7.18.2017

11 Months

Sugarbeet placing a golf ball at my dad's grave on Father's Day, 2017.
When I wrote my recap of 2016, I shared how 2016 will always be a year of both/and, of joy and sorrow. One of the joys was that, despite my dad's death in August, it will always be the year that he was last on this earth and so a year of joy because of the moments spent together.

As August 18 creeps ever closer, one month from today, I find myself realizing that the ability to say 'last year, dad and I..." or to look at the calendar and remember a day shared with my dad just one year ago is something I'll never experience again. That no longer will he be as close as 'a year ago'. That time will move forward and he will forever move farther away from this life. As Memorial Day approached, the anniversary of Dad entering the hospital due to inability to feel his feet because of tumors pressing on his spine...only to not leave the hospital/rehab again until his last trip home to say goodbye.

It catches my breath when I think of all he has missed this year, and all he will miss in the years to come. And of course, he hasn't really missed it, but rather I have missed the experience of sharing in this earthly life with him.  And it is in this realization that while he moves farther away from this life, I move closer to seeing him again.

Before Dad died, I never really understood why people visited cemeteries, nor exactly what one should do when visiting. In the last year, though, I have found myself drawn there. Most often on the 18th of the month, and for holidays or other special days. And, as so many times before, I have found so much comfort in the treasury of prayers offered to us by the Catholic Church. Whether it is a simple recitation of the St. Michael prayer, an offering of our family litany of saints, or the rite of prayers prayed for the dead when visiting a cemetery. I take such comfort in the prayers and am reminded that while I do not know if he is in heaven or purgatory, dad and I can continue to pray for one another. The relationship doesn't end with death.

Last year at this time, I was preparing for our annual beach trip. Dad had little to no appetite and was moved from a rehab facility to a nursing home where he could focus on healing and receive some therapy. Looking back, and having more knowledge of end stage cancer, I see that his body was losing its fight. I think I'm glad I didn't know then what I know now. Yes, I was worried upon leaving for vacation, but I didn't really think we only had a month left. And when we got back, Sugarbeet and I took the laptop along with us for our visit and he enjoyed seeing the photos of her first trip to the beach. He was so proud of her willingness to play in the waves and loved her enthusiasm for miniature golf. So many of my best beach memories growing up are with my dad - sand castle building, ocean wave jumping, raft wave riding, mini golf playing, and roller coaster riding. I only hope that Sugarbeet remembers these vacations with as much joy as I remember my childhood beach vacations.

And so, this week, this year, once again I am packing for the beach. Only this year, I know that when I come back I will be facing August 18. This year, I'll know what that date will mean to me, for the rest of my life. And on August 19, no longer will there be 'last year with Dad'. Yes, everyone says the 'firsts' are hard and just making it through them is important. Somehow though, it seems that instead of things getting easier, as time moves on further away from 2016, they get harder.

As this year of firsts comes to a close, I will cling to those moments of peace and hope I had as Dad passed from this life to the next. I will continue to offer prayers for his soul and ask him to pray for me, for that is how our relationship remains in this present time.

Almighty God and Father, it is our certain faith that  your Son, who died on the cross, was raised from the dead, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep.
Grant that through this mystery your servant, Michael, who has gone to his rest in Christ, may share in the joy of his resurrection.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. 
Amen.
(Closing prayer from "Order for visiting a Cemetery")

4.15.2017

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday has always been a day where I've 'felt' the emptiness of Jesus' crucifixion and death. Yes, Good Friday, knowing that no Mass is celebrated and the tabernacles are empty while marking the Passion and the Death of Our Lord with the Veneration of the Cross, carries it's weight. But, it is Holy Saturday - the day when Christ lies in the grave. There is no intensity of the walk to Calvary and the crucifixion. Just the quiet knowledge that for one day The Son was dead.

Today, two pieces spoke to this feeling of emptiness I feel every year. The first, a piece of prose in the Holy Week Magnificat and the second, a poem shared on Facebook.

As we near sundown of this Holy Saturday, my prayer for you is that you always remember in our darkest, loneliest times, Christ is with us. He has descended to the dead, and He is with us. Always.
Holy Saturday is the day of the 'death of God', the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him... Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness; in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is He. Hell is thereby overcome, or to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it. ~Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Limbo
by Sister Mary Ada, OSJ
The ancient grayness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred
All souls.
They wondered if they dreamed –
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?
A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water
Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue –
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”

3.29.2017

Remembering ~ 30 Years

This is a post I've started to write probably 30 times since I started blogging. Heck, as I start it, I'm wondering if this will be the time I actually finish it and hit publish or if it will be added to the scrap pile. Interestingly, this is not a post that gets started and saved as a draft. Each time I've started, I've hit delete. Maybe this one is just too raw. Still. 30 years later.

And what it is about this day that has me sitting down to write again? I could come up with a list of things, but each time I've thought it was time, it hasn't been. So I suppose the only way I will know if it is time or not is to write it all down again and see if I tap "publish" or "delete" at the end.

What do I think has influenced me this time? Perhaps it is the passing of St. Patrick's Day - the day that was the hardest day yet since my Dad died, as it is a day full of memories and when being Irish meant I was my Dad's daughter; perhaps it is all of the hangover of burying one parent and finding it extremely odd and unnatural to be comforted by the other parent, to wonder why she is even at the funeral home; perhaps it is my dear friend Michelle of Endless Strength writing her own story of her parents' divorce today and acknowledging that in so many ways our experiences are so very similar; perhaps it is finding out via social media that one brother flew in to WV from TX to celebrate the other's 21st birthday and that the only communication I had with either all day was to text a happy birthday message and receive a thank you; and perhaps it is CD1 and the emotions are always strongest when the hormones are going crazy.

Whatever it is that has brought fingers to keys here in this place today, all I can say is that I'm still understanding and processing what the impact of being a child of divorce has been for me.

30 years ago this month my parents' divorce was finalized, I was just about to turn 8. I remember the months leading up to the separation - it happened at Thanksgiving, my brother, mom and I went to my grandparents and while we were gone for the long weekend, my Dad moved out of our home and into his apartment across town. Those months before the separation were characterized by many late night fights. The kind that probably started as a hushed, tense conversation and eventually ended in shouting. I remember hearing the shouting. I remember one night my Dad saying {again} he was going to leave and coming into my bedroom and getting his suitcase out of my closet (where all the suitcases were kept). As he sat on my bed to extract it from the others, I sat up and put my arms around him, asking him not to go. He stayed, that night.

I remember the morning in the fall, it must have been an unusually warm Saturday morning for mid-fall, as my brother and I were chomping at the bit to go out and play, but our parents kept putting us off. Finally, we sat down at the table and they told us, my Dad spoke, "Your mom and I are getting a divorce." I shouted "NO!" and ran off to my room. I don't remember anything else specifically about that day. When I think about the years since that day, there are things I do remember and now can see better just how those things impacted me.

I remember everyone always asking how my mom and my brother were and commenting on how well I was doing. But no one ever asked how I was.

I remembering lying to teachers to get attention in 4th grade. And seeking attention from boys, from 5th grade on. Of being used and discarded and still seeking more. All the while desperately wanting my Dad to notice me.

I remember wanting to live with my Dad in 6th grade and how both of my parents manipulated me through that process - and I how ended up staying with my Mom.

I remember being the messenger between my parents for everything from child support checks to re-arranging weekends to changing pick-up and drop off times.

I remember years and years of insisting that it was for the best that my parents divorced. That it was better because they weren't fighting any more. Except they were. They never peacefully co-existed. Not really.

I remember saying how lucky I was to have not 2 but 4 parents who loved me. Only, I never really fit in. There was always this other life, with this other family, that both of my parents had. I didn't realize the impact of that until much later - within the last decade. There were in-laws who weren't my grandparents, nieces and nephews who weren't my cousins, and traditions I didn't understand and in which I wasn't able to fully participate.

I remember hearing the rumors of why my parents divorced. Of seeing evidence for myself of the rumors. And of denying them. Of defending my parents. Of refusing to believe or admit what was right in front of me. Of living a lie for more than 30 years.

I remember feeling victorious when my parents were civil to one another at my wedding - that seemed the greatest achievement of the day. And then, my brother did something to set them off and the brief glimpse of peace I thought might come disappeared and never returned.

I remember being at a conference on adult children of divorce and having the tears fall while trying to keep my composure. Hearing others say what my head had been screaming for years, but my heart didn't want to hear. Having my rose-colored glasses ripped away. And forgiving. Forgiving my parents for all of the things for which I would never, and will never, hear an apology.  And realizing that that has to be enough. I watched my heart soften towards both of my parents and the relationships become so much less stressful as I quit trying to fit myself into places I didn't belong.

This place of memories seems a good place to stop for for today. A glimpse into what life looked like. Perhaps this is why I don't ever publish when I write on this topic, because I try to make it everything all in one. These are just memories, but the impacts of what they meant for me are much greater. Other themes related to my parents divorce, that I have reflected on in recent years are: belonging; God as Father; Mary as Mother; and what family means to me now. I think it best if rather than trying to condense all of this into one post, I write about each of these separately from this.

For today, it seems the time is finally right to hit publish and begin sharing this part of my road Home.

3.01.2017

Living the Vocation of the Domestic Church

I used to give a talk with that title at marriage prep. And most days now I struggle so hard with it, well, at least by my own standards. If I'm 100% honest with myself, what I do is what I would tell others they were doing a great job by doing, and I would mean it. But that's because usually I was trying to get engaged couples to just do one small thing to connect their hour at Mass on Sundays into their daily life.

But...

I used to go to Daily Mass every day.
And I had most of the mysteries (and their fruits!) of the rosary memorized, not from trying to memorize them, but from familiarity of praying them so often.
I read Church documents and the writings of saints daily.
And...and....and...I feel like I could make a list as long as I am tall of all the things I used to do, in addition to what I'm doing now.

Then...

I have to remind myself. I worked for the Church. My office was right next door to the Cathedral and Daily Mass was at Noon. Traveling? No problem, I was going to be at a parish and could schedule most meetings for just before or after their Daily Mass.
And working for the Church means a freedom and responsibility to read Church documents and faith based books during the day.
I also remind myself I had a 90 minute one-way commute and prayed a lot of my rosaries at 70 mph. Or, I was traveling and away from home and had the time completely to myself to do with as I pleased.

Also...

I now live 45 minutes from our parish with an 8:00 am Mass and a toddler who is not an early riser, not even close. (For things other than Mass, this is great, not denying that.)
Praying a rosary during any other time than nap or sleep time means negotiating to get my rosary guide back, and explaining repeatedly "that's your rosary, this one is mine".

And so, 18 months into being a SAHM I'm still struggling to find the balance of a healthy prayer life and parenting and keeping the house clean and making meals and grocery shopping and everything else.

I'm grateful for the push of Lent to help continue to work on this balance (that I'm starting to realize will never really be achieved). I am figuring out which of the above are excuses and which are legitimate obstacles. For the excuses, I need to exhibit self-control and not accept them. For the legitimate obstacles, I need to discern whether I need to work to remove the obstacle or adjust my goal temporarily.

I've been getting the Magnificat magazine again and it's helping with the rhythm of daily mass, and so I'm going to continue with that. It's not the same as going to Mass, but they rhythm of the lectionary has been and continues to be a great source of comfort and support to me. When I think about what I'm missing the most, it is my daily conversations with Mary through the rosary. I still talk to her always and I probably pray 50 Hail Mary's per day at different times, but I miss the 1:1 times of a rosary.

I also need to keep working to find the balance between down time and getting household things done during nap time and after bed time. I'm on point with this some weeks and other weeks - hahahahaha.

And so for Lent, my prayer, fasting, and almsgiving will be taking the form of doing better at living the vocation of the domestic church, as I expect for myself, not the standards I would accept for another.

Prayer:
One individual rosary per day (in addition to our family rosary times).
Keep up with the Daily Mass readings using the Magnificat. Attend Daily Mass once a week.

Fasting:
I'm taking a 'self-denial' in general approach to fasting versus a strict food approach to fasting. Before I use social media, play candy crush, blog, watch TV, etc. etc. etc. during naptime, I must complete my daily 'household' chore.

Almsgiving:
Part of my feeling overwhelmed with household chores and tasks is the amount of stuff that needs to be worked around when something needs done. So, each week I will make one trip to drop off donations from cleaning out and getting rid of things that are not being used.

I am hopeful that these are goals that I will be able to continue after the season of Lent is over, having established a healthy pattern and better balance during the season of Lent.

2.13.2017

My Medicaid Experience

I knew that at some point during my pregnancy I would have an insurance switch. I had been covered under my former spouse's plan and once our civil divorce was final, it meant there would be a change in coverage. As I was only working as an occasional substitute teacher and R was looking for a job, we qualified for state-sponsored health coverage/insurance (Medicaid).

There were both positive and negative experiences with receiving Medicaid while pregnant and with a newborn. I think the best way to go through them would be in categories.

The Application Process

Because we knew the insurance change would be coming, and that I was pregnant, and that we were now required by law to have insurance, we started the process before my insurance was dropped.
Both R and I are educated people, with post-graduate degrees. We are used to paperwork, forms, formal processes, and red tape. We filled out all the paperwork online as requested (R initiated it). We received a notice back that proof of income was needed, and how we could submit it. Before we submitted the required paperwork, we received another packet in the mail that looked like we had been approved. We were both skeptical of this. We hadn't completed our application as requested, and yet we were being sent another packet with additional instructions to complete - which included creating online profiles. We were also skeptical of this. There was nothing that stated that we had for sure been approved, just a seemingly random packet of information. We put the information in a file and, in all honesty, forgot about it for a month or so. There was a lot happening and it was one thing that didn't make a lot of sense to us, nor was of highest urgency, yet, and so it sat.

As time went on, we revisited the process, this time I initiated it, and we received the same notification that proof of income was needed and where to take it. I also needed to submit proof of pregnancy, and so I called my OB office and asked them to fax the proof to the Assistance Office. At the time, there was something that I needed to take in person to the office (or thought I needed to take in person) and so we headed out. And so began our experience at the assistance office. It was our one and only experience, but boy was it eye opening.

The Assistance Office

In the course of 4 months I was in the Assistance office once, the DMV once, and the Social Security office twice. I'd have gladly taken 3 more trips to the DMV and 3 more trips to the SS office before I ever went back to the Assistance office. In fact, I opted to deal with the hassle of having to return calls the benefits office after each appointment to verify that yes, my last name had changed, no I had not changed it at the assistance office yet, so that the visit could be processed. (After the 2nd time, I wised up and started telling the check-in receptionist at each appointment about the last name difference and didn't have to deal with the calls anymore.) Anyway...the Assistance Office.

The Scene:

An initial check in point where you tell them why you are there. They give you about zero information, a number, and direct you to a tiny waiting area with more people than chairs. Chairs that are miserably uncomfortable. People come and go with varying degrees of urgency (from their perspective) and the person responds exactly the same to them all. It's freezing in the room. It's also dirty. The walls are scratched. There are giant signs, that have been written on, that state no food or drink. There is no bathroom in the room, only out in the main lobby of the building and if you miss your number being called, you go to the bottom of the list. There is a long row of windows with about 1/4 of them occupied by someone working and a 1/4 of that 1/4 are seeing clients. The rest are working away at some unseen task on a computer. There is a "security guard" who does nothing that we can see except stand there and chit chat with the receptionists.

Did I mention it was dirty? There were no pictures on the scratched, beaten up walls, nothing to engage people who are waiting - no tables with magazines, no area of toys for small children (we saw at least 3 different moms come in with children and endure the long waits). No water cooler - only big signs that say "no food or drink" with scribbling on them and the wall under them.

The other people who came and went to receive 'assistance' had varying degrees of a chip on their shoulder. Some, it was painfully obvious were trying to circumvent the system and not interested in honesty. Others just looked worn down and resigned to the process.

The Process:

You check in at the initial desk and are given a number. No asking of why you are there - just get your number and sit.
You wait nearly two hours, and are then called to another desk, right next to the first desk and you try to explain why you are there, we were just trying to drop off a form. The person at the desk has no idea what we are talking about, has no idea if the other information had been faxed. We show here that we were asked to provide the information we had, and she, without comment, gives us another number and sends us to another group of chairs further back in the room to wait again.
Here we wait for another 2 (or maybe more) hours. While waiting we hear the workers dealing with some of the other people while we wait. One man is so mean to the people he is talking with that I begin to pray, no beg, God that we do not have to be served by that man. I was literally scared to go back and talk to him.

Finally, it was our turn. Initially the woman we spoke to was cold and disrespectful. I, having sat in a cold, uncomfortable chair without food or drink or a bathroom for 3+ hours and being 24ish weeks pregnant had pretty much had it. I somehow was able to stick up for myself without losing my temper, and R was able to fill in the gaps and somehow in that process we must have shown to the lady that we were not her 'usual' clientele and her whole tone changed. From being unable to help us (the default response of all the workers it seemed) to doing some research and giving us the answers we needed. We also found out that we had already been assigned a case worker (who we NEVER heard form or even received that person's name). And that we were good to go.

We were told that the information we had received that seemed skeptical was, in fact, valid and that all we needed to do was go in and select our provider and primary care doctors. That the initial process R had started (despite our not sending in the documents we were told we needed to send in) was, in fact, completed and just waiting on us to make our selections.This still baffles us - how it was possible to not provide all the "required" information and still have a case opened and active AND that when we filled out a second application process there was no recognition in the system that our information was already active. It wasn't until we spent our day at the Assistance office that any of this was clarified.

Once home and logged into the system, we were able to select our provider and chose one that was the Medicaid branch of the local Healthcare system, that was also a large hospital system (UPMC).

As we walked home, we reflected on our experience at the Assistance Office and commented how we felt like our soul was slowly being drained from our body while we sat there. How disrespectful of human dignity the whole environment was. How it would be so simple to put a few pictures on the walls, put a water cooler with cups, allow for a trip to the bathroom without fear of losing your place in line, treating people with a default position of respect, not suspicion and rudeness.

We realized that in some sense, it is a bad circular pattern, with those that come in to seek assistance not necessarily respecting the environment (perhaps there had been a water cooler at one point, but was vandalized?). But, the conclusion I came to was that those who know better should do better. Create an environment with expectations for behavior, respectfully insist those expectations be met and treat people with full respect of their human dignity.

If this is what social services and assistance in the United States looks like, and I have only reason to believe this is the norm, not the exception, then we, as a country have a lot to be ashamed of. And prior to personally experiencing this, I had no reason but to believe that it was more akin to a trip to the DMV or SS office - annoying, frustrating, but ultimately your needs are met and you are typically treated with a decent level of respect. (Not that it should be that way there, either...) The 'assistance' provided, and the manner in which it is provided only perpetuates the problem. The dignity of the person is not respected - from their time (you would need to take an entire day off of work in order to go to the Assistance office, and if you try to call, the phone rings and rings and rings and then you are given a message that says everyone is busy, call back later - not even an option to leave a voicemail) to the way they are treated (with a default position of suspicion and annoyance) to the environment they are expected to wait in.

In fact, when my divorce was final and my name legal changed back to my maiden name, I opted to not return to the Assistance office (because that was the only way to do it) and to just deal with it as described above. As I said to R: "I can't stand another day of that." Only, I am all too aware that I was able to make that choice...that there was not a NEED to return to the office, unlike so many others who must return.

I am not sure what the solution is, but what I keep coming back to is that 'those who know better, must do better' and that it is responsibility of those providing the services to preserve the dignity of those they serve.

Switching Doctors
While we were living in Pittsburgh, our initial preference was to keep my doctor in WV and deliver at the small hospital here as well. My mom worked at that hospital and while I didn't want her (or anyone besides R) present while I was in labor, I was familiar with the hospital, loved their L&D unit and their philosophy. In fact, most things that we would have requested on our birth plan were standard practice. Not to mention switching OBs at almost 30 weeks pregnant.

So, I called my OB and let them know my insurance was switching and asked if they accepted out of state plans. The lady I spoke to was rude (which was unusual) and stated that they do not accept any out of state Medicaid. She didn't offer any other options (a private pay, which we were willing to consider if the hospital would accept the PA Medicaid), and seemed annoyed that I didn't already know the answer to this question. Being that Morgantown is less than 10 miles from PA, and the closest hospital to lots of small communities in SW PA, I was surprised at the rudeness and shortness with which I was responded to. It was hard not to wonder if it was because I was a Medicaid patient now. I'd only ever been treated respectfully when I was a private insurance patient.

And so, we switched doctors. From a practice with OBs and midwives to a full midwife practice at a large women's hospital. Looking back, I'm so grateful for this. I loved the midwives, even though I only met each one once, and was introduced to 3 different ones throughout my labor, they were all wonderful. Some I liked better than others, but all in all, it was a great switch and now I find myself in the opposite situation where I want to keep them as my provider instead of the local doctors here in WV (there was a lot of turmoil at my OB practice just after we switched and I would be switching to yet another practice anyway).

Actual Care/Benefits Received

In this category, once we switched doctors, I have nothing but gratitude and positive experiences. I realize that may not be the same for everyone, but this was our experience. Maybe it was because our insurance and our hospital/doctors were all the same network. After my first visit, I didn't even have to show my medical card anymore, I was in the system.

We did have the lack of consistency regarding my last name, as described above, but each person I spoke to in that process was polite and easy to work with (all were associated with the hospital system/insurance).

As far as I could tell, I was not given any different treatment than any other patient as a Medicaid patient. I have no idea if our chart was flagged or anything like that. Never was our insurance coverage brought up in the course of treatment.

My entire pregnancy care and delivery, as well as post-partum care and all of Sugarbeet's pediatric needs until she was 6 months old, were covered completely. There were no random bills or mix ups. Everything went smoothly, and removed a great source of stress for us.

Final Reflections

We returned to private insurance coverage when R started working last year, but for the time that we needed Medicaid, I am grateful it existed and will always be an advocate for providing support to those who need it. The process was unnecessarily complicated and disrespectful and needs to be changed. I have a new level of empathy for those with less educational and emotional resources to navigate the system, as had I not been pregnant and knew we needed help in covering the care, I would have thrown my hands up in frustration and been so tempted to take the risk of not having insurance and paying the fee for that decision.

I am not sure what the solution is. I realize there is a bad cycle happening with lack of respect on all sides. Some things that would have helped us:

  • Consistency in logos and labeling would be helpful - if the paperwork we had received matched the online information, we would have proceeded.
  • A reliable way to turn in and manage paperwork - why we needed to spend half a day in the office to turn in a piece of paper makes no sense to me (and the fax my OB's office sent never got there, even though it was sent to the number we were given) - and communicate what is still needed and how/where it should be submitted.
  • Respectful treatment by those facilitating the government assistance - from the environment to the interactions with others.
I also realize that our experience with government assistance was limited, this is but a small snapshot of the true experiences of thousands of thousands of people every day. I would hope that those receiving additional benefits and receiving the required services of a case worker have a better experience, I'm especially thinking of those of you who are Foster Parents...I am hoping that the social workers facilitating the foster placement are able to help navigate the services you receive. 


If you have had a different experience, I would love to hear it. I am not interested in a bashing of the system or only a negative reporting. This is just our experience, one small piece of the puzzle.