Do you remember in kindergarten or even elementary school and having to report how you spent your summer? I remember one summer (pre-age 7) where I spent a vacation at the Gulf, and glued a bunch of shells to the inside of a shirt box, and then had to go to the library (my mother was a school librarian) to find the names of all the shells and write them in the shirt box next to the shell. I was so proud to present them to my class.
So how did I spend my summer? I’m not sure I’m as excited about this particular class presentation. I spent the last 10 weeks either in a hospital, a nursing home, an ICU, or a hospice. Oh yes, and I spent five short days in between at some point doing laundry and buying groceries for my children who were not sure if I was actually alive and in control. Would I change this summer for a European vacation, a rest on 30A, or a cruise? No, it was exactly where I needed to be – where God called me to be at this point in my life, and I wouldn’t have changed it for a thing.
I could probably write a book on this past summer and how it changed my life. Instead, I will (hopefully), gracefully share with you all a very brief summary. My mom (age 74) has been suffering with peripheral artery disease for many years (a “mean” disease a nurse recently shared with me). My mother had surgery 10 years ago, and the doctors were surprised that the surgery had lasted as long as it had. Fast forward to June 18th, where she was rushed to emergency surgery to re-open a closed femoral artery in her leg. I was able to arrive from ATL as the surgeon was closing, and she and I embarked on a summer of rehab and regrouping.
I learned that “rehab” or a “skilled nursing facility” are just fancy words for “nursing home.” Prior to this, my only experience with a nursing home was as a seven year old bringing Valentines to “old folks” as a Brownie or singing carols with my elementary school choir at Christmas time. As an adult, I was not prepared for what I was to see – the loneliness of elderly patients, the despair of true pain and suffering, and the abandonment of the elderly in their time of great need.
During these past two months, I also saw the hand of God – day in, and day out. If I hadn’t, I would have surely crumpled into the ball that I often see in the corner of my mind. So what simple (and I mean simple) truths did I learn in these last couple of months?
Nurses who embrace their vocations are angels on earth. There are jobs, and there are vocations. The nurses, hospice workers, and physical therapists who see their “jobs” as vocations, change the world and the worlds of the actual human beings they care for. It is not just about “treatment,” but about caring for someone as they would their own mother, sister, or friend. There were so many who cared for my mother as if she were their own, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
The human spirit is incredibly resilient. My mother went through the proverbial ringer this summer. Three major surgeries. Weeks of physical and occupational therapy rehab. Multiple “procedures’ that tested her humanity with prep that would make your healthy heart sick. Nursing home food which barely resembled what you would feed your dog. Yet, her spirit viewed the future. She would talk of watching my daughter graduate or even look forward to the theater season with her friends. Her spirit was strong, even when her body was betraying her. She continued to give me a “to-do” list right until the very end. One night she gave my husband and me a list of 28 “to-do’s.” I asked her “Seriously?” Yes, she was serious. And we did them.
When you don’t have the strength to pray for yourself, your peeps are praying for you. And I don’t say this lightly. When you are in emergency mode, you are on auto-pilot. You go from bed to shower to hospital. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Grab a diet Coke on the way in to the hospital and hope you have a meal before midnight. You count on the prayers of others to see you through. To see your loved one through. If I had counted on my own prayers, I would have been in trouble, because I had a very difficult time finding the words to pray. I was numb. I was discouraged. I was helpless. My faith community pulled me and my mother though. That was the only way. And it was God’s way. And I am forever grateful.
You know that thing that bugs you? It doesn’t matter. Moms and Dads always have a way of parenting us as adults that sometimes gets on our nerves. They might critique your cleaning methods (or lack thereof), your parenting techniques, or the number of extracurriculars your child is in. It might get on your nerves, and you might stew about it. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s just not important. Let the small stuff slide, and enjoy and appreciate the big picture. Your parents are only around for a finite time. Time is incredibly precious when you no longer have it. Enjoy them for who they are and the joy they bring you and your family, and let the rest go.
The Marist Community is real, and it is within your reach. I heard from my Marist alumni friends, my children’s friends and their parents, and my Marist Mothers Prayer Group friends. My children’s academic counselors. The Marist Priests. Our Marist community is real, and it truly cares. If you doubt that, or if you need that – reach out, because it is there for us, and more powerful than you can imagine.
I leave you with a word of sincere, heartfelt thanks. I tell you my story not for pity or sympathy. This community has been an amazing blessing to me the past four years. Thanks for being there for me in my time of need. I pray for you all, and love you all as brothers and sisters in Christ.
God bless you,
Maureen Ahearn Cully
(Proud daughter of Marty and Bob Ahearn, whose personal and financial sacrifice enabled me to attend Marist School from 1980-1986).
Rest in Peace, Martha Anne Ahearn, 8/21/16 and Robert Edward Ahearn, 4/7/13.
All is Well
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used to,
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household world it ever was,
Let it be spoken without effect
without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.
– Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918)
Prayer for Deceased Mothers
God of tenderness, we honor all women who cooperate with you in bringing life to the world, and we remember especially those mothers who have passed from this life and now rest in eternal life with you. We offer gratitude for the gift of their lives and for the ways they blessed their children with life and love.
Trusting in your deep love and providential care, we ask you to bring comfort and peace to all children, young or old, who mourn the loss of a mother. May your own mother, Mary, watch over these children and guide them with her tender care. Amen.
– University of Notre Dame