Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What I'm reading now

"Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close
ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life
would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then
be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: "Let us
eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!"

But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened
the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who
have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a
preparation for the future life, AND THIS PREPERATION ENDS WITH OUR
DEATH. "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment"
(Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body
disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often
this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while
still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what
others do not see."

--St. John Maximovitch LIFE AFTER DEATH


I'm seriously going to put my 16 yodd in high school next year, for many reasons. Although all the reasons to continue homeschooling are still valid, I had to sit down and seriously consider why I am homeschooling her --- am I doing it for her, or for ME? When she was young, her best interests and my personal wishes intersected, and we both flourished with homeschooling. That was a very sweet time. Over the past couple of years, I haven't been so sure.... of course, a lot of things have happened, but even so, I have to admit some hard truths about our homeschooling:

1. I am not self disciplined enough to make sure that she does all her work, every day. Consistency in homeschooling is key, IMHO.

2. In the last two school years, she has accomplished about a half-year's worth of learning.

3. She needs more structure and oversight than I can possibly give her, especially since I have to work outside the home.

4. She has no one in her own age group to socialize with, no one who is at the same emotional, developmental or intellectual level as her, and no hope of meeting anyone at this time. Its nice that she is so close with a girl three years younger, but that age difference is beginning to make a big difference, as well as the difference in world view between the two families. Its much better that she is still very close with our former neighbor, who is the same age, and whose family is encouraging a good education.

5. Spending so much time alone, or within a very limited group of people, is giving her a skewed view of the world and her place in it - she is only 16 (on Sunday!) and does not know everything about everything. She is not the center of the universe. Granted, this is how most teens view themselves and the world, but for E, it is *enhanced* by not being challenged in her thinking by peers.

6. Spending so much time alone is feeding into melancholy and depression, and last fall, she began reaching out in ways that were not in her best interest.

7. Spending so much time with adults is making her think she is an adult, and should have all the rights and respect that an adult commands.

8. Spending so much time alone enhances her feelings of isolation, of being different, of not fitting in, of being a black sheep.

This is not a pretty picture. Last June, I decided to move into a really good school system so that I would at least feel that I had a choice regarding schooling for dd. We continued to homeschool this year, but it is not going well, for all the reasons I listed above.

So, she has come to the decision that she wants to go to school in the fall, and I'm going to let her. I think it will be good for her in general. That is not to say that there aren't negatives about going to school, but overall, I think she will be better served by having more structure in her life, and being forced to interact with children her own age, where she will be challenged academically AND by her peers. Truthfully, she needs to be taken down a peg or two by a peer.

Sometimes I read what other homeschooling mothers write online, and look at the homeschooling efforts of people that I know, and I wonder how the emphasis got moved from what is best for my child, to feeding my own ego. When did homeschooling become all about ME?

If you can look at the fruits of homeschooling your children and honestly say, yes, my child(ren) are on grade level mostly and are consistently learning and progressing in their studies, AND I have the self-discipline to oversee their schooling EVERY day to ensure that that they continue progressing, then there is no need to make any changes.

But if you can't honestly say that - if your homeschooling is sporadic, if your children are not progressing, if you cannot keep up with the homeschooling as well as all the other things mothers do - like cooking and housekeeping, if your children are not at or near grade level, then have a look at what other possibilities are out there that would serve your children well, and choose the one that is in the best interest of your child.

I couldn't, in all honesty, agree to both parts of that equation. Its been a bitter pill to swallow.

What I've learned over the last few months is that what *I* want to do (homeschooling), and what gives *ME* satisfaction (homeschooling) is not in the best interest of my *daughter* at this time. So, I'm going to stop fulfilling my needs at the expense of hers. Its hard, very hard, but necessary. And she is going to high school in the fall.

I guess I'm growing up.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Goodbye, Mama

Exactly one year ago, my mother died. It was just after midnight on a Friday.

On Thursday morning, at 5:30 am, hospice called and said that she wouldn't last more than a few hours, and we should get there asap. So, I woke Roseanne and Elisabeth, and we trundled off to hospice house. Mom was rousable, but with a bit of difficulty. I remember thinking to myself - this is it - this is the last day I will have my mother to hold and to love. When we got there, she was rousable, but with a bit of difficulty. I told her I was there, that I loved her, and that I would stay with her. I must have told her that a million times that day.

As the day progressed, I told Suzanne, a friend and chaplain at Hospice House, that I wanted my mother's RC priest to attend, and I don't know how she did it, but she got his sorry ass to leave his rectory and come to Hospice House. He stayed about five or ten minutes, and rotely recited an empty little prayer, and then he left, all the while saying - she's ready, she's ready. But she wasn't ready - I knew that because she was doing what she had always said she'd do - scratch and claw to stay and go down fighting. What a clueless ass.

My pastor called me and asked if I needed him to come, and I said I did. He was great - he stayed for about an hour and a half, just talking. And then he prayed for my mother. She opened her eyes and looked straight at him while he was praying. He placed his hands on her head and whispered in her ear, she closed her eyes, he made the sign of the cross on her head, she breathed a little easier. He looked at me and I understood. Thank you, Fr. James, with all of my heart.

Noon came and went, and late afternoon, and suppertime, and then it was about 7 pm, and Elisabeth was about ready to collapse. I didn't know what to do - so I called Doc and Mari and they came to the hospice with wine and snacks and sandwiches for Ro and me, stopped by our house to let Puccini out, and then they took the Elisabeth and Poochie back to their house. Elisabeth just couldn't handle it any more - she was ready to break.

By about 10:30 pm, the hospice people had told me a number of times that some people have to be alone to let themselves die, and that they hold on for their loved ones who are keeping the vigil. Finally I was convinced that I should go, and I told Mom that I was going. I felt awful saying that, and I could see that she understood me and was a little agitated. I left the room for about half an hour - I really needed that break. Ro and I walked around the building, and we sat in a little waiting room for a few minutes, but I couldn't stand letting my mother be alone any longer, so Ro and I went back into the room with her. When I told her that I was back, she became very calm.

The lights were dim, and the door was closed for privacy by the staff. About midnight, Ro asked me if I could see the smoke near the door in the upper corner of the room. I couldn't see anything, but she insisted that smoke was coming into the room and hovering in the upper corner. I couldn't see anything and I couldn't smell any smoke either...then I said to her, "Its probably your mother come to get mine." And so it was. My mother's eyes opened and she looked intently at the smoke, then she closed her eyes. The time between each breath became longer. I laid my head on the bed - I was so exhausted - and I held my mother's hand, though I'm sure she couldn't feel her extremities by that point. Roseanne dozed for a few minutes - she was exhausted too. Then I realized that the next breath didn't happen when it should have. I held my mother in my arms and told her I loved her and goodbye, and then I whispered the prayer for the dead in her ear:

"With the spirits of the Righteous made perfect, give rest unto the soul of Thy handmaiden Beatrice, O Savior, and preserve it in that life of blessedness which is with Thee, O Thou who lovest mankind. In the place of Thy rest, O Lord, where all the saints repose, give rest also to the soul of thy handmaid Beatrice, for Thou only lovest mankind."

And then, she was gone. I said to Roseanne, "Ro, I think she's gone." Ro cried and I continued to hold my mother in my arms. And then Ro said that the smoke was gone.

I have read that the last faculty to go is hearing. I hope that's true because then the last earthly words Mom heard were that I loved her and me praying her into heaven.

What would I have done in those days without Roseanne? All my life, she has loved me and been there for me. I can never repay her.

What would I have done without Fr. James throughout that whole last year? And especially that last day - he came to Hospice House as much to help me as to help my mother - and that last prayer.... thank you again, Fr. James.

And thank you to Doc and Mari for selflessly coming at a moment's notice and taking my daughter and my doggie in.

When my father dies, it will most likely not be like this at all - it will probably be more sudden, and chances are that the nursing home will not call me so early in the process. But, I won't let my father be alone, or with strangers when he dies, even if he thinks *I* am a stranger. And I will pray the same prayer in his ear.

Someday I will die, and I hope my daughter will do the same for me.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The meaning of suffering
This morning I read the most profound post on the Orthodox Convert list, written by Silouan about the meaning of suffering. I'm clipping it here because I want to think about this some more...

David wrote:
> If God is in charge then somehow he is responsible... How shall we
> view the God that just allowed 1,000 people to die in the Red Sea
> do to a ferry accident?

Hi David,

This makes me wonder why anyone would think those people are dead?
God is the God of the living, not the dead. Those people are still
alive and conscious after being separated from their bodies and
called to judgment. And God surely has the right to do that at any
time, doesn't He?

It always sounds strange to me when we call it evil and bad that a
man dies at forty, and everybody has to go through moral contortions
trying not to blame God for allowing this horrible thing to happen -
but when a man dies at age ninety nobody bewails the evil God has
permitted to occur. God decides when He'll call any of us to
judgment. We've all known times when a friend (or we ourselves) ought
to have been killed in an accident or sickness - but beyond
expectation we survived. We probably muttered "God must not be done
with me yet". I don't think anybody surprises Christ by being killed
before He was ready to bring them to judgment.

Trials, suffering, and temptations are permitted to come to us to
shape us. In Hebrews I just read that discipline is how a child knows
he's a son and heir, not illegitimate, because a father disciplines
every son he loves. And no discipline seems pleasant at the time but
afterward it yields fruit: God's character. As a child we hated being
constrained - early bedtimes, strict rules, can't have the candy we
want - and as adolescents and adults we probably took on disciplines
that actually *hurt* - like bodybuilding, long-distance running,
working all day in harvest season. All those disciplines built us
into men and women. So when hardships come, of course we say "I hate
this but it's for my salvation. So I'll thank God for reminding me
I'm a son and heir, and pray that I won't waste these trials by
whining and scheming to get away." After all "longsuffering" is a
virtue in the Bible.

As for sins that people commit against us - The demons can only
suggest things, and their judgment is already known. It's humans who
always have the freedom to act on suggestions; it's humans who by our
own choices build the chains and passions that constrain us to evil
or selfish acts. We can't blame God for our own free choice to sin,
unless we want to blame Him for making us in His image, with our own
will. The worst that people do to one another isn't God's choice.
There's a judgment seat where we'll all stand accountable for the way
we used the freedom God gave us. In the mean time, since nothing
surprises Him, God is able to put the sinner where his choice will
damage as few people as possible, and to make the suffering they
receive be for their salvation.

Our culture teaches us all suffering is bad and evil. Our culture
wants to return us to the state of infants, endlessly consuming what
industry produces and markets to us. The Gospel message that
suffering is not necessarily evil is counter-cultural. But by God's
mercy we have the Church to form a Christian mindset in us, so that
we can escape the broken thinking that our culture tries to program
into us.