I do not want to look back. I do not want to count my blessings from the past year because it means 2017 is even further away, that the time in my life when Celeste was alive is even further away.
One year ago, my husband and I looked back in 2017 and thought, “O God, we hope next year is better.” We sat in silence when it was time to recollect the good things from the year. Our daughter died. Our son was very, very ill and moved to the PICU that July. Everything was survival. Everything was gray. Everything was the crawling out a hole, a foxhole, perhaps. We were alive, but what else did we have?
I spent the second half of the year living at home instead of the hospital as our son turned the corner in his condition. I spent the second half of the year writing up a storm, published here and there, building wonderful connections about town and feeling moved to tears by the stories I heard during interviews. I searched for my place at home, in my children’s lives, and in ministry. Everything we developed shifted during 2018. It did not diminish; it grew.
The writing continues but shifted in focus to a book to be published this year: a dream come true. Ministry continues and is changing in surprising ways beginning with cantering mass for the first time with my organ-grinding husband: his dream come true. We have an offer and accepted contingent on the sale of our current house for a property with 1.2 acres of land and lots of building space for our office and studio and who knows, a jazz club, in the future; two dreams in one.
How can all this happen?
Marriage strong. Older children emotionally stable. Peter strong. Friendships strong and in those friendships with less strength, at least there is greater clarity than in the past.
How can this be?
“There would come a time when God would fill what he had emptied…”
I read those words, copied in Mother Teresa’s writings, collected and published in Come by my Light. Those words were my light, although I never knew how it could be possible.
But here we are.
We do not deserve it. At that expression, one of my dearest friends said, “don’t apologize for God’s blessings!”
And it is true.
God answers prayers. Peter’s condition was worse than expected when he was diagnosed in utero. Celeste was not born alive. Peter was not healed physically following the Beatification mass we took him to in 2017 to pray for a miracle. But a miracle occurred before we even could have been aware of it, bringing into his life our personal hero, a woman, a friend who dedicated her whole heart to his care.
I live in the awareness that tomorrow everything could change. And yet, even then, God provides.
Two years of trial. It feels like we are back to living in the world of roses, but I grasp that it is only that way because of perspective. We still have a dresser full of medical supplies and appointments in San Francisco this week. In a week I will struggle to meet deadlines (I am struggling right now with something due tomorrow!). I will return back to a state of exasperation when Kyle returns to work and our homeschooling vacation ends.
But it is good. It is full. It is greater than anything we ever could have hoped for.
God fulfilled his promise.
And now, I’m wishing you all a very happy New Year.
In honor of Peter’s record-breaking time out of the hospital, 5 1/2 months and counting, I’d like to share the following, an excerpt from my memoir, What God Had Emptied. I am in the process of submitting to publishers now. This excerpt won Best of Show for Literary Arts at the Stanislaus County Fair this year.
Chapter 4: The Flight to Egypt
The first four days passed. No one could say when we would leave. Kyle’s work provided no paid leave or vacation time.
Kyle left and I stayed.
Pat visited every day. When Peter’s electrolytes stabilized, we transitioned from the UCSF Pediatric ICU to the “floor”, the Medical/Surgical general unit.
There was a private bathroom.
The room offered privacy enough to pump, but little help with Peter. My modesty longed for privacy. The stronger Peter grew, the more help I needed. He cried, begging to be held. Two feet from him, hooked up to a rented Medela, I could not comfort him.
A young, high-voiced and slight-statured Patient Care Assistant named Denton did not overwhelm me. He helped, cheerfully and often, to fill in the gaps left by Sally, Peter’s Australian and intimidating nurse with a penchant for medical terminology. When I asked for help, her comments on how little time she had burdened me. When she said we should think about putting a g-tube into Peter’s stomach, it troubled me.
Our room was situated at the end of the unit hallway. A large window took parents on mental vacations when they peered out into the San Francisco Bay and remarked on the vast cruise ship docked there. Every day I checked to see if it was still in the harbor.
At morning rounds, the team of doctors met together discussing Peter. In this setting, they introduced Gastroenterology (GI) for the first time. Monica Lange, the attending doctor whose voice resounded emphatically with each statement, hoped we could go home that day. Dr. Yvonne Winney, attending GI doctor, disagreed. She hated to say it, but GI’s opinion carried more weight.
I stayed on my feet for the news. Only later did I sit in that lime green hospital recliner, attached to the pump, draped in a muslin swaddle cloth, gripping Pooja’s hand, sobbing uncontrollably. To this caring resident, I managed the words: “I haven’t seen my children in a week.” With her sure and soothing voice, she made me feel there was a way forward.
That was a night of tears, drowning in the emotion and stress of a week alone with my baby in the hospital. The next day, Bernice, a social worker, came to talk with me. “You need to get out,” she exhorted, “you should take a walk.”
Her words pushed me out the door. After she left, when the emotion welled up again, I was no longer crying.
I was fed up.
Leaning into her urging from the hour before, I got out.
I went for a walk.
In a haze, I bought Haribo gold bears and a body pouf at the tiny Walgreens across the street from the clinic building. It was a normal thing to buy things, unlike the week I had been living.
Walking sounds tame. It is not.
In a fury, I walked, lengthening my stride. As I walked and continued walking, the rhythm of the steps overcame my thoughts. The pace of my breathing out-paced the emotion surging in my heart. I kept on walking until my eyes shifted focus from inward to outward. Buildings came into focus. The sky came into focus. I felt the breeze again. The drowning stopped and the scene around me came into color. I felt curious.
When this happened, I recognized my location. It was 3rd Street. Maybe this was where Kyle walked when he went to Safeway. It was not very scenic. The ports looked abandoned between a sea of concrete and the San Francisco Bay. Invigorated by the clear skies, clean air and enveloping sunshine, I followed the sign to the nostalgia-inducing AT&T Park.
I walked on. Approaching the park, a snack shack sold beer. The steel members of Lefty O’Doul Bridge stretched across a stench of water. Business people walked and homeless people milled about. Outside the Dugout Store, a sign advertised ballpark tours. It would be wonderful to see the inside. Not since third grade have I cared about baseball. Stepping inside, I inquired of the clerk the cost of tours: “$22.”
Yikes. “Make-a-buck. Make-a-buck. Don’t care what [baseball] stands for, just make-a-buck, make-a-buck.” I walked on.
Turning the curved corner around the stadium, across the street stood Momo’s. Its black and tan striped awnings and serif typeface beckoned me. I was hungry and sick of hospital food. The food was palatable but dry, and the repetition drove me mad. Momo’s drew me. The host handed me a menu. Dismissing the high prices, a Freudian Id power propelled the moment forward. Impulsively, I asked, “How is your French Dip?”
“Excellent,” he responded.
“Can I get it boxed up?” He directed me to order from the bar. Self-consciously, I chose a seat. “Can I get you something to drink while you wait?”
Blushing, I stumbled, “oh, no” like a sheltered housewife.
The bartender offered water. He could have meant that from the start.
I ordered, drank my water and paid for my $18 French Dip sandwich. It felt wonderful to spend a lavish amount of money on something. The smell tantalized.
Time to return. One hour had passed since I left.
In the presence of the day’s resident, Jo, and a nurse practitioner I ate my French Dip. This was good, I thought, good to walk, good to feel free, good to spend. Goodness was a feeling I had not felt in a while.
The next day when I stepped outside that good feeling returned. Surveying my surroundings, I wondered, Where should I go now?Adventure is out there. AT&T Park yesterday. The Design Center today? To walk and eat at the same time appeared casual and cool. Whole Foods was down Mariposa Street. When we examined Google maps, Jo described this route was safe. I prepared to go.
The walk began. There was no fog that day, only curiosity. My attention heightened as I followed the sidewalk under the freeway, scanning for suspicious characters. Graffiti decorated each pillar alongside the train tracks. The road led uphill. My legs sensed it. It was good to use them again.
To the left stood a hardware store. To the right: a dog grooming shop. Buildings triggered thoughts of my own home, questioning if charcoal window casings would complement cream siding or if it would be too dramatic. Painted lady houses inspired awe. Modern architecture punctuated the iconic Victorian homes one expects in San Francisco. History and architecture enchanted me. The colors were visionary.
Signs at Whole Foods reminded me St. Patrick’s Day was the next day. I wanted to buy beer. I wanted to buy wine. I wanted to buy the whole store. Ten minutes passed as I weighed my options in the candy aisle, calculating the price per ounce because we always joked about Whole Foods being more aptly called “Whole Paycheck.”
Newman’s Own sour licorice ropes in cherry won the debate, as did hairspray. A new product might help this mess. Sun blasted through the exit as I ventured back out to the street. Signs pointed to the Design Center.
A tile store distracted me first. On the entryway wall to the left, I discovered the perfect marble herringbone mosaic for our foyer. A black ash with patina cut into a 12×24 inch piece was meant for our fireplace. The clerk copied the pricing information. In our small talk, I shared how I love planning a design concept. “Oh, you should be a planner,” she fanned my flattery. The city is completely changing, she informed me.
In taking the samples, I left some heaviness behind. It stayed that way as I reentered the hospital. There was not enough time to reach the Design Center that day. Ronny, Peter’s social worker, indulged my design talk over the tile samples. Everyone checked on me now that I had cried my eyes out in their presence. Tile samples and brochures carried me away from the present moment, filling my mind with plans for my Hughson home.
Our lavender crop was booming. Like the growth of the year, much of this lay dormant last year, hardly producing a single bunch. There were blooms, but the harvest was quiet, individual and hung in my closet to be later put on my nightstand.
This year, the kids gathered around as I cut handful upon handful from one bush. They watched as I carried it to the picnic table and after some moments of quiet work, I invited them to join. Together we cleaned the stems and Miriam stripped the buds from the too-short-to-bundle stems for shortbread cookies and lavender lemonade.
I attended and reported on Sienna’s Walk, part of the 1 in 4 Stillborn Still Loved awareness campaign. It was an honor to hear the stories of women there, and a blessing to experience the sense that I am not alone in our experience, that the mess of complicated emotions, joy with sorrow, are felt by others, too.
I published my first ebook, a book of reflections on the holy rosary for women who grieve. This project remains close to my heart and every time I get a notification that another person has signed up to receive it, I feel a spark of light in my heart. I pray my writing is a gift for you and communicates to you that you are not alone. Whatever life’s trials, there is a way forward.
If you haven’t had a chance to see it, click the link here to have it delivered for free to your inbox.
A piece I wrote was published on Blessed is She, “a community full of women just like you that seek support in their relationship with the Lord and want to connect together with Scripture.” The piece, titled “Believing in Beauty” shares how the contemplation of beauty kept me grounded and maintained my vision throughout the darkest times of grief.
Over the weekend, I led a committee for the Young Ladies Institute (YLI) who hosted a Mother’s Day Tea. The tickets cost $1 to ensure that anyone who wanted to come, could afford it. Members volunteered to create centerpieces for an eclectic and beautifully diverse setting. With the increasing numbers as the day passed, I grabbed the chance to decorate three tables.
During the afternoon, I gave a short exhortation on the call of motherhood. It was my first time public speaking in years, and the first time I acknowledged for a group of people, “I have four children on earth and three in Heaven.”
It was not meant to draw sighs or sadness, but to let those mothers present know that when I talk about the trials of motherhood, and a mother cries for a moment in her heart at what she has endured, that I see her.
I do not know her, but I see her.
I will not speak about motherhood blindly. All that love comes with the cross.
The shape of this year is more than I could have expected and not at all a standardized answer to the question, “what will life look like?” But like the garden, as I carried Celeste under my heart with her heart beating, her body, growing and alive, I prepared, I cried, I built safety structures around me to bolster my heart when she left.
I leaned into grief.
And with all that planting, when she died and we laid her to rest, after the dormant period,