“Memory eternal…” (Repost with note)

NOTE: I wanted to share this post again, because I wanted to explain what is meant when I post the phrase, “Memory Eternal ” when someone passes away. I just love this and I would love for others to find the comfort in these words, too. Please read…..
Joe smiling

This is my father-in-law, Joe. He passed into his eternal rest four years ago today. As Eastern Catholics, when we recall someone or remark upon their deaths, we say to others, “Memory Eternal.” One wonderful explanation comes from Scripture itself. As we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, the thief asked: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “I say to you, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”  In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.”  “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. (Orthodox Christianity.net). I love that explanation. But there are many others, too.

This is also posted on Orthodox Christianity.net: “The Jewish equivalent of “memory eternal” would be zikhrono/ah li-vrakha (“may his/her memory be unto blessing”). Heretics, apostates or evil doers are never mentioned by name after they are gone. If they are referred to, a mock name is used instead (I guess that explains why some call Our Lord “Yoshke”). Also, on Purim when the Scroll of Esther is read, noise is made to blot out the name of Haman, the enemy of Israel. With us, this happens when the Synodikon is read on Orthodoxy Sunday: people call out Memory Eternal thrice to acclaim Saints and righteous Emperors and thrice Anathema for heretics and enemies of the Church. When one really wanted to punish an enemy, they would kill everyone in his household, so that nobody would perpetrate his memory/pray for him. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”

That explanation is a little extreme, but I love the ties to our Jewish roots in theology. And more is found in other scripture references, too.  Proverbs 10:7 “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Psalm 112:6 “Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”  And from the book of Isaiah (Iz 49:13-15) “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”Joe BryceIn the Eastern Churches, we don’t have a funeral “Mass.” We have a memorial service. And this is the last portion of that service:

The Dismissal

Priest: “Glory to You, O God, our hope, glory to You. May Christ our true God, who rose from the dead and as immortal King has authority over the living and the dead, have mercy on us and save us, through the intercessions of his spotless and holy Mother; of the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy Apostles; of our venerable and God‑bearing Fathers; of the holy and glorious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of his holy and righteous friend Lazaros, who lay in the grave four days; and of all the saints; establish the soul of His servant Joseph, departed from us, in the dwelling place of the saints; give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.

People: Amen.

Priest: May your memory be eternal, dear brother, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.”

I love how we are asking for a place among all the saints, a place of rest among the righteous. We are remembering the person who walked among us, and we are asking that God “remember” him, too. On that same site, Orthodox Christian.net, this is said,

To remember – to have memory of in the western world is to THINK and RECALL an individual.

To remember – to have memory of in the Eastern Church it is to RE-MEMBER – to pull that person, that part of the body, and RE-MEMBER – REJOIN that body part back into the Body of Christ.

So to say, Memory Eternal is saying “May he/she FOREVER be a MEMBER – A PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.”

And I truly ask that whenever I say, “Memory Eternal.” May that person forever be with us. We have the Church in 3 states – the Church Militant, here on earth, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and the Church Suffering or Waiting (that would be those in Purgatory, should you accept that teaching). But we are all One Body in Christ. It is why we feel we can confidently ask the Saints to pray for us – they are part of the Body of Christ in the Church Triumphant. And we can continue to pray for those who have gone before us, asking for their memories to be eternal, for them to reside with God in Paradise.

Joe Kyle Ron

And this leads to what I’ve been musing over. What would I like to be remembered for? My kindness to others? My temper? My sarcastic wit? My smile? My faith and love of God? I pray my children, and those who know me well, would have an amalgam of memories of me, that would form the whole person, imperfect as I am, for them to cling to after I am gone. But am I also that thief, hanging next to Our Lord, asking to be remembered? Well, yes I am. I have committed sins. I  have great need of forgiveness and repentance.

I read a great blog today by Father Barnabas Powell over on Ancient Faith Blogs entitled, “We deceive ourselves – Faith Encouraged.” In it he says,

“If I am so blind to my need for forgiveness and repentance, I will continue to be at the mercy of my passions. I will continue to be ruled by my spiritual poverty and I will miss the healing power of the spiritual medicine offered to me by God in Christ. But, if I come to myself, as the Prodigal did when he was working feeding the hogs on a farm, and he remembered that the servants in his father’s house were well fed and cared for, I will begin the admittedly difficult journey back to the Father’s House.”

He goes on to say: “Once I see that I am only lying to myself and escape this delusion through honest confession, I am finally free to see myself as I really am: A person who needs God’s mercy and grace. How powerful the trick of the evil one is when he cons me into believing that God won’t accept me because of my mistakes! I allow shame and pride to build a wall of delusion between me and the very love that will set me free. God already knows me better than I know myself. He sees all my weaknesses and mistakes and He loves me still. He, like the Prodigal’s father, stands at the end of the road every day looking for me to return home to His warm embrace. He does not shame me. I shame myself by foolishly wallowing in my ego!”

And he then says, “Today, are you willing to abandon the lie that you are OK? Are you willing to look into your own heart, without shame, and be honest in your need for God’s mercy and grace? Are you finally willing to travel the Lenten wisdom of prayer, fasting, and repentance to see your loving Father throw His arms around your neck and welcome you home and forgive all? Such spiritual treasures await the honest and humble man. All the love and forgiveness you will ever need is as close as your willingness to abandon the delusion of your own heart and embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose!”

I take great comfort in that. I know that God forgives me and when it is my time to “be remembered” among the saints, I can take my place. But I need to be honest about who I am, and that this constant journey is a process of picking myself up and starting over – and over again. It is not being intimated into admitting I am far from perfect and that God has so much left to do in me; it is an acceptance of my true sinful self and a reconciliation with the real me and God. I also need to remember that we are not guaranteed our next breath. Am I ready to be remembered right now? Am I in that place that gives me comfort, knowing if today is my last, that I am ready for eternal remembrance? My father-in-law was a good man. He worked so hard and he loved his family fiercely. He and I butt heads quite a lot. I wish I was the woman I am today, back when he was breathing his last. I think we would have liked one another more (I think he would have enjoyed me more). His death came so rapidly that most of us were truly unprepared for it. It is a blessing in that he did not suffer for too long, but he did suffer. His entire family suffered along with him. The last moments he and I shared were awkward and deeply sad, but I can sincerely add my prayers to everyone who says, “Memory Eternal,” and I can beg for his repose among the righteous. God knows my heart and he knows the relationship I shared with Joe. Joe and I loved one another, in sometimes an argumentative way, but we wanted the same thing for our family. Disagreements in families are commonplace. But I also know that saying, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a wise saying. Time is not something we can count on – there is a finality to this life. Let us all strive to forgive one another and treat one another with loving kindness always and foremost.

Memory eternal, Joe; memory eternal. “…give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.”

Joe Mary

Forget-me-not…

alzheimers-brain-puzzle

My mom has “stage 3” Alzheimer’s disease. It is not static; it is progressing. And so, I had a long chat with my sister yesterday. I call her my sister, but she is officially my “step sister.” And that seems just weird to call her that. We are sisters in our hearts. And she does not have a sister from her parents, and neither do I – it works out perfectly. We met when we were both in our 20s. Our parents fell in love and began living together, and after much pressure from us kids, were eventually married. My mom’s husband, aka my other dad, passed away just three years ago, from a very short and ugly bout of cancer. And it seems like he’s been gone forever. He will always leave a hole in our lives. To my children, he was their grandpa, not their grandma’s husband. He always made sure to let each of us know how much he loved us. And we all returned that love. He was an incredible man. And he loved my mother so very much. She knows he is gone. She kisses his framed photo each morning upon rising, and each evening at bedtime. My sister reminds her so very much of him. And she loves my sister as her own; even loving all of her husband’s grown children as her own. And her grandchildren through him, too. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years before my stepdad became ill. But at his death, it became obvious we could not let her live by herself. So, we moved her to a retirement home just after my stepdad passed away. My brother could not take her, and I live thousands of miles away. She is so attached emotionally to my sister, and we gratefully found a place just 5 minutes from her house, in sunny Southern California.

purpletreeleaves

Today, we came to the conclusion that where my mom is living is no longer working. We’ve skirted this issue for months now. Not only is she beginning to require more care, and this facility is not a memory care facility, but she is also no longer happy there. She knows she is not with her family. (She calls it her “prison.” She says it’s a beautiful one, but it is still a prison). She is missing the interaction with her kids and grandkids, and even the great-grandchildren she has. And we came to the almost inevitable conclusion that we need to move her up here, to be with me (I am the oldest and sort of expected this to happen – eventually). But, to actually live with me. And now my stomach is in knots. We are almost an empty nest, and I just turned 60 years old. My mom is 87 and healthier than I am (other than this horrific disease)! I. Am. Scared.

forgetmenot

God never gives us more than we can handle. I know this. I do. He also has a great sense of humor and irony. Do you see that flower up there? The Forget-Me-Not? It is the flower of the Alzheimer’s movement, as is the color purple. I recently got my first tattoo (don’t be too shocked) and it is purple. I love purple. I reside in Alaska. Do you know what the Alaskan state flower is? Yep – the Forget-Me-Not. See? God is smiling at me and my panic.

“…but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” 1 Timothy 5:4

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12

Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.” Isaiah 46:4

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8

On and on go the admonishments to care for one another. The admonishment is not just to our own flesh and blood – “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:10). We need to be taken outside of ourselves and our own needs, to care for the “least of these.” (Matthew 25:10). And I am being called in a very personal way, to care for my mom. And still, I am scared.

empty-nest

It’s rather ironic that we just celebrated our youngest son’s 18th birthday and are talking almost daily about his future and college and becoming an adult…yada yada yada…and then I talk to my sister. I jokingly offered to let my mom live with her. She said that she and her husband are actually thinking of retirement and selling their big house…maybe even living in a motorhome for awhile. They love having an empty nest. Ha-Ha. Further irony? We downsized when we relocated here. We gave away and sold everything and put what we could squeeze into a 25-foot u-haul trailer to live here. My husband and I were recently discussing our dreams of a camper/trailer we could haul all over the state, going from fishing hole to fishing hole, in our old age. Sans kids. Possibly allowing grandchildren! Ha-Ha.

I am flummoxed. There is just so much to consider, becoming the caregiver of an elderly relative. We did that for my paternal grandmother. We still had all our kids at home. She lived with us during her final stages of life, which ended up being just a few months. The house we owned was large enough to accommodate her and her hospital bed, as well as all the other equipment and space she needed. We met an amazing hospice staff and they came and went at all hours of the day and night. But it was such a blessing to share in that with my grandma. I treasured those last months and moments with her. I was glad to do it. I loved her dearly, and still I miss her. She made us laugh all the time. She was like a second mother to me. My mom and I have always had a rather contentious relationship, because I am somewhat like her, but also like my dad. I infuriate and frustrate her because of how much I am like my dad, her ex-husband. I moved out the moment I was 18 and only moved home when I was around 20-21, coincidentally right when my brother moved out to get married, and my dad left. I was there with her through her divorce and subsequent bout of breast cancer. But that was more than 40 years ago now. We held each other many days and nights, mourning the loss of our family unit, and her health. It was a devastating time for both of us. My mom is not a quitter. During those months of radiation and chemo, she announced, “This is not what will take me out.” And she meant it. She fought cancer with everything she was. She asked the American Cancer Society to leave our house one afternoon, disappearing into the back of the house. She called me back to her and said, “Please ask them to leave. If I listen to how depressing they are, this disease will kill me. And I have no intention of dying. Get rid of them!” And I did!  She is cognizant that she has Alzheimer’s. She hates it. When she is lucid and we can talk about it, she bemoans the fact that she knows she forgets things and people. She thinks others will think she is stupid, because she cannot remember them or events. We re-assure her that she is not stupid. We just repeat things so she can grasp onto them. But nowadays, that ability to grasp new things is passing her by. And her ability to remember all of the people in her family is also passing her by.

sadfaceAlzheimer’s is one of the worst diseases I know. My mom is a healthy woman. She isn’t on medication, except for the Alzheimer meds, which are no longer effective. She has only gone to doctors for illnesses, like her cancer or when she hurt her shoulder and needed surgery. She rarely even catches a cold. But this disease is ravaging her mind. And it hurts to see. If my mom knew she was like she is, she would hate it. She was always so put together. Her outfits always matched. She still wears matching jewelry, even if it is the same couple of pieces every day. She always wears make up (which I don’t even do) and her hair is always done just so. She used to iron her denim pants. (She never calls them jeans). My mom is a proper, little, British woman. And her life in New Zealand and her years as a young woman are now where she is living, mentally, most of the time. And it makes me so very sad. She remembers the 60s and 70s…she recalls outfits and events from the 1950s. But she does not remember some of the people she knows and loves. And that is hard. And I am scared of having the responsibility for her. Total responsibility. It is almost like thinking of having another baby in a couple of months, at my age.I just had a grandchild! My fifth. That I can do. But this? It intimidates me.

alzheimerssign

And every time I forget something, I wonder if I am getting this disease. Each time life gets confusing, or when I try to recall something and can only conjure a white wall in my mind, I am fearful. Will this be my fate? My dad is now 90 and has dementia. Because it is a type and function of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is on both sides of my genetic tree, will this be me in 20 years? My mom is only 27 years older than I am. Am I headed in this direction, too? How will I care for my mom if I start slipping away? Will my husband, or my sons, be burdened with all of my family? Will I become that which I fear in my mom? That is a terrifying thought.

But back to my panic and my faith. Back to my current reality. I know that the Lord will watch over us. I know that He intends for us to bond, as a family. Caring for my mom takes me way outside of my comfort zone, but perhaps it is where I need to go. One of my friends, and a leader in my company, said in a live feed yesterday, that whatever it is we are fearful of, is probably what we need to tackle next. And I am deeply fearful of taking care of my mom. My entire world will be turned upside down. We will have to move. Seriously. Like in the next few months move. And packing up this house and relocating again – I am seriously tired of moving. Horribly tired of moving. I don’t know how many moves I have left in me. It’s that bad. We’ve been here for almost 5 years, so I guess it’s time! Ha-Ha-Ha. But this move is so very different. This is a necessity for my mom. For her last years. I am not ready to say goodbye to my parents, to my mom. It frightens me because it is sort of like a final curtain; a devastating ending. I know it is inevitable. I know time marches on and we all come to an end. But having it thrust into your face, into your little cocoon, that is a different experience. I love my mom. Sometimes I need my mom. But she is no longer capable of being my mom, in the sense of me relying on her. And I know, that in her lucid moments, being dependent on me is not something she is comfortable with. Getting in a nurse to assist her is not something she will like, but having me bathe her or dress her would make her even more uncomfortable, although I have done it in the past. The first time I saw what her mastectomy honestly was, and when I had to assist her with her bandages, I broke down (literally fell onto the floor) and just cried. She was standing there, wet and naked in the bathtub/shower, trying to comfort me! My mom is an amazing woman, truly she is. Difficult? Yes. But I will treasure those moments when my mom held me while I was sick. When she held me as I wept. When she comforted ME – over the loss of her breasts and her health and her marriage. My mom has done so much for me, just being her, in all that she is. And I am so not ready for this last stage. Being with my mom, as her caregiver, is almost as frightening to me as losing her, once and for all.

alzheimers-fight

 

The Long Goodbye….memories made and lost…

Kodiak Sunrise

Sometimes life gets away from you. Time is stolen in the moments of the day. And suddenly, months have passed and you wonder where it went. We cannot ever recover the moments we allow to slide past us. Life has a starting point, and it has an ending point. It’s how we spend the time in-between those moments that count. Each morning, as in the gorgeous sunrise above, we are given a new beginning, a fresh start, a new opportunity. Deep breaths…

alzheimerswords

Recently, with my mom suffering from Alzheimer’s (which is a form of dementia and has no cure and worsens over time) my sister and I had a rough “Alzheimer’s day.” Quite often, she will call and we will have a gab fest that lasts for a couple of hours. We laugh, we share, we usually cry together. I was blessed with this woman coming into my life as an adult, when our parents chose to marry. She is my stepsister, but I love her like she’s been my sister all of my life. She has been such a blessing for my mom. And for me. When my stepdad died a couple of years ago, she stepped in as the primary caregiver for our mom. She lives 5 minutes from the retirement community my mom lives in. I live thousands of miles away (more than 5 hours by plane!) and my sole brother lives about an hour away. She and I are the main decision-makers for my mom’s living and health concerns. And this week we had a particularly rough day, which has led me to think, non-stop, about where we go from here.

Pistons

Alzheimer’s can best be explained like this: “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” There are many forms of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is just one of them: Huntington’s Disease, Stroke, Dementia with Lewy Bodies (Robin Williams had this type), Traumatic Brain Injury, Down Syndrome, Frontotemporal, etc. There are so many types of dementia. With Alzheimer’s there are several things happening, all at the same time. A neurologist once said it is like the pistons firing in an engine. Sometimes they all fire in the correct sequence, and the engine runs smoothly; sometimes they mis-fire and we have sluggish momentum; sometimes different pistons fire in random order, changing the order moment to moment. And the engine stalls. That is the frustrating thing with Alzheimer’s – the person can be chewing your head off and turn around and say, “And how is your day, sweetheart?” All without skipping a beat. We can have blow-outs and fights and then sit down to a beautiful meal together. My mom has always had what we all have called a “sharp tongue.” Even as a young girl, I was often on the receiving, hard end, of her barbed comments. As I grew into my teen years, it got worse, because I became adept at slinging them right back at her, to protect myself. And she slowly, with the love and help of my stepdad, developed a filter. Her comments were fewer and less sharp as she aged. And we were all hopeful she would become this lovely, sweet old lady. And then my stepdad died. I cannot tell you the difference his death has made in our family. He was a source of joy and laughter, stories that made your side ache with the laughing, and constant love. He never differentiated between his kids – the ones he made, and the ones he gained through marriage. He was a second dad, given to me as an adult, and someone I adored. For my kids, he was just grandpa. And, to his family, he was a walking saint! He loved my mom so much, he somehow made her a better person. And we did not realize the extent to which he ran interference with our mom. Now that he is gone, her filter has gone, too. Along with the development of this horrid disease, she is grieving the loss of the love of her life. And she is not able to handle her life and how things have gone, very well at all. And she is so alone. At night, she kisses the photo of my stepdad goodnight, repeating it with a good morning kiss when she wakes in the morning. She usually cries over his death at least once a day. She is so alone.

Older women

My sister and I shared, in our conversation the other day, that we both hoped our birth parents would somehow get remarried. I think it is the fantasy of all children of divorce, regardless of their age when the divorce happens. It is natural to want your family to be together; your parents to be married to each other. But we also love how my mom and her mom are friends. They bonded over the love for the same man. And they see one another, do lunch, shop; I think it’s great. But my mom is lonely. She is angry. She does not want to live in a retirement home. She wants to be with her husband. She said she really hates her life. She lives in a beautiful place and has people to hang out with. But because she has met them since this disease took over her life, she does not really know them. She often forgets who is who. It is beyond her capacity to make friends any longer. Companions, yes; friends, no. And she gets angry – a lot. (Have I mentioned that before???) So far, we have been able to keep her where she is, but not for much longer. Alzheimer’s is winning. It is taking my mom away from us, replacing her with this angry, confused, person who is not handling things, and is just not a happy person, deep down.

And my heart hurts. Because I am going to have to stand up to this formidable woman – even if she is only 4’11” on a good day. And trust me, she is formidable, even at 87 years of age. And I hate that I am going to have to take her freedom from her. I am going to have to take away her choices. Because she is no longer capable of making sound choices. She does not remember so many, many common things we all take for granted. Even how to use her phone message machine, a stove, an iron for her clothes, even how to do laundry. There are so many things she is forgetting. And every moment is a “crap shoot” in that we don’t know which pistons will be firing, and which will not fire ever again.

And that brings me back to that “moment” thing. You know, we are not guaranteed our next breath. No one is immune. Everyone dies. There are no immortals (even though in my paranormal literature there are all sorts of them). Our lifetimes are finite. We are given just this one shot at it. And each moment is a singular occurrence in our lives. Each moment, each breath, is unique and sole, and each one departs, leaving us better or worse for that experience. With Alzheimer’s, those precious, lucid, loving moments become fewer and fewer.

clocks

Every moment I have on this earth can never be repeated. My memories are mine. There are things I have – objects – that mean something to me because they are associated with a memory that is precious to me. For example, I used to collect tea sets – cups/saucers/dessert plates. I have them in boxes. Yes, that is box with an “es” at the end. I have lots of them. Each and every one is precious to me because it was part of a family member’s collection, or I found it on an antique hunt one weekend, or came upon a set unexpectedly, or it was even a gift. But I have all sons (boys!!!). None of them particularly care about dainty, little tea sets. It is sort of a girlie thing to collect. What am I going to do with them? My plan is to gift my daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and special friends with them, with an attached story of where it came from and why it is special to me. And I will get around to it…ha-ha! I will. And I was thinking of all my mom’s things. When I take her choices away from her and place her in a memory home, it is basically reducing her home down to a room. What do we bring with her? What do we do with what we don’t bring? What is important to her, to her wellbeing and contentedness, her sense of safety and “home” when we do relocate her? Will any of us appreciate her things the way she has? We will understand why she has what she does?  What are the things she is particularly attached to? In addition, I also ask myself, should I bring my mom home with me? With my husband and son? Is that fair to them? To me? To her? Is it doable? And so I cry…I am looking at my tea cups and remembering my grandma and my mom…God, how many wasted moments have there been when I could have said, “I love you” and given them hugs?

Antique tea sets

What memories am I making today that will resonate tomorrow? How am I sharing myself with those who mean the most to me? Because this could happen to me someday, and I want my family to have really known me. What did I do today that will make a difference on my tomorrow? Am I doing all I can do for myself, my family, my friends? “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns — and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?” (Matthew 6:25-26)  I try to trust, to not worry, because it does not add to my life…not a single hour. I try to face things as soon as I realize they are weighing on me, as I have found reality is usually much easier than what we conjure up in our minds. (And stress can be eased by just dealing with things head-on, facing our fears). But I do worry about my mom, and her limited, and getting narrower by the moment, future. I know she doesn’t worry about anything, because thinking like that no longer happens. Her pistons don’t fire like that. She doesn’t concern herself about anything but the moment she is currently living in…and the next moment is a guess. Some of the beauty (in a really warped way) of Alzheimer’s is the ability to only concern yourself with the here and now. It is also something that makes dealing with this disease so difficult. They call it the “long goodbye.” I’ve quoted it before. And I have used it before in blog posts. But as this disease progresses, I see the reality of it; I am living the reality of it. My mom rarely remembers when I call her. She thinks I don’t. That is fine. I know she won’t remember our chats after 4 or 5 minutes. “How is your day, sweetheart?” is said over and over in our conversations. The more often that sentence crops up, I know the conversation is over and I usually just say goodbye. This week, she was happy and getting ready for dinner (she’s old school and changes her outfit for dinner every day) when we were chatting on the phone. I had sent her flowers for Mother’s Day and she was joyful and happy, and grateful. The next day was hell day. Alzheimer’s won another round. Her pistons were firing all over the place. Unfortunately, those sorts of Alzheimer days wipe away the good days, because they are getting to be more and more severe. And so, it’s back to decision-making. A deep sigh, lots of tears, and research on my computer for places, benefits available, options for tomorrow. Lots of prayers about these upcoming choices and decisions. I know in my heart there are not many more tomorrows. I just wish I was 17 again wearing that red dress we both loved, and we were dressing for my graduation party from high school, and that I had taken that moment to tell her how much I loved her, when she would have really heard me, and remembered.

cab066148658377a39f399dfde2d7c68

 

“Memory eternal…”

Joe smiling

This is my father-in-law, Joe. He passed into his eternal rest four years ago today. As Eastern Catholics, when we recall someone or remark upon their deaths, we say to others, “Memory Eternal.” One wonderful explanation comes from Scripture itself. As we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, the thief asked: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “I say to you, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”  In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.”  “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. (Orthodox Christianity.net). I love that explanation. But there are many others, too.

This is also posted on Orthodox Christianity.net: “The Jewish equivalent of “memory eternal” would be zikhrono/ah li-vrakha (“may his/her memory be unto blessing”). Heretics, apostates or evil doers are never mentioned by name after they are gone. If they are referred to, a mock name is used instead (I guess that explains why some call Our Lord “Yoshke”). Also, on Purim when the Scroll of Esther is read, noise is made to blot out the name of Haman, the enemy of Israel. With us, this happens when the Synodikon is read on Orthodoxy Sunday: people call out Memory Eternal thrice to acclaim Saints and righteous Emperors and thrice Anathema for heretics and enemies of the Church. When one really wanted to punish an enemy, they would kill everyone in his household, so that nobody would perpetrate his memory/pray for him. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”

That explanation is a little extreme, but I love the ties to our Jewish roots in theology. And more is found in other scripture references, too.  Proverbs 10:7 “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Psalm 112:6 “Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”  And from the book of Isaiah (Iz 49:13-15) “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”Joe BryceIn the Eastern Churches, we don’t have a funeral “Mass.” We have a memorial service. And this is the last portion of that service:

The Dismissal

Priest: “Glory to You, O God, our hope, glory to You. May Christ our true God, who rose from the dead and as immortal King has authority over the living and the dead, have mercy on us and save us, through the intercessions of his spotless and holy Mother; of the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy Apostles; of our venerable and God‑bearing Fathers; of the holy and glorious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of his holy and righteous friend Lazaros, who lay in the grave four days; and of all the saints; establish the soul of His servant Joseph, departed from us, in the dwelling place of the saints; give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.

People: Amen.

Priest: May your memory be eternal, dear brother, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.”

I love how we are asking for a place among all the saints, a place of rest among the righteous. We are remembering the person who walked among us, and we are asking that God “remember” him, too. On that same site, Orthodox Christian.net, this is said,

To remember – to have memory of in the western world is to THINK and RECALL an individual.

To remember – to have memory of in the Eastern Church it is to RE-MEMBER – to pull that person, that part of the body, and RE-MEMBER – REJOIN that body part back into the Body of Christ.

So to say, Memory Eternal is saying “May he/she FOREVER be a MEMBER – A PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.”

And I truly ask that whenever I say, “Memory Eternal.” May that person forever be with us. We have the Church in 3 states – the Church Militant, here on earth, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and the Church Suffering or Waiting (that would be those in Purgatory, should you accept that teaching). But we are all One Body in Christ. It is why we feel we can confidently ask the Saints to pray for us – they are part of the Body of Christ in the Church Triumphant. And we can continue to pray for those who have gone before us, asking for their memories to be eternal, for them to reside with God in Paradise.

Joe Kyle Ron

And this leads to what I’ve been musing over. What would I like to be remembered for? My kindness to others? My temper? My sarcastic wit? My smile? My faith and love of God? I pray my children, and those who know me well, would have an amalgam of memories of me, that would form the whole person, imperfect as I am, for them to cling to after I am gone. But am I also that thief, hanging next to Our Lord, asking to be remembered? Well, yes I am. I have committed sins. I  have great need of forgiveness and repentance.

I read a great blog today by Father Barnabas Powell over on Ancient Faith Blogs entitled, “We deceive ourselves – Faith Encouraged.” In it he says,

“If I am so blind to my need for forgiveness and repentance, I will continue to be at the mercy of my passions. I will continue to be ruled by my spiritual poverty and I will miss the healing power of the spiritual medicine offered to me by God in Christ. But, if I come to myself, as the Prodigal did when he was working feeding the hogs on a farm, and he remembered that the servants in his father’s house were well fed and cared for, I will begin the admittedly difficult journey back to the Father’s House.”

He goes on to say: “Once I see that I am only lying to myself and escape this delusion through honest confession, I am finally free to see myself as I really am: A person who needs God’s mercy and grace. How powerful the trick of the evil one is when he cons me into believing that God won’t accept me because of my mistakes! I allow shame and pride to build a wall of delusion between me and the very love that will set me free. God already knows me better than I know myself. He sees all my weaknesses and mistakes and He loves me still. He, like the Prodigal’s father, stands at the end of the road every day looking for me to return home to His warm embrace. He does not shame me. I shame myself by foolishly wallowing in my ego!”

And he then says, “Today, are you willing to abandon the lie that you are OK? Are you willing to look into your own heart, without shame, and be honest in your need for God’s mercy and grace? Are you finally willing to travel the Lenten wisdom of prayer, fasting, and repentance to see your loving Father throw His arms around your neck and welcome you home and forgive all? Such spiritual treasures await the honest and humble man. All the love and forgiveness you will ever need is as close as your willingness to abandon the delusion of your own heart and embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose!”

I take great comfort in that. I know that God forgives me and when it is my time to “be remembered” among the saints, I can take my place. But I need to be honest about who I am, and that this constant journey is a process of picking myself up and starting over – and over again. It is not being intimated into admitting I am far from perfect and that God has so much left to do in me; it is an acceptance of my true sinful self and a reconciliation with the real me and God. I also need to remember that we are not guaranteed our next breath. Am I ready to be remembered right now? Am I in that place that gives me comfort, knowing if today is my last, that I am ready for eternal remembrance? My father-in-law was a good man. He worked so hard and he loved his family fiercely. He and I butt heads quite a lot. I wish I was the woman I am today, back when he was breathing his last. I think we would have liked one another more (I think he would have enjoyed me more). His death came so rapidly that most of us were truly unprepared for it. It is a blessing in that he did not suffer for too long, but he did suffer. His entire family suffered along with him. The last moments he and I shared were awkward and deeply sad, but I can sincerely add my prayers to everyone who says, “Memory Eternal,” and I can beg for his repose among the righteous. God knows my heart and he knows the relationship I shared with Joe. Joe and I loved one another, in sometimes an argumentative way, but we wanted the same thing for our family. Disagreements in families are commonplace. But I also know that saying, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a wise saying. Time is not something we can count on – there is a finality to this life. Let us all strive to forgive one another and treat one another with loving kindness always and foremost.

Memory eternal, Joe; memory eternal. “…give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.”

Joe Mary

“…the path by which you should go.”

St. Isaac the Syrian5

Today I am digging deep inside myself, because I am on watch.  My step father is fighting his last fight and I am deeply saddened.  I am looking deeply into my own walk with God and my own zig-zag pathway to eternity.  I recall so many of the wonderful chats we have had over the past 30 years; the many, many laughs he has given us.  Today, though, I am remembering the more sober, serious conversations we have had and I am praying for his soul; I am praying for a peaceful death and reunion with God.  Over the years, we have spoken about his mistakes, the ways in which he wishes he could have behaved differently. The beautiful part of that is that he recognized those mistakes and he acknowledged a life lived apart from his faith.  He struggled to get himself right with God, even before there was a diagnosis of cancer.  He went to his priest, he made a long confession, and he got himself back into Church.  Nearer to the end of his life, he sought comfort in his faith.  And he brought my mom with him; that is a gift I will forever be grateful for.

St. John Chrysostom2

Today, and once again, Abbot Tryphon wrote a post on his Facebook wall about relationship and our fear of them.  It was a beautiful piece and I quote some of it here: “Grieving the loss of a relationship, either by death or breakup, is just as important to the maturation of our heart, as having a long term relationship, for in grieving we allow ourselves to stay connected to others, and remain openhearted to what God has for us. If fear of loss disables us, we may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us, for by throwing courage to the side, we deprive ourselves of the touch and the intimacy that helps us open our hearts to all that God has in store for us.

Grieving is the way you can heal from loss, and, in turn, be open to relationships that can make your life more complete, and more fulfilled. Many people do not allow themselves to grieve, so they deprive themselves of relationships that can lead to spiritual growth that only comes through suffering loss. You grow stronger if you allow yourself to grieve when you’ve experienced loss, for grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills. It is the way that the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise. If we refuse to love another, for fear of loss, we remain closed off from not only others, but from God. “He who does not love remains in death (1 John 3:14).

As the Abbot stated, we cannot close ourselves off from relationship for fear of grieving; “grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills.”  Today I am grieving because while my stepdad is struggling for each and every breath today, I grieve the loss of someone in my life who really affected my entire family.  My mom is a better woman because he chose to love her.  He loved me and my children as if we were born through him. never differentiating between any of us.  And I am forever grateful for that. My brother told him on Saturday that he hopes he can love his wife as my stepdad loved our mother and he thanked him for loving our mom so totally.  What a gift he gave us.  And I know he would be embarrassed by my saying this in a public forum, and he would joke it away; but I also know he would secretly be very pleased to know he touched us all so deeply.  My sons learned a lot from their grandpa and they all love him very much.  He used to play with my sons and tell them silly stories. But most of all, he shared himself with them and that is a priceless gift.

Lent is surely trying us this year.  I am still clinging to Elder Thaddeus’ book and struggling to make my way through it.  The book and his thoughts have truly touched my heart and soul this year, and I hope engendered permanent changes to the woman I am. He stated that, ” Our Lord is pleased with the good deeds we perform.  Works of mercy and everything else we do for our salvation and the benefit of our neighbor and the Holy Church, all this is pleasing to God.  However, what pleases Him most is simple, innocent and childlike love which cleaves to His heart.  This is what is most pleasing to Him and what He wants from us. This is what every person can give Him, rich or poor, young or old.”  My stepdad became a changed man once he was welcomed back into the Church. He and my mom began working for a homeless center their parish ran.  They sold clothing and household items there, and also provided free weekly meals.  They even assist people with paying utility and grocery bills.  My mom was in charge of organizing the donated clothing, pricing it, and putting it out for sale.  More often than not, when someone in need came for a meal, they would also be walked through the little shop and given whatever it was they needed, no money expected.  The local need grew bigger and bigger and my stepdad used to ride in this big semi-truck down to a different county to get food from this central food bank, to resupply their center.  He loved doing that.  They got involved and made some wonderful friends through volunteering there.  It enhanced their lives and brought them great joy and peace.  And although they did all these great things, I appreciate more especially how God worked in their lives and allowed them to love more and become more at peace.  I was so shocked when my mom volunteered to do this, because it was so out of character for her; but it became her character, as it changed her.  And what a blessing that is – and a lesson for me, in my struggles (most especially this Lenten journey).  My mom was never an overly demonstrative person, but as she has aged, and gone through her own journey, we have grown much closer.  I treasure that relationship now.  I also know that my stepdad helped to bring this change about and for that, too, I am forever grateful.

Character

By the end of this Lenten journey, I am hoping for a joyous morning, when we welcome our Risen Lord.  The hope I have comes from a mighty struggle; a struggle I have yet to complete.  But as the Scripture verse from Romans promises us, we have hope through our struggles. I now pray for strength to endure these coming days and moments when I cannot afford to wallow in my own grief, but must be strong and a comfort to others, mostly to my mom.  I know God does not give me more than I can handle (“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” 1 Corinthians 10:13) and I also know that He will lead me in the way I should go (“This is what the LORD says, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you how to succeed, who directs you in the path by which you should go.” Isaiah 48:17) and through His guidance, we will all reach our Resurrection, our Easter.

easter-lily-woman-cross

I pray for God’s blessing on our family through these next days; most especially for my mom. I ask the Lord’s strength rest upon her as she faces these days ahead. God grant us peace and love…and healing from this grief. Amen.

“…fellow pilgrim on my journey…”

Man before clouds

This morning, I was driven to write, amongst the tears I am shedding.  I was watching the Pope address the crowds at Castel Gondolfo this morning and he said (paraphrased here) ” I am now just a fellow pilgrim on my journey to my final destination.”  It made me weep.  I am weeping because my stepdad, who is very loved, is entering hospice today, to also begin his pilgrimage to his final destination.  And I could not help but notice the parallels between the two men. Pope Benedict looked so frail and weak as he climbed aboard his helicopter and then again, when he entered the cars waiting for him after his short flight from the Vatican, to his final home at Castel Gondolfo.  He was peaceful but obviously tired, as he addressed the crowds waiting to hear, and cling to, his final words as Pope. The weight of office has certainly wreaked havoc on his physical health.  My stepdad has been valiantly fighting cancer for the past 11 months.  The doctors see no purpose in further exposure to chemo-therapy and feel that they can do no more for him, other than to keep him comfortable.  My step-sister and I chatted, wept, laughed, and cried about her dad yesterday; it was a good conversation. He has been such a powerful personality in my life for the past 30 years, that realizing I may never hear one of his silly stories, or hear his laughter again, leaves a major hole in my life.  My sons adore him as well.  He always made us laugh and my mom used to roll her eyes and just sigh, having heard his stories and jokes countless times.  But he also had her well in hand and has helped her to become a kinder, gentler woman in these past 30 years.  He used to say, when she would go off on some tangent and be angry, “Oh Maureen, put a sock in it!”  The first time he did that, I could not help but laugh and laugh.  Seeing the “pin” pop my mom’s balloon was hilarious.  All the starch would go out of her anger and she would look at him and just smile.  He has been so good for her. He has insisted they attend Mass and has been receiving the sacraments regularly since making a confession and regularizing their relationship several years ago.  The priest has been coming every Sunday with communion for him and my step-sister told me he received anointing, and had a good confession and communion, this past Sunday; it warmed my heart.  After their last doctor’s appointment, my step-sister said he was “not ready to throw up the white flag.” That is so him! But after consultation with hospice specialists, he agreed that it was time and today, he begins his final journey.  And I am sad, very sad.  I posted that picture above because it made me think of how we all face our final judgement – alone.  Family may be beside us, but we all enter into our final conversation with God.  With my father-in-law last year, that became more and more evident as his time with us drew to an end; he was already in deep conversation with God.  The photo reminds me of the Pope, beginning his final days in solitude; and my stepdad, his final days in hospice at home, with my mom.  This all, of course, has me thinking.

The world revolves; it is part of how the cosmos was constructed by our very wise Lord.  He was in the darkness and it became light – He alone controls the movements of the Heavens and all of us, His children, are under His watchful eye.  We go through our days, facing many choices and making many decisions.  Each choice laid before us is a temptation God has allowed for our own spiritual good – we opt, through free will, to “take a step towards God,” or we opt to “take a step away from God.”  That is how the Eastern Churches, and the Orthodox, view sin.  There is no gradation, it is just sin or it is not.  From our early childhood, we begin to choose our pathway towards our final destination.  I have been taking this time of Lent to re-evaluate my journey, and to tweak the things I need to, in order for my path to be more in line with God’s Will for me.  Often, the spinning world interrupts our journey towards Heaven. We go off on tangents and we choose ways that are not strictly how God would have us live our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book, Chapter Ten, “On Spiritual Struggle,” #3 says this,” The evil spirits are always wanting to interfere with whatever we are doing for our salvation. Alas, we who are lukewarm usually say to ourselves, ‘Wait, I have not yet done this, I have not yet tried that … I will repent later.  After I have done all these things I will repent, God, and I will walk the straight path, wandering neither to the right nor to the left.’ This is exactly what the spirits of evil want us to do; they want us to put off our salvation until tomorrow, or the day after, and so on and so forth, until the end of our life.  But the Holy Fathers say,’Go with the Lord, go today, follow Him!

St Mark the Ascetic.3

We are all blessed to watch the journey not only that we make towards our own eternity, but the journeys others make alongside us.  Watching someone like Pope Benedict struggle with the cross that was presented to him in the office of the Pope (something it seems to me he did not want and was not particularly suited to), or friends and family members who choose to put off getting their lives in order and are still struggling in this world, and people like my stepdad, who have struggled and are at the end of their journey.  We can all learn from the struggles of those around us.  Often incorrigible youth are taken to prisons, where the inmates, “scare them straight.”  I think that watching the world around us should scare all of us “straight.”  I know I am scared and am working diligently to “get my house in order.”  And I am deeply in prayer for the Pope, as he settles into a cloistered existence of reading, writing, and continued prayer for the world.  And I am also entering into a time of focused prayer for my stepdad, as he enters this final stage of his pilgrimage. Elder Thaddeus tells us that God doesn’t need our prayers; He wants our prayers.  He knows our sinfulness first hand and is just waiting for us to acknowledge it before Him.

‘When you sin, blame your thought, not your action. For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed.’  St. Mark the Ascetic

As we all journey on as pilgrims, and especially for myself, I am prayerful that in the limited days I have been entrusted with, that I choose wisely; I decide that today is that day I will choose “to walk the straight path, wandering neither to the right nor to the left.”

Pathway