30 April 2013

Final Hours (pt. 1)

Thursday. 11 PM.

Nothing brings a man to his knees quicker than a tragedy, especially one over which he has no control.
Nearly twelve hours ago I got a phone call that my great grandma, resilient at 81 years old, fell and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was being transferred to a larger, more capable hospital. I ran a few errands and was on the way to the hospital a few hours later and have been here ever since.

The hardest thing--harder than reliving memories or thinking about what she'll miss out on or how our family will react as a unit after--is really not knowing where her soul hangs in the balance. Because, really, even if she were the most devout person in the world, there's no way I can know for certain. I can guess or suppose or give myself or others comfort thinking it will all be okay, but that space of uncertainty is still there and there's nothing I can do about it.

Friday. 1.30 AM.

Our last family member coming in for the evening is here. Tomorrow until Monday more people will be arriving by plane, train and automobile from around the country and abroad (my estimate is 25 people). Services are expected Tuesday.

It strikes me as odd that, despite the grave circumstances, I am very happy to see everyone arriving. Then I realized that it makes perfect sense considering our family. Ours is huge (I have cousins whose names I don't even know) and it's a perfect testament to the woman my great grandmother is whose defining feature is love. As the matriarch of our family, she has been our strength and a fount flowing abundantly with love.


At yesterday's service different people in my family talked briefly about my great grandma, highlighting specific memories and basically saying how awesome she was. It wasn't until one of my great aunts was talking about the several Christmas cookies that she made and had cooling everywhere in her kitchen that I realized I'll never spend Christmas eve with Grandma Norma again.

Ever since I moved to this town nearly twelve years ago, we always had Christmas eve at my grandma's house. For half the years this side of recency, we would go to a Christmas eve service at church before our own festivities because it was then that we really started going to church regularly (though, we've never been a "Easter and Christmas only" attending family). We would usually have Mexican or Chinese or appetizers--something a bit unusual for Christmas--for dinner and we would often play games and just spend time together (as if we didn't spend enough time with each other outside of Christmas). Sometimes we would be allowed to open one present that night, which was often one that my grandma or great grandma had gifted us. We would return to our own house for the night, open presents there in the morning, then return to my grandma's for the rest of the gifts and often lunch of the leftovers from the previous night.

The Thoughts That Keep Me Up

My great grandmother's services were today (or yesterday, as it is when I post this). I'm thinking that it hasn't really hit me yet, likely because I haven't let myself dwell on the reality of it too much. I can't imagine her being gone, as my mom mentioned in her short speech to everyone today (which, naturally, had me bawling), so most of me worries (or maybe not so much worries, maybe just is a bit more than a bit concerned) about how things will change.

I know that the family has lost its great leader. As when my great great grandma died, her role as the head of the family fell to my great grandma. Now I'm not certain if my great grandma's role falls to someone else and if so, who that would be. I can't imagine that anyone could match her skills in the kitchen, in faith or in family matters. Aside from this new empty "leader" role, how often will family now visit? I know a lot of her children who lived all around the country visited her frequently, but will they still come back to visit in the same place, especially if their core is missing? Will I only see my (relatively) immediate family from now on (by whom I mean all of my grandma's kids and their families, which may be a lot to other people, but is not even a quarter of the rest of the family who was here the last several days)? How will life change for others who were much closer in their relationship with my great grandma? Will they lose a spark or become stronger or be depressed or become more God-centered?

27 April 2013

Her Greatest Legacy

I keep measuring in weird sequences of time:

One hour (and exceeding) since my Mom said she'd pick me up as I waited on the steps outside my apartment.
Over twenty hours since I'd eaten a meal and I'd fluctuate between being ravenous and sickened at the thought of food.
Two hours, three hours, four hours (which became six hours) until others would arrive in the city.
One hour since I sent for the priest and was kicked out for nurse rounds and check ups.
Another one hour since I sent for the priest (he got held up) and since my mom left for the airport.
Twelve hours since I was alerted to my grandmother's condition and preparing for the hospital. (At which time I prepared well in the hygiene area, but not well in the duration area.)
Five hours since I'd fallen asleep scrunched up on hospital chairs and four since I thought we would lose her.
15 minutes until the last aunt would arrive who would be present.

26 April 2013

Final Hours (pt. 3)

Friday. 11.45 AM.

The nurses came to see us and told us how the process will work. When they left all (16) of us gathered to pray and it seemed to suddenly hit us. Frail voices, a couple tears and then outright sobbing. It's amazing the impact this woman has had on our lives. She has brought so many of us together so quickly and has loved and led us with such strength. We acknowledged these things and prayed for a swift and painless death. Now we're stuck in our waiting rooms because a red alert went off. Timing, huh?

Friday. 1.00 PM.

The alert stopped and we went to her room as the nurses were unhooking all of the machines. We gathered around her and prayed a sang Amazing Grace, In The Garden and I'll Fly Away. I kept expecting her to open her eyes, look around at all of us and tell us to stop being so sad.

After people who wanted went through individually and said goodbye, all her kids gathered around and told us she could go on to her husband and daughter and babies. The nurses stepped in, checked her heart and announced her death at 12.23.

Mostly it hasn't hit me, but seeing my family together some laughing, some crying made me feel such compassion for the people I have with me. Grandma brought all of us together in her life and in her death. She was a marvelous, strong, loving, generous, selfless woman. She was a lioness.

Final Hours (pt. 2)

Friday. 8 AM.

I can't believe it still hasn't been 24 hours since I first found out she was in the hospital... Just woke up half an hour ago and everyone was talking in the next room. We still are waiting for more people to arrive this morning before anything happens.

Friday. 9.30 AM.

Back in the waiting room(s) after trying to freshen up and getting breakfast (I messed up and got a single serving cereal instead of french toast. Shame.). Yet another aunt and uncle have arrived. I think at this point, we're supposed to all gather together soon and talk about what the next steps are. I think the plan is that we'll see about getting a private room (for the 1,000 family members to fit) and take her off life support and just go from there.

"Go from there." The most casual thing to say about what's going on. But really, I know there will be so much grief from people over the next several days that I can't bring myself to worry about it right now. I don't really want to worry about her. I want to believe that she's going to be happier and pain-free and surrounded in Love none of us can offer...that she'll be reunited with lost loved ones and embrace old friends and be welcomed by all the saints of Heaven.

I just want our family to stay strong and united after this. I think there was a big push for family unity after my great great grandmother (yes, two greats) died. Hopefully it will be the same way this time and we will not despair but instead multiply each other's love and happiness.

Friday. 10.00 AM.

All these tissues are for allergies. No, really.

When I woke up and got cleaned up a bit, I went to my grandma and spent some time alone praying with her: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. The last thing we did together was pray when I was home shortly last month, 26 March. Now that I think of it, it was probably within an hour of the same time it was back then. It felt nice to pray with her alone, kind of like I was returning the favor. I hope she experienced some peace from it.

25 April 2013

Your Prayers, Please

From today's reading from the first letter of St. Peter:

"So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
that he may exalt you in due time.
Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.

Be sober and vigilant.
Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, steadfast in faith,
knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world
undergo the same sufferings.
The God of all grace
who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you
after you have suffered a little.
To him be dominion forever. Amen."

Please keep in your prayers a very important intention for me today. It is a very grave matter.

To him be dominion forever. Amen.

Catholic|Protestant Ramblings (pt. 1)

In moments when I should have been doing something more productive, my mind went back to a Christian music festival I went to four Summers ago (only four? When did I get so old?!). As I remembered certain moments--the grungy layer of dirt we had on ourselves constantly, the chaotic dancing to music too heavy for my taste, the great flood of rain the last day that had us spending half the time in the car and the other half skipping over puddles and dodging mud fights--I got the all too familiar question mark in my brain that is always hovering somewhere around in there. It asks: how do I resolve Protestantism and Catholicism?

I know, right? I'm a twenty year old, weeks (again: so old) from a college degree and I am nowhere near close to being able to answer such a question. Sometimes it seems really easy to be overwhelmed by this problem of the Christian faith for the last five centuries. When I was a Protestant, it was easy to make assumptions or suppose about Catholics and their faith. It was easy to think, "You gave up chocolate for forty days? How is that special?" without having learned about year round penance or different levels of mortification for all good reasons: making oneself holy, showing love to God, for the salvation of souls....

Prayer candles at a side altar at Notre Dame Cathedral.

14 April 2013

Travels: Paris Day VI

Waking up in Paris on Sunday was sad because it would be our last day and rushed because we were trying to make it to Sacre Coeur for Mass. After grabbing a quick breakfast downstairs (our hotel had free breakfast! Sweet deal!) we dashed out the door. Sacre Coeur is at the highest point of the city so it was a bit  of a climb up shop-lined streets to get to the basilica. It was absolutely flooded with people outside and, since most of them were tourists, peddlers (hecklers) were spread across the steps selling trinkets alongside people playing music and dressed in costume. Completely disrespectful, seeing as they were on church grounds, but we didn't stay long to voice that opinion as the bells signaling the start of Mass began ringing and we merged with a group of singing church-goers carrying palms inside.

13 April 2013

Travels: Paris Day V

The other loves of my life. Caramel, milk chocolate, creme brulee, hazelnut, olive oil, coffee, dark chocolate;
chocolate passion fruit, dark chocolate, black currant, rose, passion fruit, olive oil and praline, wine.
On Saturday we slept in (again), but can you blame us after Friday? Saturday was focused on sweets as we stopped at Pierre Herme (again! one can never have too many macarons...) and searched for some candy shops I had looked up. None of them worked out (they simply didn't exist at that address anymore), but we did get to peruse some shirt/tie shops and stumbled upon an organic burger food cart run by Americans with a man taking orders translating. Quite impressive actually, and I don't have any pictures unfortunately, but it was a few streets from the Opera and near a food market.

The day continued at a much more relaxed pace at the gardens of the Louvre. The line to the museum was huge compared to the previous day, which made me feel pretty clever. We did stop in to get chocolates and lunch (the Louvre is a bit like a mall with all its shops). The gardens had more sculptures, a couple of ponds and loads of tourists, but it actually was pretty cool because I hadn't really encountered tons of tourists except up the Champs to the Arc and Notre Dame (though, I didn't really notice the people then).

12 April 2013

Travels: Paris Day IV

Day four (Friday) in Paris would be another long one. We started with a train ride to Versailles. I ate a banana on the platform and felt quite cool and calm, considering we almost waited for the wrong train. After about a 40 minute train ride and a seven euro ticket, we were wandering the halls and rooms of Versailles. For anyone who doesn't know, the palace was lived in by the French royal family, so there were tons of paintings and sculptures of Louis XIV, Maria Theresa (his wife), Napoleon and his wife and loads of other people who did fancy important French things. I know so much. ;)
Chapel exterior; the entrance gate; chapel interior; a determined looking horse statue (Louis XIII?).

Two of the prettiest parts inside were the chapel and the hall of mirrors. Mostly, I think I was just jealous of the personal chapel. How awesome would it be to hear Mass at your house? The hall of mirrors was very cool, but also kind of dirty. Hmm.

02 April 2013

Travels: Paris + London Day II + III

This is very late! Nearly two weeks late! But I'm here now and that counts for something, right? No? Sorry.

On day two, we woke up bright (actually it wasn't bright, it was still dark out) and early at 5.45 to catch the Eurostar to London (where, let's face it, I was eager to be mistaken as Emma Watson. Let's be real: I wasn't. Shame, as I had my accent ready and everything). I ate the rest of a delicious raisin baguette on the way and took a nap and then we were there in the blustery train station at St. Pancras (not pancreas, as I kept wanting to say), right next to King's Cross station (I didn't go see Platform 9 3/4 because I am forgetful). After successfully ordering a hot chocolate in the language of the country (ha!) we headed to Trafalgar Square. It was huge compared to what I was expecting and had really neat fountains. The National Gallery is on the same square and we saw a few rooms of art, mostly paintings. We weren't supposed to take photos, but I did anyway!

Parisian skies; Trafalgar fountains; the BVM; St. James Park.

01 April 2013

Easter Vigil: Scene III

If you haven't read Scene I or Scene II, check those out.

It is amazing how much trouble a mantilla will give you when you're in a hurry. I left it to last and was looking up YouTube tutorials and throwing the task to my mom because I was too frustrated with how it didn't look quite right. Of course, she was able to fix it properly and quickly and I was nearly running out the door to get to our RCIA room on time. Once there, I received a name tag (Haley Thérèse!) which would assist Monsignor when he addressed us by either name. I found my sponsor and we began to line up and watched the Easter candle be lit by sacristans who may or may not have been pyromaniacs (just kidding!).

Quick picture before running out the door. Unfortunately, the only picture I took that night. Whoops.