ALL our beloved will never be forgotten.  I hope that their spirits will be carried out the doors of the church and on through the lives of those of us who continue on in this crazy world.

And through my grief, 
that thought makes me smile.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lace 'em Up!


design courtesy of Spirit Products, Inc

Lots of folks have been working behind the scenes
and the excitement is building, with plans for
T-shirts, a serve-a-thon, raffle prizes, split-the-pot, 
concessions, trophies, medals, school dress-down day...

Junior High Competitions
Saturday, February 5th - 8th Grade Games
Sunday, February 6th - 7th Grade Games

Last year, through the generosity of the community,
$10,000 was raised.

All proceeds from this year's event will be directed to THE BEAR NECESSITIES PEDIATRIC CANCER FOUNDATION. Please CLICK HERE to read more about this organization that funds medical research grants, offers service grants for programs within pediatric oncology facilities across the nation and serves the Chicago-area hospitals with their wonderful Bear Hugs program that eases some of the many challenges a cancer diagnosis brings to patients and their family members.

New this year!
Dust off those shoes.

Recent Grads & Not-so-Recent Grads
Alumni Games - Friday, February 4th

Contact your classmates and form a team ahead of time.
Or, come on your own and join with others that night.
We'll mix and match groups.
If you're not able to play, show up for the fun of it!
It's reunion time.
We want parents on the sidelines cheering too.
It's time to pack The Barn and make some noise against cancer! 

Arrive at 6:30pm and we'll put a schedule together.
15-minute games.  Lots of playing time.

An entry fee of $20 includes a special Alumni T-shirt.
Medals too.  They even have snowflakes on the back!
Please RSVP through a blog comment below
and include your T-shirt size.
We want to know how many players to expect and 
we need to place the alumni T-shirt order ahead of time.
Respond as soon as possible.  Thank you.
We'll gather at Ledo's afterwards, just like the old days!

I found some old team pictures to motivate you all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Yes girls, before I coached I played with the Class of '72.
Hmmm, where am I in this lovely black & white team picture?
We may be part of the Not-so-Recent Grads group now
but we were pretty tough back then. 
I think... if I can remember back that far.
Come on, Wincie, Lynda and Sue!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The class of '96 has already begun pre-game warmups
through some rigorous Facebook message exercises.
Teammates are getting pretty fired up through
memories of past techniques and game strategies.
There's talk about a team uniform and matching hair scrunchies.
Lord help us! This should be a real treat.
Watch out for Sarah's Team!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Two of you in this group have sisters on the '96 team.
I'd think you'd want to show up the "old girls"!
Tell Erin M we can have a pasta party. 
She'll get on a plane for that!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
OK, all of you recent college graduates
Come on out and show your stuff!
Remember the color charts I gave you?
What are your color-personalities now?
We've got some serious players in this group
and a few new nurses too, just in case
one of the Not-so-Recent Grads goes down.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This group is missing a pretty important team member,
and she'd sure love to see all of you out there
showing the others how it's done.
Come home from school for Super Bowl Weekend
and kick back at cancer too!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
You girls were my last team
and I was only able to coach you in 5th grade.
Come on out and show everyone what you're made of
now that you're in high school
cuz you were awfully good back then!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I only have pictures of the teams I coached,  
and think of how many more of you are out there.
Cletus Coach Sue Lovett Rejdukowski doesn't have 
her team picture. Hmmm, where can it be?
She's been working so hard on tournament preparation
and hasn't had the time to look!

Please come out on Friday, February 4th.
We'll all have so much fun!
Remember to RSVP with T-shirt size.

Mary, Dave, Chris, Sarah, Matt
and ^ Erin ^

If you'd like to order one of the tournament T-shirts,
please click HERE to download a form.
Fill it out and mail it with a check to ~
St Cletus School
Erin Potts Invitational
700 W 55th Street
La Grange, IL 60525

Let us know on the form that you'll be picking the shirt up at the event.
If you live out of town and would like it mailed to you
make sure you include your complete address.
Thank you for your purchase. Your donation is greatly appreciated.

Monetary donations in memory of Erin may also be mailed directly to ~

Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation
55 W Wacker Drive
Suite 1100
Chicago, IL  60601



Thursday, January 13, 2011

Healing and Light

Earlier today, my blog friend Karen posted the poem "Allow" from Go In and In and shared how its words touched her personally. Please click here to read her thought-filled reflection.

I actually own a copy of this book, which is a beautiful collection of works by Danna Faulds, a yoga practitioner and instructor who integrates her spirituality and exquisite gift of writing into her practice.

I went to a yoga class today for the first time since Erin passed away. I had been a regular before she got sick and also during parts of those three years, reaping many benefits from the discipline. I fell away from the practice as life became more challenging. Big mistake. The instructor today was wonderful. I should have started doing this again months ago.
I was challenged, I was focused, I was in heaven and I will be incredibly sore tomorrow!

When I returned home I read Karen's blog which caused me to pull out my book. I'd marked the passage below, along with several others to which I'd related at various times. I remember doing so with this particular poem very soon after Erin died, crawling onto the sofa of familiarity with the part about being "pulled out at the roots, thrashed on the ground... chaff" - a shell of my former self.

As I read through the poem several times, I realized how accurately these words sum up so much of what I've experienced and written about while progressing through different stages over the past year since Erin's death, just beginning on this new path. It's personally affirming to see the acknowledgement of the many facets of healing, the right to be present with pain and the recognition of the shift that occurs which allows the opening for grace to enter. I could easily comment about each of her thoughts ~ the laying on of hands, asking for help, openness to the unknown...

I was especially struck today by the last several lines about choice and light, for it supports what I just wrote about in my previous post in relation to the decision concerning at which part of the print to begin one's focus.

There is healing in the laying on of hands;
in the letting go of fear, in asking for help,
in silence, celebration, prayer.
There is healing in speaking the truth and in keeping still,
in seeking sunlight and not shunning struggle.
Laughter and the affirmation of wholeness hold their own healing.

When the soul dances, when the day begins in delight,
when love grows and cannot be contained,
when life flows from moment to moment,
healing happens in the space between thoughts,
and the breath before the first sung note.
Healing is a birthright and a grace.
When we dare to be open to the unknown,
when we extend ourselves in caring,
when we welcome in the vast expanse of life,
healing comes from the heart, and blossoms from the inside out.

Something in me is being pulled out at the roots,
thrashed on the ground, the tender parts bared, beaten,
left to dry and blow away like so much chaff.
Something is dying.
The clear sky of mind is obscured by cloud and illusion,
the moon neither rises nor sets now,
and the debts of a lifetime demand payment.
This is when faith is tested.
The choice to discredit what I know and crawl into a hole of my own making
will leave me bereft of any consolation.
To be present with pain is the only path worth taking.

To acknowledge light is not denying darkness,
but oh, how hard it is to recall there is a choice,
a chance to ask for strength and grace.
And in the asking, there is the subtlest of shifts, an opening to receive.
There is one ray of light, then more.
I open the door, take one deep breath and begin another day.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Disposition of the Day

After the holiday decorations are relegated to the back of the closet, my house assumes a different feel for a few months. In contrast to the colorful array more pronounced during the Christmas season, I prefer to be surrounded by natural tones during this time of year.  They seem to be more reflective of dormancy, feeding my prevailing inclination toward spending a good deal of time wearing flannel pants while wrapped in my favorite afghan, and lounging on the couch in front of a roaring fire ~ ahhh, hibernation.

I found this Helles Bild print at IKEA over the weekend,
framed it and put it on the mantel.

Its images are comfortingly familiar,
a focal point in tune with the rhythm of my emotions.
I'm drawn to its ability to provoke a divergence of thought pattern,
 a litmus test of the disposition of the day.

If I start from the bottom, I see ~

thick mud impeding the ability to step with ease, a retardant mire
looming obstacles barring the way, another potential dead end
no clear-cut path to follow, confusion, a crowd of conflicting thoughts
shadows, fear lurking in the unseen, hidden in the unknown
dampness, the overwhelming weight of saturation, drowning
dense fog, a shroud obscuring the view of what lies ahead
a bone-chilling ache of sadness
strong elements of isolation, abandonment, loss

oh, wait... there's light pushing through
some brightness, an emergence of rays
a beginning
it could be hope, penetrating a darkness that feels overpowering
but, that light is the afterthought

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Now, look from the contrasting perspective.

On this day, the thought process begins at the top, with ~

a flood of light pouring forth, its radiance evaporating the damp mist
powerful rays penetrating the shadows, with nothing truly hidden
a pull toward the light, a draw to the one true path, faith
incandescence, warmth targeting a tired heart and soul
solitude, reflection, time without distraction, back to beginnings
mighty conifers, pillars of strength standing tall, steadfast, proud, ever green
a resting forest - sleeping, drinking, waiting
ingredients of rejuvenation, growth, energy, potential, a resurgence

the prominence of hope through the darkness
light is the first thought
and, rebirth is imminent
be patient... wait

Same image ~ different day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

With One Foot in 2011

My new Jennifer Garant Calendar is on the wall, and 2010 is history.
I just can't believe a whole year has come and gone!

Over the course of the past week I read over all of my blog posts since I began my foray into writing last February, and I found the entries to be a pretty accurate indicator of the ebb and flow path I've traveled during this first year after Erin's death. Wow, I was all over the place, wasn't I?

There were the occasions when true happiness was front and center. I love to see photos of myself and read accounts of those events.
Joy. Who'da thunk it?

At other times I grabbed opportunities, and was driven by an enthusiasm that rose from deep within, with eagerness and passion for a cause directing my days and giving me a sense of pupose.

I'm so grateful for those times, the spirited and the deliberate, for they help offset the others; when during those 365 days a page of my daily planner would turn, flippantly it seemed, and DARE me to face yet another grey morning. God, there's pain in those words that I wrote, and yet I won't deny their rightfully earned existence ~ those times when I stared at the awful vignettes that my mind will never fully release and I was consumed by overwhelming sadness.  Really really gone...

After all is said and done, at the beginning of 2011 I'm intact,
and I consider the survival of 2010 an accomplishment.

Our family weathered the year of Firsts without Erin. We stumbled, then righted ourselves through holidays, her birthday and the one year death anniversary, and we learned. It will be an ongoing process of adjustment as family dynamics change in the years to come, but I feel we did a darn good job considering our lack of experience on this particular subject.

Personally, I found the secret was to surround myself with family and friends with whom I could both acknowledge the sadness of that gaping hole in the landscape of my life and live in the present moment of the day's event ~ a successful integration of the two scenes. Tricky? Yep, sometimes. It depended on the cast of participants in the given scene. Since no one can ever fill the space Erin left, the presence of her spirit has to be a recognized accompaniment to each scene, not an unmentionable apparition to be ignored or gracelessly tip-toed around. The presence of people surrounding me can't take the place of the absence of Erin.

One is exclusive of the other
so, in effect, she needs to be invited to the party.

She's there in the 2010 Christmas pictures.  Do you see her?
She's captured in the spontaneity of the moments.

As I step out of 2010 and put a tentative foot into 2011, I still feel as though I'm in a free-fall, flailing about without mission or direction, and that sensation continues to terrify me. Even now, a year later, I haven't grown accustomed to the lack of routine and schedules that defined my life for as long as I can remember. The rug was pulled out from under nearly everything familiar and dear to me. It's a vulnerability that is unsettling and confusing. Some thrive on the freedom offered by a lack of structure. I don't.

So, my foremost goal in 2011 is to find that avenue ~ a focus through which to channel my attributes. I'm pretty sure I can still recognize most of them, although at times it feels as though they've deserted me... laid to rest in the earth with Erin. Damn, I used to be so confident!

I keep reminding myself to break things into reasonable portions and take small bites so as not to choke on the entire daunting task before me, so I will effort to heed the wisdom of the Kelty quote in my sidebar, and then ~

  • Eat more sensibly and exercise more consistently - seems to be on everyone's resolution list.
  • Read more. Some people say really great things, and you occasionally have to look between the lines, but it's worth the extra time involved.
  • Continue to write my blog as a means of expression and to provide a pathway of communication with others.
  • Work to strengthen existing relationships with friends and family who've persevered my storm, and look for ways to foster new companionships with those who get IT.
  • Stay in touch with others in my shoes, for they offer a safety net of understanding through their own experiences, and we often keep one another from hitting the ground too hard when those moments come.
  • Take deep breaths when I become anxious.
  • Wallow when I feel sad.
  • Remain open to suggestions from others.
  • Look for ongoing opportunities to get involved in causes that move me.
  • Clean a few closets and organize ignored corners that have collected cobwebs, including some recesses in my brain.
  • Try to walk forward, even when my knees are knocking.
  • Have fun!

Black-eyed peas are said to bring good luck,

and so I made some Hoppin' John for dinner on New Year's Day.
Hey, it's worth a try!

With one foot in 2011, I'm hoping to build on knowledge gained in 2010 and bring my other foot forward with more confidence, because those daily pages just keep on flipping.

And I was reminded by someone special that "every day is a learning experience and every event changes us in some way". This wise young lady is in her first year of college and aspires to be a pediatric oncology nurse. You go girl!

2011 resolutions anyone?