St. Jane Frances de Chantal

My daughter Rose turned 25 yesterday. Over the weekend I gathered with my siblings to celebrate Christmas and we were reminiscing about Rose’s birth. (See “There’s Room for One More“.) That’s a fun story to share and I love telling it. My siblings know it very well. But there’s another story about Rose’s life that they don’t know so well, and I found myself sharing it with a couple of my brothers. Being reminded of it during this holy season, I thought I would add the story to my blog.

I’d like to write a prologue of sorts about how my children were raised in faith and the choices they’ve made in becoming adults in the church, but I’ll save that for another day. However, for this story, it’s important to note that Rose is the most learned of my four daughters about religion. As Rose was growing up, she sought out books on other religions, searching in her own way for answers. She is very open minded to a Higher Power, and I cannot help but wonder if that is why this story transpired.

When Rose was 20 years old, she had been making poor choices for quite some time, causing her life to be more difficult than it needed to be. She moved out of our house and in with a man much older than she, in a part of town known for drugs and crime and prostitution. Every night I was fearful that I would not see Rose again. I tried to express my fears to her, but she ridiculed me and said I was worrying when I shouldn’t. Rose continued to make poor choices and in a moment of great fear, I dug into my Mother’s Guilt bucket and tossed a shovelful at her. I told her I needed her to write down what songs she wanted played at her funeral and what kind of service she wanted. Because I was convinced she was going to die from the choices she was making and I didn’t want to force a funeral on her that she wouldn’t want. She was shocked that I would say such a thing and tried to make me feel bad. Frustrated without end, I struggled with a sense of powerlessness combined with my maternal love. While commiserating to a friend, she suggested I do a mental exercise in which I envisioned turning Rose over to God.

It was a great suggestion, but I found it difficult. Rose is not as spiritual a person as I am, but she does have a healthy conscience and a belief in a Higher Power. I sensed she would have a lot of fear about facing God. She knew she’d made mistakes, and she had a fear of failing and a fear that people wouldn’t forgive her and give her a second chance. Because of all of these feelings, I was struggling with just “dumping” her off with God. I tried to do the mental exercise, but my mind wouldn’t cooperate. I was holding back. Then one day, something clicked.

The company I was working for at the time required employees to change computer passwords every month. My password was about to expire and I decided to use a saint’s name so that each time I typed it, I would be reminded to offer up a prayer for Rose. But I don’t know my saints very well, so I decided to go online and see if I could find one that I could pray to about my worries.

An online search of “Saints” brought me to a Catholic organization’s webpage. I did a search for “worry” and a long list of saints’ names came up. I scrolled through the list and clicked on a couple but I didn’t connect with their life stories. But I connected with the story of the third name I clicked on: St. Jane Frances de Chantal. According to this website, Jane married a man and quickly realized they had a lot of debt. But she was a very organized person and she was able to turn their problems around. They had four children, and she never turned away someone who needed help. When people cautioned her about that, she said, “What if God turned me away when I was in need?” Jane was also very forgiving. In fact, she even forgave the man who killed her husband. Later in life she founded the Visitation order for women. She believed that the secret to happiness is in “losing”—to lose ourselves into the Ocean of divine goodness. She believed we should throw ourselves into God as a little drop of water into the sea.

I felt a connection with St. Jane Frances and made her name my password.

Later that night, I was soaking in a hot bath and was attempting to let go of the stress I had been feeling. And I thought of the connection I had felt to St. Jane Frances. And then I thought, why not show Rose the way to St. Jane Frances? Maybe St. Jane Frances could help Rose and be a bridge of sorts to God. St. Jane Frances is so forgiving, that she would be able to accept Rose for all her faults. And Rose might be able to let go of her fear of failure.

So I closed my eyes and imagined Rose and I were walking toward the ocean. We approached and saw St. Jane Frances standing in the ocean just a few feet from shore with her white gown flowing in the gentle breeze. I took Rose’s hand as we approached, and St. Jane Frances held out her arms and reached for us. We formed a circle and bonded. Rose was happy and laughing. It was as if I had introduced her to a friend. Soon, Rose was persuaded by St. Jane Frances to dump her fears into the ocean. As she did so, we remained standing in a circle. The first load of fears Rose dumped caused the ocean to rise up to our necks. But we had no fear. We could feel St. Jane Frances’s hands in ours and slowly she brought us up out of the water until we were once again only ankle deep. Rose unloaded a second batch of fears and the ocean rose again, and again St. Jane Frances brought us up out of the water. Rose was smiling and joyful and we felt a peace come over us. St. Jane Frances hugged Rose as if they were lifelong friends and Rose promised she’d come back to visit again soon. And I walked Rose up to the beach and sent her on her way.

But I was surprised that I didn’t leave. Instead, I turned around and went back to St. Jane Frances. This time I approached and she asked me to dump my worries into the ocean. My first worry was Rose and the vision I had was that of dropping a twenty-pound stone. It made a big splash, a loud “kerplunk”, and sunk quickly to the bottom. A few waves gently rocked us as we stood, but the waves did not bother me. The second worry stone I dropped was smaller. I didn’t have a sense of what it represented, but felt it was probably only a five-pound stone. It fell into the water and smoothly and quietly sunk to the ocean floor. And then I tossed into the ocean an armful of worries the size of small stones and pebbles. It felt so liberating. I threw my arms to the sky and praised God! St. Jane Frances smiled and we hugged. Together we walked out of the ocean to the shore and after a few steps I realized I was walking alone. And I had no fear upon that realization. I felt strength. I felt that I could once again be strong and handle what is given to me.

That peace and strength stayed with me for the next several days, and without my awareness a couple of weeks had passed and I still felt secure in my belief that Rose would be okay. And slowly things began to happen. Rose seemed more calm and had a sense of direction in her life’s purpose for the first time in years. It was as if the windows in her brain had been opened and fresh air replaced the stale. She had drive and determination to finish school. I noticed she wasn’t late to work so often. And she was attending college classes every day. After a couple of months, she began to voice her dissatisfaction with the man in her life and I felt my prayers were being answered. Again I reached out to St. Jane Frances, offering prayers of thanksgiving and seeking continued guidance to help Rose find her way back to solid ground.

Within six months, Rose’s life was completely turned around. She had found a new job, she was living back at home, saving money to get an apartment on her own. She reconnected with old friends and made new friends with people who made good choices. In a short time she met the man who would become her husband.

There is no doubt in my mind that St. Jane Frances interceded on Rose’s behalf. I believe in miracles and this truly was one in our lives. I will forever be thankful that St. Jane Frances showed Rose the way to forgiving herself and a path to rejoin our family.

Loss Defines, Part 2

I knew it had been a few weeks since I last posted on this blog but enough time had passed that I had forgotten what I last wrote about. And tonight as I put these words into type, I find it somewhat ironic that I am still dwelling on loss. Hence, the title of this writing.

The last six weeks have been incredibly challenging. In that time I dealt with a sinus infection, two bouts of UTI, and a sciatic nerve flare-up that rendered me incapable of walking and unable to perform normal bodily functions. (I’ll spare the details.) Normally I’m very healthy, so this was an extreme test of my patience. If these medical issues weren’t a big enough test of my strength to overcome challenge, life threw some other speed bumps in the way during the same six weeks. We needed to put four new tires on the car my youngest two daughters (attempt to) share as the treads were showing. My husband’s computer crashed and burned, then two days later our household Internet router blew. My watch keeps stopping. The microwave and the dishwasher are acting up. And one of my hearing aids broke. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back/bank. And in the midst of all those tribulations came the now-annual bout of disappointment that a majority of my daughters wouldn’t be celebrating Thanksgiving with me. Followed by the arguments to determine exactly when we can all get together to celebrate Christmas. (At least there’s some hope that will happen—they’ve all agreed to lunch on December 22.)

In my previous post I wrote about how extremely challenging moments tend to bring feelings of grief. Tonight, after six tumultuous weeks, I can loudly declare that my theory is still valid. Proof came this weekend as I tried to suppress sad thoughts of missing my parents. It was 35 years ago this month when my father passed away, 37 years ago when my mother died. And this year I’m feeling it more than normal. Perhaps it’s the events of the last six weeks, although I don’t think so as I’ve been feeling this way for longer than that. I suspect it has something to do with my own age being close to my father’s when he died. Nevertheless, my emotions are raw. And over the weekend I thought about both of them…a lot.

So here’s where the story gets interesting. This morning when I logged onto my email, I found a message from someone who was my father’s confidante and companion in the last two years of his life. We’ve stayed in touch off and on, and she was going through Christmas cards from last year and found my email address and thought she’d send me a note. It was a wonderful surprise to hear from her, almost like a present-day connection to my life from 35 years ago. And her timing was spot on. In her message she mentioned the amount of time that has passed and reminded me—for the record I didn’t need reminding—that his birthday is coming up. She asked me to have a drink that night and toast to him. She’s planning to do that. I will as well.

I was very touched by her email and its apropos timing, and I answered her back. I admitted to her that after all these years I think about my father nearly every day. I explained how parenting my youngest daughter has been a greater challenge than I ever expected and I’ve wished so many times that I could talk with my dad to apologize for the way I treated him in his last year. I was just a snotty, spoiled teen and afraid of the future without him. I told her of my wish that I had his wisdom and guidance to help me be a better parent. I told her I had turned 51 this past July (he died at 52) and that I cannot fathom what he went through, but at this age I have a greater understanding of all that he lost in dying so young.

This woman had no idea of the depth of guilt I have carried for 35 years about how I argued with my dad in his final days. Mostly about stupid things like wanting to go to a friend’s house after school instead of coming home, or wanting to go out on a date with someone my dad didn’t approve of. As an adult, I have often wished that I had been more aware in that moment of what I was losing and that I would have told my father I loved him instead of arguing with him. At times those feelings have overwhelmed me. But she had no way of knowing that because I never shared that with her.

As I got ready for work this morning with all of these thoughts running through my brain, I struggled for composure and even contemplated calling in sick. I logged onto Facebook and asked my friends to keep me in their thoughts today that I would have strength to get through the moment. I headed off to work and as the day progressed, I felt better. On my lunch hour I took a very quick look at Facebook and saw messages from a dozen friends offering prayers for strength and words of encouragement. Their show of love and friendship carried me through the rest of the day.

And tonight, I found a reply to my email. This woman, who loved my father, who understood his desires and sorrows, wrote these words to me:

I think of your dad and how agonizing it was for him to go so young and leave a family that still needed him. Believe me when I tell you he understood you and all you were going through at the time—and had just gone through with your mother. I also had one of those bratty teenagers at home who was reacting and really didn’t know why. But you got through it and have become a fine adult. And now you are left with some memories that no child should have to have—losing both parents in a short time. Just remember the good stuff. I only speak for your father, and he was very devoted. I cannot even imagine what it would be like for a mother to die at 46 leaving her children. I believe both of them are listening to you, and watching over you. You were their “baby chick”.

I have been overwhelmed with tears. It is such a relief to finally know from a trusted source that my dad understood I loved him and that I was just reacting to the events in my life. The emotional river running through me tonight is overpowering. I don’t know how long it will take for this “grief moment” to pass, but I know that once again, loss has defined me.