On the day people in Joplin, Mo., were searching the ruins for survivors of the tornado, we got a call from a survivor in Haiti. It was Claude Winddcheley Saturne, calling to say, “My long Lent is over.” He had started college classes that morning in Port-au-Prince.
My Table Is Spread
Sometime in the last two months, my mother stopped sleeping at night. The hospice nurses called it “sundowning.” My sister-in-law, who had just moved her father into a locked memory care unit, called it “dementia’s 36-hour day.”
Imagine a 100-pound newborn, her days and nights mixed up. Now imagine that the newborn has osteoarthritis and the faint beginnings of pressure sores along her protruding spine and skin the thickness and strength of moistened tissue paper. This is a baby who can neither be swaddled nor soothed.
Some years ago, my husband and I visited a Norbertine Abbey in Belgium. The abbot's chair looked like a throne. But just across from the chair, on a wall the abbot faced every day, was a carved skull. Underneath the skull the name of each former abbot was carved into the stone, with space left for the current abbot's name and for the names of those yet to be appointed abbot. Memento mori. (That's Latin for "Don't take this seat personally.")
On Dec. 27, my mother was diagnosed with pneumonia. We kept her home, Foley catheter and all. A visiting nurse came each day to give her a shot of the antibiotic Rocephin.
He’s retired now, our bishop emeritus, but for over 20 years, Richard Hanifen presided at midnight Mass at the cathedral. As Christmas Eve moved into Christmas Day, Hanifen would stand to greet us.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he said. And then, smiling, “I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in the El Paso County jail.”
From bedtime to Advent wreaths, ritual is part of the life of parenthood
When Americans say “faith,” we often mean “opinion,” or what we think about God. In truth, faith is a life, and lives are made up of actions, of deeds. Who cares what you think when a vomiting child wakes you at 3 a.m.? Who cares how you feel about it? Who needs your opinion on being startled from sleep by the sounds of retching from the crib? Only this matters: that you do get up and clean the mess and comfort the child.
Both died the same week. One of the dead was a neighbor, near my age, his heart broken after the suicide of his son, a soldier who had returned from Iraq changed in some terrible way.
Very near the anniversary of his son’s suicide, my neighbor took his own life.
One of the dead was a 14-month-old boy, the younger son of a young woman I have known since she was a child. He woke up well, or seemingly so, on Tuesday morning. By Wednesday morning his brain had ceased to function. By Thursday, the baby’s extended family had gathered and the nurses unhooked him from the machines that caused his chest to rise and fall in a terrible imitation of breathing.
My mother claws at her chin. The skin is red and raw. Sometimes it bleeds. If a protective scab forms over the wound, my mother scrapes it off.
The gerontology nurse tells us this behavior is typical of senile dementia. There is nothing to be done, except, perhaps, to “give her something else to do with her hands.”
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In his rule, St. Benedict describes one of the decrees of monastic life. The monk "is to promise, before God and his saints to be stable" -- that is, to settle in a place, one place, for life. It is not an assumption we share. Indeed, the notion of a grown man still living in the house where he was born conjures images of instability, mental and emotional. We imagine Boo Radley, afraid of the world beyond his porch.
Our world is shaped and defined not by stability of place, but by mobility and its partner, consumer choice. The premise of consumer choice is that, somewhere, the perfect fit between product and purchaser exists. It is the responsibility of the producer to offer it, the responsibility of the purchaser to find it. Shop till you drop.
This column first appeared July 20, 2009. Read the full column here: Sticking with an imperfect (church) fit
The last time my son-in-law, Corey, went to Haiti, I requested a souvenir from the gift shop at the Port-au-Prince airport. I wanted him to bring me a poster of “Les Chefs d’État d’Haiti, 1804-2011.” This display of the pictures of Haiti’s presidents -- individuals, as well as committees that have ruled throughout Haiti’s last 200 years -- tells the length of each person or cadre’s tenure.