Tag Archives: living

Mother Teresa speaks to me

Mother Teresa has been speaking to me recently. Not directly, of course, but through a daily reflection book I have been reading this year, Do Something Beautiful for God.

Sometimes, they are pithy sayings like the entry for October 19:

Life is an adventure; dare it.

I, too, believe that life is an adventure, and I am doing my best to dare it, by taking risks, traveling, saying yes to opportunities. I am doing things I love and enjoying life. I wonder, though, if that is what Mother Teresa meant. Her life seemed totally devoted to service, so when she says adventure, what does she mean?

Last month, I participated in two opportunities to serve meals at two churches in the city, and I was reminded of the importance of direct contact with people who live closer to the edge than I do. Most of the volunteer work I do now is organizational (boards and committees), so cooking and serving meals felt like an invitation to return to the kind of service I used to do. A different kind of adventure.

Other times, Mother Teresa’s words seem to be inviting me to a movement in prayer. The entry for October 14: Every moment of prayer, especially before our Lord in the tabernacle, is a sure, positive gain. The time we spend each day sitting with God is the most precious part of the whole day.

This one spoke to me on several levels. First, I don’t tend to spend time before our Lord in the tabernacle, perhaps because it was not part of my religious upbringing and because I have to go someplace to find a tabernacle. I pray in the morning at home, but I know that when I have prayed in chapel (on retreat mostly), I have found it peaceful. When I read this reflection, I wondered why I don’t go to chapel more often.

That led me to reflect on my time in prayer every morning and if it is the most precious part of the whole day. I know that when I am on retreat, spending a whole week in silence and focused on God 24/7, my prayer seems to be deeper and more precious.  Perhaps the invitation is to be more attentive to God throughout the day—on retreat or not.

The entry for October 16: If you were to die today, what would others say about you? What was in you that was beautiful, that was Christlike, that helped others to pray better? Face yourself, with Jesus at our side, and do not be satisfied with just any answer. Go deep into the question. Examine your life.

When I left Pennsylvania nine years ago—after having lived there for twenty-eight years—friends had a going-away party for me and one after another, people said all kinds of wonderful things about me. My friend Ted said it was like being at my own wake, and I still smile when I recall that party. One thing that stood out to me was how many people thanked me for doing some small thing that I did not even remember doing—a kind word or some small favor that meant little to me but had a big impact on them.

That reminded me of Mother Teresa’s saying: Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

My mom

“I want to live until I die,” my friend Jim said when he understood that an incurable brain cancer would soon end his life. He did not want to be kept alive by artificial means; he also did not want to live or die in a hospital.

My mother felt the same. When the doctor offered her a pacemaker after her first heart attack three years ago, she said, “No.” He explained that her heart would probably give out while she was sleeping and she would just not wake up one day. “That would be a blessing,” she said.

At the time of that first heart attack, my mom was ninety-two, still driving, going to card parties every week, living in her own home and enjoying life.

After that heart attack, she began to slow down a bit and cut back on some of her activities, but she continued to live on her own and to cook, clean and do her laundry. She was very independent.

Over the past three years, she has had several medical issues that landed her in the hospital for a week at a time, and each time, she returned to her home determined to live as fully as possible.

After an internal bleeding incident in January, her doc took her off heart medicine, and she went on hospice. Then we knew it was only a matter of time until her heart gave out.

When she started falling a few weeks ago, we knew she was getting weaker every day.

Her consistent wish was to live and die in her home.

With some help, my sisters and I were able to make that happen. The past three weeks, someone was with my mom 24/7.

Giving up was not an option for my mom. She had known people who did just that—they stopped doing what they had always done and just waited for death. She would say they stopped living before they died. That was not my mom’s way.

Just last week, she looked at a silk flower arrangement on top of a cabinet and asked me to bring it down. “I want to wash the flowers and rearrange them,” she said. I brought down the basket and helped my mom get to the kitchen sink where she washed the flowers. It was exhausting for her; it was also her way of living her life.

Last Wednesday evening, she ate her last supper. On Thursday, she was too weak to get out of bed and too weak to swallow. We made her as comfortable as possible and kept vigil over the next two days.

Hospice nurses came every day, and each one said some version of, “You girls are doing a great job with your mother.” We are not medical people, and their affirmations were appreciated.

After only two days in bed, my mother died peacefully on Saturday morning, surrounded by family. She truly lived until she died—a role model for living a full life.

Earthen Vessels

The readings the other day included 2 Corinthians 4:7-15: “…we hold this treasure in earthen vessels….” As I read, I was transported back almost thirty years to the chapel at Villanova.

I had been working at Villanova Law School, coordinating clinical programs. Gerry was one of the students in the Juvenile Justice program who regularly visited my office. By the time he graduated, we had become friends.

During the summer after graduation, while he was studying for the Bar exam, Gerry developed a kink in his neck. It got progressively worse and he sought medical help. “Tension” was the diagnosis, and he began to take aspirin for relief.

Gerry passed the Bar in the fall and went to work for a law firm in Rehoboth Beach, MD. But, by mid-November, the stiffness in his neck had gotten so bad that he could barely turn his head. On a trip home to Connecticut, he visited his family doctor, who ordered blood work.

“Leukemia” was the real diagnosis, and a bone marrow transplant was the only hope for a cure. Gerry was told that if no compatible donor could be found he only had two years to live.

“They can tell that?” I asked skeptically. It turned out they could.

When his sisters were determined not to be compatible donors, a bone marrow donor drive brought out hundreds of Gerry’s former classmates and friends. None was compatible, and Gerry died two years later.

While he was sick, Gerry taught me a lot about living well and dying well. He continued working until just a few weeks before he died, carrying on in the same calm, understated way he always had. He would not talk with me about being sick or knowing he was dying or how he was preparing to die—all things I desperately wanted to talk about. He just wanted to live until he died. I learned to let go of my need to process and just be with him and enjoy our times together.

“Earthen vessels” was one of the readings at a Memorial Mass for Gerry held at Villanova’s chapel. He had also recorded two songs to be played before Mass: Lean on Me and At this Moment.

I sometimes hear Gerry’s songs (that is how I think of them, as “Gerry’s songs”) played back-to-back on random radio stations. At those moments, I remember him and am grateful for his presence in my life, even for so short a time.

I am glad he left these reminders; little gifts from him that always make me smile when I stumble across them—and sometimes produce a tear over what I have lost.