Catholic Family Vignettes

A collage of literary snapshots from the life of a large traditional Catholic family


June 2008

Lost and found

This is a very hard post to write. I’ve been composing it over the past few weeks, struggling to find the words to express in some coherent way, the struggles and joys experienced while caring for my elderly Grandmother.

How does one share just how painful it is to see a beloved soul struggle with the simplest daily tasks? How can I explain the sorrow felt while watching the hands that used to paint, tremble while holding a spoon? Will economy of speech suffice when I try to paint a picture of the confusion etched upon her lovely face as she tries to recall what month we’re in?

Words are insufficient and I’m humbled by my naivete as I continue to struggle while providing the compassionate care that this dear woman not only desperately needs, but has earned by virtue of the many years of life she’s lived and the love our family has for her.

It’s not easy. In fact, it is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Caring for my very large family, nurturing the young lives daily entrusted to me, being a good wife (and sometimes not so good!), is a constant challenge. The sheer volume of work…cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. is at times, overwhelming. Add to the equation the 24/7 care needs of an elderly person experiencing progressive dementia, not to mention the 6 to 7 times per night that she awakens needing assistance and the situation seems fraught with challenges. How do I maintain the balance between my God-given vocation of wife and mother, and that of caregiver to an elderly person?

Adult children have an obligation and the bible mandates that they are to care for their elderly parents.  From the Cross, Jesus gave the care of His own dear Mother to John, who from that point took Mary into his own home.  My mother and father have taken Grandma into their home.  Mom nursed Grandma through a life threatening injury and two serious illnesses. Working part-time and providing all of Grandma’s care, the hard work had begun to take it’s toll.  My uncle would take Grandma home with him for the weekends to give Mom and Dad a bit of down time, but it’s just not enough.  I begged Mom to let me help, convinced that I could give her a break and create a myriad of wonderful memories with Grandma; that I’d be able to easily accommodate her needs with the needs of my children and husband.

But there have been so many unforeseen difficulties: Grandma is remembering less and less. My favorite memories of her home in Greenville, SC…she has no recollection of, whatsoever. A topic discussed over coffee in the morning, is forgotten within moments of my leaving the room to return with a second cup. This morning I dressed her and groomed her and a few moments later she asked me when I was going to help her get dressed.

To quote my mom: “Something is missing…”

Indeed. Grandma. She’s lost, and I’ve been trying desperately to find her in the midst of the many activities that comprise her daily care, the conversations and funny stories I prompt her to remember.

Yet there is still so very much that is clear! She knows me. She knows who I am, who the children are…she has not forgotten us. She may forget that she’s been to the bathroom already, that she’s eaten lunch, that she’s gotten dressed, but she knows us. And so all is not lost…as a matter of fact, I’ve found quite a few things.

I’ve found a renewed sense of appreciation for the simple tasks that I perform daily. Washing the dishes, walking up and down stairs, washing my hands…I do these things so effortlessly, but many are impossible for my Grandma.

I’ve found that caring for a disabled person is one of the most noble causes. Although it is exhausting, there’s a real appreciation for the dignity of the human person.  I do everything I can to never lose patience with her, to show her that she is a valued person, that her challenges are inspiring, rather than burdensome.

I’ve also learned that this responsibility is far too great for any one person to manage alone.  God bless my mom…she has been through a lot over the past few months, with no road map, no blueprint and no instruction manual.  Having spent that past few weeks with only a single day off (to visit my daughter and new grandson in the NICU), there is no way to describe just how exhausting full-time elder care can be.  Exhausting, yet rewarding…her appreciation for even the smallest kindness is too touching for words.

In a couple weeks, Mom and Dad will return to pick up Grandma.  She has an appointment with a new doctor, whom we all hope will steer us in the direction of improving Grandma’s quality of life, rather than maintaining the status quo.  We are trying to plan how best to help Grandma from this point forward, cooperating with one another to do the very best we can for her.  Please keep us in your prayers…

The Simple Woman’s Daybook

Visit Peggy at The Simple Woman for more Daybook entries!

FOR TODAY – June 30th, 2008

Outside my Window…A light misty rain is falling, the air chilly and damp. A few blackbirds are angrily crowing in the tree beside the cornfield…

I am thinking…about my sewing machine. It’s been neglected. Patterns and fabric are beckoning, and yet I have no time to sew. Every moment of every day is filled. Perhaps in a couple weeks…

I am thankful for…the use of my legs, my hands, my mind. How I take these things for granted! Watching Grandma’s struggle to recall what month or day it is, brings it all home…

From the kitchen…hot coffee with Tiramisu creamer, whole wheat toast with strawberry preserves. Lunch will be yesterday’s leftover chicken salad on potato bread. Dinner…hmmm…pork roast smothered in herbes de provence with rosemary/garlic potatoes and homemade coleslaw.

I am creating…I have no time to create. Just a pile of unfinished projects. I’m putting them all away…

I am going…to clean house today. There’s so much that’s left undone from last week. This has been a tough week…

I am wearing…a pale yellow linen Eddie Bauer dress with a pink cotton sweater. It’s quite chilly and overcast today…

I am reading…nothing. No time.

I am hoping…that the doctor will find a solution for Grandma’s nighttime agitation. Last night was particularly bad. I was up with her every hour from midnight until 7:00 a.m. this morning. Her memory seems worse as a result. Please pray for us…

I am hearing…the hum of the computer, the low voices of the children discussing a movie with Grandma and the soft falling rain…

Around the house…laundry to fold, rooms to clean…

One of my favorite thingsmy new scapular. It’s pretty nifty…

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week…a family picnic or barbecue for the 4th of July. My dear husband will probably take the children to Red, White and Boom. Perhaps Grandma and I will be able to see a few fireworks from the backyard…

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you

The daylilies growing wild beside the cornfield…

Weather woes…

The only thing that could possibly be more irritating than putting your wash on the line to dry, only to observe a coming storm roughly fifteen minutes later; would be to remember in the middle of the storm that the laundry is on the line.

Thank heaven’s I was able to take it down…but here’s the rub:

It didn’t rain.

The storm hopped right over us. Talk about irritating. I run back outside (after checking the Weather Channel online, of course!) and begin re-hanging the wash.

And then it starts to sprinkle.

I hung it up anyway.

This weather is driving me nuts…

A bolt from the blue…

…took out my favorite computer.  Sniff, sniff…looks like hubby has his work cut out for him.  I’m not quite sure of the extent of the damages.  Oh, well…a small loss considering the ferocity of the storm.

What storm?  My friend, Barb, paints a pretty good picture of the storm’s violence.  We were in the heart of it, and it was truly frightening.  I say this as a former Floridian who’s been through a couple tornadoes and hurricanes…this storm was equal to anything I’ve ever experienced.  Lightening and thunder that seemed never to end, a bedroom full of frightened children (and concerned adults).  Needless to say, there was not much sleep had that night.  Except for Grandma.  For the first time in 4 weeks, she slept through the night.  Amazing.

Sweet tooth…

Grandma has a sweet tooth.

Do you think she’ll like this cake?  I know I will!

Feast and Fire

Amongst the many reasons why I love being Catholic, is the very real way our faith is daily translated through the living of the liturgical year.  Yesterday was the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  A “double of the 1st class” feast day always deserves to be marked in a special way…we chose the time-honored tradition of the St. John’s Eve “Feast and Fire” as we’ve named it:  a special family meal and a bonfire to commemorate the birth of the Precursor.

Last night we were blessed with the arrival of last minute guests.  This made for a truly festive evening, lasting well into the wee hours of the morning.

The children enjoyed grilling hot dogs and roasting marshmallows.

They skipped the ribs…inconceivable, but I guess nothing beats a hot dog you’ve roasted “commando style.”

Of course you need the proper equipment:

And then there’s the proper technique for eating this delicacy…without the bun, of course!

The chill night air made the fire even more enjoyable…even Grandma came out for a short visit

And though we may have lacked the traditional “sweet beer,” the Guinness drinkers didn’t seem to mind!

Dad entertained the crowd with a bit of “redneck golf”. Dad grabs a golf ball, while the kids run to the other side of the the big barn. A hard whack with his trusty Louisville Slugger and that ball is outa here! The kids scramble on the other side of the barn to see who can retrieve it first. Yeah…kinda strange, but that’s who we are…

As the sun slowly set, the glowing embers of the fire and the twinkling stars provided all the illumination we needed. Pulling chairs closer to the fire, we talked of our faith…the love we share as Catholics committed to living life abundantly, taking every opportunity to celebrate what it means to live as families did centuries before us…according to the liturgical calendar.

This morning…the embers are all that remain of the fire. But the memories the children will carry with them into their adult life will nourish the seed we’ve planted.


There’s no substitute…

Laundry lessons…

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you know that laundry is a very frequent topic of discussion .  I love my clothesline, am constantly looking for ways to improve the whole laundry experience, as it takes such a large part of my day.

Which brings me to the topic of laundry detergent and the trend that has lead quite a few wives and mothers to experiment with making their own.

My interest in making my own laundry soap first began after reading this post.  Hmmm…cheaper? Definitely intriguing…but what if cheaper isn’t better?  What if the family didn’t like the smell?  What if the laundry isn’t as clean?

I remained skeptical.

Then I read this postCleaner? Smells better?  I have five men in my house…any laundry soap that can stand up to the dirt, grime, sweat, etc. that these guys dish out would be worth an attempt.

So I made the first batch. And last night I made the second.  We’re hooked.  Even 18 year old Clementine has declared it a superior product.  She says she doesn’t even need fabric softener any longer.

And the scent after a few hours on the line?  Delicious.  Fresh, without a hint of any underlying odor or chemicals.

Like I said, we’re hooked.  A money saving product that takes very little effort to “whip up” and a superior product.  Hurray!

The Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Time to light the bonfire! Alas, that will only happen if the wind cooperates. We certainly don’t want to burn down the barn! We’ve been accumulating this brush pile for quite sometime:

According to Catholic tradition, the Feast of St. John the Baptist is traditionally marked with a large bonfire and picnic. Perhaps the weather will cooperate with us this evening…

From EWTN:

We are given the story of the ministry of John the Baptist, called the Precursor or Forerunner of the Lord, with some variation of detail, in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as in the Book of John. Luke tells us of the birth of John the Baptist in a town of Judaea, about six months before the birth of the Saviour. The attendant circumstances, which we have already recounted under the headings of <St. Elizabeth> and <St. Zachary>, his parents, suggest the miraculous and wonderful. The New Testament tells us nothing of John’s early years, but we know that his pious, virtuous parents must have reared the boy with care, conscious always of the important work to which he was appointed, and imbuing him with a sense of his destiny.
Continue reading “The Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist”

Divine Providence…

Standing at the kitchen sink, gazing at the rapidly growing corn and the blue skies, I watched my youngest daughter quickly pedal by.

Without training wheels.  All by herself; once again demonstrating how fleeting are the days of childhood, how quickly the battle for independence begins.  “I’ll do it myself!” has long been her mantra.  And so she has…

While observing the beauty of this lovely summer morn, I notice the gypsophila had begun to open.  I love this bushy plant, with its delicate white blooms.

Cookie joined me for a peek amongst the blossoms.

There was a quiet rustling noise, beneath the bush, which revealed a young robin, struggling valiantly amongst the leaves.

At first, I feared he had been wounded by the cat.  Within a few moments, I noticed he was tangled, quite tightly, in a length of string.

Calling for a pair of scissors, the children ran quickly to assist in freeing the bird.  Arthur gently held him down, while I was engaged in the lengthy task of untangling…first cutting, then unwinding and untying.  How he managed to secure himself so thoroughly is a mystery.   The robin remained quite still, throughout the entire process.  Once the last piece of string had been removed, Arthur slowly lifted his hand and a very grateful and unharmed bird flew quickly to the top of the large maple by the driveway.

Cheers of excitement and the realization that we were meant to release that little robin.  How lovingly our Lord cares for even the smallest of His creatures:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

The purple headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

Cecil F. Alexander -1848

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