What’s Your New Year’s Resolution?

As we approach New Year’s Day, everyone’s thoughts are inevitably turning to resolutions – both the ones we broke in late January/early February this year and the new ones we hope will last in 2016. Maybe this year they will keep – maybe this year I’ll really start x, y, and z.

I’ve never been big on resolutions, but this year I think I’ve been inspired to make one. I recently called my grandmother. Affectionately called Grandma J, she is my dad’s mom and my only grandmother still alive. While we talked, we reminisced about my mother’s mom. My mother’s mom (Grandma) passed away just about two years ago and our family still grieves the loss of her physical presence with us. I recognize as an adult what a special family I have and how well everyone gets along, even crossing between my mom and dad’s family. My grandmothers were very close, they called one another often, visited when they could, and wrote letters to one another.

When my Grandma became sick, we were all shocked. None so much so, I think, then Grandma J. At least 15 years senior and already struggling with macular degeneration, Grandma J was struggling to live on her own. Because of her eyes, she could no longer drive and writing and reading were daily struggles. A few years ago, she decided to move into an assisted living community. Grandma, however, was still living on her own, driving wherever she needed, cooking her delicious Italian dishes and volunteering. Her transition from active to unwell to unable to care for herself was rapid. She lost the ability to swallow, then eat and talk. She had to write down everything and became very weak. It was an extremely difficult reality for all of us to adjust to.

As I’ve said, the decline of my Grandma was troubling for my Grandma J. She absolutely and completely loved my Grandma. To her, Grandma was a saint. Whenever I talk with Grandma J about Grandma, she always recalls how lovely, caring, and thoughtful she was. When I was last speaking with her, we started down this familiar road. But then, Grandma J veered off in a new direction.

She told me her eyes were becoming more troublesome and she was really struggling with reading, writing, and her general eyesight. But, instead of dwelling on this significant issue, she said to me, “It’s OK though, I just think about your dear Grandma Marilyn and how she had to write everything down. She really showed us all how to keep grace about her, even with everything she had to suffer though.”

All of us, each day, is dying in some way. It’s part of being human. Each day takes us closer to the day that we will die. This may seem harsh but it is the reality of our situation. My Grandma found a way to die gracefully and peacefully. She could have been angry or agitated – and I know she did have days where feelings of frustration, grief and anger welled up. She allowed herself to feel these emotions, accept them, and then offer them back to God. She prayed, she took comfort in the Rosary, she embraced her family and ultimately, she placed her trust in God’s plan for her life, regardless of how many days she had left on Earth.

Grandma J, I think, found something in Grandma’s death. She found an example of someone who embraced the life they had, regardless of how imperfect or hard it was at the time. I’m so glad that Grandma J shared these thoughts with me.

So what’s my New Year’s Resolution? To find a way, each day, to be at peace with where God has placed me.

The Lion King Part II

Back again with the Lion King. We are still listening to it, just in case you were curious. All the time, in case you were really curious. It has given me a lot of time to reflect on my other phrase from the soundtrack “They live in you.”

If you recall now 2 posts ago, I was writing about how two phrases had been sticking out for me as we listened to this soundtrack: “Remember who you are” and “They live in you.” I spent the last post talking about my thoughts and reflections on the first phrase – https://kktaliaferro.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/lessons-from-the-lion-king-part-1/.

Now we move onto the second phrase that has been keeping me sane as we drive around town. The idea of those who have come before us still living on can be hard to grasp. I admit, this is hard to wrap our minds around. I know that though I believed it, I didn’t really understand it. And there is a definite difference between belief and understanding.

A little over a year ago, my grandmother passed away. I had lost other people in my life prior to this, but I this time it was different. My grandma and I had a special relationship. Everything that I learned from her came not from a verbal lesson but an active demonstration. My grandma knew how to listen to people. Everyone who knew her loved her because, I believe, she really listened to them and genuinely cared about what they were telling her.

She taught me how to be a caretaker. I watched her care for her mother, my Nana, first in her own home and then in a nursing home as Nana withdrew farther and farther from the world due to Alzheimer’s. She showed me what it means to stand by some one, no matter what happens, even when they no longer remember who you are. It was such a painful time, but Grandma’s dedication and faithfulness drew the whole family together.

The most important lesson that my grandma taught me, and I believe taught all of us in the family, was how to die. Grandma was diagnosed with a version of ALS, I can’t remember the exact name anymore and it really doesn’t matter. Basically over the course of a year lost the ability to talk and swallow. She wasn’t one to let things stop her. As her speech slowed, she tried to embrace the technology available on the iPad. She made more smoothies than someone devoted to shakeology as her ability to chew and swallow deteriorated. I don’t mean to say that she was grasping for life, struggling to hold on. Not at all. Rather, she was assessing her present situation and conducting herself as best she could, living each day to the fullest extent.

One of her hardest days, I believe, was the day she realized she was no longer capable of receiving Holy Communion. She had such a devotion to the Eucharist and went to Mass often. I was not able to be home during this time, we were living in California already. My mom told me about an experience of attending Mass with Grandma and how what happened during Communion. My grandma walked up, slowly, with her hands folded across her chest. She bowed her head to receive her blessing. Then the priest held up the consecrated host for her to spiritually commune with. Thomas Aquinas described spiritual communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” – See more at: http://www.dolr.org/article/those-unable-receive-eucharist-can-have-spiritual-communion#sthash.H9zrkstV.dpuf. This was Grandma. She was so in love with Jesus, this desire that Aquinas speaks of is what my mom saw reflected in her eyes.

My grandma died with grace. Her children surrounded her as she died, keeping vigil over her as she passed from this life into the next. As she was dying, a friend of the family, a nun, visited with my aunts and uncles regularly. She knew Grandma and knew her devotion to the rosary. She often led everyone in praying the rosary, for some of them it was their first time in a very long time praying this prayer. The ritual of prayer and praying aloud together strengthened everyone for the time to come and when Grandma did pass away, they were able to find solace, comfort and strength in that prayer.

By now you are probably wondering how this all ties in to the Lion King. “They live in you” can be said by a Catholic “the communion of saints.” When my grandma passed on into heaven, she did not cease to exist. She is alive in me every time I cook my spaghetti sauce that she helped teach me to make. She is alive in me every time I crochet. She is alive in me every time I go to Mass. She is alive in me every time I cook a meal for a friend in need. She is alive in our family when we gather together for celebrations, when we attend a cousin’s sporting activities, when we serve, and especially when we pray together.