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Talking everyday prayer, grief, friendship and more

I had a great time on today’s episode of A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras of Reconciled to You. We covered a lot of bases, including three of my seven books: Everyday Divine, Parenting a Grieving Child, and Walking Together. It was a smorgasbord of my writing with a lot of fun and serious conversation mixed in. Thank you, Allison, for being such a wonderful supporter of Catholic writers and of this Catholic writer in particular.

If you missed the show, you can catch up here. And if you go to Allison’s website, you can catch an entire week of shows devoted to my books — Everyday Divine on Tuesday, Parenting a Grieving Child on Wednesday, and Walking Together on Thursday. Here’s the show:


Miscarriage: Love and loss 17 years later

My annual post in remembrance of the baby I never got to meet:

For the past few days I’ve been looking at the numbers on the calendar, growing more and more introspective as we inched closer to August 6. It was 17 years ago today that I learned the baby I was carrying, my second baby, had died 11 weeks into my pregnancy. Read more

Missing mom, 26 years later

Today is the 26th anniversary of my mother’s death from colon cancer. What I find most unusual this year is that the grief seems a little stronger — perhaps because of where I am in my life personally and spiritually — and yet I don’t feel compelled to write anything about her. I feel like I’ve said it all, which is saying something coming from me. I miss her. But I always miss her. And I find it unbelievable that it’s been 26 years since I heard her laugh, saw her smile, smelled the scent of her. Sigh. That’s enough. Here are some photos of my beautiful mother, who was my very best friend when she died. (I wrote about her recently HERE, if you’re interested.) Read more

Finding long-lost memories in a dresser drawer

My March “Life Lines” column running in the current issue of Catholic New York:

I decided to clean out some dresser drawers last weekend, and mixed in with the shirts I no longer wear and the silks scarves I forgot I had were little pieces of my past. Noah’s handprint in clay from when he was just a year old. A puffy foam heart necklace made by Chiara for a Mother’s Day gone by. Olivia’s old letters to Santa and one to the Tooth Fairy demanding to know what she does with all those teeth anyway. Read more

Preparing for a death, not a birth this Advent

I spent the past two days at my grandmother’s bedside, watching her die. We don’t know how long she has — minutes, hours, days, weeks? For anyone who’s been there, you know what I mean when I say it is both horrible and awe-inspiring to experience the dying process up close. When I said goodbye, I knew it was likely the last time I would see my grandmother alive since I don’t live close enough to pop in for regular visits. I whispered, “I love you,” as I hugged her, not expecting a response, but she whispered it right back to me. And so, as sad as it was, I will have that with me forever, that final exchange of love. Read more

The hope that’s found in the promise of purgatory

Some people have a problem with the idea of purgatory, which is something I honestly just don’t get. Of all our teachings, this is one that is not only incredibly beautiful but also especially logical (as logical as things of the spirit can ever be) and especially compassionate, at least in my book. When I look at my life here on earth so far, I can’t imagine — despite all my good intentions — that I’ll be ready to meet God face to face when I die. And so I’m banking on purgatory and the possibility that I might be able to do in the next life what I haven’t been able to achieve on this side of heaven, namely, get right with God. Read more

Celebrating the life and love of my first best friend

Earlier this week I wrote about missing my mother, who died 25 years ago today at the age of 47. Today I would like to celebrate her life with a few old photos. I realized, as I pulled photos for this, that I have lots of photos from my earliest days with my mother and a few from the end, but hardly anything in between. I’ll try to remember that the next time I want to avoid being in a photo with my kids because I don’t think I look good enough. Read more

‘Why, God?’ A priest offers an honest answer

In these days of dark and light, suffering and joy, this recent New York Times op-ed by a priest via Maureen Dowd is definitely worth the read:

How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives? Read more

Last wishes and little stars

The new year began with a funeral, which sounds sad but ended up being so uplifting. Mary Jane had been Olivia’s violin teacher, first in elementary school and later privately. Last summer, the day before Mary Jane was scheduled to have brain surgery for the cancer that was taking her bit by bit, she insisted on giving Olivia a lesson at her home. A week after the surgery, she called to schedule yet another lesson. At first I tried to insist that we hold off, but then I realized that this was exactly where Mary Jane wanted to be, with one of her students, doing what she loved to do.

When Mary Jane died last week, the school district sent out an email inviting her former students to come to St. Thomas the Apostle Church the day of the funeral and play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” 10 minutes before the Mass was to begin. We emailed back immediately, saying that Olivia would be honored to play as long as there were other children there with her.

I loved the fact that one of Mary Jane’s last wishes was to have her students play one of the first songs she ever taught them. Not Beethoven or Bach, but a childhood favorite, probably the simplest song they would ever learn, ensuring that even her youngest students could participate.

The morning of the funeral we arrived 30 minutes early, as requested, only to walk into a sea of orchestra students, hundreds of children ranging in age from middle school through college. I was crying before I even helped Olivia take off her coat. What a testament to the power of a great teacher. We left Olivia with her current instructor to tune up and found our place in a pew.

A few minutes later, the children filed in — more than 50 cello players, at least 100 violins and I don’t know how many violas and basses. They filled the side chapel and stood ringing the entire main church. Then Mary Jane’s sister read the letter she left for her students. More tears. “When you can play Twinkle,” Mary Jane wrote, “you know you’ve made progress.”

The children lifted their bows, played the few short lines of the simple song, and then they filed right back out, but the beauty of what we had witnessed lingered long after the last note had ended.

Any teacher who has ever doubted the power he or she has to shape young lives and our world needs to remember this story. Those children didn’t come out to a funeral to play a few lines on their last day of winter break simply because Mary Jane had been a great teacher but because she had been a great person. She loved her students, really loved them. And she loved teaching them, and that clearly came through to those kids who wanted to be there to pay tribute to her.

Now whenever I hear “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” I’ll think of Mary Jane and of her reminder to her students — and to all of us — that sometimes mastering the simplest thing is a sign that we are making great progress.

Rest in peace, Mary Jane. You will be missed.