Tag Archives: heritage


Fashioned by family

Last weekend, I drove my 91-year old mother to northern Michigan to visit her younger sister. I hadn’t been up north for two years, and my aunt wasn’t doing very well then. Now, though, she is doing remarkably well; it is amazing what a few medication tweaks and some lifestyle changes can do.

They caught up on news of family and friends, and we played cards in the evening. My cousin visited and brought pumpkins from his garden and apples from his tree.

Conversations with my mother and aunt gave me family details. I learned which uncle was my grandmother’s favorite and which uncle was lazy. I learned that my Aunt Betty’s real name was Scholastica and that we were never close to my grandmother’s side of the family, but they did not know why.

My mother and I visited the cemetery after Sunday Mass, but it was drizzling and windy so she stayed in the car while I collected the flower-covered crosses my cousin had put at our relatives’ graves last spring. Most of my relatives are buried there, including my grandparents and my dad. It is the place my mother wants to be buried.

These days went the way so many others have during past visits up north.

While we were there, I kept thinking about how much of our lives are shaped by our families—and where God’s grace enters the picture to enable us to become more than our pasts. Like most women, I have watched myself become my mother and sometimes I rejoice in that, and other times I rebel.

My mother is one of those tenacious, feisty, determined elders. She does her own grocery shopping, tends her garden and cooks; she is strong and fiercely independent (and, yes, she still drives).

She taught me to be resilient and persistent.

A friend in college said to me, “I wish my mother had taught me to be as persistent as your mother taught you,” when I refused to quit looking for something she had lost.

Never give up could be my mother’s motto.resiliency-faith-cancerMy father used to tell us, “If you come home and think I am dead, go out for another hour to make sure.” He never wanted to go to a hospital, and when he had a major stroke, my mother had the inner strength not to call 911. She gave him the kind of death he wanted—at home with family.

My father died ten years before Jim’s death, and I know that her example gave me the strength to give Jim the kind of death he wanted.

For example, when his oncologist insisted Jim be hospitalized for a blood clot, I said “No,” because Jim was done with hospitals by then. I was terrified, and I remember thinking about my mother in that moment and how terrified she must have felt when my dad had that stroke.

I am grateful that I can see the blessings in how my family shaped me.resiliency-faith-cancer



Genetic Clothe

After visiting my cousin Marlene when she had pancreatic cancer, I commented to a friend, “I hope I would not be in that much denial if I ever got sick, but I am cut from the same genetic clothe as Marlene and I don’t know what I would do if I were in her situation.”

Marlene’s sickness and death was a catalyst for me to move home, and now that I am here, I am getting in touch with my “genetic clothe;” I am learning about myself, just by being in the place where I grew up and around my family.

This past weekend, my mother and I went “up north,” 240 miles to northeastern Michigan, to the place where my mother grew up and where I still have relatives. An aunt and a cousin live down the dirt road from my grandparents’ farmhouse. Another cousin is converting the farmhouse into a hunting lodge.

While we were up north, I saw several cousins; a few were tending to their deer blinds in anticipation of the upcoming hunting season. Yes, my family hunts.

Neither of my parents hunted, and it was not something I ever did. Over the years, though, I have received annual reports—who hunted during bow and arrow season or who shot a deer.

This weekend, one of my cousins asked if I wanted to ride with him to his blind. I had seen blinds before, but this ride was on a four-wheeler, and I had never been on a four-wheeler. I said, “yes.”

We drove past my grandparents’ farmhouse and into the woods. Along the way, my cousin pointed out sights from our childhood. One spot was where the original hunting lodge had been, a favorite play house for us as kids. It is long gone, but the clearing remains. And then we crossed the spring-fed creek, clear and icy-cold; as a child, I loved drinking from that spring.

We continued deep into the woods until we reached his blind, poised on a beautiful little clearing, with a good vantage point for sighting deer.

I can’t quite imagine myself hunting, in the same way I can’t see myself parasailing or even golfing. I’ve got nothing against those activities, but if I had four free hours, I would rather read a book.

So, maybe I’ll go up north during hunting season to spend some time with my family, and while they are out hunting, I will sit in the lodge and read.